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Paradigm Dramas in American Studies: A Cultural and Institutional History of the Movement. Gene Wise American Quarterly, Volume 31:3 (1979): 293-337. Paradigm: Definition (Thomas Kuhn). Beliefs held by a person, group or culture; The acts that function to characterize those beliefs.

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Paradigm Dramas in American Studies: A Cultural and Institutional History of the Movement


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    1. Paradigm Dramas in American Studies: A Cultural and Institutional History of the Movement Gene Wise American Quarterly, Volume 31:3 (1979): 293-337

    2. Paradigm: Definition (Thomas Kuhn) • Beliefs held by a person, group or culture; • The acts that function to characterize those beliefs.

    3. American Studies: Stages of Development (An Overview) • Prelude to the American Studies Movement (Before 1900); • Initial Stage: Revolt against Academic Formalism, 1900-1927; • Consensus School of American Studies, 1927-65; • Crisis in American Studies, 1965-1975; • Emergence of Cultural Studies and Cultural Materialism, 1975- 1990s; • The Current State of American Studies (Kessler-Harris).

    4. I. Prelude to the American Studies Movement (Before 1900) • The insignificance or inferiority of American culture, especially in relation to British and European cultures; • Emphasis on individuals, great men and heroic events.

    5. II. Initial Stage: Revolt against Formalism, 1900-1927 • Vernon Parrington, intellectual founder of American Studies; • Main Currents in American Thought (1927); • Era when academic disciplines are being created and institutionalized (methods and hierarchies); formalism. • Where does the study of America “fit”? • Integration of Academic disciplines: history, literature, sociology, philosophy, etc.

    6. III. Consensus School of American Studies, 1927-65 • Intellectual agreement--or CONSENSUS-- on what the American experience is like and how to study it. • Goal of consensus scholarship: • To make American culture "intellectually usable.“ Not just objective history but a history (story) that supports the development of America and American culture; • To discern the fundamental (or universal) meaning of American experience and American culture.

    7. III. Five Characteristics of Consensus Scholarship • 1. There is an American “Mind.” • This mind is more or less homogeneous, essentially the same in everyone. • While it may be complex and multi-layered, it is a single entity.

    8. III. Five Characteristics of Consensus Scholarship • 2. What distinguishes the American Mind—in fact, what creates it—is its location in the New World. • As result, Americans are typically . . . • Hopeful (oriented toward the future rather than the past); • Idealistic or Innocent (Naïve); • Individualistic (Democratic); • Pragmatic or materialistic; • Believe in boundless opportunity.

    9. III. Five Characteristics of Consensus Scholarship • 3. The American Mind can be found (theoretically at least) in any American to varying degrees. Some individuals will possess it more fully than others based on their intellect and experiences; • Great intellectual works (artistic / political) reveal or express the major themes or ideas at work in the culture at large. They transcend their own particularity. They are universal.

    10. III. Five Characteristics of Consensus Scholarship • 3. Continued • The American Mind finds its fullest expression in the country’s most influential leaders and thinkers: • Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson; • Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau; • These become the basis for our educational and political systems, as a way to “train” others—especially new Americans—in what it means to be American.

    11. III. Five Characteristics of Consensus Scholarship • 4. The American Mind is also evident not just in individuals but in the portrayal of our intellectual and cultural history; • Creates distinctive themes and identities: • The Pilgrims / Puritanism; • American Revolution; • The Frontier and Westward Migration; • Individualism / Non-Hierarchical Society; • WWII and “The Greatest Generation”; • The Cold War (Democracy threatened by communism)

    12. III. Five Characteristics of Consensus Scholarship • 5. The American Mind (and America itself) is revealed most profoundly in its “high” culture, its greatest intellectual thinkers and it greatest creative works (art, music, literature). These hold a privileged position; • Representatives of popular culture may be interesting but are NOT as significant to the understanding of America: • Popular heroes (Daniel Boone / John Wayne) • “Artistic” works (The Western / Star Trek); • Cultural Events (Dueling / Professional Wrestling) • Material Culture (farm implements / shopping malls)

    13. III. Key Figures in the Consensus School • Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (1950); • Perry Miller, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (1953) • F.O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman (1941); • Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden (1964); • Alan Trachtenberg, Brooklyn Bridge: Fact and Symbol (1965).

    14. III. Other Important Contributions During this Era • American Quarterly, 1949; • American Studies Association, 1951.

    15. IV. Crisis in American Studies, 1965-1975 • Emerges along with the cultural / political rebellions of the sixties; • Critiques A/S as a field of study; • Argues that it is not a pioneering movement but a very conservative one that reinforces old historical and cultural assumptions about America and Americans.

    16. IV. Crisis in American Studies, 1965-1975 • America is not one monolithic culture (the American mind), but a variety of interrelated cultures that are at times working together and at times in conflict with different values and goals; • Complete cultural synthesis is no longer possible.

    17. V. New American Studies:Emergence of Cultural Studies and Cultural Materialism, 1975- 1990s • Shift from humanistic to scientific / analytical approaches to American Culture; • Not interested in what the "meaning" of America is (or if one meaning is more legitimate or valid than another); • Rather, it is interested in how and why people create meaning, how individuals and groups go about creating a coherent social universe.

    18. V. New American StudiesSEVEN Major Characteristics • 1. Focus on the social and material structures that underlie intellectual and artistic expression

    19. V. New American StudiesSEVEN Major Characteristics • 2. CULTURE is redefined via social sciences. • The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought; • A set of control mechanisms--plans, recipes, rules and instructions for the governing of human behavior; • Social structures always mediate between a particular cultural artifact and the larger society in which it is situated. • Includes “high culture” (art forms) as well as popular culture;

    20. V. New American StudiesSEVEN Major Characteristics • 3. Highly self-conscious; • Critically reflective; • Intellectually “neutral” or objective; not interested in supporting or endorsing any prevailing cultural ideologies. • Treats the study of America as a science.

    21. V. New American StudiesSEVEN Major Characteristics • 4. Pluralistic approach (the MANY); • Does not focus on just one unifying national culture but looks at the many different cultures contained within America and how these are related to each other; • Looks at commonalities but also looks at where conflicts and tensions exist.

    22. V. New American StudiesSEVEN Major Characteristics • 5. Emphasis on the PARTICULAR and the ORDINARY; • Instead of examining heroic figures or great art, the focus is on • Common Americans (farmers or laborers); • Popular art forms (collectibles or music); • Ordinary material culture (farm implements or daily life).

    23. V. New American StudiesSEVEN Major Characteristics • 6. Rejection of universal “essences,” universal truths or absolutes; • While these may exist, they are not fully knowable and not the domain of intellectual inquiry; • Whatever “America” may be, we cannot assume that it is universal for all people.

    24. V. New American StudiesSEVEN Major Characteristics • 7. Comparative Approach • No longer is the focus just on America or even America and Europe; • Understanding American through a dialogue with other countries and cultures; • Third or Developing World Nations; • Africa and the Caribbean; • The Muslim World.

    25. V. New American StudiesCharacterized by the shift from myth . . . • MYTH: a fixed story used to normalize and regulate our social life; • Everything is read through the myth and it makes all things familiar; • Often a form of non-critical, self-interpretation.

    26. V. New American Studiesto Rhetoric . . . • RHETORIC: attempts to question and analyze culture rather than affirm or deny it.; • its purpose is to reveal the interests that reinforce myths and culture; • the power of words, things, images, and ideas to create and subvert culture.