Rochester Launches American Studies Major

Univ. Communications – Starting this fall, University of Rochester students have had the opportunity to blend together a variety of disciplines that focus on the history and culture of the United States through the newly developed American Studies major, now offered through Arts, Sciences and Engineering’s undergraduate College. Through the major, which was approved by the New York State Department of Education in July, students will master skills including critical reading, thinking, and writing, which will prepare them for careers in law, social service, teaching, art, and business, among other fields.

“The American Studies major will contribute greatly to the intellectual life of the campus,” said Richard Feldman, dean of the College at Rochester. “From the enriching activities associated with the program to the expert faculty members coming from across disciplines to teach the courses, we believe this will be an appealing major to many students.”

Joan Rubin, professor of history and program director of the new major, noted that for years students have created similar courses of study through the Individualized Interdepartmental Majors program.

“Now, with a formal major, we are able to provide students with a wide range of courses, giving them the opportunity to look at the experiences and values of Americans through many different disciplines,” Rubin explained. “It is our hope that this major will create a conversation throughout the College about what it has meant to be an American, both in the past and today.”

The program, which will be managed by the Multidisciplinary Studies Center in the College, requires students to take ten courses throughout the Humanities and Social Sciences. Introductory courses focus on American literature and American culture or thought, while a new course to be offered in the 2012-2013 academic year, The Idea of America, will be a required seminar. Students also will choose among three tracks: The Arts in American Culture, Identity and the American Nation, and American Thought and Institutions. There also is an international component to the major, which gives students the opportunity to select one course that examines the interaction of Americans with other cultures. Students who complete this major will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies from the College.

The major will be supervised by a steering committee of faculty, who will monitor the program’s enrollment numbers and course offerings, and oversee internships, special lectures, and other opportunities that can enhance the student experience.

While the major is only several months old, the committee already has sponsored a three-part series titled Popular Music in America. In the first two installments, Daniel Beaumont, associate professor of Arabic Language and Literature, lectured on blues music in America, while John Covach discussed The Beatles and the British Invasion in America. In the last installment, Paul Burgett, University vice president and professor of music, will give his lecture, Black Nightingales: Lady Day, Ella & Sassy, at 4:45 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10, in Dewey 1101.

Additionally, the committee plans to host a lecture delivered by David Reynolds, distinguished professor of English at the City University of New York, in April. Reynolds, a prominent author, recently wrote Mightier than the Sword: “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and the Battle for America, which was included in the Christian Science Monitor’s “The 20 Smartest Nonfiction Reads for the Summer” list.

Members of the major’s steering committee include Rubin, John Covach, chair of the College Music Department and professor of Music; Margarita Guillory, assistant professor of Religion and Classics; John Michael, chair of the English Department and professor of English and of Visual and Cultural Studies; Claudia Schaefer, professor of Spanish; Ezra Tawil, associate professor of English; Allen Topolski, chair of the Department of Art and Art History and associate professor of Art ; and Sharon Willis, director of Film and Media Studies and professor of Art History and Visual and Cultural Studies.

For more information about the American Studies major, visit

Photo courtesy of Billy Alexander, via –

U of R’s Jessica Horton Wins Visual Arts Fellowship

Univ. Communications – University of Rochester doctoral student Jessica Horton has been named a 2011 Wyeth Fellow by the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA). Horton, a doctoral student in Visual and Cultural Studies (VCS) in the Department of Art and Art History, has earned one of nine predoctoral fellowships awarded each year.

“Jessica’s dissertation project is well-researched, beautifully written, and promises to be a paradigm changer not only in Native American art history but in the broader study of contemporary art and visual culture,” according to Joan Saab, associate professor of art history and visual and cultural studies, and chair of VCS.

Horton studies 20th-century Native American art, particularly the work of artists influenced by the American Indian Movement in the 1970s. She is interested in how their work now circulates internationally. “Showing how native artists work internationally can give us a broader picture of how globalization has occurred historically,” says Horton. “Native people have been traveling overseas for centuries because of colonial exhibitions and missionary projects, and contemporary artists are interested in investigating the links between then and now.” Horton’s dissertation advisor and mentor in the VCS program is Professor Janet Berlo, who said, “Jessica is multi-talented, vibrant, an exceptional writer and scholar,” and added that her “commitment to scholarship is informed by ethics and intellectual inquiry of the highest order.”

Wyeth fellowships are awarded annually, for 24-month terms, to outstanding students in the dissertation phase of their graduate work. As a Wyeth fellow, Horton will spend a year of the fellowship in the United States and abroad doing research, and a year in residence with CASVA, the research branch of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Horton plans to conduct research in Santa Fe, N.M., and to spend time in Venice, Italy, and Sydney, Australia. She will spend the second year of the program in Washington, where she will have access to the professors and curators at the National Gallery of Art and other affiliated institutions, including the National Museum of the American Indian. Horton has done research in the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum archives in the past, and received a 2008 Fellowship for Historians of American Art to Travel Abroad from CASVA, which she used to visit indigenous women’s weaving cooperatives in southern Mexico and Guatemala.

Horton will be one of 10 spending the summer with the Terra summer residency program in Giverny, France, home of painter Claude Monet, during the summer of 2011. The Terra Foundation for American Art supports artists and scholars from the United States and Europe with lodging, study, and studio spaces for eight-week terms, and also offers a series of seminars and independent studies with senior artists and scholars in residence.

She also has written an article titled, “Alone on the Snow/Alone on the Beach: ‘A Global Sense of Place’ in Atanarjuat and Fountain” which will be published in Journal of Transnational American Studies, in a special forum on “charting transnational Native American studies.” She also has forthcoming publications in The Visual Culture Reader, and CAA Reviews.

Originally from northern California, Horton earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of California at San Diego in art history and political science. Local communities, including the reservations and independent nations in both areas of California, feature “incredibly rich artistic traditions that have a lot more to offer to expand art history,” according to Horton.

The visual and cultural studies program is an interdisciplinary doctoral program, housed in the Department of Art and Art History. The program draws from coursework and faculty expertise in several University of Rochester humanities departments. Because the primary faculty work in art and art history, film studies, modern languages and cultures, and anthropology, students are able to relate literary and cultural theory to visual culture, and to investigate the connections among cultural productions, critical theory, and society.

(Story courtesy of Valerie Alhart, University Communications)