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American Studies includes the informal and formal study of Native American cultures and the immigrant cultures that created a great heterogeneous mix over the last 500 years that we call American culture. This unique cultural syncretism of world views was impacted by the unique American landscape and indigenous cultures.. In some cases the American landscape had been an experience of face to face interaction or indirectly through images in the arts. Initially the arts borrowed heavily from the immigrant's roots, but the American landscape from the Atlantic to the Pacific shores during the frontier experience created new artistic responses unique to America. Some of the early founding fathers, like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson campaigned arduously to defend these unique American cultural elements. American culture and art was further strengthened with the revival of American folk culture in the late 19th century and again after World War II. In turn scholars and educators developed curriculum, research projects, and living art programs to elicit support from agencies like the Smithsonian Institution, Library of Congress and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). In my own college experiences in the 1960s, folk music was clearly the first introduction to American Studies. Later in graduate school (1973-1975) at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, there was a much stronger presence of American Studies especially in the humanities and Southern Regional Culture programs. For me it was like a living arts experience; especially in the folk music area of African American blues and Southern Appalachian bluegrass. There were a number of scholars in the process of rediscovering old time blues singers, minstrel performers and gospel singers. The African-American churches were still the center of the communities in the South and in the 1970s were open to visits by outsiders. Fellow graduate students and families went to various folk music events like fiddler's conventions, traditional furniture workshops and pottery artisans in and around Asheville, NC. The infusion of local folklore, arts and music into curriculums was exemplified with the popular Foxfire series, that was initiated by high school English teachers creating a school magazine based on student interviews of community artisans and farmers about traditional folk knowledge in rural Georgia. This project received NEH funding and became so popular that student's articles were published in a series of books entitled Foxfire 1, etc. These articles included traditional folklore topics from making dulcimers to dressing out a hog. In the United States regional studies and museums become abundant after 1976. Scholars began to find evidence that Americans did not homogenize into so called 'melting pot' and in fact distinctive cultural regions and dialects flourished and strengthened.
My own roots were a combination of Pennsylvania Dutch farmers coming in the 18th century and Welsh coal miners coming in the 19th century. Like many Americans after WWII my parents benefited from the GI Bill and were able to go to graduate school and jobs that uprooted many for new work and to the suburbs. Thus, we moved from the East coast to the Midwest where I grew up (1946-1963). However, we would spend summers in the East and would go to things like the Kutztown Folk Festival in Pennsylvania. When I married someone from California my American experience shifted to the landscape of the West Coast. My wife's family were Scot-Irish, Scottish and German pioneers in the gold fields that came to California in 1849-1852, eventually they settled in Oroville and Lodi/Stockton, California. So after Vietnam (1968) I moved to Santa Cruz, California. I had made a crazy trip to the West once, but now I was in it and as John Muir experienced it ...it was immense. Everything was bigger, especially the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra and Rocky Mountains. As a kid places on T.V. Westerns like Lone Pine, California were thought to 'somewhere' in the West. Later Westerns moved to Monument Valley and Utah. Our family had a special affinity for Yosemite Valley where we often camped and backpacked.
|Lone Pine, California|
In the 1970s, when I came back to California form graduate work in North Carolina, the West Coast had very few programs or courses in American Studies. Folklore was at University of California, Berkeley, but it was not until the 1990s that an interdisciplinary program developed in American Studies. In 1990 Palomar College created a program in American Studies to be articulated with CSU and UC programs in California, but under the American Indian Studies Department. The American Indian Studies Department decided to add courses in American Studies since other departments were not willing to develop the curriculum and we felt that American Indian Studies was the foundation or building block to American Studies. Our goal was to have courses that did not duplicate American history, literature or art history courses but would focus on how the arts and social history reflect and influence American culture and the individual identities of Americans. Recently, we have included a unit on genealogy and family history in our entry level course, AMS 100 Introduction To American Culture and Identity.
|AMS 100: Introduction To American Culture and Identity|
AMS 200: Race, Class, and Ethnic Groups in America
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Copyright � S.J. Crouthamel 2003