Tag Archives: key questions

On Thinking and Making California

American Studies offers students the experience of thinking and making: of joining in the dialogue, thought, and conversations about the past and the present. By engaging in the project of explanation and understanding we can elevate our lives by making connections, and discovering the questions about ourselves, and our world, that might matter.

The second half of the semester will be organized around your thinking and the way that thinking takes shape in the projects you make. Below are inspired (and inspiring!) projects that open us up to the natural and cultural history of California. Spend some time with these projects. They will help you begin to answer questions about your own project methods, and lead you to think about how to design your own.

Kim Stringfellow, an artist and educator residing in Joshua Tree, California, teaches photography and multimedia courses at San Diego State University in the School of Art + Design. Her web site offers a window into the natural and cultural history of California and her projects provide inspiration for organizing creative investigations and explorations.

The Mojave Project is an experimental transmedia documentary that explores the physical, geological and cultural landscape of the Mojave Desert. The project reconsiders and establishes multiple ways in which to interpret this unique and complex landscape, through association and connection of seemingly unrelated sites, themes, and subjects thus creating a speculative and immersive experience for its audience.


There It Is—Take It! is a self-guided car audio tour through Owens Valley, California
along U.S. Route 395 examining the controversial social, political, and environmental history of the Los Angeles Aqueduct system. The tour illuminates various impacts this divisive water conveyance infrastructure has created within the Owens Valley over the last one hundred years of the aqueduct’s existence. Stories of the aqueduct are told from multiple perspectives and viewpoints through the voices of historians, biologists, activists, native speakers, environmentalists, litigators, LADWP employees, and residents from both Los Angeles and the Owens Valley.

Jackrabbit Homestead is a published book, photographic exhibit, and web-based multimedia presentation featuring a downloadable car audio tour exploring the cultural legacy of the Small Tract Act in Southern California’s Morongo Basin region near Joshua Tree National Park. Stories from this underrepresented regional history are told through the voices of local residents, historians, and area artists—many of which reside in reclaimed historic cabins and use the structures as inspiration for their creative work.

imgres.jpgInvisible-5 is a self-guided critical audio tour along Interstate 5 between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Invisible-5 is a collaboration between three artists and two organizations. The collaborators on Invisible-5 are artists Amy Balkin and Kim Stringfellow, audio lead Tim Halbur, and organizations Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, and Pond: Art, activism, and ideas. The project uses the format of a museum audio tour to guide the listener along the highway landscape. Invisible-5 investigates the stories of people and communities fighting for environmental justice along the I-5 corridor, through oral histories, field recordings, found sound, recorded music, and archival audio documents. The project also traces natural, social, and economic histories along the route. Sites along the tour, which can be driven in either direction, include Livermore, Crows Landing, Kesterson NWR, Kettleman City, and Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles. The free, downloadable program in MP3 format along with the printable PDF booklet is available at the project’s website.

California Humanities is a non-profit that promotes the humanities in California in order to help create “a state of open mind.” The work of California Humanities is designed to inspire Californians to learn more, dig deeper, and start conversations that matter among the dramatically diverse people in the state.


California Documentary Project is a competitive grants program that supports documentary film, radio, and new media productions that enhance our understanding of California and its cultures, peoples, and histories. Projects must use the humanities to provide context, depth, and perspective and be suitable for California and national audiences through broadcast and/or distribution. Since 2003, we have awarded approximately $4 million to projects that document the California experience and explore issues of significance to Californians. CDP grants support projects at the research and development, production, and public engagement stages.

Negro_Notebook_2Bible of Black Travel During the era of Jim Crow, many African Americans relied on this “Bible of Black Travel” to navigate safe passage and find sustenance and respite while on the road. This oral history project will identify and interview individuals who are connected to historic sites of refuge in Los Angeles – hotels, motels, restaurants, gas stations, and other businesses. Stories will be presented through public programs, an interactive website, and provide material for a book and exhibit that will document a little known chapter in California history and provide opportunities to re-examine America’s troubled history of race relations.

 An American Mosque is a documentary about religious freedom and the struggle against intolerance set in a rural California town.  Sparked by the destruction of a mosque, the documentary film explores how a farming community responds to hate through painful but ultimately positive discussions about the perception of Islam in America and our responsibility to defend everyone’s constitutional right to worship.

Cynthia Hooper: A few weeks ago we looked at the work of the artist Cynthia Hooper through her interdisciplinary media project that features six short observational documentary videos and accompanying essays that examine and interpret the built environment of Humboldt Bay—California’s second largest estuary.


A Negotiable Utopia: The Humboldt Bay Project is made up of six short observational documentary videos and accompanying essays. The project investigates the bay’s natural resource economy and infrastructure (including timber, fishing, and aquaculture), its transportation (including roads, rails, and ships), as well as the bay’s power infrastructure—including formerly nuclear, fossil fuel, and renewable energy. The project also documents Humboldt Bay’s natural and municipal watersheds, as well as its varied conservation zones and complicated shoreline.




What is American Studies?

“American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.

—James A. Baldwin

American Studies at Keene State College offers students a unique program of study. Each student completes three core courses and individualized choice of courses in American history, literature, the arts, and social sciences to explore the culture of the United States. American Studies is one of the most interesting and useful paths for students preparing to become educators: in elementary education, in the secondary education option in Social Studies, or in professional and graduate school.

What do students and faculty do in American Studies courses? The intellectual work of students and faculty begin with the idea that studying the inherent complications of a culture or a society requires more than a single disciplinary or methodological approach. We therefore draw on a range of materials and forms to explore historical and contemporary American culture, including oral history, writing, film, music, photographs, maps, architecture, food, activities. We study people, politics, economy, environment, science, arts, history, and literature. We read, we think together, we talk about, and we write our way into the American multicultural identity, including its past and present values, conflicts, and experiences. We are committed to studying cultural artifacts, to borrow words from the writer James Baldwin, that “lay bare the questions that have been hidden by answers.”

What are the questions that we ask? Here are a few of the questions that motivate our teaching and learning, scholarship, and collaboration with students:

“Who knew?” How do we have conversations that emerge from everyday American things—those things we don’t really think about—to help us ask questions and understand ourselves in ways we did not already know.

“Where am I in this material? “How does this concept, idea or information matter to me and/or all of us?”

“Who and or what is American? Why do we understand a person or thing as being American?”

In what ways can we see the past as influencing, or helping us to understand, the present?

What is the relationship between the individual/individual identity and culture?

How can we reconstruct and interpret historical, cultural, and political phenomena, events, developments?

How does studying literature and the other arts help us understand the past, the present, and our own lives?

What role do social class, race, ethnicity, and gender play in influencing / understanding culture and society?

What is the relationship between the arts (literature, music, film, etc.) and politics?

How can multimedia expand our notions of literature’s traditional forms and function in society?

How has technology changed American popular music? What have been the social consequences of these changes?

How can psychology and psychoanalytic thinking help us understand the individual, the artist, the culture?

In what ways can “American exceptionalism” be understood/critiqued?

Are there characteristic features of American style in language, music, and visual art?

What is the relationship between the mainstream and the margins in the Internet age?

What can the concept of improvisation, especially from jazz, teach us about the social dynamics of democracy in this “great American experiment”?

What views/conceptions/visions of America or Americans (or “the people” or “the folk”) are embodied/expressed in the “folk music revival”? What role did Alan Lomax, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, the Almanac Singers, and/or the Weavers (and or other people/influences) play?

What do students do with a major in American Studies? Our KSC Alumni demonstrate that an undergraduate degree in American Studies provides an intellectual background and readily transferable skills for a wide range of personal and professional endeavors. Our alumni are pursuing opportunities in elementary and secondary education; business; libraries, museums, and historic preservation; film production; federal, state, and local agencies, both public and private; government and politics; nonprofit organizations; writing, editing, and publishing; international relations and diplomacy; public relations and advertising; and social services. Here are a few examples:

  • Sean Knox (2015) is a Staff Assistant for United States Senator from New Hampshire Kelly A. Ayotte
  • Hersch Rothmel (2015) is Office Coordinator for City Year in Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Chloe Edmonds (2014) is a PhD student in International Studies at Georgetown University
  • Alex Wolff (2014) is a student at Suffolk Law school
  • Katie Petz (2012) is a Special Education Paraprofessional in Hollis, New Hampshire
  • Morgan Little (2013) is the front man for the band The Mild Revolution
  • Ryan LaLiberty (2011) is in the PhD program in Communications at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Ryan completed a MA in Communications at the University of Rhode Island
  • George Barber (2011) is a comedian, writer, actor, and musician living in Los Angeles, California. George has completed a full length album, acted as a contributing writer for the Evening Show with Peter Murphy, appeared on CBS’s How I Met Your Mother, and performed numerous shows at the UCB Theater and Improv Olympic West
  • Justin Churchill (2011) is a sports writer for the New England Hockey Journal. He is a regional beat reporter in the American Hockey League and covers the New England Revolution and Major League Soccer
  • Zach Benton (2010) performs and records music in the Monadnock region. His extended play (EP) recording Mister Roberts’ Epiphany was followed by his long play (LP) entitled Fall In. Fall In hit #6 on iTunes’ R&B/Soul charts for new releases in October of 2013. Zach’s most recent single, “Truer Love,” peaked at #3 on iTunes’ R&B/Soul charts for new releases
  • Cate Brennan (2005) is Archive Technician at the National Archives in Washington D.C., and a PhD candidate in American History at the University of Maryland College Park
  • Lauren Morse (2005) completed her Master’s degree in Strategic Leadership and is currently the Assistant Director of the MBA Program at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth