Programs > Academic Programs > American Studies Seminar

American Studies Seminar - 2011

Dressing Democracy: Clothing and Culture in America

Touted as the only nation where citizens could not be classed by their appearance, Americans were nevertheless anxious about the ways they presented themselves in a world without fixed social hierarchies. This seminar examines this crisis of self-presentation in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America, exploring the ways in which aspirants to genteel culture — as well as those excluded from it — employed dress, etiquette and deportment to personal and political ends.

The class will introduce students to key literature in the interdisciplinary fields of American studies, material culture, and the history of dress, and to a wide range of primary sources in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society. After an initial reading period, the class will focus on archive-based research at the AAS that explores an aspect of material culture (examining the production, history and meanings tied to a particular artifact); the dress codes of a defined group; or a cultural practice related to appearance. It will use preparatory assignments, discussion, and peer review to help participants craft well-planned and well-argued projects.

A student's first obligations are to keep up with the weekly readings and to contribute to the class discussion. Class discussions are an opportunity to explore ideas, test arguments, air questions, gain new perspectives from classmates, and clarify aspects of the reading. Coming to class, but not keeping up with the reading or participating in discussion will hurt a student's overall grade.

The success of the class depends on your preparation and participation; please come to class having completed the reading and ready to discuss it.

We meet only once a week. Missing a single class means missing a significant portion of the work of the semester. Missing more than one class will result in a lowered grade.

Research Assignments:
In the first half of the semester, students will explore the major electronic databases available at AAS and BPL through short treasure hunts. These assignments are meant to give students an opportunity to practice methods of finding primary source materials to be used in the major research paper. Databases have their quirks and limitations: do use this time to understand how to navigate these powerful tools.

In the second half of the semester, students will present a single piece of evidence important to their projects to the class. This evidence is to come from the collections at AAS, and to be the real thing (that is, not an electronic facsimile). In order to present on either Nov. 9 or Nov. 16, you will need to prepare in advance. Please place your call slips to the circulation desk with 48 hours notice.

One-page summary of secondary source:
On Nov. 2, students will identify a major scholarly work in a topic area related to their projects, and summarize the argument of that work. The purpose of this assignment is to practice a critical element of essay writing: establishing the scholarly debate(s) that exist around a given topic.

Research Paper:
The class culminates in a 15- page research paper that investigates some aspect of eighteenth-or nineteenth-century dress. Students will complete in a series of deliverables as follows:

Wed. Nov. 9: research proposal and bibliography due
Wed. Nov 16: Introduction and draft to peer writing group and to me
Wed. Dec. 7 and Wed. Dec. 14 Oral Presentations
Wed. Dec. 14: Final papers due (electronic and hard copy to me)

For all assignments, you are required to follow the rules of style laid out in Kate Turabian et. al.'s A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, available on reserve at AAS.

Participation, including research assignments - 30%
Summary of secondary source - 10%
Class presentation of primary source - 10%
Final Research Paper (including prospectus, bibliography, and research presentation) - 50%

Plagiarism is defined as any attempt by a student to represent the work of another as his or her own. This definition covers the use of any material that is not clearly attributed, including material drawn from electronic media. You must cite all your sources. Please do not hesitate to ask me for help with citation and/or for specific recommendations about what constitutes plagiarism. Cases of suspected plagiarism will be sent to the Academic Conduct Committee.

Many of the required readings are available on reserve at AAS, to borrow at your college/ university library or to purchase from Amazon.

Additional readings required for this class are available online

Required Readings

Topics and Readings:

Sept. 7
Class 1: Introductions and Overview

Come to class having read:

Sept. 14
Class 2: Status claims in the 18th century
Sumptuary laws; confusions of rank; slave dress

Research assignment:
Find a runaway slave advertisement that mentions some aspect of dress. Print and bring to class in order to describe your findings. Explore the Early American Newspapers Database.this is accessible at AAS and BPL. Compare to Virginia Runaways online ( OR Lathan A. Windley's Runaway slave advertisements: a documentary history from the 1730s to 1790 (on reserve at AAS).

Come to class having read:

Sept. 21
Class 3: Homespun Patriots
Anti-fashion in the early republic; masculinity

Research assignment:
Find reference to "homespun." Print relevant page and bring to class. Explore Early American Imprints, Series I and II (AAS and BPL. Called "America's Historical Imprints" at BPL). Compare to Google Books.

Come to class having read:

Sept. 28
Class 4: Dress Codes
Gender and dress; cross-dressing; dress reform

Research Assignment:
Find reference to crinoline (or "hoop skirts" or "hoops"). Print and bring to class. Explore AAS Historical Periodicals Collection, Series 1-4. This database is ONLY available onsite at AAS. Compare to: American Memory at Library of Congress (available online); Wright American Fiction (available online); or HarpWeek (AAS).

Come to class having read:

Oct. 5
Class 5: The dandy in America
Oppositional dress; the politics of dandyism

Research Assignment:
Find an image of a dandy. Use AAS Catalog. Print catalog page.

Come to class having read:

Oct. 12
Class 6: Fashion and Sentimental Culture
Status competition; evaluating strangers in urban America

Research Assignment:
Find an advertisement for cloth, clothing or accessories. Use the AAS catalog and compare to Catalog of American Engravings and American Broadsides and Ephemera (AAS and BPL).

Come to class having read:

Oct. 19
Class 7: Monitoring Bodies
Advice literature and class

Research Assignment:
Find an advertisement, etiquette book, health manual, or other source that refers in some way to care of the body (bathing, skin, facial hair, etc.) Use any electronic database you wish.

Come to class having read:

Oct. 26
Class 8: Shaping Bodies
The natural body? The corset and body-building

Research Assignment:
Uncovering the bibliographic trail. Assignment to be handed out.

Come to class having read:

Nov. 2
Class 9: Approaching the secondary scholarship

Come having read:

Written Assignment:
One page summary of the argument (of your chosen reading for the week)

Nov. 9
Class 10: Propose paper project and examine primary sources

Written Assignment:
Prospectus and tentative bibliography DUE

Research Assignment:
Call primary source from collections to view in class ( the class on Nov. 9 and the class on Nov. 16)

Come to class having read:

Nov. 16
Class 11: examine primary sources, cont.

Written Assignment:
Paper drafts DUE

Research Assignment:
Call primary source from collections to view in class (1/2 the class on Nov. 9 and the class on Nov. 16)

Nov. 23
NO CLASS: Thanksgiving Break

Nov. 30
Class 12: Peer Review
In class Peer Review (respond to drafts in class)

Come to class having read:

Dec. 7
Class 13: Final Presentations

Dec. 14
Class 14: Final Presentations


The seminar leader is Hannah Carlson