What is American Studies?

AMST 140, Fall 2013, Fall 2015

What is American Studies? It ain’t nothing but the blues. This course examines the blues as a musical tradition, a political ideology, and a cultural imperative. Using the interdisciplinary framework of American Studies we examine music, visual art, literature, and film to explore the tragicomic blues aesthetic that makes one laugh to keep from crying. The blues comes from the disruption of the Middle Passage and the history of racial slavery; it expresses the ambivalence of African-American double-consciousness. These historical contexts are essential to the course’s investigation of the United States’ evolving culture. Following the blues allows us to examine the social, political, and historical implications of racial identity, folk traditions, and cultural resistance. Coursework emphasizes musicians including Bessie Smith, Lead Belly, Jelly Roll Morton, Billie Holiday, Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, and Nina Simone.

Billie Holiday, Lady Sings the Blues
Tyehimba Jess, leadbelly: poems
LeRoi Jones, Blues People: Negro Music in White America
Gloria Naylor, Bailey’s Cafe
August Wilson, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom