AMST Dissertations

Abstract:

This dissertation holds that the operation of criminal justice in America – the day- to-day practices of adjudication and enforcement – is characterized by two faculties which occupy the larger and more inclusive realm of sovereignty: the forceful and the rational. I call these faculties mythos and logos after the philosophical and anthropological names given to the competing methods of answering universal questions which have prevailed since very ancient times. The use of these ancient philosophical terms is intentional and reflects the crux of my theoretical orientation, which is unabashedly classicist, although thoroughly up-to-date. I will demonstrate that the dual forces of mythos and logos continue to compete in the present-day arena of criminal law and in the contest which seeks to answer difficult social questions playing out in that arena by virtue of what courts and lawyers call “the adversary system.” This contest between opposing forces becomes explicitly obvious in the law’s current efforts to address the consequences of wrongful criminal convictions, the area which I use as a case study to approach the prevailing division between mythos and logos in twenty-first century American legal sovereignty.

Throughout this doctoral dissertation, I use American Studies methodologies including historical analysis, close textual reading, ethnographic practice, and archival research. In keeping with the multi-disciplinary approach which American Studies uses to answer questions about the American experience, I have informed my work from the fields of literature, psychology, cognitive science, jurisprudence, ancient and modern philosophy, religious studies, classical mythology, and history. Additionally, being an experienced attorney, I incorporate my legal training and knowledge within and alongside my American Studies methods.

The result is an interdisciplinary scholarly endeavor which blends the rigorous methods of two different fields: American Studies and the law.

Author: Spero T. Lappas
Proposal Date: November 19, 2014
Defense Date: May 1, 2015
Committee Chair: Dr. Charles Kupfer
Committee Members:

Dr. Michael Barton
Dr. John Haddad
Dr. Donald Hummer

Abstract:

This project traces the emergence of regional identity among settlers in the Old Northwest and Ohio River Valley between the years 1780-1830. The 1780s offers the first full decade of the new nation as it struggled for self-definition through government and a developing culture identity. Concepts of frontier, freedom, and individualism informed some identity creation for pioneers moving into the region. The 1830 end date follows the opening of the Erie Canal and its connection of east to what most considered to be settled America. Identity creation, as it took place in the Old Northwest presents us with the first major American process of frontier identification. While these settlers relied upon earlier colonial settlement to help them make sense of their experiences, they formed an “American” process of settlement and identification within the frontier that set the stage for other regions as the frontier designation moved westward.

Author: Susan Ortmann
Proposal Date: October 16, 2012
Defense Date:
Committee Chair: Simon Bronner
Committee Members:

Abstract:

In this study, I examine the identity politics of defining local authenticity through the construction of urban traditions in Baltimore. Using the conceptual framework of vernacular stages, I examine how once stigmatized local forms, that is, the stigmatized vernacular, transform into the esteemed vernacular, local forms celebrated for their authentic rootedness. By examining the definition, adoption, commodification, and contestation of local forms of reputed authenticity, I unravel the meaning and implications of being a “local” in a fragmented American city. Perceiving their stigma and lack of political importance, Baltimoreans have contested the high culture or cosmopolitan definition of cities with the adoption of a vernacular image, thus turning a negative connotation into a positive one. “Hon”—the word and the image—acts to reinforce this value, but because of the contested nature of its associations, it has also become a magnet for criticism. Thus the difficult discourse on identity has shifted to more manageable battlegrounds like the Baltimore-Washington Parkway’s “Welcome to Baltimore, Hon” sign, the HonFest festival in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood, and Café Hon owner Denise Whiting’s trademarking of the word “HON.” Through three Baltimore case studies that combine an ethnographic approach with rhetorical analysis, I examine how the esteemed vernacular plays a daily, consequential role in the identity formation of Baltimoreans. In response to the globalization, commercialization, and modernization that most cultural observers argue characterize contemporary society, attachment to the local has become increasingly important. In the face of these trends, the local provides a stabilizing force, giving Americans a perceptible attachment to place in an otherwise detached, impersonal, and ever-changing world. In the face of these modern challenges, some argue that ethnicity or family is the primary hedge against globalization and massification. On the contrary, I demonstrate that Americans cling to local tradition—not an abstract, objectified phenomenon existing beyond the human mind, but through those expressions constantly recreated and reaffirmed in the present as authentic attachments to history and place. Whether real or imagined, there is a need for local attachment that results in a cultural construction of place.

Author: David Puglia
Proposal Date: October 11, 2012
Defense Date: May 27, 2015
Committee Chair: Dr. Simon J. Bronner
Committee Members:

Abstract:

This dissertation is a history and technical analysis of the iconic Maico racing motorcycle and the men who rode it—particularly addressing that period of the high watermark of off-road motorcycle riding in the 1970s This dissertation explains the practices and characteristics of a unique subculture of American motorcyclists that formed around the Maico. It reveals a cultural entity vastly different from both the more flamboyant biker groups—popular among scholars over the past few decades—and also the more typical road-riding and commuting motorcycle groups. Specifically, I argue that 1)when examined, the Maico stands out as the best quality competition motorcycle available to American racers during these years; 2)the object reveals more about its users and this motorcycling subculture than has previously been explored; 3)the racing and off-road motorcycle community shares only minimal similarities with on-road and “biker lifestyle” groups; and 4)the facts surrounding Maico’s end in 1984-1984 were previously missing or misunderstood, and this story has been wrongly portrayed by the motorcycle media. This dissertation analyzes the Maico motorcycle as part of a group’s material culture. It chronicles the object’s origins in Germany and its use in America, based upon written and oral histories and photographs. It also addresses an often-overlooked sub-culture, within a unique period of changing values and aspirations in United States history. My methodology comprises four approaches: examining the motorcycle/artifact through the lens of materiel culture; ethnography, involving observation of the group’s practices; the collection and rhetorical analysis of other pertinent literature, including personal letters, advertisements, and articles; and photographic analysis.

Author: David Russell
Proposal Date: October 1, 2013
Defense Date:
Committee Chair: Charles Kupfer
Committee Members:

Simon Bronner
Anne Verplanck
Seth Wolpert

Abstract:

More so than other events, shocking news of death, disaster, and scandal invite humorous vernacular expression on the Internet when repetitively consumed via mass media outlets. The Internet propels the diffusion of humor about tragedies to many people that would not have been included in previous years. by comparing the pre-Internet contexts of local, regional, and national responses to disaster with the trends of vernacular expression in today's new media-driven society and popular culture, this dissertation shows that the global reach of cyberspace has irrevocably extended itself into the ways that modern society expresses itself and underscore the implications that this has for the trajectory of contemporary folklore studies. Most importantly, this work demonstrates that the allure of the Internet (as a locus of vernacular expression) comes from not only its widespread accessibility, but because it eases the growing trend of physical detachment from the analog world that cyberspace has made commonplace in the lives of working people.

Author: Trevor J. Blank
Proposal Date: October 25, 2010
Defense Date: February 17, 2011
Committee Chair: Dr. Simon Bronner
Committee Members:

Dr. Michael Barton
Dr. Charles Kupfer
Dr. Girish Subramanian

Abstract:

This dissertation examines presidential rhetoric during the Cold War era (1977-1992) through an interdisciplinary lens. By highlighting one piece of rhetoric from each of Carter's, Reagan's, and Bush's administration on three related topics and/or themes, this work reveals the necessity of political and rhetorical pragmatism in preparing and delivering public rhetoric. All three presidents possessed a unique persona, ideology, and speaking style. However, world events necessitated that such characteristics be subservient to the needs of the moment.

Author:
Proposal Date: February 17, 2011
Defense Date: April 30, 2012
Committee Chair: Charles Kupfer
Committee Members:

David Witwer
John Haddad
Anne Verplanck
Harold Shill

Abstract:

While it is possible to avoid cooking in America today, traditional home cooking is far from dead. Just as cooks can follow a recipe word for word or make it their own by changing ingredients, traditional home cooking relies on connections to the past but is versatile in adapting to current needs becoming a powerful vessel Americans fill with meaning. Through analysis of cookbooks, recipe sharing websites, and interviews, my study demonstrates that, as a practice and performance, traditional home cooking is about more than what is for dinner—it is about connecting to the past, displaying the self in the present, and leaving a lasting legacy for the future.

Author: Jennifer Dutch
Proposal Date: February 13, 2011
Defense Date: February 27, 2013
Committee Chair: Dr. Simon Bronner
Committee Members:

Dr. John Haddad
Dr. Anne Verplanck
Dr. Carol Nechemias
Dr. Charles Camp

Abstract:

This dissertation analyzes how contemporary Appalachian Trail hikers who record and document their experience online integrate pastoral and ecological narrative elements into the narration of their experience in nature and what role technology plays in integrating or challenging those narrative elements. Since at least the industrial revolution, Americans have sought escape in nature and searched for a frontier past. Walking became one way to do that. Today people seek out nature and hiking for many reasons, and one of the most popular destinations is the Appalachian Trail.
The Appalachian Trail, a political and physical construct of nature near Eastern urban centers, seems to embody paradoxical views of nature and technology. Many walkers go to escape the city, or only go once their professional and familial duties have been fulfilled, as such, the AT acts as a pastoral retreat from those duties. And yet, it connects people from all walks of life, links many states, economies, and ecosystems, and seeks to preserve nature that is near to and connected to urban centers, an ecologically laudable goal. Still, technology is as divisive on the trail as it is in America. It can be seen as an integral part of the experience and as an intrusion. Debates for both sides are lively on discussion boards of AT hikers.

Author: Spencer Green
Proposal Date: November 12, 2012
Defense Date:
Committee Chair: Simon Bronner
Committee Members:

Abstract:

This dissertation interprets the interrelationship between architecture and individual identity, the relationship of buildings to individuals in contemporary society, as well as the meaning individuals attach to the environments they associate with their past through the lens of a single family. In this study of a narrowly-defined Pennsylvania German landscape, I will use Milton S. Hershey and the physical landscape and legacy he created in the town of Hershey as an example of a successful negotiation between tradition and modernity in a changing industrialized landscape. In creating his model community, Milton Hershey not only realized the creation of a Pennsylvania German cultural landscape, but managed to both transform and modernize that idea through change as well as continuity.

In realizing his vision of the model town, Milton Hershey’s abundant resources and unique brand of practical idealism allowed him to create a physical landscape that incorporated the adaptive reuse of existing properties (including some built by members of the Hershey family) as well as the construction of new buildings. Hershey believed these structures embodied the cultural identity of his Pennsylvania German heritage as well as a majority of those already living in the area. In constructing his cultural landscape, Milton Hershey carefully navigated the effects of those transformations on the traditional isolation and homogeneity of the Pennsylvania Germans as many of their traditions and customs were absorbed into an emerging national popular culture in the twentieth century. By appealing to regionally-linked traditions and existing societal values, Hershey used the vernacular to help negotiate between a past legacy of Pennsylvania German rural settlement and an industrial future.

Author: James D. McMahon, Jr.
Proposal Date: February 24, 2014
Defense Date:
Committee Chair: Simon Bronner
Committee Members:

Anne Verplanck
Michael Barton
Jeremy Plant

Abstract:

Hair covering serves as a siman nisuin (sign of marriage) for many Orthodox Jewish women. This ethnographic study profiles the hair covering practices of a small town Orthodox synagogue that struggles with the tensions of acculturation, assimilation, and identity in a context where it is difficult to live as an Observant Jew. Using hair covering as an entry point into the lives of these women, an understanding of the empowerment of the choice to cover (or not to cover) hair emerges that demonstrates the congregation's commitment to safeguarding traditional Judaism. I argue with comparative cultural, psychological, ethnographic analysis that women's uplifting of hair covering as a ritualized behavior is critical to the survival of Orthodoxy.

Author: Amy K. Milligan
Proposal Date: January 28, 2011
Defense Date: January 20, 2012
Committee Chair: Dr. Simon Bronner
Committee Members:

Dr. Michael Barton
Dr. Charles Kupfer
Dr. Kamini Grahame
Dr. Andrea Leiber

Abstract:

This dissertation examines the Mormon use of western mythology in their quest to assimilate into the American ethnic and religious mainstream between the years 1890 and 1963. I observe that after recognizing America’s growing affinity for the symbols, rhetoric, and geography of the American West, Mormon’s merged into the mainstream by assuming a Western identity to re-script their history to be more acceptable to American society.

Author:
Proposal Date: October 11, 2012
Defense Date: October 11, 2012
Committee Chair: Dr. Charles Kupfer
Committee Members:

Dr. John Haddad
Dr. Simon J. Bronner
Dr. Christopher Hollenbeak

Abstract:

As one of only a handful of states to have a government agency responsible for historic matters, Pennsylvania was well-positioned to benefit from funding made available through New Deal relief programs. New Deal labor and funding played a pivotal role during the formative years of the field of historic preservation, but its impact is often overlooked on both a regional and national level. Through analysis of the records of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, this dissertation explores the significance of historic preservation undertaken using New Deal relief funds and its relationship to the national urge to celebrate, remember, and commemorate history.

Author:
Proposal Date:
Defense Date: February 2, 2015
Committee Chair: Anne Verplanck
Committee Members:

Charles Kupfer
Michael Barton
Joseph Cecere

Abstract:

How do iconic media corporations, such as The Walt Disney Company, The New York Times Company, and The National Broadcasting Company (NBC), influence American popular culture through their distinct corporate cultures and rise to the level of “American institution?” From the Sunday Times crossword to the Summer Olympics, media corporations influence most of what we consume, but they are all backed by the need for profitability and positive corporate growth. Through primary source research and analysis of popular culture texts, I find that iconic institutions spring from the intersection of long-term corporate success and dynamic popular culture products, and a value neutral approach to American corporate culture can be beneficial in the study of popular culture and American business history.

Author:
Proposal Date: October 14, 2014
Defense Date: February 26, 2016
Committee Chair: Charles Kupfer
Committee Members:

Abstract:

Living from 1873-1945, Dr. Sara Josephine Baker’s career spanned the most dynamic and productive years in the development of American public health, and the exponential growth and modernization of New York City. Baker’s task at the nexus of public health’s response to infant mortality in America’s largest city was, at its most essential, to provide individualized medical care to tenement mothers and babies and to the city to which their lives connected. One of the key accomplishments of New York’s early twentieth century experiment in public health was to negotiate how the public use of science could reimagine the narrative of what cities were.

Author: Rebecca Cecala
Proposal Date: October 14, 2014
Defense Date:
Committee Chair: Charles Kupfer
Committee Members:

Abstract:

Caroline Peart was educated at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts and painted oil portraits. After creating over 50 paintings, Peart abruptly ended her award-winning career when her father died and her mentor, Cecilia Beaux, departed Philadelphia. She briefly married famed art critic Christian Brinton. After divorcing, Peart moved to Washington Boro to live, in squalor, with her mother. Upon her death, she left Franklin & Marshall College her estate, including over $500,000, paintings, and papers. Her life is local lore and her legacy is complicated by her reputation as a wildly eccentric older woman.

Author: Kate Snider
Proposal Date: May 5, 2016
Defense Date:
Committee Chair: Anne Verplanck
Committee Members:

John Haddad
Charles Kupfer
Holly L. Angelique

Abstract:

Young South Asian Indian immigrants usually did not cite religion as a reason to uproot themesleves to the United States after the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. To be sure, they continued religious observances within their homes until they had children. When they had children, they felt the need to emphasize their religion, tradition, and culture more to pass down to the next generation. As time passed, religion came to symbolize their culture in a way that it had not in India, especially in the emphasis on feminine goddesses. My dissertation deals with religious festivals of Diwali/ Kali Puja and Durga Puja/ Navratra in which this symbolism and expression of identity are evident. Using ethnographic methods, I analyze how worshiping feminine goddesses (through these festivals) has affected the lives of Indian Americans, especially women, and also how their American lifestyles have affected these festivals. I interpret the shift of women who emigrated from India from being daughters, wives, and mothers to keepers of tradition. I primarily focus on this tension between being an individual female self and being the keeper as reflected through these festivals. From a transnational perspective, I analyze the role played by various global religious organizations in this process and show how these organizations function as a link between the East and the West.

Author: Semontee Mitra
Proposal Date: April 25, 2014
Defense Date:
Committee Chair: Simon J. Bronner
Committee Members:

Anthony Buccitelli
Charles Kupfer
Triparna Vasavada

Abstract:

The rise of the secular apocalypse of the 20th century has given birth to a community bound by the belief that the world is on an unsustainable track. "Preppers", as they call themselves, believe that they must prepare for a wide range of dangers. Through preparation they construct a vernacular world of poaching from consumer products. These products and practices scaffold a framework through which Preppers reinterpret the world around them: a virtual construction of the apocalypse. This apocalypse is not only a millennial vision, but a vision of the present. It is not a failed prophecy, but an interpretive framework that reinterprets every detail of life, providing meaning and power to community members. Primarily engaging this community through ethnography, I am exploring the belief system of this community on its own terms.

Author: Andrew C. Miller
Proposal Date: May 18, 2015
Defense Date:
Committee Chair: Anthony Buccitelli
Committee Members:

Abstract:

Mamie Eisenhower was first lady of the United States from 1953-1961. Although Mamie was seen as fashion forward, friendly, and conscientious during Dwight Eisenhower’s years in office, she remains overshadowed as one of the nation’s popular culture icons of the twentieth century. The purpose of this dissertation is to juxtapose Mamie’s role as hostess and White House manager, which provides a new perspective on how she demonstrated her duties as first lady, how the American public perceived her, and how and why she was seen as a popular culture figure in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Author: Stefanie Strosnider
Proposal Date: January 4, 2016
Defense Date:
Committee Chair: Charles Kupfer
Committee Members:

Abstract:

The Super Bowl reigns supreme over the cultural calendar, integrating all of popular culture into one unified national festival. Over its first twenty-five years, the Super Bowl grew into its status as a cultural phenomenon by serving as a reflective pedagogical tool for Cold War anxieties. The Super Bowl also became a hearth for a new type of cultural narrative, poplore, created by popular culture but used in folkloric ways. Heroes and legends represented new Cold War icons, with sometimes conflicting messages of masculine virtue. The game itself spawned traditional celebrations and performances reinforced and normalized through mass media. The Super Bowl became an agent of Cold War America’s drive to modernize and homogenize a manufactured national identity, and reshaped American culture in the process.

Author: John E. Price
Proposal Date: April 22, 2014
Defense Date:
Committee Chair: Simon Bronner
Committee Members:

Abstract:

My dissertation argues that New York has successfully sold sex, perhaps better than any other American city, by cultivating a particular image that has been attractive to visitors since the 19th century – an image that promoted and marketed the City as a sexual frontier and a sanctuary for fringe culture, as a place both within America and yet set apart from it. By looking at popular literature, art, guidebooks, music, advertisements, film, folklore and the web, one can see how New York’s iconic sexual scenes and subcommunities have continuously been a part of the American imagination from the earliest gentleman’s directories through to the most recent “Sex Diaries” in New York Magazine.

Author: Andrea Glass
Proposal Date: April 27, 2015
Defense Date:
Committee Chair: Charles Kupfer
Committee Members:

Abstract:

“The National Road and the Expansion of American Culture, 1811-1850” investigates the multiple uses of a key transportation network extending from Cumberland, Maryland, to Vandalia, Illinois, during the first half of the nineteenth century. When the National Road—also called the Cumberland Road—was constructed in 1811, it was the first federally-funded highway in the United States. The National Road became a significant part of life for local citizens, politicians, farmers, and a variety of travelers. From the establishment and growth of communities to the consumption of goods and the spread of ideas, the National Road played a role in the creation and expansion of widespread American culture. The road made it easier for communities to participate in the changes taking place throughout America and connected the western citizens with larger trends in society. Using the modes of material culture and social history, this project seeks to analyze the influence of the road on the everyday lives of the people living and traveling along its route and will argue that the National Road enabled those living, working, and traveling along it to participate in the cultural transformation of America in the nineteenth century.

Author:
Proposal Date: November 12, 2013
Defense Date:
Committee Chair: Anne Verplanck
Committee Members:

David Witwer
John Haddad
Sofia Vidalis
Erin Battat

Abstract:

Spurred by a belief in progress and the perfectibility of society and individuals, a broad and influential cohort of nineteenth-century Americans pursued and promoted ideas and manifestations of “reform” in spheres ranging from religion and social-causes to architecture and design. This dissertation will examine one representative metropolitan area—Philadelphia—and (1) explore and document how those concerned with design/architecture, religious, and social/civic reform found one another and formed a community; and (2) document and analyze what that community produced. Central to this study is the network of familial, personal, and professional relationships that developed between—and extended outward from—the Reverend William Henry Furness, a Unitarian minister; Rebecca Gratz, a leading Jewish-American educator and philanthropist; the Reverend Furness’s son, the architect Frank Furness; progressive Rabbi Marcus Jastrow; Horace L. Traubel, an author and publisher who promoted the Ethical Culture Society and the Arts and Crafts Movement, and who served as literary executor and biographer for Walt Whitman; and Morris Jastrow, the son of Rabbi Jastrow, who was central to establishing the academic discipline of comparative religion.

Author: Matt Singer
Proposal Date: April 27, 2013
Defense Date: October 30, 2014
Committee Chair: Simon Bronner
Committee Members: