Studies in the American Experience
This 8-credit course is the academic core of the American Experience option in the Cornell in Washington Program, and all students who choose this option are required to enroll. The course is cross-listed as History 4997, American Studies 4997 and CAPS 4997.
The purpose of this option is to provide a window on the American experience examined through three different lenses.
- In the core course and electives, you will consider the American experience from the vantage point provided by snapshots of America's political, social, and economic history, as well as American contributions to art, literature, and public philosophy.
- You will participate in externships which provide access to, and insights into, America's past and present.
- Finally, in the core course you will undertake a substantial piece of primary, humanistic research on the American experience.
The research project may be on any topic related to the American experience, broadly defined, however, the research question addressed must satisfy two specific criteria.
- First, the question must involve a particular person, institution, event, period, work, or theme. It will require a detailed description of the subject, including an exploration of the motivations which underlie relevant behaviors and actions. Recent examples of research topics have included: the strategy of American Jewish organizations in lobbying the President during and after WWII; similarities and differences between leading edge art movements in the 1950s and the 1980s; and the manner in which the story of King Arthur's Round Table has been transformed by its development in American literature.
- Second, the question must require a description that can be assembled effectively, if imperfectly, by an original analysis of primary information, including but not limited to archival holdings, available during your stay in Washington, DC.
The project will be done in a series of small steps.
- First, you will write a short problem statement, describing the initial motivation for the research.
- Second, you will write a short background paper reporting on the essential factual and contextual background necessary to frame a reasonable research question.
- Third, you will review the existing literature and identify what is known, what is contested, and what is unknown concerning the topic.
- Fourth, you will begin sifting through the primary materials and prepare a preliminary description of your findings.
- Fifth, you will present a completed description of your findings with a brief sketch of the interpretation offered to make sense of the evidence you have presented.
- Sixth, you will present a rough draft of the completed project, including a fully developed interpretation of the significance and meaning of your research.
- Finally, you will present a final paper.
At every step in the process you will have substantial assistance. Before you undertake each of the steps, the professor will discuss and illustrate in class the purpose of that step and the ways in which it can be accomplished. In addition, you will have a tutor assigned who will be available to meet with you every week to discuss your project and who will provide detailed comments on each piece of your project, as the semester progresses, to assist you in crafting the best project possible.
Ultimately, and critically, the project will be your own. It will be a significant accomplishment of which you can, and will, be justifiably proud. Integrating this achievement with your other courses in Washington and with your externship is precisely what makes the Cornell in Washington semester the best semester for so many CIW alumni.
Studies in Public Policy
Examples of Prior Topics in American Experience