reed magazine logosummer2007

america the ugly

By Jacqueline Dirks ’82, Cornelia Marvin Pierce Professor of History & Humanities
Photographs by Lucien Samaha



Lucien Samaha 96114_101146-PDX

In 1991, I returned to Reed to teach, with an almost-finished Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale. Hired by Reed’s history department to teach social and cultural history (including U.S. women’s history), I got almost as many queries from some of my senior colleagues about whether American Studies was “a real field,” as I did questions about what books I could possibly be teaching under the heading of “women’s history.”

Among the answers I offered then was to point out that Reed had had its very own American Studies program and major since the 1960s. The spring of 2006 marked the 40th anniversary of the graduation of Reed’s first seniors in the major, including Reed trustee Martha Darling ’66. Though the number of majors in any given year has been small, student topics and thesis advisers have spanned a number of disciplines, and have reflected broader intellectual trends in a changing academic field.

American Studies has provided a happy home for those who wanted to study classic subject matter such as American literature, as well as for students interested in the systematic study of popular culture.
Will Swarts ’92 used Doonesbury comics to chart the rise and fall of the Nixon presidency, while Amy Rudzinski ’93 probed the myth of the consumer housewife from the ’50s to the ’70s through the prism of
I Love Lucy and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.


Lucien Samaha 040822_150352-NYC


Lecture to Mark 40 Years
of American Studies at Reed

On September 13, professor Philip J. Deloria of the University of Michigan will lecture on the current state of American Studies to honor the Reed program’s 40th anniversary. Read more.


Reed’s program began when President Richard Sullivan suggested to historians John Tomsich and Dorothy Johansen ’33 in 1964 that they design an American Studies major. Within a few years, the college hired its first-ever American literature specialist (Howard Waskow) and the first expert in American political theory (Mason Drukman). The financial hard times of the early ’70s led to the loss of one position in American history. But the program and major continued, sustained by Americanists Lisa Steinman, Christina Zwarg, Christopher Zinn, Richard Wightman Fox, and Casey Nelson Blake, among others who have taught American literature and history at Reed. Current professors who carry the bulk of the teaching and thesis load in American Studies include Steinman, Laura Leibman, and Pancho Savery in literature, and myself in history.

American Studies at Reed has long been an “add-on” major—students must satisfy all the requirements of a home or base major, plus complete extra course work in American subject matter related to their proposed thesis research. Most students have chosen a home in the English or history departments, reflecting national trends in the field. But over the years, American Studies theses have also been based in political science and even economics. In 2007, Robin Blanc and Dana Logan were the first majors to ground their studies in sociology and religion, respectively, with secondary fields in U.S. history. Since the 1980s, Reed professors in English and history have voluntarily sustained a regular American Studies colloquium where interested faculty and students lead discussions of selected articles.