American Studies

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An example of research created by our American Studies Cohort:
“Capraesque America: The Great Depression Films of Frank Capra from 1934-1939”
Natasha Chae
Professor Warren Belasco

During the Great Depression, the stability of the belief in America’s myth of limitless opportunity and upward mobility was at risk. As a result, Hollywood filmmakers were influential players in the effort to restore such important cultural ideals and values as the American Dream and the triumph over class into the American psyche. One of the most influential of these players was three-time Academy Award winner for Best Director, Frank Capra, who was best known for such films as It’s a Wonderful Life (1940) and less known for his documentary propaganda films for the U.S. government. In particular, such Capra films as It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) were celebrated as motivational films that consciously endeavored to reinstate classical American values within the context of the Great Depression. Although Capra’s critics characterized him as a sentimental populist, this research employed textual analysis, along the axes of gender, political ideology, and socioeconomic class, to investigate and refute this claim. In doing so, this research uncovered that the values espoused by these films demonstrated Capra’s conservative and traditionalist treatment of society, and, ultimately, a longing for the America of yore.

An abstract from an URCAD 2015 student researcher:

“Geographically Skewed News: A Trayvon Martin Case Study”
Shannon Mitchell
Senior Lecturer Kathy Bryan

News often serves as the lens through which we understand the world around us. But what if our lens is out of focus? Historically, newspapers in the northern and southern U.S. depicted racially charged events much differently. This project explores whether coverage of such issues is still skewed geographically. This content analysis of The New York Times, The Orlando Sentinel and The Christian Science Monitor reveals geographic differences in the way the 2012 Trayvon Martin case was covered. The news sources were selected based on readership representing geographically different markets (northern, southern, and national). This project maps articles in these three sources onto a timeline of Trayvon Martin’s case. Following the method of Stephen J. Farnsworth and S. Robert Lichter’s 2012 study of front-page presidential coverage, language describing George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin that “[conveyed] an unambiguous assessment or judgment concerning an individual, institution or action,” was scored as positive or negative. The study applies qualitative content analysis to explore the geographic differences in coverage revealed by this scoring and discusses the implications for the national conversation on race. If local, national and digital media portray facts about racial issues differently, effective public discourse about race is stifled.

Richard Elliot
Meet Richard Elliot!
Read about his research here!

Meet a research alumnae:

Benefits for American Studies students:

  • Work with a faculty member
  • Experience hands-on research
  • Reinforce classroom learning
  • Prepare for work or graduate school
  • Travel to national conferences
  • Receive grant funding
  • Publish independent research
    • Neighborhood University Initiative: A Strategy for Redevelopment of West Baltimore.
      Simran Noor. UMBC Review vol.10.
    • Economic Exclusivity alongside Racial Diversity in a 1960’s Planned City: Columbia, Maryland. Nancy Tewell. UMBC Review vol.10.

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For more information, check out this department’s website:
American Studies