Beck has taught in a variety of disciplines:
American Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, African-American Studies, and English. While she uses varying pedagogical strategies, there is always an emphasis on her holy trinity of teaching: experience, application, and creation. A firm believer in combining theory with action, she incorporates service-learning work into courses when appropriate and creates assignments that develop research and technological literacies.
Various ethnic/racial groups have suffered political and economic disenfranchisement as a result of being non-white. In response, minority communities have sought the privileges conferred upon whiteness and simultaneously denied to them—whether by passing as white, fighting a racial designation in the courtrooms, or mobilizing against systemic inequality. The Tang Museum’s exhibit When and Where I Enter, organized by Associate Professor of American Studies Beck Krefting and students from her spring 2018 “Critical Whiteness” course, examines ideas around whiteness.
Disorderly Women: Body & Mind
Filmed and edited by Dorothea Trufelman ’16. Disorderly women focuses on some of the women who have been characterized by the larger society as unruly, disruptive, radical, militant, unfeminine—just generally “disorderly.” Read more below.
This required course for senior majors in American Studies, offers an exploration of primary and secondary sources in the interdisciplinary examination of a particular topic of your choosing in American culture. Students will pursue a major research project and write a thesis that may serve as the preparation for an honors thesis project. Pursuant to this, students will build an annotated bibliography of extant literature, determine suitable methodological approaches to their subject(s) of inquiry, develop a literature review, and craft original arguments in a thesis-length analytic paper (45-55 pages).
Previously Taught Courses
This course will examine the history of comedic cultural production in England through the cultural forms of music halls, vaudeville/variety, comedy performed in working men’s clubs, comedic street performance, televised sketch comedy and stand-up comedy, examining how comedy is influenced and shaped by shifts in social consciousness, changing economy, industrial and technological innovations, political events, and global conflict and relations. We will examine the history of comedy as the history of England—that comedy reflects the institutions and ideologies shaping cultural production; the same institutions and ideologies that prompt us to warfare, that determine who has rights and who does not and that influence our consumptive practices. Along the way, we will unpack the history, theories, and functions of laughter and humor while also documenting the myriad ways comic performance proliferates across media. We will examine styles of comic performance such as shock comedy, charged humor, self-deprecating humor, satire/political humor and performing marginality from contemporary UK comics such as Eddie Izzard, Eliza Smurthwaite, Humza Arshad, Stewart Lee, Gina Yashere, John Oliver, Bridget Christie, Ed Byrne, and many more. Reading popular discourses as critical texts shaping human behavior, attitudes and consumptive practices, we will compare shifting ideas about political correctness and humor from the mid-twentieth century to the Digital Age. The city of London* will be our playground and roaming classroom as we visit historical cultural sites (some still active) for comic performances like Wilton’s Music Hall, Soho Theatre, London Palladium Theatre, Mildmay Working Men’s Club, popular urban sites for street performances like Covent Garden, as well as important centers for the preservation and study of comedy, e.g., the British Museum of Comedy, and the Centre for Comedy Studies Research.
This course is an interdisciplinary analysis of the evolution of American cuisine, foodways (these are diverse) and food politics. Beginning with Native American foodways and the impact of colonization on them, we will study regional food patterns of the colonial period, consider the development of distinctively American styles of cooking and eating in the 19th century with special attention to the effect of immigration, and explore the impact of science, business, technology, globalization and changing family patterns on U.S. food in the 20th and 21st centuries. Allowing that food is a window into American identity, we will explore important questions such as: How does food—what we eat and how we procure it—inform individual and collective identity? How do various forces like politics, international affairs, the economy, technology, and culture shape access to certain foods/ingredients? How does who we are, that is our sociological positioning, e.g., female, Latinx, poor, or queer, shape food pathways? What are the cultural representations of minorities—sexual, gender, race, and otherwise—in food advertising? Course assignments (mostly papers because this IS an expository writing course) will introduce students to American Studies as discipline and practice, develop research literacies, and improve written and oral communication. Students will wrap up the course by flexing their technological muscles to create an original vodcast (video podcast) that educates the broader public about concepts/theories/histories learned throughout the course.
An investigation of the history, theories, and functions of laughter and humor and use of comedic cultural forms to think critically about American culture while exploring key moments and transitions in American history. Students will examine the history of comedic cultural production in America through cultural forms such as blackface minstrelsy, vaudeville, and stand-up comedy. Course assignments will focus on how cultural forms have been influenced and shaped by shifts in social consciousness, changing economy, industrial and technological innovations, political events, public/popular discourses, and global conflict and relations.
This course is an introduction for AM majors and minors to American Studies the discipline, its scholarship, methodologies, and approaches to the study of society and culture in the United States. Students will read and analyze works that reflect the wide variety of methodologies and approaches used by American Studies practitioners from the inception of the discipline in the 1930s to the present. Our course materials include American Studies “classics” as well as recent scholarship: the “myth and symbol” school, the culture concept, feminist critiques, material culture, oral history and ethnography, popular and material culture—with attention to issues of race, ethnicity, gender, class, age, and sexuality. Students will have many opportunities to sharpen their analytical, research, writing, and oral presentation skills. In addition, two primary goals of the course will be to define and critique what American Studies practitioners do and to acquaint students with the rich (and sometimes contentious) history of American Studies as a discipline. This course focuses on the 1980s as a period of special relevance in the late 20th century. Economic consolidation, shifts in popular opinion, frenzied consumption, the rise of the commercial airline industry and cable television—the 1980s was full of flagrant excesses while unemployment, poverty and hunger were on the rise. This decade will serve as thematic backdrop to our exploration of research methods and approaches. Throughout the semester, we will explore the backlash against progressive reform measures of the 1960s and ‘70s, the AIDS Crisis, nuclear armament during the Cold War, 1980s popular culture, and examine race relations vis-à-vis the material and textual artifacts created during this decade. We will study various research methods and approaches that scholars have used to evaluate and investigate this time period in the US, making connections between the past and the present.
As you begin college, you are confronting the recurring dilemmas that define and shape our lives: Who am I? What exactly am I? What is my relationship to others? What is my responsibility to them and to the world? As biologist E. O. Wilson contends in his 2003 book The Future of Life, life is “an insoluble problem, a dynamic process in search of an indefinable goal. [It is] neither a celebration nor a spectacle but rather, as a later philosopher put it, a predicament” (xxii). “Human Dilemmas” will challenge your conventional assumptions surrounding these predicaments as we focus our attention on interdisciplinary readings, critical thinking, and academic inquiry. Debates, field trips, and writing will move us toward an understanding of what it means to be human in our contemporary world.
An interdisciplinary analysis of the evolution of American cuisine from 1600 to the present. Beginning with a taste of Native American food, we will explore regional food patterns of the colonial period, consider the development of distinctively American styles of cooking and eating in the nineteenth century, and pay special attention to the effects of immigration. We will then explore the impact of science, business, technology, globalization, and changing family patterns on food in the United States in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
This course offers an introduction to the origins, purpose, subject matters, and methods of the interdisciplinary study of gender. Students are expected to expand their knowledge of the relative historical and present social conditions of women and men in different contexts and to develop analytical skills for the examination of socially significant variables—race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality. Students will explore different and often opposing understandings of what constitutes feminism and feminist action. The class format will combine interactive lectures, readings, assignments, discussion, formal research and writing assignments and other student projects. Ideally, students will leave the class with an understanding of how gender structures cultural, political, economic and social relations in various contexts.
Humor pervades cultural forms, whether manifesting in literature, film, television, theatre, music, art and other print, visual and performatic cultural practices. As a vehicle for self-expression, humor edifies and instructs; it can point us towards the everyday practices of people’s lives, illumining social and political issues and showing us “where the trouble is.” Using critical methods in cultural studies and performance studies we will examine the cultural economy of comedy; in other words, the production and consumption of comic performance in contemporary US culture. This interdisciplinary course will unpack the history, theories, and functions of laughter and humor while also documenting the myriad ways comic performance proliferates. We will examine styles of comic performance such as shock comedy, self-deprecating humor, satire/political humor and impersonations from such comics as Lisa Lampenelli, Dave Chappelle, Sarah Silverman, Maria Bamford, Jeff Garlin, Margaret Cho, Angelo Tsarouchas, Pablo Francisco, Kate Clinton, Jimmy Dore, Wanda Sykes and many, many more. Reading comedy as a cultural text, we will discuss popular discourses about humor exploring questions such as: what does the public say about humor; who is best suited to produce humor; who’s funny and why? The course will culminate with a final project allowing students to work independently or together to film a comic performance or text that puts into practice a theory or key term germane to popular culture studies or performance studies.
This course will enhance students’ critical and analytical reading and writing skills through an interdisciplinary study of women’s literary representations of critical issues in United States social history. The emphasis will be on women writers’ strategies for articulating female experience and on the role of literature as metaphor for social reality and catalyst for social and political change. The course will highlight a multi-racial women’s literature, covering such topics as: western expansionism and the experiences of Native Americans; slavery and the abolitionist movement; the cult of true womanhood; the immigrant experience; identity politics; and contemporary feminisms. Along with gender, analyses of race, class, ethnicity, and sexual identity will be critical components of the course.
This course examines various dimensions of the production and consumption of popular culture practices, both historical and contemporary, in the United States. One simple premise of this course is that whether conceived of as peoples’ systems of shared meanings, attitudes, and values or as the texts and practices of everyday life, popular culture performances and artifacts are constructed or “made.” Popular culture forms thus reveal much about American identity, namely who past generations think they were and who we think we are today. Popular culture can also reveal much about social and cultural tensions in and across time. A second premise underlying this course is that in their popular culture activities, people create culture and society. In other words, in practices such as music, sports, reading, TV watching, and more — even t-shirt wearing! — people actively engage and re-interpret cultural messages and values, economic activity, institutions, and the very social relationships that underlay local, national, and international communities. With these premises in mind, we shall explore a range of popular culture practices, both past and present, and, hopefully, leave this course thinking differently about both the construction and the significance of popular culture.
American cultures vary enormously, from Wiccan gatherings to body building competitions to online gaming communities, we all foster various intellectual pursuits, hobbies and traditions that somehow in the end get classified as “American culture.” So, what is American culture, why bother studying it and what methods are most useful for such an analysis? These are all questions that will remain central to this course, which places a broad emphasis on the vast range of differences among American cultures as well as the individual differences that constitute who we are as citizens, students, consumers, athletes and friends etc. In fact, we cannot understand larger cultural phenomenon without examining how US institutions and society have constructed individual differences in the past and present. Using life history and ethnographic methods, we will examine markers of identity meaningful in US cultures and work to understand the intersectional nature of these social positions as they relate to ourselves, each other and our nation.
Fear of nuclear warfare in the mid-twentieth century led to a surge in family home bomb shelters and elaborate underground fortresses intended for high-profile public officials and authorities. A computer glitch that threatened to bring an end to the electronic age, spurred the Y2K problem, prompting people to hoard water and provisions on the millennium’s cusp. Religious groups continue to forecast an apocalypse and the Mayan calendar predicted December 21, 2012 as that “end date.” The DIY and self-subsistence movements so popular today reflect a desire to broaden our skill sets as much as they reflect a desire for readiness in the face of imminent disaster. Threats of an apocalypse shape human behavior, practices and identity. How these are imagined and what happens in the aftermath can tell us about who we are, how we will behave in crisis, what we are afraid of and who matters. How do dystopic stories differ from post-apocalyptic tales; what are distinguishing characteristics of the latter genre? What happens to the treatment of minorities—racial, sexual, differently abled and gender—in a post-apocalyptic era as imagined by authors and filmmakers? How do stories of the apocalypse and the aftermath reflect the fears and concerns of the American public in a particular moment in time? In this class, we will apply methods of analyzing print and visual popular culture to offer critical assessment of post-apocalyptic texts produced throughout the past century (and even older than that). Using novels, short stories, films, graphic novels, video games, and virtual reality this course will learn to apply multiple methods for analyzing print and visual popular culture texts that imagine life in a post-apocalyptic world.
The United States is a complex, heterogeneous society profoundly shaped by its multicultural heritage. In this course we will explore diversity within the United States vis-à-vis seven categories of identity including: race/ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality, religion, ability and class. Through course readings, rigorous discussion and textual analysis we will cultivate a knowledge and understanding of individual difference with an emphasis on range of differences within communities as well as the similarities between communities. Together we will address the interrelationships and tensions that characterize a culturally and socioeconomically diverse society by examining political maneuvering spurred by categories of difference. This course places a broad emphasis on the vast range of differences and similarities among American cultures as well as the individual differences that constitute who we are as citizens, students, consumers, athletes and friends, etc. In fact, we cannot understand individual, communal or national identity without examining how U.S. institutions and society have constructed individual differences in the past and present, namely that all things are historically contingent and contextual. This course utilizes life history and ethnographic methods to examine cultural traditions and markers of identity meaningful in U.S. cultures and works to understand the intersectional nature of these social positions as they relate to each other, our nation and each of us. Together, we will learn to exercise our creativity and intellect in order to understand, analyze, and appreciate diversity in the United States.
The course will explore performance sites where female humor flourishes, such as performance art, theater collectives, drag, stand-up comedy, improv troupes, and song. This interdisciplinary course will unpack the history, theories, and functions of laughter and women’s deployment of humor, women’s cultural/social relationship to humor, and the economy of comedy. There will be a special focus on the humor arising from women on the margins—those identified as disabled, lesbian and/or of color—performing from the fifties to the twenty-first century.
Various ethnic/racial groups have strived for whiteness—whether by passing as white or fighting a racial designation in the courtrooms—and have suffered political and economic disenfranchisement as a result of not being White. Mexicans, Italians, Poles, Jews, Africans, Irish, American Indians, Asians, and Arabs are among those sharing a tenuous relationship with the status of whiteness—in this case a desired status conferring privilege, access and power. In this course, we will examine whiteness in United States culture and history. Historical trends are part of this course, yet this is by no means a comprehensive review of the history of whiteness in America. The course will begin by visiting theoretical debates and foundations within critical whiteness studies. Through primary sources, legal cases, historical accounts, literary analysis, and cultural criticism, we will review historical periods to understand the role of whiteness at various points in US history, including the colonial and antebellum periods, the Industrial Age and modern-day America. From white trash to people that can’t quite pass, we will examine groups occupying the borders and fringes of whiteness, how they negotiate this designation and institutional investment in maintaining the category of whiteness in America. As you will see, the history of whiteness is a messy and contested one, but together we will work to make sense of US history and culpability in perpetuating racial hierarchy in the US.
This multidisciplinary seminar will chart and examine the development and expression of Black feminist thoughts, particularly in the United States. The course will focus on the intraracial significance of gender, sexuality, race, ability, and class, as well as the complex interplay among these variables. Emphasis will also be placed on illuminating Black feminist resistance and activism in several distinct, yet overlapping, contexts, including under conditions of servitude, the Black club women’s movement and the reemergence of Black feminisms and womanism from the late 1960s onward. In this class you will be introduced to the roots of modern Black feminist thought vis-à-vis Anna Julia Cooper and the prescient writings of Lorraine Hansbury. Later, the focus will be on Black feminist theorizing particularly the intellectual development of radical Black feminist thought and lesbian separatism during the 1960s and 1970s and late 20th century transnational feminisms.
Disorderly women focuses on some of the women who have been characterized by the larger society as unruly, disruptive, radical, militant, unfeminine—just generally “disorderly.” Why certain women have been perceived as disorderly is reflective of the society in which they lived. We will examine types of women considered disorderly as well as the experiences of specific so-called disorderly women in the nineteenth and twentieth-century United States. Some of the questions we will consider are: What defines women as “disorderly” in specific time and place; in what ways do some women deviate from the roles and behavior expected of all women; what motivates disorderly women, from their perspectives, to act as they do; what successes/non-successes have disorderly women experienced, and at what psychic cost? We will focus, then, on “disorderly women” as actors within and upon their society and on the response of that larger society to their actions.
This will be an interdisciplinary course using critical theory to examine the role and function of female comic performance. Together we will unpack the history, theories, and functions of laughter and women’s deployment of humor, women’s cultural/social relationship to humor, and the economy of comedy. Using performance, feminist, queer, disability and critical race theories we will explore performance sites where female humor flourishes, such as performance art, theater collectives, stand-up comedy, and improv troupes. We will examine how humor is linked with power and dominance—where the person joking is the one in control of the conversation—making female performance a pivotal space of social intervention. The course focuses on the humor arising from women on the margins—those identified as disabled, lesbian and/or of color—performing during the twenty-first century, like Moms Mabley, Kate Clinton, Margaret Cho and Whoopi Goldberg, Carmelita Tropicana, Ela Troyana and Monica Palacios, and radical theater troupes including the Five Lesbian Brothers and Spiderwoman Theater.