The Program in American Culture, 1940-1975
The American Culture Program began with a graduate degree and an idea on the part of its first director, Professor Joe Lee Davis of the University of Michigan English Department, to offer students a broad vision of the humanities. Studying American life from various points of view to get at the foundations of American culture was the basis of the thinking behind the establishment of a concentration program in American Culture, an opportunity for students to transcend specialization. A part of the College of Literature, Science and Arts curriculum since the early 1930s, it was resumed after World War II through the efforts of Professor Davis. Courses were primarily in literature, history and social studies; but students were permitted to choose a pattern of selected courses in anthropology, economics, education, geography, journalism, philosophy, political science and sociology, as well as courses in fine arts, music, and speech in American life. The aim of the program was to broaden the humanistic orientation of the student rather than provide him/her with vocational training.
Until 1952 both the undergraduate and graduate degrees in American Culture were taken as independent study. In that year, both Rackham and the College of Literature, Science and Arts recognized the field as a full-fledged program with its Director and Executive Committee. At that time and subsequently, the vitality of the Program depended upon the good will of the departments whose faculty participated in offering courses and who served as members of first the steering committee and then the Executive Committee.
The undergraduate and graduate programs went through similar, often parallel, changes in the 1960s. In 1965, a study was made of the undergraduate program. As a result, an honors reading and research course leading to the writing of an undergraduate honors thesis in American Culture Page 2was introduced, thereby opening the way for superior students to complete an honors degree in American Culture; this infusion of students with higher academic capabilities further benefited the Program. These students were expected to write theses which would bridge two academic fields and they conceived this interdisciplinary requirement in a broad way linking, for example, History and Sociology, English and Journalism, History and Political Science, Music and History, Art and English, Women's Studies and Religion, as well as the more conventional History and English. Since 1965 there have been 25 honors theses written.
After another study by the faculty and students in 1970, the undergraduate program was further changed to include an introductory core course on "American Values" that would create a community of interests for American Culture students and provide teaching opportunities for its graduate students within the discipline. The undergraduate concentration moved some very specific course requirements in the various disciplines to a more flexible one embracing a wider range of areas in addition to English and History. The bulk of the concentration courses were divided among four areas — English, History, social science, and fine arts — in American issues or themes. This was to allow the desired flexibility and experimentation thought important for undergraduate education. A special seminar in methodology was added for honors and graduate students at this time in response to a student-faculty study in which students revealed that they felt a definite lack of knowledge about methodologies they might use. The Program also added a comparative culture component to give students the opportunity to study non-American cultures which would parallel their American courses' subject matter. Later, in 1977, an undergraduate methods course was introduced for all American Culture concentrators. The concentration program was also simplified at this time to include 30 hours in upper-level courses focusing on issues, Page 3themes, or topics in American society and divided among the fields of history, literature and the arts, and the social sciences. The comparative culture component was retained.
At the same time as the undergraduate program study was made in 1965, both the M.A. and Ph.D. program came under review. The M.A. program served two groups: secondary school teachers, journalists, curators in cultural-history museums, and government workers who engaged in a year's study of the United States without specializing in a single discipline. The second group served by the M.A. program were prospective Ph.D. candidates. These students would gain an introduction to the departments and fields in which they expected subsequently to work. At that time, the Ph.D. program was revamped to accommodate the increasing numbers of students. It was no longer possible for one Ph.D. adviser to guide the increasingly diverse interests these students represented. The task of the Ph.D. program became two-fold. To prepare students for types of teaching and research that required the convergence of two or more disciplines and the interweaving of bodies of knowledge that were usually separated. The doctoral program, it was felt, also provided an opportunity for intellectual collaboration among members of the faculty who were trying to understand specific relationships in American between cultural achievements, the structure of society, and the framework of belief. Courses in the goals and methodology of American Studies were introduced in 1965. In 1970 an intensive study of a cross-cultural topic was required in all graduate programs. Student representatives with voting privileges were added to the Program's steering committee in the late 1960s and to the graduate admissions committee in the mid-1970s. This also was an innovative feature of the Program in which students were given full representation and participation on its committees.
Page 4Since its evolution to a full-fledged program in 1952, the main orientation in the Program in American Culture passed through two major phases. Initially the Program arose from a desire among students and faculty in the English Department for a grasp of American experience broader than could be provided in the study of any one discipline. Its center of interest was defined as the study of values in America, and the Program became increasingly attentive to the many embodiments — institutions, artifacts, and ways of living — in which those values function. In respect to method, the Program aspired to build bridges between the humanities and the social sciences. In substance, it linked past and present. Its goal was to foster comprehensive critical understanding of American life and culture solidly grounded in more than one academic discipline. In more recent years the Program has become newly conscious of the necessity of augmenting this original orientation by responding to the growing awareness in our society of the diversity and complexity of cultural experience in America.
The Program has pledged itself, as a result of larger events in the United States during the 1960s, to take a closer look at the sub-cultures within the European-based cultural values which had been dominant previously in the curriculum, and also to making a special effort to include the role of women as well as the study of Asian-American, Black, Chicano, Native American, and Puerto Rican ethnic minority cultures within our Program. In line with the Program's pledge to include the role of women as well as ethnic minorities in its curriculum, a pilot course was established in 1972 in Women's Studies under the auspices of American Culture and was subsequently made into a full-fledged undergraduate B.A. program. Graduate studies in this area continue under the rubric of American Culture. During 1973 a Committee on Native American Affairs was established under the umbrella of American Culture charged with the assessment of American Indian programs elsewhere; Page 5identification of needs on the University of Michigan campus; coordination of effective recruitment of Native American students; identification of resources on the campus; financial resources open to Native American's coordination with the Federal Office of Indian Affairs in Washington and the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Lansing; effective liaison with several Native American representative groups; and recommendations of specific courses and a program of study. This committee included five Native American students, four faculty, and one admissions representative. A regular course offering within the Program was initiated in 1975 and an office was set up for counseling services in 1973 and a full-time Native American advocate position was established. At the same time as the Native American committee was established, the Program was also charged with the responsibility for fulfilling the needs of the Chicano community and did establish an ongoing course on "The Chicano Experience in 1973."
Film studies began under the American Culture rubric through the efforts of Marvin Felheim with a pilot course in 1968 on the American film. Other courses and faculty teaching film followed and by 1972 a Film Committee on campus was established through the American Culture Program; by 1975 this committee received approval from the College for a full-fledged undergraduate degree in Film-Video. Graduate studies in film still has a home in American Culture.
As a result of these innovations, the Program has produced and trained one Chicano Ph.D. (three more are completing their studies); has admitted two Native American students to graduate status; has trained seven Ph.D.s in the area of film; and has awarded two Ph.D.s in the area of women's studies.
The first director of the Program in American Culture, Professor Joe Lee Davis, was its chairman from 1952-1968, a time in which he guided the Program from a basic History/Literature program to involve a wide variety of Page 6disciplines within the College and even outside the College, including, among others, music, education, and architecture. After his death in 1974, the Program established an annual endowed graduate fellowship with the initial funding of a gift of $5000 from Mrs. Davis. Professor Davis served for 44 years on the Michigan faculty, 17 of those as chairman of the Program in American Culture. Joe Lee Davis was a recognized authority both in British and American literature. He personally was responsible for the direction of 17 Ph.D.s in American Culture during this time.
Professor John Higham, the Moses Coit Tyler Professor of History, became director in 1969 and served in this capacity for two years during which time he was responsible for adding the comparative culture component to the Program's curriculum, both graduate and undergraduate, and the new undergraduate core course on values. Under his guidance enrollment in its degree programs burgeoned.
In 1971, Professor Marvin Felheim, became the Program's third director and under his leadership, the Program became more diverse by reaching out to new areas of study in the fields of comparative literature, women, film, the ethnic experience in American life, popular culture, and the arts. Professor Felheim was one of the first recipients (1973-1975) of the newly established Collegiate Professorships designed to stimulate new approaches to knowledge. As an indication of his versatility, he designed a course on "The Tradition of the New in America: The Arts" in which he encouraged students to look at not only traditional forms of art but to train the eye and mind to discover the "new" in art. Marvin Felheim had been a University of Michigan faculty member since 1948 and was director of the Program for seven years during which time he graduated 17 Ph.D. candidates under his direction. During 1975, when Marvin Felheim was on sabbatical leave, the Program was directed by Marion Marzolf, a Journalism professor who received her degree in the Program, and Page 7who was responsible for strengthening its undergraduate curriculum particularly in Honors, and adding a course on methods for undergraduates who had not to-date received such training.
Since 1952 the Program has gone from a small non-budgeted, one-man operation, in which the director carried the responsibilities of not only the undergraduate advising but also all graduate advising and all administrative duties on top of a full load of departmental commitments, to a Program run by one Director, a steering committee consisting of 12 faculty from six departments and a separate undergraduate counselor as well as an administrative assistant and hourly typist. It now can boast support in the form of fellowships, scholarships and teaching positions for its graduate students from both the College and participating departments.
From only a few undergraduates in the 1940s and 1950s, such enrollment reached a high of 90 in 1971 and decreased somewhat after 1975. The Program has awarded a total of 341 undergraduate degrees. On the graduate level, the Program awarded its first Ph.D. in 1952 (there was to be a ten-year gap before the second Ph.D. was granted) and has since awarded 60 such degrees and 204 master's degrees. Its peak graduate admissions year was in 1970 when it received a total of 94 applications for admission; by 1975 applicants had declined to 48 indicating the general humanities decrease in enrollments that had been created by the flood of the Ph.D. market in the 1970s.