This course explores the relation of the physical environment, understood as both given and constructed, to the larger and more ephemeral cultural context which it at once delimits and enables. The resultant scene-like spatial situations have been described within some academic disciplines as "cultural landscapes," a term meant to describe distinct geographical areas or properties uniquely representing the combined work of nature and humans. Deploying this concept of cultural landscapes as a framework, the course will plumb American culture with an emphasis on its physical dimension, exploring the ways that culture is engaged, reflected, and modified in the substance and configuration of those places wherein and through which we live our individual and collective lives. The course will ask students to explore how geography, topography, ecology, landscape, economics, and politics have influenced the reading and making of the American cultural landscape, and, perhaps more importantly, how the corporeal characteristics of constructed places have in turn shaped cultural developments and impacted, by extension, our world. At base, then, the course facilitates consideration of the fundamental interdependencies of nature, human nature, and the constructed environment in the context of U.S. culture. The politics of place are central to these explorations, but do not encompass them, since place intersects U.S. culture and society on many extra-political levels. The course will be founded on historical precedent and case studies, considered in light of key texts from various disciplines including urbanism, architecture, geography, film, philosophy, fiction, anthropology, and sociology, topical discussion, site visits, and the students' own analyses.
Why take this course in Rome?
Both the title and bulletin description of this course, regularly offered in Philadelphia, present an apparent misalignment: a GenEd course focusing on U.S. Society, but taught in Rome. How could that work? Yet, as any traveler abroad can attest, one of the most pervasive experiences of immersing yourself in a foreign city is not only what you learn about that unique culture, but what you learn about your own. It ends up that the cultures in which we live and move daily are the most difficult to behold –it’s like trying to map an ocean while swimming in it. In this sense, the distance and counterexample offered by Rome will be not a hindrance, but, rather, a very productive asset. The Rome-modified version of the course will contrast the U.S. topics being explored to counterexamples in the Italian situation as a way of emphasizing the particularity of U.S. cultural forms. This will allow for in situ exploration that, while set in Rome, will emphasize aspects of U.S. society that are more easily discerned once removed from them. The course, then, will be predicated on contrasting the physical aspects of Roman culture to the physical aspects of U.S. culture. Accordingly, a typical class session will be divided into two parts: a seminar-style lecture and discussion of a particular theme at the intersection of place and culture (typically including reference to a related short reading, podcast, or film), and then an excursion to a setting in Rome that embodies or contrasts that theme. Those seminars will balance professorial presentation with open dialog. Site visits will advance the dual goals of better understanding U.S. culture and presenting less obvious aspects of Roman culture and history. “Deliverables” will include weekly one-page mini-essays and photo-assignments related to our topics and readings, and then a final student project that will contrast a location in Rome to a location in Philadelphia as a means of further exploring the student’s specific interest in a critical dimension of U.S. culture and its inescapable connections to physical place.
This course fulfills the U.S. Society (GU) requirement for Temple students under GenEd. Students cannot receive credit for this course if they have successfully completed Architecture 0975.
This course is a special offering for Summer 2023 only.