Thursday, 3/29, 4:15 p.m., “God Ble$$ Ameri©a: Contested Ownership of an Iconic Song”

March 26th, 2012

“God Ble$$ Ameri©a”: Contested Ownership of an Iconic Song

Sheryl Kaskowitz, Visiting Lecturer in American Studies, will discuss her new book from Oxford University Press and the history of the song “God Bless America.”

“God Bless America” may have attained the status of an unofficial national anthem, but its roots in Tin Pan Alley tie it inextricably to the world of commerce. Written by Irving Berlin, it has earned millions of dollars in royalties since it was first published in 1938. This talk uses these hidden economics as a framework for examining parallels in the song’s reception during two distinct periods when “God Bless America” was embraced as the anthem of choice by the public: just before the U.S. entry into World War II, and just after the September 11th attacks.

Slosberg 212
Thursday, March 29 at 4:15 p.m.

Co-sponsored by the American Studies Program and the Department of Music.

RSVP to and

Professor Tom Doherty on “The Last Bow for 35mm Film”

March 1st, 2012

Professor Tom Doherty, currently in Singapore teaching, wrote a timely piece for the History News Network that focuses on the Oscars, film history, and the end of 35mm film:

For a medium born in the nineteenth century, 35mm motion picture projection has had a remarkably long run. The system was initially fired up in 1895 in Paris, when the pioneering filmmaker-entrepreneurs Auguste and Louis Lumiere first projected 35mm celluloid onto a screen in public space for money, which is a pretty good definition of the movies. Throughout the twentieth century, the 35mm format remained the standard gauge for filming and exhibition. The Kodak film stock got more sensitive, the resolution sharper, and the light cast on the screen more powerful, but the size of the strip remained the constant gold standard for the spectacle of cinema, the difference between a big night out at the Bijou and a mere home movie, the latter being shot in formats of 16mm, 8mm, and super-8mm, before videotape cameras deep-sixed the lower film gauges.  Practically every director in Hollywood had to pose for the same publicity shot: unspooling a strip of 35mm at an editing board, he narrows his eyes and pretends to inspect the image on the frame.

After a century of unquestioned hegemony, however, 35mm is being wiped off the screen. Perhaps not coincidentally, the close of 2011 witnessed this pair of heartfelt elegies for the old medium: Hugo, a love letter to early cinema and film preservation, and The Artist, a homage to the silent era and an argument for the superfluity of spoken dialogue. Both, appropriately, have deep-French connections, both luxuriate in all things filmy, and both showcase protagonists who get literally entwined and almost consumed by strips of 35mm celluloid.

Considering a Ph.D. in American Studies?

February 13th, 2012

Yale University reports its doctoral program in American Studies saw a 13% increase in applications last year:

Yale’s Ph.D. program in American studies ranked best in the country in a 2010 National Research Council (NRC) survey, and the department’s chair is the president-elect of the American Studies Association — both of which give the program an “extremely high profile” nationally, Dudley said. Students also find faculty research topics such as economic inequality and social movements particularly relevant now, she said, adding that the program also offers a master’s certificate in public humanities that allows students to get jobs outside academia after graduation.

Hoover cross-dressing story looks shabby

February 13th, 2012

Out of theaters and out on DVD now, the biopic “J. Edgar” was roundly panned by critics, including American Studies professor Tom Doherty, quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s article “Hoover cross-dressing story looks shabby“:

With the opening of the film “J. Edgar,” however, the transvestite legend is likely to get fresh legs. While the movie sidesteps any reference to cross-dressing parties the G-man is alleged to have attended, it does include a poignant scene of a deeply grieving Hoover caressing, then donning, his just-deceased mother’s necklace and dress.

Why the obsession with Hoover in a dress?

It’s “the sheer snicker-inducing incongruity of the visual … the delicious irony in the spectacle of the man who kept everyone else’s secrets having such a transgressive one of his own,” said Thomas Doherty, a Brandeis University professor and author of “Cold War, Cool Medium: Television, McCarthyism, and American Culture.”

Leave a comment if you’ve seen the movie. What did you think?


“The Jewish Retail Giant and the Black Community”

February 13th, 2012

Brandeis American Studies Professor Stephen Whitfield’s February 6, 2012 article in Jewish tackles the issue of “The Jewish Retail Giant and the Black Community,” focusing on the anonimity (and philanthropy) of Sears, Roebuck president Julius Rosenwald and the impact of Jewishness on this obscurity. 

Whitfield notes that Rosenweld expressed concern that antisemitism might hurt rural business, and yet:

Whatever the validity of his concerns, his company did as much as any retail business in the nation to help farmers and their families conquer the burden of solitude.  More than any other business (except for the Ford Motor Company), Sears, Roebuck enabled a predominantly rural nation to connect with the rising influence of industrial and urban ways of life and ultimately with a cosmopolitan modernity.  No wonder then that, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt was asked during the Second World War which American book he would like to see distributed in the Soviet Union, he did not nominate the Federalist Papers or Moby-Dick or even his own public papers.  Instead the leader who listed “freedom from want”—as one of the Four Freedoms that the Allies were fighting for—proposed the Sears, Roebuck catalog.

Whitfield holds the Max Richter Chair in American Civilization at Brandeis University.

Brandeis Professor Buys Franklin County Farm

January 24th, 2012

Wondering what American Studies professor and Director of the Environmental Studies program Brian Donahue is doing on his sabbatical? Wonder no more.  Check out this NECN article on Professor Donahue and how he combines environmental history with hands-on farming:


“It’s a balancing act,” said the curly-haired, bearded hands-on academic, who’s just driven nearly two hours from his home in suburban Boston to oversee the construction of the post-and-beam house being built with native hemlock, cherry and white oak from the property along the Fall River. “I combine my teaching, my research and the farming I do as much as I can. It sort of lends something extra to each of them.”

Donahue, who teaches courses on environmental history, sustainable farming and forestry and early American culture, was involved in developing Harvard Forest’s 2005 “Wildlands and Woodlands” document, which called for protecting half of the forests in Massachusetts by 2050 primarily through sustainable management practices and also collaborated on a similar 2010 vision for protecting 70 percent of the New England’s forests by 2060.

But Donahue, who dropped out of Brandeis as an undergraduate in the 1970s so he could work full-time on a farm in neighboring Weston, but then returned there in the 1980s to get his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate there, is also knee-deep in drafting a “New England Good Food Vision 2060.”

In it, he maintains that even conserving 50 percent of southern New England in sustainably harvested “working” forest would still allow for farmland around the six-state region to be expanded threefold from 2 million acres to about 6 million acres. That would translate to about 15 percent of the region to active farming by 2060, about the same as it was in 1945.

Welcome to the American Studies Program at Brandeis University

November 18th, 2011

Welcome to the official blog for the American Studies Program at Brandeis University. Stay tuned for more details as we launch!

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