Kara’s teaching and pedagogy have long been informed by the interdisciplinary methods utilized in the field of American studies. In particular, her classroom work reflects a passionate interest in the stories we tell ourselves about the past and our visions of possible futures, not only as found in textbooks and academic monographs but also at heritage sites, museums, and memorials, and in literature, films, visual culture, and popular media. A fundamental goal of her teaching is to push students to challenge what seems “natural” and “normal,” think critically about the past, and recognize the ways history becomes “usable” in the present.
She is proud to have been part of the pedagogically driven Thinking Matters program at Stanford. Thinking Matters is a required, pre-disciplinary program in critical thinking and writing. With small discussion seminars, intensive writing feedback, and a tutorial component, this program focuses on strengthening students’ ability to engage in productive academic inquiry, express their ideas both orally and in writing, listen to others, and develop their position in small group settings.
The Human Project: Science Fiction Film, Society, and Identity: Science fiction (SF) is a genre of ideas, expressing the sensibilities of its age as transparently as other productions of popular culture, some would argue even more so. SF film and literature have provided the popular imagination with some of the most compelling visions of the possibilities and perils of a future increasingly dominated by advanced technologies, globalization, and shifting ideals. Such films and literary texts have also provided serious and thoughtful explorations of contemporary social, cultural, and political issues, from xenophobia, race, gender and sexuality, and class issues, to corporate capitalism, colonialism, environmental degradation, nuclear disaster, and the nature of humanity itself. This course will explore the ways SF film has embodied and reflected cultural attitudes and beliefs around cultural identity and the relationship between the self and society, mirroring some of the most profound hopes, fears, and anxieties to be found in American culture in the late twentieth/early twenty-first century.
Dystopian California: Imagining the Golden State in Science Fiction and Disaster Films: Dystopian California examines the ways the Golden State has been popularly imagined both historically as the Land of Promise and more recently as the land of apocalypse in science fiction and disaster films. Through this lens, we’ll be exploring anxieties articulated through images of natural disaster, environmental degradation, urbanization and urban decay, invasion (both viral and “alien”), societal collapse, overpopulation, and nuclear holocaust – as well as the tenacity of the human spirit. We’ll be discussing conceptions of survival and the ways these films both articulate societal fears and help to neutralize them. More broadly we will discuss how these films metaphorically address, through the loss of innocence, the possibility of establishing a truly Utopian California – the Golden Land of Opportunity promised to us – that had been unattainable or lost in the melee of postmodernity.
Race and American Memory: In 1865, the peace treaty was signed at Appomattox and the war came to an end, but the battle over memory and national identity had just begun. Stories told from different perspectives—past and present—shape our understanding of the conflicted heritage of race and identity in American culture. Our analysis of personal essays, novels, poems, paintings, photographs, and films will give us insight into how race has shaped national debates about freedom, citizenship, and changing notions of personal and collective identity. Each generation re-interprets past events and institutions in light of its own experiences: the stories we choose to tell about the past can shape not only our understanding of the present, but also the kind of future we imagine and strive to realize.
Reading the Body: Medicine, Culture, and the Self: This course offers a new understanding of the way we perceive our bodies and those of others. Viewed through the lens of medicine, the body is a text that offers clues to health and illness. But the way we “read” the body clinically is never entirely objective; it is shaped through the lens of culture at particular moments in history. Culture affects the ways we experience illness as well as the ways we understand gender and racial identities, perceptions of beauty, and our rights (or lack of rights) to control our own bodies. This journey through medicine, anthropology, history, art, and literature will leave us with new understandings of our bodies in the context of the world in which we live.
Technological Visions of Utopia: Philosophers, cultural and political theorists, filmmakers, and fiction writers (including Walt Disney) have pondered the elements of possible utopias in sharp contrast to their own society’s flaws and weaknesses, making these works inherently political and social critiques. In Tech Visions, we explore the different ways the ideal society has been imagined through time, from Ancient Greece to the Renaissance into the twentieth century. Utopian visions have shifted with advances in science and technology, incorporating the hopes and dreams new technologies promise. More recently, visions of the future have darkened as some writers express the fears and anxieties of a world increasingly reliant on technology in which inequities are highlighted and “utopia” is realized by only a few.
Media and Message: Media serve as conduits for information and narrative, but these conduits are experienced in many different ways. This course examines those experiences and the ways consumers make meaning through the phenomenology of a variety of media forms. Beginning with Marshall McLuhan’s proposition that “the medium is the message,” we will explore a range of historical and contemporary media, with an emphasis on the ways they present, organize, and structure information as forms that are “read” or experienced in particular ways. The course will emphasize the role played by the intersections of media technologies and our own bodies to better understand the ways that we are incorporated into systems of information circulation.
University of New Mexico
Science Fiction in American Culture: Science fiction (SF) is a genre of ideas, expressing the sensibilities of its age as transparently as other productions of popular culture, some would argue even more so. SF film and literature have provided the popular imagination with some of the most compelling visions of the possibilities and perils of a future increasingly dominated by advanced technologies. Such films and literary texts have also provided serious and thoughtful explorations of contemporary social, cultural, and political issues, from xenophobia, racism, gender and sexuality, and class issues, to corporate capitalism, colonialism, environmental degradation, nuclear disaster, and the nature of humanity itself. This course explores the ways SF has embodied and reflected cultural attitudes and beliefs, mirroring some of the most profound hopes, fears, and anxieties to be found in American culture in the late twentieth/early twenty-first century.
Urban Legends: This course is an exploration of urban legends in contemporary culture. We will explore recurring themes and means of transmission, as well as the cultural meanings and interpretations that have been ascribed to them. In this class, we will be looking at the ways popular culture and popular media disseminate these rumors and legends, mirroring and perpetuating certain fears and anxieties that undergird varying ideological frameworks of American culture. Our readings and discussions will examine the underlying components of these stories, including issues of race, class, ethnicity, bodily comportment, gender and sexuality, and anxieties about the government and corporate America.
Introduction to Southwest Studies: This introductory course focuses on representations of the Southwest as they appear in various forms and media. We will attempt to define the geographic parameters, the politics, and the culture of the Southwest and look at the ways the area has been characterized by both those living in the Southwest and those coming from or looking in from beyond its borders. We will examine the historic and contemporary Southwest as both a real and imagined site where multiple identities and interests collide and coalesce. We will explore the ways the Southwest has been commodified in popular, visual, and material culture, packaged to eager consumers, tourists, land developers, investors, and other interested groups. We will also look at the ways southwestern cultures represent themselves. By examining the multiple voices and cultural expressions of southwestern cultures, as well as those cultural productions that claim to speak for or about them, students will develop the ability to critically analyze the underlying meanings and interpretations of the Southwest as the site where history, myth, and place collide.
Introduction to Popular Culture: Popular Culture can be defined as the beliefs and practices of a particular culture, as articulated through the objects, narratives, and rituals that are widely disseminated, shared, and understood among a population through which these beliefs and practices are organized. We start from the premise that popular culture is an important site for popular expression, social instruction, and ideological struggle, and therefore deserving of critical attention. Popular culture is the site at which individual experience and perspectives engage in a process of interpretive negotiation with the surrounding social structure. It is the site at which hegemony is either reified or subverted. In this course, we will critically examine some of the main spheres of popular culture, including advertising, television, film, music, technology, and sports. Because these spheres penetrate nearly all aspects of our lives, learning how to critically think, speak, and write about them is an essential tool in understanding the influence and implications of popular culture on culture at large. This course is designed to teach students how to decipher the symbols and underlying meanings in popular culture (in other words, to “read” popular culture as text), including its relationship to race and ethnicity, class, gender and sexuality, and national identity.