Vernacular New York: Architecture / Landscapes / Tradition

This course examines the vernacular structures and landscapes of contemporary New York as expressions of individual and shared histories, cultural values, social customs, and religious beliefs. We study the construction, adaptation, reconstruction, destruction, and preservation of built and natural environments as performances of identity, expressions of creativity, tools of communication, and modes of resistance and acceptance. From the vantage point of folklore and material culture studies, we analyze how the form and function of urban spaces and structures reflect, nurture, or disrupt the beliefs and practices of their builders and users. Case studies include a New York City tenement apartment building (we will have on-site work at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum), community-constructed displays/museums, street altars and yard shrines, city streets as routes for religious ritual and procession, and the urban waterfront. We employ both material and ethnographic analysis to discern the intangible practices and meanings embedded in these places. Students will produce a final paper or project based on a type of vernacular architecture or landscape and present their research to the class at various stages of progress. Ethnographic and multimedia components are welcome. 3 credits.