School of Information Management & Systems.
142  Access to American Cultural Heritages.   Buckland. Fall 1997.


The American Cultures requirement #300 C. "... be integrative and comparative and address theoretical and analytical issues relevant to understanding race, culture and ethnicity in American history and society..."

Infosys 142 examines ways in which cultural groups (and the cultural / ethnic aspects of any topic) are represented in (mostly) educational apparatus such reference works, bibliographies, library subject headings, museum presentation, and the "interpretation" of historic sites. We examine how the scholarly and educational presentation of cultural, ethnic, and racial issues is itself far from neutral, how the culture of those who do the representing can affect the representation and transmission. Each student selects a topic, researches sources of information, and prepares a study guide.

The construction of meaning. Ordinary notions of "communication" are inadequate for describing how individuals seek to make sense of what is around them, though they do it selectively: one does not consider everything equally important. Individuals construct meaning / significance from what they perceive (hear, read, notice...), as with Michener's fortune-telling. "Significance" is in some ways a better term because it implies an appraisal of importance. Ideas come before facts (Rozsak). Words name and categorize. Meanings, perspectives change. "Cognition is the most socially-conditioned activity of man, and knowledge is the paramount social creation." (Ludwig Fleck, 1935)

We use "culture" in Tylor's sense: "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society." Every group has its culture. Heritage "Anything transmitted from ancestors or past ages." Always an active process, but not always conscious or optional. Social memory is the shared memory of a group, what is commemorated collectively, not a reflection of some transcendant past but an active reconstruction of the past that creates the past in the present. Material culture is "that range of cultural phenomena which is constituted by or embodied in physical objects," some of which is designated as cultural property.

Because culture includes "knowledge, belief,...morals, custom,...habits" etc., it reflects ourselves, our identity. Hence description of our culture is a description of our sense of ourselves, of our identity For the same reason, anyone with any social agenda has an interest (commercial, economic, political,...) influencing the culture of others - and so influencing culture heritage becomes important and controversial. Hence education, publications, museums, websites,...

A series of exercises establishes basic familiarity with print and online sources, and an interview illustrates how people can be a good source also. Assignment 1 combines examination of the notion of "culture" with exploration of reference collections. Reading Sowell or Takaki provides an historical overview of U.S. ethnic groups. Visiting cultural exhibits (Hearst, etc.) Raises issues of representation. Videos illustrate how ideas are formed (Evolution; Representation) and cultural policy exercised (Art policy). Guest speakers address textbooks, museums, and language. Readings and class discussion provide background.

Students prepare a portfolio in the form of a study guide, thereby combining exploration of some aspect of cultural heritage with examination and interpretation of source.