Academics Kate Ratcliff - American Studies
Contact Kate Ratcliff; 802-258-9256
When Kate Ratcliff was finishing her doctorate in American studies at the University of Minnesota she wanted to find a position where teaching was the institutional priority and where faculty members were encouraged to teach broadly. "My faculty mentors told me the college I dreamed of did not exist," says Kate. "They did not know about Marlboro." Kate's teaching ranges from the Federalist Papers to post–World War II television sitcoms, and she team-teaches courses with colleagues in the visual arts and natural sciences. "The historically informed, interdisciplinary orientation of American studies offers an important counterpoint to the radically ahistorical and decontextualized nature of so much of our contemporary public discourse," she says.
All of Kate's courses engage critically with the concept of "America" and with the diversity of the American experience, especially in terms of race, ethnicity, class and gender. "My students grapple with the profound tension in U.S. national identity between an ideal of inclusion based on a shared commitment to the principles of freedom, equality and democracy, and ongoing patterns of exclusion that have limited those 'universal' entitlements to particular groups of people," she says. Kate enjoys helping students identify and use the primary historical source materials that will bring their subject alive and make them appreciate what it means to practice history. "I want my students to understand the inherently creative nature of historical study," she says. "History is not simply a matter of learning what happened in the past; it is a process of selecting, ordering and interpreting past events and experiences. I want students to see that they have a stake in that process. The stories we tell about the past shape the way we perceive the present and envision the future."
Student Plans and Collaborations
- Grant-funded research on the psychological, cultural and social forces shaping the lives and identity formation of adolescent girls, including an interview-based study (with Olivia Sanders '10).
- A critique of democratic theory and practice in the antebellum era, focusing on the implications of the 1828 presidential election for republican participation. Keara Castaldo '10, American studies and politics.
- An exploration of how technology and mass communication have shaped the nature of community and public discourse in the United States. Adam Keller '10, American studies.
- An interdisciplinary exploration of the contested relationship between public and private space in the United States, with an emphasis on the urban environment. Pooja Patel '10, American studies and economics and politics.
Kate's doctoral work is a study of the rise of the American suburb and the emergence of a new middle class culture in the late 19th and 20th centuries, examining changes in family life and gender roles during the transition from the Victorian Age to a secular, consumer-oriented society. She was one of three finalists for the national Gabriel Prize for the best dissertation in American Studies, and was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities summer stipend. Kate has enjoyed giving public lectures over the years on topics ranging from immigration policy to Cold War American culture to suburban domestic architecture. She is collaborating with choreographer Candice Salyers on a joint presentation to appear the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, titled "Reading the Female Body: Gender and the Politics of Viewing," sponsored by the Vermont Performance Lab.
B.A., Colgate University, 1980; M.A., University of Minnesota, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, 1989; University of Minnesota Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, 1987 - 1988; Marlboro College, 1989 -