ASA Proposal: “Teaching Los Angeles: Innovative strategies, possible pitfalls”

Teaching Los Angles Cover

I just got word that our proposal for the American Studies Association 2014  was accepted! The conference theme will be: “The Fun and the Fury: New Dialectics of Pleasure and Pain In the Post-American Century,” and the conference itself will take place November 6-9, 2014 at the Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles, CA. The proposal is below.

Panel Abstract

“No metropolis has ever been more loved or hated.” – City of Quartz book jacket.

Los Angeles is a famously difficult city to see clearly. Hollywood exports its stories, making Los Angeles the city most-seen but least-recognized, the culture’s image of everywhere and no where. Depictions of the city have only helped to “foreclose the possibility of emancipatory politics” (Anderson).

When teaching Los Angeles as a text, as a setting represented in cultural texts, and as a lived and embodied place, what kind of knowledge do we aim to create and impart? In what ways do these approaches highlight both the “exceptional” and the “exemplary” status of Los Angeles for American and urban studies (Villa and Sanchez, 499). This panel brings together a range of scholar/teachers from different disciplines offering innovative approaches to teaching the city. We consider what’s at stake in different strategies, both in terms of repercussions for ongoing research and pedagogical impact. Although the panel focuses on Los Angeles as a paradigmatic site, the strategies discussed will be widely applicable to those teaching in or about major urban centers.

Questions about understanding the city have become more pressing as neoliberal imperatives affect both the university and the city: urban development driven by adaptive re-use laws, affordable housing being decimated and gentrification transforming neighborhoods, the spread of the university and service/information industries, etc. Within these thematic concerns, we focus on innovative projects and digital methods—from literature and digital archives to apps—that bring students into contact with the city, making it visible and accessible in new ways. Alex Tarr will reflect on the task of teaching Los Angeles from a distance, or to students with limited or no experience of the city. Anne Cong-Huyen situates Los Angeles as a global city of the Pacific Rim, and employs the Scalar digital publishing platform as a way of turning the classroom into a collaborative scholarly community producing public knowledge. Michelle Chihara uses the literary categories of both noir and the “New Journalism” as a lens to look at the city’s layers of forgotten and elided history. Max Baumgarten will discuss possibilities for the MTA bus line as both an immersive experience for students that can be used in a digital textbook that connects and highlights disparate issues and communities. Craig Dietrich will share the “Tenants in Action” smartphone app, and examine methods of using such technology to teach, reflect on, and intervene in urban environments and land use. David Kim will discuss his application of 3-D simulation/modeling and digital maps to generate spatial analysis of various neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

Because of our interest in prompting discussions on best practices, we are proposing a roundtable format of six ‘lightning talks’ of 8 minutes in which speakers will frame their courses and share resources, with Prof. Deverell acting as respondent and chair. In keeping with the theme of the conference, we stress the twinned challenge of wanting to seduce students with the pleasures of this vibrant city, while also emphasizing the pain—of segregated neighborhoods, of ecological and urban planning disasters, to name a few.

Session Keywords:

urban studies, cultural geography, pedagogy


Prof. William Deverell

Session Organizers:

Michelle Chihara and Anne Cong-Huyen


William Deverell, USC, Huntington-USC

Max Baumgarten, UCLA, @maxbaumgarten

Michelle Chihara, Whittier College, @thisblueangel 

Anne Cong-Huyen, UCLA, @anitaconchita

Craig Dietrich, USC, @craigdietrich 

David J. Kim, UCLA

Alex Tarr, UC Berkeley


  • Davis, Mike. City of Quartz. New York: Vintage, 1992.
  • Los Angeles Plays Itself. Dir. Thom Andersen. Thom Andersen, 2003. Film.
  • “Los Angeles and the Future of Urban Cultures,” Special Issue of American Quarterly, edited by Raul Homero Villa and George J. Sanchez (56.3, 2004)

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.