In the study of Humanities, the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies or MALS, is a graduate program offered at many universities, including the University of Delaware. MALS is a synthesis of history, literature, science, art, American culture and minority studies. The choices in course offerings are quite broad, but individual course topics are focused. Some core courses are required, others elective. Each course I have taken, covering crisis and conflict in World War II, the importance of oral histories, examining the way different cultures approach death and dying, the roar of the twenties and the crash of the Great Depression, and the particular courses listed below have all taken me on paths I would have never imagined myself traveling.. Humbling. New curiosities were awakened and critical thinking skills enhanced.
Ultimately, the MALS program demanded that I explore out of my comfort zone. It’s trained me never to accept face-value proclamations. I find myself checking out other voices and asking myself what series of experiences created a particular stance. I can’t really pinpoint what the MALS program is, but I can tell you how it changed me. Through the MALS program I began an addictive journey of discovery. I can’t offer a better compliment or endorsement of graduate program than that.
The following Master of Arts in Liberal Studies courses at the University of Delaware specifically prepared me with a knowledge base and skill set that establishes a solid foundation in preparation for this thesis project:
- MALS 617 American Art in Context (How the broad term of “American culture” is shaped by, or reflected in, American art). In this course Dr. Susan Fox challenged us to choose an artist for each century – I concentrated on a specific genre of editorial or political cartoons and chose Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Nast, and Patrick Oliphant. My first serious journey into Thomas Nast had begun.
- MALS 622 Interpreting the Past. This course examined who is telling the story of our past, what agendas they might have in doing so, and the importance of recognizing how bias may infiltrate within that telling. The course encouraged students to critically explore other perspectives when weighing “historical truths.” Taught by Dr. Kimberly Grimes.
- MALS 667. Shakespeare in Performance. While this course had nothing to do with Nast, or Irish or Chinese immigration, I wish to recognize the course as a vehicle that allowed me to analyze the symbolism of King Lear theatrical posters and the choices various artists made in visually conceptualizing the complicated themes of Shakespeare’s great masterpiece. So, this course, taught by Drs. James Keegan and Anne Colwell encouraged students to think creatively. The flexibility to analyze King Lear through art was an important tool in honing my skills at dissecting and interpreting finished works of art.
- MALS 626 Contemporary Culture: Asian Immigration to America. This course explored the experiences and prejudices faced by Asian immigration to America, primarily on the West Coast and Pacific U.S. territories. Taught by Dr. Jean Pfaelzer. For this course, I examined how Chinese Americans were portrayed in editorial cartoons on the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts. For the East Coast I selected Thomas Nast and compared his work to the cartoons of Frederick G. Keller, cartoonist for The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp.
- MALS 666 Independent Study: Irish Immigration with Dr. Jean Pfaelzer, essentially followed the same track as her Asian Immigration course, but this time concentrating on the Irish American experience. I researched Irish oppression in Europe, reasons for their immigration to the United States. I examined the anti-Irish accusations against Thomas Nast and how and why his treatments of Irish in America evolved or devolved, depending on how one feels about this subject. Thomas Nast’s renderings of Irish-American Catholics were controversial in his time, and arguably more so today. By this time, I had become quite familiar with Nast and he was becoming an old friend. Jeanie has encouraged me to give his work a fresh and critical look. Invaluable advice.