Carla Willard Associate Professor of American Studies


My academic studies have focused on questions that intruded upon my young years growing up in a multi-racial family in a working-class Philadelphia neighborhood: How is it that skin-color can make such a difference in terms of social access and social belonging? Why is a person’s “look” so influential in defining social class and cultural identity? How do other body traits – those of gender and class, for example, enter into the competing definitions that classify “us” as persons and community members? Studies of these questions culminated, first, in a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and later in multiple published articles and other writings on the impact of powerful cultural images. My earlier research investigated advertising as a prolific source of cultural imaging during the rise of U. S. national media over a century ago. Currently, I am studying public art as a form of public education and image dissemination.

Teaching fascinates me. Although I made special study of pedagogy, receiving an M.A. in Education from the University of Uppsala, Sweden, most of my teaching techniques are drawn from what I learn in open dialog with students.  My courses are laboratories where my ideas and knowledge are not so much “taught” as they are developed in ongoing conversations with students both in and out of the classroom.  Several of my students have partnered me in research projects that have included traveling cross country for interviews, inviting prominent academics to campus, as well as arranging College visits from the international community of researchers, writers and artists.

Currently I live a few blocks away and can be seen walking or biking to campus with my trusty Max, The Wonder Dog.