Community-based learning courses add complexity and urgency to students’ critical grasp of social, political, and cultural issues by connecting the intellectual rigors of academic study with the needs and expertise of the community. Research projects and questions designed in close consultation with local, regional, national, or even international organizations hone student’s skills while producing truly and immediately useful information and analysis.  The following list represents just a few of the courses with community connections offered at Amherst College.

American Studies

Building Community (AMST-221)

This course investigates the practice and ideal of community in America both on a national and a local level, asking students to engage in specific projects aimed at strengthening the public sphere and fostering community life. We will consider the nature and limits of democracy, the meaning of belonging, the experience of stigma and exclusion, the concepts of civic responsibility and public discourse, and the conflict and compromises inherent in political advocacy.

Anthropology and Sociology

Ethnographic Methods (ANTH-230)

This course will explore ethnographic field methods and techniques as well as the epistemological, political and ethical debates about them. Students will gain first-hand ethnographic experience and apply what they learn as they engage in ethnographic fieldwork throughout the course and produce a written ethnographic project.

Art and the History of Art

Collaborative Art: Practice and Theory of Working with a Community (ARHA-310)

This course will examine the approaches of various contemporary artists to creating collaborative work. It will examine the work of artists working in various media, including Wendy Ewald’s methods for working with children in photography and with communities.

Asian Languages and Civilizations

Beyond Shangri-La: Narratives of Tibet, East and West (ALSC-325)

This course will look in depth at Asian and Western constructions of Tibetan identity in various sources and media, from Tibetan folk songs and legends to Buddhist philosophical and historical treatises, from Chinese Yuan and Ming dramas to Hollywood cinema, from Tibetan traditional art and music to some of its contemporary Western interpretations. The course will involve sustained engagement with the Tibetan community in the Pioneer Valley, as the students will interview local Tibetan immigrants and collect their stories about the ways in which they identify with Tibetan culture in the North American diaspora.


Biochemical Principles of Life at the Molecular Level (CHEM-330)

What are the molecular underpinnings of processes central to life? This course explore the chemical and structural properties of biological molecules and learn the logic used by the cell to build complex structures from a few basic raw materials.


Reading, Writing, and Teaching (ENGL-120)

Students, as part of the work of the course, each week will tutor or lead discussions among a small group of students at Holyoke High School. The readings for the course will be essays, poems, autobiographies, and stories in which education and teaching figure centrally.

Emily Dickinson (ENGL-444)

“Experience is the Angled Road / Preferred against the Mind / By–Paradox–the Mind itself–” she explained in one poem and in this course we will make use of the resources of the town of Amherst to play experience and mind off each other in our efforts to come to terms with her elusive poetry.


Hydrogeology (GEO-301)

As the global human population expands, the search for and preservation of our most important resource, water, will demand societal vigilance and greater scientific understanding. This course is an introduction to surface and groundwater hydrology and geochemistry in natural systems, providing fundamental concepts aimed at the understanding and management of the hydrosphere.


The Immigrant City (HIST-457)

A research seminar, this course will enroll eight students from Amherst College and eight from Holyoke Community College, and will be taught on alternate weeks at both colleges. The city of Holyoke will be the focus of individual and collective research. Each student will write a research paper based on primary sources, but the results of that research will also go into a collective data base and an ARIS historical simulation project.


Pioneer Valley Soundscapes (MUSI-238)

Pioneer Valley Soundscapes is a project that explores the connection between sound and place by documenting the musical communities and acoustic terrain of the Pioneer Valley in Western Massachusetts.  The films, recordings, and images here are produced by students at Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst through semester-long collaborations with local musicians and partnerships with area communities.  The goal of Pioneer Valley Soundscapes is to share these sounds, images, and stories with others in the Pioneer Valley and beyond and to serve as a resource for ongoing learning and exchange.

Political Science

Regulating Citizenship (POSC-356)

This course considers a fundamental issue that faces all democratic societies: How do we decide when and whether to include or exclude individuals from the rights and privileges of citizenship? This course will be conducted inside a correctional facility and enroll an equal number of Amherst students and residents of the facility.


Psychology of Aging (PSYC-236)

An introduction to the psychology of aging. Course material will focus on the behavioral changes which occur during the normal aging process. Course work will include systematic and structured observation within a local facility for the elderly.


The Soviet Experience (RUSS-26)

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the great utopian experiment of the 20th century–a radical attempt to reorganize society in accordance with rational principles–came to an end.  This course explores the dramatic history of that experiment from the perspective of those whose lives were deeply affected by the social upheavals it brought about.  Course assignments emphasize careful writing and experiential learning; students will have an opportunity to work on projects involving multimedia production and community-based research.


Spanish for Heritage Speakers (SPAN-140)

This course is designed specifically for native or heritage speakers of Spanish with oral proficiency but little or no formal training in the language. Generally, these are learners who were raised in homes where Spanish was spoken. The course is designed to build on the language base students already possess. Spanish-speaking students are not viewed as using an “improper” form of Spanish that is incorrect or needs to be eliminated. Rather, their language is viewed as an extremely valid means of oral communication. The primary purpose of the course is to develop reading and writing skills, although all of four language skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) are emphasized via cultural and community activities.

Theater and Dance

The Language of Movement (THDA-110)

An introduction to movement as a language and to dance and performance composition. In studio sessions students will explore and expand their individual movement vocabularies by working improvisationally with weight, posture, gesture, patterns, rhythm, space, and relationship of body parts.