Admission & Financial Aid

Admission & Financial Aid


Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses


Sexuality, Women's and Gender Studies

Professors Barale, Basu (Chair), and Martin; Associate Professor Shandilya; Assistant Professors Henderson†, Polk, and Sadjadi*; Visiting Assistant Professor Vooris.

Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies is an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural exploration of sexuality, gender, and their relationship. How are these categories constructed, understood, and reproduced in contemporary and past societies? SWAGS is also an inquiry specifically into women’s material, cultural, and economic productions, their self-descriptions, and their collective undertakings.

Major Program. Students majoring in SWAGS are required to take a minimum of nine courses which must include SWAG 100 The Cross-Cultural Construction of Gender, SWAG 200 Feminist Theory, and SWAG 400 Contemporary Debates. The remaining electives may be chosen from SWAGS offerings. Other Amherst or Five College courses that address issues of sexuality, women, or gender may be counted toward the major only if approved by the SWAGS Department. Starting with students entering in the fall of 2015, at most three of the six elective courses may be taken outside of the SWAGS Department.

Senior majors not writing theses will satisfy the requirement for comprehensive assessment of the major by 1) assembling a portfolio consisting of three papers written in courses for the SWAGS major; 2)  writing a five-page reflective essay on sexuality, women, and gender. The portfolio and its accompanying essay are to be submitted during the first week of April. Instructions will be distributed approximately two weeks before the due date.

Department Honors Program. In addition to the courses required for the major, students accepted as honors candidates will elect either SWAG 498D and 499 or 498 and 499D, depending on which option better accommodates the disciplines in the thesis project. The D designation indicates that a course offers double credit.

*On leave 2018-19.
†On leave fall semester 2018-19.

100 The Cross-Cultural Construction of Gender

This course introduces students to the issues involved in the social and historical construction of gender and gender roles from a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary perspective. Topics change from year-to-year and have included women and social change; male and female sexualities including homosexualities; the uses and limits of biology in explaining human gender differences; women’s participation in production and reproduction; the relationship among gender, race and class as intertwining oppressions; women, men and globalization; and gender and warfare.

Fall semester. Professor Shandilya.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2022

105 Women, Gender and Popular Culture

(Offered as SWAG 105 and FAMS 377) In this course, students will interrogate the precarious relationship between political and popular culture. As we study how politics has successfully deployed popular culture as an ideological tool, we will also consider how politics has overburdened popular culture as a vehicle of change. These broad issues will serve as our framework for analyzing black femininity, womanhood, and the efficacy of the word “feminism” in the post-Civil Rights era. We will think critically about the construction of gender, race, sexuality, and class identity as well as the historical and sociopolitical context for cultural icons and phenomena. Students will read cultural theory, essays, fiction as well as listen to, and watch various forms of media. Expectations include three writing/visual projects as well as a group presentation.

Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Henderson.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2019, Spring 2021

106 Realism

(See ENGL 112)

111 Having Arguments

(See ENGL 111)

120 LGBTQ Identities and Communities

This interdisciplinary course explores the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, asexual, and polyamorous people and the discrete and inter-twined meanings of sexuality, gender expression and gender identity. Students will get a primer in the "alphabet soup" of LGBTQIA terminology, learn about the history of LGBTQ rights within the United States, and explore contemporary debates within the LGBTQ community, around such questions as same-sex marriage, bathroom regulations, and conversion therapy laws. We will also consider the intersections between black lives matter, queer rights, and disability activism. Class texts are from many different disciplines and will include theory, poetry, comics, short films, and music.

Fall semester. Visiting Professor Vooris.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018

123 Greek Civilization

(See CLAS 123)

145 The Modern World

(See ARHA 145)

155 Introduction to Dance Studies: What is Performance?

(See THDA 155)

160 Sexualities in International Relations

(See POSC 160)

162 History of Sexuality in the U.S.

(See HIST 162)

200 Feminist Theory

In this course we will investigate contemporary feminist thought from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. We will focus on key issues in feminist theory, such as the sex/gender debate, sexual desire and the body, the political economy of gender, the creation of the "queer" as subject, and the construction of masculinity, among others. This course aims also to think through the ways in which these concerns intersect with issues of race, class, the environment and the nation.

Requisite: Open to first-year students who have taken SWAG 100 and upper-class students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Sadjadi.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

202 Black Women's Narratives and Counternarratives: Love and the Family

(Offered as SWAG 202, BLST 242 [US], and ENGL 259) Why do love and courtship continue to be central concerns in black women's literature and contemporary black popular fiction? Are these thematic issues representative of apolitical yearnings or an allegory for political subjectivity? Drawing on a wide range of texts, we will examine the chasm between the "popular" and the literary, as we uncover how representations of love and courtship vary in both genres. Surveying the growing discourse in media outlets such as CNN and the Washington Post regarding the "crisis" of the single black woman, students will analyze the contentious public debates regarding black women and love and connect them to black women's literature and black feminist literary theory. Authors covered will range from Nella Larsen to Terry McMillan and topics will include gender, race, class, and sexuality.

Limited to 18 students. Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Henderson.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2016

203 Women Writers of Africa and the African Diaspora

(See BLST 203)

206 Women and Art in Early Modern Europe

(See ARHA 284)

207 The Home and the World: Women and Gender in South Asia

(Offered as SWAG 207, ASLC 207, and POSC 207) This course will study South Asian women and gender through key texts in film, literature, history and politics. How did colonialism and nationalism challenge the distinctions between the “home” and the “world” and bring about partitions which splintered once shared cultural practices? What consequences did this have for postcolonial politics? How do ethnic conflicts, religious nationalisms and state repression challenge conceptions of home? How have migrations, globalization and diasporas complicated relations between the home and the world?

Omitted 2018-19. Professors Shandilya and Basu.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2019

208 Black Feminist Literary Traditions

(Offered as SWAG 208, BLST 345 [US], ENGL 276, and FAMS 379) Through a close reading of texts by African American authors, we will critically examine the characterization of female protagonists, with a specific focus on how writers negotiate literary forms alongside race, gender, sexuality, and class in their work. Coupled with our explication of poems, short stories, novels, and literary criticism, we will explore the stakes of adaptation in visual culture. Students will analyze the film and television adaptations of The Color Purple (1985), The Women of Brewster Place (1989), and Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005). Authors will include Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Gloria Naylor. Expectations include three writing projects, a group presentation, and various in-class assignments.

Limited to 18 students. Priority given to those students who attend the first day of the class. Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Spring semester. Professor Henderson.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

210 Anthropology of Sexuality

(Offered as SWAG 210 and ANTH 210) This course draws on anthropological literature to study the socio-cultural making of human sexuality and its variations. We will critically examine theories of sexuality as a domain of human experience and locate sexual acts, desires and relations in particular historical and cultural contexts. The course offers analytical tools to understand and evaluate different methods and approaches to the study of human sexuality. We will examine the relation of sex to kinship/family, to reproduction and to romance. As we read about the bodily experience of sexual pleasure, we will explore how sexual taboos, norms and morality develop in various cultures and why sex acquires explosive political dimensions during certain historical periods. The course will explore the gendered and racial dimensions of human sexual experience in the context of class, nation and empire. How do class divisions produce different sexual cultures? What economies of sex are involved in sex work, marriage and immigration? What has been the role of sexuality in projects of nation building and in colonial encounters? When, where and how did sexuality become a matter of identity? In addition to a focus on contemporary ethnographic studies of sexuality in various parts of the world, we will read theoretical and historical texts that have been influential in shaping the anthropological approaches to sexuality. We will also briefly address scientific theories of sexuality. Two meetings per week.

Omitted 2018-19. Professor Sadjadi.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015

215 (Self) Representations of Trans Identities

It is said that we have reached a "transgender tipping" point regarding trans representation in the media over the last ten years, as trans people in the United States and around the world have become increasingly visible to a public audience. This course challenges the idea that trans people are a "new" twenty-first century phenomenon and introduces students to examples of gender non-conformity and transgender identities across time and cultures.The first half of the course examines representations of trans people within sexology, psychology, the medical archive, and the mainstream media, while the second half examines autobiographical accounts written by trans people themselves. We will read memoirs and comics, watch films, and listen to podcasts produced for, by, and about trans people. Assignments will include an analytical essay, creative responses to class texts, and a group project.

Recommended requisite: SWAG 100 or 120. Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Vooris.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019

224 The Century of Sex: Gender and Sexual Politics in Modern Europe

(See HIST 224)

225 Women and War in European History, 1558–1918

(See HIST 226)

236 Queer Migrant Imaginaries

(See SPAN 243)

238 Culture, Race, and Reproductive Health

(See ANTH 238)

243 Rethinking Pocahontas: An Introduction to Native American Studies

(See AMST 240)

246 Introduction to Black Girlhood Studies

(See BLST 246)

247 U.S. Carceral Culture

(See HIST 245)

248 Black Mestizx: Gender Variance and Transgender Politics in the Borderlands

(See SPAN 242)

279 Global Women's Literature

(Offered as SWAG 279, BLST 202, and ENGL 279) What do we mean by “women’s fiction”? How do we understand women’s genres in different national contexts? This course examines topics in feminist thought such as marriage, sexuality, desire and the home in novels written by women writers from South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. We will draw on postcolonial literary theory, essays on transnational feminism and historical studies to situate our analyses of these novels. Texts include South African writer Nadine Gordimer’s My Son’s Story, Indian novelist Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, and Caribbean author Shani Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night.

Spring semester. Professor Shandilya.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2023

301 Queer Theory and Practice

This course is an interdisciplinary methods course designed to complement the existing SWAG core sequence. Using theories and approaches from the discipline of performance studies, the explicit mission of the seminar is to acquaint students with the study of LGBT history, politics, and culture while also strengthening student research skills in four overlapping areas: archival research, close-reading, performance analysis, and community engagement-as-activism. Course activities include working in the Amherst College Frost Archives, the production of a performance piece, and structured engagement with contemporary LGBT activism in the Pioneer Valley and the larger world.

Requisite: SWAG 100 or similar Five College intro to gender and sexuality courses. Recommended requisite: SWAG 200, 300, 330, or 353.  Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Polk.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2019, Spring 2020

302 Polemical Women of the Seventeenth Century

(See ENGL 300)

303 On Display: Race and Reproduction in Film and Media

(See ANTH 300)

305 Gender, Migration and Power: Latinos in the Americas

(See AMST 305)

310 Witches, Vampires and Other Monsters

(See ARHA 385)

317 Women in Early Modern Spain

(See SPAN 317)

329 Bad Black Women

(Offered as SWAG 329, BLST 377 [US], and ENGL 368) History has long valorized passive, obedient, and long-suffering African American women alongside assertive male protagonists and savants. This course provides an alternative narrative to this representation by exploring the ways in which African American female characters, writers, and artists have challenged ideals of stoicism and submission. Using an interdisciplinary focus, we will critically examine transgression across time and space in diverse twentieth- and early twenty-first century literary, sonic, and visual texts. Expectations include three writing projects, a group presentation, and various in-class assignments.

Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Priority given to students who attend the first day of class. Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Henderson.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021

330 Black Sexualities

(See BLST 236)

331 The Postcolonial Novel: Gender, Race and Empire

(Offered as SWAG 331 and ENGL 319) What is the novel? How do we know when a work of literature qualifies as a novel? In this course we will study the postcolonial novel which explodes the certainties of the European novel. Written in the aftermath of empire, these novels question race, class, gender and empire in their subject matter and narrative form. We will consider fiction from South Asia, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa. Novels include South African writer J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Caribbean novelist Dionne Brand’s In Another Place, Not Here.

Fall semester. Professor Shandilya.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2018, Spring 2020

335 Gender: An Anthropological Perspective

(See ANTH 335)

342 Women of Ill Repute: Prostitutes in Nineteenth-Century French Literature

(See FREN 342)

344 Gender and Technology

This course investigates key issues in feminist approaches to technology. Throughout the semester, we will examine the role of technology in structuring social relations as well as the social and cultural dimensions of technology’s development. Central themes will include the relationship between technology and domesticity, with emphasis on family life and household labor; technology and industry, with attention to gendered and racialized workforces; and technology and embodiment, including the role that technology plays in sexuality and in trans and disability ontologies. Our objects of study will include both today’s emerging technologies and historical technological innovations, as we ask after the social implications of technology’s emergence in diverse cultural contexts. With guidance from our course material, each student will engage in a research project focused on a technology of their choosing, culminating in a term paper that analyzes social forces that shape the production of technology and its cultural connotations.

Recommended requisite: At least one course in gender and/or sexuality. Limited to 18 students. Not open to first-year students. Fall semester. Professor Cornfeld.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018

345 Gender and Sexuality in Latin America

(See HIST 345)

347 Race, Sex, and Gender in the U.S. Military

(See BLST 347)

351 From Birth to Death: LGBTQ Life Trajectories

Thinking through questions about age, identity formation, reproduction, and family structures, this course explores gender and sexuality across the life-span, from conception to the end of life. Some of these questions include: What is a queer child? When and how do people discover their sexuality and gender identity? What does a polyamorous family look like? Can trans women breast-feed their children? What are the distinctive features of aging and mourning in many LGBTQ communities? Throughout the course we will challenge heteronormative ideas about what it means to live a good life and the class will explore how some LGBTQ folks have created new ways of being and living. Interdisciplinary in nature, this course assigns scholarship from a variety of fields including psychology, biology, literature, queer theory, feminist theory, anthropology, and history. Students should expect to read a variety of theoretical texts, along with poetry, comics, photo-essays and memoirs.

Requsite: SWAG 100 or SWAG 120, or another gender/sexuality course, or consent of the instructor. Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Vooris.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019

353 Transgender Ethnographies

(Offered as ANTH 353 and SWAG 353) This course offers a cross-cultural study of gender transition and transgression. We will explore ethnographic studies of gender non-conforming lives in a variety of contexts around the world. Students will be encouraged to approach gender transition and gender non-conformity, and the role of the body in the production of sex and gender, through the synthesis of feminist, queer, and transgender theories. In addition to questions of appearance, body and identity, we will explore the social production of gendered roles, activities and relations across class, race, caste and religion. We will analyze the discursive and material conditions that have enabled the emergence of the category of “transgender” and its relation to other cultural categories of gender non-normative personhood. Finally, we will discuss the role of Western medical ideologies and technologies in shaping subjectivities as well as the convergence and divergence of medical diagnosis and identity. This seminar requires group student presentations during the semester and completion of an individual research project.

Requisite: SWAG 200 or its equivalent in gender and sexuality studies. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 15 students. Omit 2018-2019. Professor Sadjadi.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018

368 Willa Cather

In this course we will read Willa Cather's short fiction, essays, and novels with an eye to the role sexuality plays in her literary production. This course, aimed at juniors and seniors, is attentive to writing and speaking: there will be short papers, as well as a longer project that will be the subject of a class presentation.

Requisite: At least one course in gender and/or sexuality. Limited to 15 juniors and seniors. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Barale.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2017

400 Contemporary Debates: Gender and Right-Wing Populism

(Offered as SWAG 400 and POSC 407) The topic will vary from year to year. A student may take this course more than once, providing only that the topic is not the same. The current iteration of this seminar will explore the consequences of neoliberalism, cultural conservatism, Islamophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiments for women of different social and economic strata as well as women’s divergent political responses. Why have some women become prominent right wing leaders and activists while others have allied with leftist, anti-racist, and other progressive forces to fight for the rights of women and other marginalized groups? How have transnational forces influenced both forms of women’s activism? To what extent are there cross-national similarities in the impact of the far right surge on women, gender and sexuality? The seminar will draw on examples from many different regions of the world, with particular attention to India and the U.S. There will be a final research paper for this course.

Limited to 18 students. Not open to first-year students. Spring semester. Professor Basu.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

410 Epidemics and Society

This seminar explores the gender dimension of the HIV epidemic in the U.S. and globally, and the role of socio-economic, political and biological factors in the shaping of the epidemic. This course encourages students to think about AIDS and other diseases politically, while remaining attentive to their bodily and social effects. We will engage with AIDS on various scales, from the virus and T cells to the transnational pharmaceutical industry, and from intimate sexual relations to the political economies of health care. We will consider the processes by which some groups of people become more vulnerable to the epidemic than others and we will read about the power dynamics involved in negotiations over condom use. Global processes that guide our investigation include the feminization of poverty, the neoliberal economic restructuring of health systems and the politics of scientific and medical research on AIDS. In addition, the course examines the role of social movements in responding to the epidemic.

Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Sadjadi.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2015

411 Indigenous Women and World Politics

(See POSC 411)

433 The Queer and Trans Child

Sexuality and gender identity have until recently been considered adult identities; even in the late twentieth century, the concept of the "gay child" was largely a creation of gay adults reflecting back on their childhood. This seminar explores children's gender and sexuality, focusing in particular on the lives of transgender, gender-creative, gender non-conforming, gay and queer children who are under twelve years old. We will explore the ways that our society thinks about children’s autonomy, place within familial structures, and relationships to adults. Most important, we will listen to the voices of children and consider their own perspectives on matters of identity, expression and desire. Students will complete a semester research paper on a topic of their choice that relates to children’s gender and sexuality.

Requisite: SWAG 100 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 18 students. Not open to first-year students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Vooris.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018

440 Race, Gender, and Sexuality in American Popular Music

(See MUSI 440)

452 The Earthly Paradise

(See ARHA 452)

467 Social Movements, Civil Society and Democracy in India

(See POSC 467)

469 South Asian Feminist Cinema

(Offered as SWAG 469, ASLC 452 [SA], and FAMS 322) How do we define the word “feminism”? Can the term be used to define cinematic texts outside the Euro-American world? In this course we will study a range of issues that have been integral to feminist theory—the body, domesticity, same sex desire, gendered constructions of the nation, feminist utopias and dystopias—through a range of South Asian cinematic texts. Through our viewings and readings we will consider whether the term “feminist” can be applied to these texts, and we will experiment with new theoretical lenses for exploring these films. Films will range from Satyajit Ray’s classic masterpiece Charulata to Gurinder Chadha’s trendy diasporic film, Bend It Like Beckham. Attendance for screenings on Monday is compulsory.

Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Shandilya.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Spring 2019

490 Special Topics

Independent reading course.

Fall and spring semesters. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

498, 498D, 499, 499D Senior Departmental Honors

Open to senior majors in Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies who have received departmental approval.

Spring semester. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

Departmental Courses

239 Women in Judaism

(See RELI 261)

Related Courses

COLQ-335 Transgender Histories (Course not offered this year.)