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Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses

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Sexuality, Women's and Gender Studies

Professors Basu‡ (Chair, Fall 2022), Karkazis, Manion*, and Martin; Associate Professors Polk (Chair, Spring 2023) and Shandilya*; Assistant Professor Peralta; STINT Fellow Thapar-Björkert.

*On leave 2022-23. †On leave fall semester 2022-23. ‡On leave spring semester 2022-23.

THE MAJOR

Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies in an interdisciplinary exploration of feminist and queer thought in a variety of global and historical contexts. Our faculty specialize in literature, history, anthropology, film, and politics.

SWAGS alum have pursued careers in a wide variety of fields including education, music, consulting, medical research, art education, development, public radio, and non-profit management.

REQUIRED COURSES

Students interested in a SWAGS major need to complete a total of nine courses, three of which are core courses. The three core courses are SWAG 100 The Cross-Cultural Construction of Gender, SWAG 200 Feminist Theory, and SWAG 400 Contemporary Debates.

Our three core courses are typically offered once a year: SWAG 100 is usually offered in the fall semester and SWAG 200 is usually offered in the spring semester. SWAG 400 is offered once a year in the fall or the spring depending on faculty leave schedules and other department needs.

For the 2021-2022 academic year, the SWAGS Department will accept SWAG-160 / POSC-160 Sexualities in International Relations (Fall 2021) or SWAG-163 / HIST-163 LGBTQ History in Popular Culture (January 2022) in place of the SWAG-100 The Cross-Cultural Construction of Gender requirement for the major.

SWAG 100 introduces students to issues involved in the social and historical construction of gender identities and roles from a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary perspective. Topics, which change from year-to-year, have included gender and sexuality; the uses and limits of biology in explaining gender differences; women’s participation in production and reproduction; the intertwining of gender, race, nationality, and class in explaining oppression and resistance; women, men and globalization; and gender and warfare.

SWAG 200 investigates contemporary feminist thought from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. It focuses 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.

SWAG 400 is a research seminar, which culminates in a final research paper. The topic of this course will vary from year to year. Students who have taken this seminar in the past may take it again if the topic is different.

The remaining six electives required to complete the major may be chosen from courses offered by the Sexuality, Women's and Gender Studies Department or from the list of related courses.

ELECTIVES

We offer a wide variety of elective courses in a variety of disciplines. Elective offerings change from year to year depending on the interests of students and faculty.

*Courses numbered in the 100s are introductory courses and assume no prior knowledge of the subject.

*Courses numbered in the 200s are typically more demanding, but will still tend to be introductory in nature. Some knowledge of women, gender or sexuality is helpful but not usually required.

*Courses numbered in the 300s and 400s are seminar classes which delve deeply into a particular subject area. These courses generally have smaller enrollments. Some include a research component. Some faculty expect students to have already taken two or more courses on women, gender or sexuality.

*If you have a topic or set of interests that you would like to study, which is not covered in a course currently offered at Amherst College, you could look into the possibility of taking a Special Topics course.

*Please check a course’s description for its particular prerequisites.

RECOMMENDED PATHWAY

We recommend that you complete SWAG 100 and SWAG 200 by the end of your sophomore year. SWAG 400 can be taken during your junior or senior year. If you are thinking of doing an honors thesis in SWAGS, then it would be helpful to take SWAG 400 during your junior year as the research component is good preparation for thesis work. Electives can be distributed evenly over your semesters; most of the time you would only need to take one SWAGS course per semester.

EXTERNAL COURSES

An external course is any course that is NOT cross-listed in the Amherst College SWAGS Department, nor listed as a related course, at the time of the student’s enrollment in the course.

External courses, such as courses outside our department and at other colleges and universities, including study away programs, that address sexuality, women and/or gender, may be counted toward the major. A student who wishes to count an external course towards their SWAGS major must consult with their SWAGS advisor and provide their advisor with a course description and syllabus of the external course. If a current syllabus is not available, a syllabus from a previous iteration of the course will suffice. At the advisor’s discretion, the advisor may also ask the student to provide copies of the student’s assignments from the external course (e.g. research paper, essay, final project etc.). If at least 50% or more of the external course addresses women, gender or sexuality, then the advisor can approve the course counting towards the student’s SWAGS major. Copies of all documents should be shared with the ADC to update the department’s records.

Starting with students entering in Fall 2015, up to 3 of the 9 courses that are required for the major may be taken outside the SWAGS Department.

DOUBLE MAJORING

Courses counting towards the SWAGS major may NOT be counted towards another major.

COURSES TAKEN PASS/FAIL

Students should petition the chair of the SWAGS department if they wish to count an FGO or Pass/Fail course towards the major. In the petition the student should explain why they took the course pass/fail and why they are unable to take another course for a grade to fulfill the SWAGS major requirements. A student may take no more than one course FGO (or Pass/Fail) towards the major.

For courses taken in Spring 2020, the SWAGS Department will accept courses toward the major for which students have earned a grade of Pass.

COMPREHENSIVE REQUIREMENT

The comprehensive requirement of the major will be met by completing the nine required courses.

WRITING A SWAGS HONORS THESIS

SWAGS theses often cross disciplinary boundaries.  We are a “studies” department because the significance, impact, and construction of gender and sexuality have multiple origins. Our SWAGS honors students have worked on a wide range of topics including reproductive rights, “sex” and “gender” in healthcare, Jewish gender and deviance, masculinity and disability in literature, feminism and Protestantism, and trans activism.

To earn Latin Honors in SWAGS, in addition to the nine courses required for the major, students must write a thesis. Starting with students entering in Fall 2019, students will generally receive credit for one course each semester. SWAGS honors students should take SWAG 498 (fall) and 499 (spring). 

THESIS PROPOSAL

The SWAGS Department will hold an info session in late February for any students who are considering writing a SWAGS thesis. This session is targeted at juniors, but open to all students.

All majors who are considering theses should consult with members of the Department during their junior year to define a suitable Honors project and to determine whether a member of the Department can serve as an advisor. A student's choice of thesis topic should be guided by the expertise and interests of our faculty. We have compiled a list of topics on our website that our faculty would welcome advising. Colleagues from other departments at Amherst College or in the Five Colleges may serve on thesis committees.  Junior SWAGS majors who are studying abroad should communicate with prospective thesis advisors before leaving and/or while abroad.

Prospective thesis writers must use the online form to submit a proposal to the department by the third Monday in April.

FUNDING

Students often use the summer prior to their senior year to get a head start on their thesis research. Students who wish to dedicate 6 to 8 weeks of their summer to thesis research should consider applying for a summer research fellowship: the Rose Olver Student Research Fund or the Gregory S. Call Summer Student Research Program.

To support all of our thesis writers, the SWAGS Department will reimburse SWAGS thesis writers up to $200 each from department funds for expenses related to their research. All expenses must be approved by the SWAGS Department. Receipts must be provided.

REGISTERING FOR SENIOR DEPARTMENTAL HONORS

The SWAGS Department will inform students by the end of the semester whether or not their thesis proposal has been approved. Because students may not register for thesis courses until the proposal has been accepted by the department, we suggest that they pre-register for four courses.  They can drop one of them if the department approves the proposal.

Continuation of the thesis course into a second semester is not automatic. Thesis writers must submit at least two draft chapters (to the advisor and the SWAGS Department) by the third Monday in January. The department will inform them whether they have been accepted for a second semester of the thesis program.

SUBMITTING YOUR THESIS

Seniors must submit three copies of their theses, one to their thesis advisor and the others to the SWAGS Department, by the second Monday in April. The thesis should not exceed 100 typed double-spaced pages of text.

Students will participate in an oral discussion with members of the thesis committee.

The final corrected thesis, in electronic form, should be submitted both to the Registrar's Office and the SWAGS Department by TBD. Detailed guidelines about thesis format and the submission process are included on the Registrar's website.

AWARDS AND PRIZES

Students should consider submitting final theses for the Rose Olver Prize and the David Kirp 1965 Stonewall Prize.

100 The Cross-Cultural Construction of Gender

This course introduces students to issues involved in the social and historical construction of gender identities and roles from a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary perspective. Topics, which change from year to year, have included gender and sexuality; the uses and limits of biology in explaining gender differences; women’s participation in production and reproduction; the intertwining of gender, race, nationality, and class in explaining oppression and resistance; women, men and globalization; and gender and warfare.

Limited to 25 students with 10 seats reserved for first-year students. Fall semester. Professor Peralta. 

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

110 The Bodies of Tragedy

(See CLAS 111)

113 Art From the Realm of Dreams

(See ARHA 146)

123 Greek Civilization

(See CLAS 123)

132 Legal Science Fiction

(See LJST 132)

145 The Modern World

(See ARHA 145)

158 Asian American History: 1800-Present

(See HIST 158)

160 Sexualities in International Relations

(See POSC 160)

163 LGBTQ History in Popular Culture

(See HIST 163)

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.

Recommended: SWAG 100 or another course on gender or sexuality. Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Karkazis.

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

203 Women Writers of Africa and the African Diaspora

(See BLST 203)

206 Women and Art in Early Modern Europe

(See ARHA 284)

209 Feminist Perspectives on Science and Medicine

This seminar uses feminist theory and methods to consider scientific practice and the production of scientific knowledge. We will explore how science reflects and reinforces social relations, positions, and hierarchies as well as whether and how scientific practice and knowledge might be made more accurate and socially beneficial. Central to this course is how assumptions about sex, gender and race have shaped what we have come to know as “true,” “natural,” and “fact.” We will explore interdisciplinary works on three main themes: feminist critiques of objectivity; the structure and meanings of natural variations, especially human differences; and challenges to familiar binaries (nature/culture, human/animal, female/male, etc).

Students who completed SWAG 108/ANTH 211 Feminist Science Studies in Fall 2019/20 will need to consult with Professor Karkazis prior to enrolling.

Limited to 20 students with 5 seats reserved for first-year students. Fall and spring semesters. Professor Karkazis.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023

222 Witches, Saints, and Whores: Representing Gender in Premodern Europe

(See GERM 252)

223 Law, Sex, and Family in the Wider Mediterranean (1300–1800)

(See HIST 223)

226 Theorizing the Black Queer Americas

(See BLST 226)

227 Lovers and Friends: A Democratic Idea?

(See POSC 228)

229 The Virgin Mary: Image, Cult, Syncretism (ca. 400-1700)

(See HIST 229)

235 Black Sexualities

(See BLST 236)

236 Queer Migrant Imaginaries

(See SPAN 365)

240 Women in Architecture

(See ARHA 240)

243 Rethinking Pocahontas: An Introduction to Native American and Indigenous Studies

(See AMST 240)

247 U.S. Carceral Culture

(See HIST 245)

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

(See SPAN 360)

252 History of Race, Gender, and Comic Books

(Offered as HIST 252 [US/TE/TR/TS/C] and SWAG 252) What can we learn about MLK and Malcolm X and from Magneto and Professor X? What can we learn about gendered and racialized depictions within comic books? As a catalyst to encourage looking at history from different vantage points, we will put comic books in conversation with the history of race and empire in the United States. Sometimes we will read comic books as primary sources and products of a particular historical moment, and other times we will be reading them as powerful and yet imperfect critiques of imperialism and racial inequality in U.S. history. Besides comic books, this course uses a wide range of material including academic texts, traditional primary source documents, and multi-media sources.

Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Peralta.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Spring 2023

259 (En) Gendering Development: Historical Genealogies / Contemporary Convergences

(Offered as ANTH 259, POSC 259, SOCI 259, and SWAG 259) We will explore the centrality of gender in the processes, problematics and politics of development through feminist postcolonial and decolonial conceptualizations, with a particular focus on gendered livelihoods and gendered vulnerabilities. Focusing primarily on the global south, the course will draw on empirical examples from Africa, the Middle East, South and South East Asia and Latin America. We will cover the following development areas: a) orientalism and the global "war on terror"; how gendered/sexualized orientalist discourses are deployed to heal wounded national identities and justify military interventions and territorial encroachments; b) anti-colonial nationalism and the rise of femonationalism; how discourses of gender, nation and sexuality are (re)framed for contemporary political agendas; c) structural adjustment programs and femicides; how trade liberalization and feminization of labor generates economies of sexualized violence in border industries; d) politics of population control and reproductive tourism; how bodies of underprivileged women, formerly seen as "waste," and whose reproduction should be "controlled," are transformed into sites of profit generation for the reproductive industry in the global north.

The course will draw on the relevant academic literature as well as a range of other sources including news media, documentaries, feature films, and policy reports.

Fall semester. STINT Fellow Thapar-Björkert.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022

265 Manhood and Masculinity in the U.S.

What does it mean to be a “real man” in the contemporary United States? What impact does masculinity have on sports, pop culture, and health, for example? How do race and sexuality impact masculinity? These are just a few of the questions that we will begin considering in this course. Masculinity, like "whiteness," has long been an opaque social category, receiving scant attention as a focus of study in its own right. But within the past few decades social scientific scholarship on the cultural construction of masculinity and on men and masculinities as complex and changing symbolic categories are the subject of intense theorization. This was born in part from the recognition that early feminist and gender theory focused almost exclusively (and for obvious political reasons) on the position and experience of women. Men, except where they were situated as part of the problem (the abuser, the oppressor, the patriarch), were neither the object nor the subject of study. This course critically analyzes manhood and masculinity as socially constructed and ever-changing concepts deeply entangled with race, class, disability, and sexuality. We will interrogate how masculinities influence actions and self-perceptions as well as analyze how masculinity promotes hierarchies of power and privilege in groups, organizations, and institutions, such as education, work, religion, sports, family, media, and the military. We will investigate the origins and development of masculinity, its expressions, and its problematic manifestations (including hegemonic masculinity, violence, sexual assault, health outcomes, etc.). By the end of the course, students should have an understanding of the ways that masculinity has shaped the lives and choices of men and women, boys and girls and should also be able to identify and question the taken-for-granted aspects of masculinity.

Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Karkazis.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022

274 Gender and Slavery in Latin America

(See BLST 275)

276 Women and Religion in Greece and Rome

(See RELI 276)

279 Global Women's Literature

(Offered as SWAG 279, BLST 302, 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 July's People, Pakistani novelist Bapsi Sidhwa's Cracking India, and Caribbean author Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea.

Spring semester. Professor Shandilya.

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

294 Black Europe

(See BLST 294)

296 Black Women and Reproductive Justice in the African Diaspora

(See AMST 296)

305 Gender, Migration and Power: Latinos in the Americas

(See AMST 305)

307 States of Extraction: Nature, Women, and World Politics

(See POSC 307)

309 Writing Together: Film and Feminist Collectivity

310 Witches, Vampires and Other Monsters

(See ARHA 385)

315 Representation and Reality in Spanish Cinema

(See SPAN 315)

316 Immersive Accompaniment: Reading the Bildungsroman

(See ENGL 316)

320 Strange Girls: Spanish Women’s Voices

(See SPAN 310)

324 Literature after Fascism: 1945 to 1989

(See GERM 324)

332 Latin American Cinema

(See SPAN 330)

338 Toni Morrison-Multi-Genre Exploration

(See BLST 339)

342 Women of Ill Repute: Courtesans, Cocottes, and Sex Workers in Nineteenth-Century French Literature

(See FREN 342)

343 Comparative Borderlands: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Transnational Perspective

(See SPAN 342)

345 Gender and Sexuality in Latin America

(See HIST 345)

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

(See BLST 347)

348 History of Asian American Women: Migration and Labor

(Offered as HIST 348 [US/TR/TS] and SWAG 348) This seminar will explore the intersections of gender, migration, and labor, with a particular focus on Asian American women in the United States (broadly defined to include the U.S.’s territories and military bases), from 1870 to the present. Through transnational and woman-of color feminist lenses, we will investigate U.S. colonial and neo-colonial formations which disrupt local economies, compelling women to migrate from their homes across national borders and then channeling them into limited employment opportunities in some of the most exploitative industries in the United States, including manufacturing, agricultural, and domestic work. Students will do close analysis of historical evidence, including written documents, images, film, and newspapers. There will also be intensive in-class discussion and varying forms of written work, which will culminate in a final research paper on a topic chosen by the student.

Recommended Prior Coursework: SWAG 100 or HIST/SWAG 158. Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Peralta.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021, Spring 2023

349 Law and Love

(See LJST 349)

365 Reading the Romance

(Offered as ENGL 372 and SWAG 365) Do people the world over love in the same way, or does romance mean different things in different cultures? What happens when love violates social norms? Is the “romance” genre an escape from real-world conflicts or a resolution of them? This course analyzes romantic narratives from across the world through the lens of feminist theories of sexuality, marriage, and romance. We will read heterosexual romances such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, alongside queer fiction such as Sarah Waters’ Fingersmiths and Radclyffe Hall’s Well of Loneliness. We will also pay attention to the Western romantic-comedy film, the telenovela, and the Bollywood spectacular.

Limited to 20 students. Not open to first-year students. Spring semester. Professor Shandilya.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Spring 2021, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

372 Indigenous Feminisms

(See AMST 370)

377 Sex, Gender, and the Body in South Asian History

(See HIST 376)

380 Women of Color and the Emergence of U.S. Third World Feminist Left

(See HIST 380)

381 Global Transgender Histories

(See HIST 381)

400 Contemporary Debates: Gendering Populism

(Offered as SWAG 400 and POSC 407) The topic will vary from year to year. The past decade has witnessed the dramatic rise of populist parties, movements, and leaders. One of the populists' defining attributes, and a key reason for their success, is their affective character. Rather than laying out policy proposals for rational deliberation and critical consent, they touch and excite people in an intimate way through their oratory and bodily comportment. Gender and sexuality play a key role in these visceral appeals. We will explore the ways populists enact hegemonic forms of masculinity and femininity and employ binary constructions of gender to differentiate allies from enemies.

Although we sometimes mistakenly assume that populist leaders draw on a common script, populist performances are most effective when they mine national memories, anxieties, and aspirations. We will analyze significant differences in the gendered styles of male and female populist leaders within and across nations. We will also examine how progressive movements among LGBTQ groups, feminists, and racial/religious minorities have employed gender and sexuality to challenge right-wing populists. Our approach will be comparative, cross-national, and interdisciplinary. The seminar will culminate in a final research paper.

Limited to 20 students. Not open to first-year students. Fall semester. Professor Basu.

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

411 Indigenous Women and World Politics

(See POSC 411)

416 Economics of Race and Gender

(See ECON 416)

422 Woolf and Her Circles: British Women Writers, 1918-1939

(See ENGL 422)

430 Renaissance Bodies

(See HIST 430)

436 Race, Gender, and Sexuality in U.S. History

(See HIST 436)

453 Feminist and Queer Ethnography

(Offered as SWAG 453, ANTH 453, and SOCI-453) How have feminist and queer approaches shaped the questions, methods, and ethics of ethnographic research? This course highlights key questions and dominant paradigms of the field as well as emphasizing qualitative ethnographic research including interviewing and fieldwork. As such, we will engage the practical question of how to research, observe, describe, record, and present material about feminist and queer politics and activism.

Recommended: One course in gender/sexuality or anthropology. Open to junior and seniors;  sophomores require permission from the professor; not open to first-year students. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Karkazis.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2021, Fall 2023

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 Jewish Identity and MeToo: A Study of Women in Judaism

(See RELI 261)

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