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Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses

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American Studies

Professors Brooks, Couvares, del Moral, Dhingra, Hayashi, Sánchez-Eppler, and Schmalzbauer (Chair); Associate Professor Henderson and Vigil; Lewis-Sebring Visiting Professor Luschen; Visiting Professor Kim; Assistant Professor Jolly; Senior Lecturer Bergoffen; and Lecturer Mead.

The core premise of American Studies is disarmingly simple: no discipline or perspective can satisfactorily encompass the diversity and variation that have marked American society and culture from the very beginning. This premise invites majors to craft their own distinctive way of coming to terms with America. Some will favor sociological, historical or economic interpretations; others will be drawn to artistic modes of interpretation in literature, music, visual arts, or popular culture. However individual majors fashion their courses of study, each major engages with one or more of the department’s faculty in an ongoing discussion of what the study of American society entails. This discussion culminates in an interdisciplinary capstone project, of one or two semesters. The topic may emerge organically from the courses a major has selected or it may arise out of a passionate engagement with a work of fiction, a curiosity about a historical event, or a desire to understand the persistence of a social problem. Whatever the substantive focus, the senior project affords majors the opportunity to reflect on what they have learned, refine their analytic and expository skills, and put all this to the test of making sense of some aspect of American society and culture.

The diversity of course selections available to majors ensures that they gain a heightened awareness of the history and present state of the peoples and social forces which constitute American society. Race, class, ethnicity and gender figure centrally in our courses, whether they are treated historically, sociologically or aesthetically. Our community-engaged learning courses challeng majors not only to study American culture and society but to be actively engaged citizens.

Major Program. American Studies majors are required to take ten courses plus complete a senior project. The American Studies major includes two specific course requirements and eight other courses on American culture and society,at least two of which must be met with American Studies courses taken at the 200 and 300 levels. The remaining six elective courses can be chosen, in close consultation with an advisor, from courses offered by the department, or from courses with relevant content offered across the curriculum of the college, the Five Colleges, or during study away from Amherst.  The American Studies major offers enormous flexibility for interdisciplinary exploration.

Requirements. All American Studies majors must take at least one American Studies course at the 100 level.  Currently, two courses are offered to fulfill this requirement.  AMST 111 “Global Valley” uses analysis of the Connecticut River Valley's history and culture as an introduction to American Studies methods. This course also includes significant pre-1900 content (not offered in 2020-2021).  American Studies 130 "Transnational American Studies" offers an introduction to the field of American Studies through a transnational framework (offered in Fall 2020).  All American Studies majors must take at least one American Studies course at the 200 level, and at least one American Studies course at the 300 level.  These courses can also simultaneously meet the requirements for courses with a community-engaged learning component and/or for courses with significant pre-1900 content.  AMST 468, the research methods seminar, is offered every year and ideally should be taken during the junior year. Students planning to be abroad in the spring of their junior years should consult with their major advisors about taking this course as sophomores, as it is usually offered only in the spring.

Students also take eight elective courses about American society and culture. At least two of these electives must be American Studies courses offered at the 200 and 300 levels. The remaining six elective courses can be chosen, in close consultation with an advisor, from courses in the department, or from courses with relevant content offered across the curriculum of the college, the Five Colleges, or during study away from Amherst. At least three, and no more than four, of these courses should be in a single academic discipline or concentrated on a single theme. For example, a student might have a concentration in Asian American Studies, Latino Studies, Native American Studies, sexuality, urban studies, environmental studies, or in literature, history, economics, or political science, or film and media.  At least one of these courses must not only study but actively engage with American society through a significant community-engaged learning component.  This requirement can be fulfilled by community-engaged learning courses offered by American Studies faculty, or, by other community-engaged learning courses taught at Amherst or across the Five College consortium. At least three of the courses, taken in the major, should be devoted largely to the study of a period before the twentieth century.

Senior Project. In their senior year all American Studies majors will complete an interdisciplinary independent project closely supervised by a faculty advisor. Students may choose to enroll in AMST 498 and 499 to produce a senior thesis, necessary to be considered for honors; or they can choose to enroll in AMST 496 to produce a one-semester capstone project—either a shorter essay or some other form of independent interdisciplinary research and production. In both cases the capstone project serves as the grounds for a comprehensive evaluation of each student's achievement in the major.

Advising. In response to the range of the majors' individual preferences and interest, departmental advisors are available for regular consultation. The advisor's primary function is to aid the student in the definition and achievement of his or her own educational goals.

Departmental Honors. All majors must complete the requirements outlined above. Recommendations for Latin Honors are made on the basis of the year-long senior thesis produced in AMST 498 and 499.

Evaluation. There is no single moment of comprehensive evaluation in the American Studies major. The Department believes that fulfillment of the course requirements, combined with the production of a capstone project, provides adequate grounds for the fair assessment of a major’s achievement.

For related courses, see offerings in the study of America in the Departments of Art and the History of Art; Black Studies; Economics; English; Environmental Studies; History; Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought; latinx & Latin American Studies; Political Science; Religion; Sociology; Theater and Dance; and Sexuality, Women's and Gender Studies.

*On leave 2023-24.†On leave fall semester 2023-24.‡On leave spring semester 2023-24.

111 Global Valley

[Pre-1900] Drawing on a wide range of primary materials, and taking advantage of the ease of visiting the sites of many of the topics we study, this course offers an introduction to American Studies through an exploration of the Connecticut River Valley that stresses both the fascination of detailed local history and the economic, political, social, and cultural networks that tie this place to the world. Topics may include conflicts and accommodations between Native peoples and English settlers; changing uses of land and resources; seventeenth-century witchcraft trials; the American Revolution and Shays rebellion; religious revivalism of the Great Awakening; abolitionist and other nineteenth-century reform movements; tourism and the scenic including Thomas Cole's famous painting of the oxbow; immigration, industrialization and deindustrialization, especially in the cities of Holyoke and Springfield; educational institutions and innovations; the Cold War, the reach of the "military industrial complex" into local educational institutions, and "the bunker"; the sanctuary movement; feminist and gay activism; present environmental, mass incarceration, and other social equity issues; and of course, Emily Dickinson's poetry.

Limited to 20 students per section. 8 seats per section reserved for first-year students. Fall semester. Professors Brooks and Sánchez-Eppler.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023, Fall 2024

115 "The Embodied Self" in American Culture and Society

(Offered as AMST 115 and SOCI 215) The course is an interdisciplinary, historically organized study of American perceptions of and attitudes towards the human body in a variety of media, ranging from medical and legal documents to poetry and novels, the visual arts, film, and dance. Among the topics to be discussed are the physical performance of gender; the social construction of the ideal male and female body; health reform movements; athletic achievement as an instrumentalization of the body; commercialization of physical beauty in the fitness and fashion industries; eating disorders as cultural phenomena; the interminable abortion controversy; the equally interminable conflict over pornography and the limits of free speech; and adaptations to the possibility of serious illness and to the certainty of death. 

Limited to 18 students per section. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Couvares and Senior Lecturer Bergoffen.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

117 Women, Gender, and Pop Culture

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 18 students.  Spring semester.  Professor Henderson.

130 Transnational American Studies

(Offered as AMST 130 and BLST 130[D]) The hustle and flow of bodies, ideas, inequalities and solidarities is core to our increasingly globalized world. This course offers an introduction to the Americas as a transnational space. We will explore the interplay of race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and nationality from interdisciplinary perspectives. We will draw examples from the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Students will learn through a variety of methods including textual analysis, feminist ethnography, archival research, and cultural studies. We will also examine multiple approaches to American Studies such as critical race and ethnic studies, feminist and queer studies, indigenous studies, as well as theories of decolonization and settler colonialism. We will grapple with the complexities of identity and difference, immigration and border control, slavery, colonization, and empire.

Limited to 20 students. Fall semester. Assistant Professor Jolly.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2020, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

140 Immigration and White Supremacy

(Offered as AMST 140 and LJST 140) While discussions of white supremacy are more common now than even a few years ago, the image of the United States as a nation of immigrants remains popular. How can we connect these two notions, that on the one hand the country was founded on and practices a settler colonialism and racial capitalism that privileges whites, with that on the other hand many immigrants of color are working towards their American Dream? Through sociological and historical texts, the course will interrogate what is behind immigration to the United States, including the nation’s imperial and neocolonial interventions abroad that have created the foundation for much displacement. The course also delves into how immigrants navigate racial hierarchies – sometimes successfully and sometimes not – across a variety of spaces, including education, the workplace, cultural discourse, and more. Attention will be given to various groups, including Asian Americans, Latinxs, and others. Students will have research and writing assessments.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2023-24. Professors del Moral and Dhingra.

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

147 Drugs in History

(Offered as AMST-147 and HIST-147)  This course examines the changing ways that human beings have used psychoactive drugs and societies have controlled that use. After examining drug use in historical and cross-cultural perspectives and studying the physiological and psychological effects of different drugs, we look at the ways in which contemporary societies both encourage and repress drug use. We address the drug war, the disease model of drug addiction, the proliferation of prescription drugs, the images of drug use in popular culture, America’s complicated history of alcohol control, and international drug trafficking and its implications for American foreign policy. Readings include Huxley’s Brave New World, Kramer’s Listening to Prozac, and Reinarman and Schivelbusch, Tastes of Paradise; films include Drugstore Cowboy and Traffic. This course will be writing attentive. Two class meetings per week.

Limited to 15 students.  Fall semester. Professor Couvares.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023

200 Race, Education, and Belonging

(Offered as AMST 200, EDST 200, and SOCI 200) Disproportionate numbers of students of color drop out or disengage from schools in America each year. Responding to the framework of “drop out,” critical educational scholars have argued that many school practices, policies, and cultures “push out” already marginalized students, or at the very least, do not take sufficient steps to create an inclusive culture that supports all students’ participation and sense of belonging. This course examines the ways in which race and racism influence political, social, cultural, and institutional belonging. This interdisciplinary course will draw on theory and research from the fields of education, sociology, and ethnic studies to examine the conditions of schooling that prompt students’ formal and less formal forms of school disengagement. We will explore how educational institutions, educators, and their community partners support students’ access to and engagement with education. We will examine educational reform practices that strive to cultivate a culture of belonging and community in schools. As part of this course, students will collaboratively work toward a community-engaged project centered on college access.

Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Luschen.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Spring 2023

201 The Social Construction of American Society

(Offered as AMST 201 and EDST 201) The goal of this course is to explain how our daily, social environment in the United States is constructed and shapes our lives. We will address such questions as why some succeed at school while others fail; what effect culture has on our behavior; why there are class, gender, and racial inequalities; how socialization takes place; and what role politics plays in our society. This course introduces students to these and other sociological topics as well as to dominant theories and methods used to make sense of such social phenomena. Students are encouraged to bring their own insights to class as we challenge common assumptions of these major issues that refer to all of us.

Limited to 18 students.  Omitted 2023-24. Professor Dhingra.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019, Spring 2020, January 2021, January 2022, Spring 2022

203 Youth, Schooling, and Popular Culture

(Offered as AMST 203, EDST 203, and SOCI 203) What do we understand about schools, teachers, and students through our engagement with popular culture? How do we interrogate youth clothing as a site of cultural expression and school-based control? How do race, class, and gender shape how youth make sense of and navigate cultural events such as the prom? Contemporary educational debates often position schools and popular culture as oppositional and as vying for youth's allegiance. Yet schools and popular culture overlap as educational sites in the lives of youth. In this course, we will employ feminist, critical race, and cultural studies perspectives to analyze representations of schooling and youth in popular culture. By doing so, we will consider the historically shifting meaning of youth, interrogate an oppositional stance to school and popular culture, and examine relationships of power and representation in educational sites. Readings, class discussions, and frequent film screenings will support our examination.

Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2023-24.  Visiting Professor Luschen.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Fall 2022

204 The Asian American Experience

(Offered as AMST 204 and SOCI 202) How do race, immigration, and the state not only shape people’s access to resources but also delimit who belongs to the nation, self-conceptions, and personal relationships? How can ethnic minorities at times be “out-whiting whites” but still be denied full citizenship by the state? What does it mean to grow up within a culture but never fully identify with it? We will answer these questions and more by examining Asian Americans' efforts for belonging and social justice as full members of the United States. Substantive topics include how race, gender, sexuality, and class intersect to influence life chances; immigration laws and trends; how people form ethnic and racial identities while becoming “good Americans”; educational experiences of youth and so-called “Tiger parents”; how family and relationship formations are shaped by race and immigration; media portrayals; inter-minority solidarities and tensions.

Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2023-24.  Professor Dhingra.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020

205 Whose Game: Sports in American Society

Sports infiltrate American lives.  Whether we are active participants, fans, or only disinterested consumers of media, we cannot escape the influence sport has on American society. Moreover, the world of sports is the place where discussions of major societal issues—racism, gender inequality, labor rights—most prominently arise in the public sphere. Media often point to sport as being emblematic of the most powerful myths about American culture and identity. Yet, few people have an appreciation for how sports in American society and their meaning have evolved over time. This course is designed to offer such an understanding and promote critical analysis of the role of sports in our individual and collective lives. We will study and discuss contemporary scholarship on the history of American sport, from roughly 1800 to the present, as well as related literature and documentary film.

Limited to 25 students.  Fall semester.  Professor Hayashi.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023

206 Major Debates in Latinx and Latin American Studies

Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Spring 2022, Spring 2023

208 Asian Pacific American Sports: Clever Headers and Warriors

Asians and Pacific Islanders are increasingly visible in the realm of American competitive sports. These athletes are often noteworthy to Americans because they seem anomalous. In this course, we will consider the histories from which these athletes emerge, of sports diffusion across the Pacific Zone, to enrich understanding of the larger history of American sports and API history and identity. A robust transnational flow of athletes and communities across the Pacific dates to the late nineteenth century and includes Hawaiian surfers and swimmers, Chinese collegiate soccer players, as well as current professional athletes like Shohei Ohtani. We will study how American government agencies, military, religious institutions, and educators deployed sport to promote their agendas across the Pacific and the ways sports connected cultures, including those of Japanese schools, Hawaiian beaches, Philippine YMCAs, and elite American colleges like Amherst. We will explore this larger history from an interdisciplinary and transnational frame through discussion and analysis of writings in history, sociology, cultural studies, philosophy, literature, and in documentary film.

Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Hayashi.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Fall 2024

212 Kānaka Maoli and Asians in Hawai'i

Even though Hawai‘i is often referred to as the “Paradise on Earth,” the history of Hawai‘i is rife with the legacies of imperial ambitions of the United States.  This course examines the history of US occupation of Hawai‘i as a case study of US imperialism.  We will examine the history of the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the independent Hawaiian Kingdom, the subsequent annexation of Hawai‘i as a US territory, and finally the current status of Hawai‘i as the fiftieth state in the United States.  Topics of discussion include Native Hawaiian resistance to American annexation, indigenous land struggles and continued US military expansion after annexation, Asian sugar plantation laborer settlers in Hawai‘i, revitalization of Hawaiian language, and contemporary Native Hawaiian sovereignty movements for self-determination. Students will engage with a variety of primary sources (court cases, protest songs, memoirs, letters) and secondary sources (scholarly books, articles, documentaries, films) to critically examine global geopolitics and economic interests that fueled US imperialism in Hawai‘i as well as to understand historical and contemporary manifestations of Kānaka Maoli self-determination and Asian settler solidarity. Students in this course will receive priority for the Hampshire College’s Jan-term field course, “Malama ‘Aina:  Sustainability, Settler Colonialism, and Native Hawaiian Struggle for Self-Determination.” 

Limited to 25 students.  Fall semester.  Visiting Professor Kim.

Pending Faculty Approval

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023, Fall 2024

214 Race, Empire, and Transnationalism: Chinese Diasporic Communities in the U.S. and the World

(See HIST 114)

216 Afro-Latinos

(Offered as AMST 216 and BLST 240 [CLA/US]) Who is an “Afro-Latino”? Are they Latinos or are they Black? Afro-Latinos are African-descended peoples from Latin America and the Caribbean who reside in the United States. In this course, a focus on Afro-Latinos allows us to study the history of racial ideologies and racial formation in the Americas.

We take a multi-layered approach to the study of modern Afro-Latino history (late nineteenth century to the twentieth century). First, the history of Afro-Latinos has been shaped by the historical relationship between race and nation in Latin America. Therefore, we look closely at the varied histories of African-descended peoples in Latin American countries. Second, the historical relationship between the United States and Latin America has shaped the experience of Afro-Latinos who reside in the U.S. The long history of U.S. economic dominance and military interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean generated an equally long history of Latin American migration to the U.S. In the twentieth century black migrants came from nations that promoted myths of racial democracy to a nation that practiced racial segregation and violence. Afro-Latino migrants experienced racial segregation and violence in the U.S. in ways similar to but different than other Latinos and African Americans. Therefore, third, we examine the history of Afro-Latinos in relation to Latinos in the U.S. The history of Latinos is at the core of U.S. continental expansion, labor practices, and exclusionary citizenship. The category “Latino” has also been shaped by racial hierarchies. The relatively new category of “Afro-Latino” allows us to examine a history that has been silenced within the broader categories of “Latino” or “African American.”

In this course, we examine how Afro-Latinos maneuvered between different racial contexts in Latin American nations and the United States. It is a history that highlights the competing and conflicting racial ideologies that have shaped the Americas.

Limited to 18 students.  Omit 2023-24. Professor del Moral.

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

217 Religion, Democracy, and American Culture

[Pre-1900] The United States has inscribed the separation of church and state into its constitutional order, and yet Americans have for two centuries been more deeply committed to religious faith and practice than any other people in the Western world. This course endeavors to explore that paradox. Topics addressed include the changing meanings of "the city on a hill"; the varieties of millennial belief and utopian community; the relationship between religion, ethnicity, and gender; religious political activism, including abolition, prohibition, anti-war and anti-abortion movements; and the limits of religious tolerance from movements against Catholics and Mormons to recent warnings of a "clash of civilizations" with Muslim cultures.

Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professors Couvares.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023

219 Rebels and Reformers: Women in the Progressive Era

This course examines the experiences of women from diverse backgrounds during the Progressive Era (1890-1920). During this period characterized by rapid industrialization, mass immigration, and contested civil rights, women advocated for reforms of all kinds. But they did not always share the same visions of progress. Course units on labor, settlement work, sexual and racial politics, education, and physical culture will put these competing visions in historical context. Who defined the terms and goals of progress? Elite reformers worked for the betterment of society, but in whose interests? And what about the anarchists, who refused to play by the rules? Primary course materials will include periodical literature, pamphlets, political tracts, and works of literature. We will also examine historical writing, visual art, and archival material in the Sophia Smith Collection of Women’s History at Smith College.

Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Senior Lecturer Bergoffen.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023

220 Reading, Writing, and Teaching

(See ENGL 120)

221 Active Citizenship

This course investigates the practice and ideal of community in America both on a national and a local level, asking students to develop concrete strategies for 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. The course will pay particular attention to the struggles of often-marginalized groups to build healthy and just communities. Coursework will include contemporary and historical case studies, literary depictions, and more theoretical readings, as well as a substantial commitment to the observation of civic life at the local level. We will attend: school committee meetings, community organizing strategy sessions, select board meetings, board meetings of local nonprofit organizations and community gatherings. We will bring what we learn from these sessions into our classroom discussions of how to build socially just communities at the local level. Each of you will develop a personal action plan for how you plan to be an active citizen in the near and the long term of your life.

Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Lecturer Mead.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, January 2022, Spring 2022, Spring 2023

222 Fictions of America

(See GERM 222)

224 The Neo-Western

From the advertising copy and backdrop of truck ads to the democratic rhetoric of politicians, the West as a place of national mythology still permeates American culture. In this course, we will analyze the evolution of the West as a prominent site of American myth and the contemporary representations of it in literature and film, the Neo-Westerns. Students will read works by authors such as Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy, Sherman Alexi, and Percival Everett, as well as view recent popular films by Ang Lee, Clint Eastwood, and John Sayles. The course will also include readings in history, as well as other disciplines, to contextualize the creative works and to gauge how the myth of the West compares to its reality and how truly revisionist its most current representations are.

Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Hayashi.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2015, Spring 2019, Spring 2020

225 Mixed-Race America

In 2015 the Pew Research Center identified mixed-race Americans as “the cutting edge of social and demographic change in the US.” Prior to that, revisions to the United States Census in 2000 enabled the checking of multiple identity boxes, increasing the visibility of mixed-race people. Despite this recent recognition, the fact of mixed-race peoples in the Americas is nothing new. Since the Colonial period, laws governing citizenship, marriage and rights prohibited or punished miscegenation; yet, mixed-race people proliferated. Representations of and designations for racial mixing focused on negative conceptions of blood and degeneracy. In more recent decades, mixed-race people have claimed their hybridity, renamed themselves, and even declared their own “Bill of Rights.” Using an interdisciplinary approach, the course will examine mixed-race identity through a range of materials: legal cases, history, ethnography, visual art, literature, and critical theory. The course will also include material on transnational, transracial adoptions, and the mixed-race households they engender.

Limited to 20 students per section. Spring semester. Professor Hayashi and Senior Lecturer Bergoffen.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2024, Spring 2025

234 The Sanctuary Movement: Religion, Activism, and Social Contestation

(See RELI 234)

238 Indigenous Books and Art: A Boundless Approach to Texts and Images

In September 2023 the “Boundless” Exhibition will open at the Mead Art Museum featuring Native American artists and books from the Kim-Wait/Eisenberg Native American Literature Collection. This course enables students to learn about Native American literature and art production through the “Boundless” exhibit, and through readings and research related to Native American artistic traditions and literary practices. As an interdisciplinary course, taught within American Studies, students will work with texts from the Amherst Native Literature collection and choose a Native artist from the Mead’s exhibit to study in more depth. Some questions we will consider in our class discussions: What is the relationship between text and image within different Native American artistic traditions? From ledger books to the work of Mary Sulley and more contemporary Native performers and artists, how have Indigenous creators used the site of culture to contend with the shifting challenges that arise out of settler colonialism? How have Native artists and writers collaborated to produce cultural projects that celebrate Indigenous epistemologies? How do American and Indigenous artistic practices and traditions, in terms of literature, visual art, and film, overlap, critique, or enliven one another? This course is centered around Indigenous approaches to learning and will enable students to deepen their understanding of the relationships between research, museums, archives, and Indigenous cultural representations that contend with the legacies of colonization. Students will produce a final assignment that contributes to the Mead Museum’s “Boundless” Exhibit.

Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Vigil.

Pending Faculty Approval

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023

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

(Offered as AMST 240 [Pre-1900], EDST-240 and SWAG 243) From Longfellow’s Hiawatha and D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature to Disney’s Pocahontas and more recently Moana to James Cameron’s Avatar, representations of the Indigenous as “Other” have greatly shaped cultural production in America as vehicles for defining the nation and the self. This interdisciplinary course introduces students to the broad field of Native American and Indigenous Studies, by engaging a range of texts from law to policy to history and literature as well as music and aesthetics. Film will also provide grounding for our inquiries. By keeping popular culture, representation, and the nature of historical narratives in mind, we will consider the often mutually constitutive relationship between American identity and Indian identity as we pose the following questions: How have imaginings of a national space and national culture by Americans been shaped by a history marked by conquest and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples? And, how have the myths of conquest become a part of education and popular representations to mask settler colonial policies and practices that seek to “erase in order to replace” the Native? This course also considers how categories like race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and religion have defined identities and changed over time with particular regards to specific Native American individuals and tribal nations. Students will be able to design their own final research project. It may focus on either a historically contingent or contemporary issue related to Native American people in the United States that is driven by a researchable question based on working with an Indigenous author’s writings from the Kim-Wait/Pablo Eisenberg (or KWE for short) collection of Native American Literature books in the archives of Amherst College.

Limited to 20 students.  Spring semester.  Professor Vigil.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Spring 2023

242 Native Futures: Understanding Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Sovereignty

In recent years, Indigenous acts of resistance have opposed the removal of federal protections for forests and waterways in Indigenous lands, halted the construction of oil pipelines, and demanded justice for murdered and missing Indigenous women. These anti-colonial struggles have their roots in Native communities and epistemologies. This course introduces students to critical theories for understanding Native responses to settler-colonialism, as “a structure, not an event,” through close examination of texts produced by a range of Native scholars and activists. Reading work by Jodi Byrd (Chickasaw), Audra Simpson (Mohawk), Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg), and others, we will interrogate how the colonial state has developed in the United States and Canada and the diverse strategies used by Native nations to respond to this development. We’ll consider how Hawaiian movements for life, land, and sovereignty arose from grassroots initiatives and the ways that scholars, community organizers, journalists, and filmmakers have contributed to a Native Hawaiian resistance movement. We’ll also examine the ways in which gender is inextricably a part of Indigenous politics by looking at work by scholars who use both literary and legal texts to analyze the production of colonial space, the biopolitics of “Indianness,” and the collisions and collusions between queer theory and colonialism within Indigenous studies. This course focuses on Native voices and theories to question and reframe thinking about Native epistemologies, nationhood, citizenship, history, identity, belonging and the possibilities for a decolonial future. Classwork will involve seminar-style discussion, often facilitated by student leaders, to further unpack course readings, supplemental materials, and relevant current events. Students will produce short response papers that culminate in a final project which can take any form, including a performance, website, multimedia or other type of creative composition intended to reach a public audience.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Vigil.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020

243 Indigeneity and Science in the Archives

This is a research-based course where students will work collaboratively to develop materials for a digital archive to complement the professor’s book, Settler Science and the Genomic Quest for Indigeneity. Part of the book project has been to develop a dynamic, complementary archive: a standalone, permanent but modifiable site including various multimedia components (e.g., film clips, images, maps), documents (e.g., historical, legal, and scientific publications), and links to key online sites that can be used by teachers, students, and others in conjunction with the published book. Students will design components for and test the archive as a pedagogical tool. In particular, students will work directly with some of the book manuscript as well as research materials collected during summer research trips in order to create new content for the archive. The course will introduce students to the fields of feminist science and technology studies (FSTS), Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS), and settler colonial studies. Students will explore key legal histories of Native North America, genealogies of racial science and the development of modern genomics, and questions related to Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in order to contextualize the genomic quest for indigeneity.

Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2023-24. Visiting Professor Hamilton.

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

249 Social Inequalities and Social Change

(Offered as AMST-249 and SOCI-249) The goal of the course is to interrogate key social inequalities in the United States and the organizations that try to alleviate them. We will go beyond the rhetoric surrounding relevant issues and investigate them from the ground-up through texts written by scholars and public intellectuals. We also will recognize social service organizations in terms of their effectiveness as well as consider critiques of them in terms of their abilities to create social change. In addition, students are expected to participate in a local organization, whether in the cultural or service sphere. Students will get a deeper appreciation of how organizations conceive of and try to address social inequalities than coursework alone can provide.

Limited to 16 students. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Dhingra.

2023-24: Not offered

257 Understanding the Soul of a Nation

Representations of people in the United States, on the level of the individual and the collective, referring to the self and the nation, have often engaged in and produced a discourse concerning the soul and salvation. This course asks students to engage with literary, intellectual, and artistic articulations of the soul and the nation, from African-American intellectual writings, like W.E.B. DuBois’ The Souls of Blackfolks (1903), and Indigenous representations, such as Charles Eastman’s The Soul of the Indian (1911), to musical works, like “Hot Buttered Soul” by Isaac Hayes (1969) and Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” (1976), as well as films such as the Disney-Pixar animated feature Soul (2020). Using these texts to ground our discussions students will explore the following questions: What does it mean to have a soul within and outside of sacred epistemologies? How does the concept of soul connect the sacred with the secular in American popular culture? Why did the Biden Presidential Campaign of 2020 frame its platform as “saving the soul of a nation"? Can a nation have a soul? How did soul come to signify a cultural belief in black resilience, enacted through musical practices, during the 1960s? In the nineteenth century, how was the Judeo-Christian concept of salvation used to justify and expand settler colonial practices, in order to “Kill the Indian, but Save the Man”? In this course students will ground their responses to these questions and others by reading an array of theoretical texts as we interrogate the meaning of soul in American culture and history in relation to racism and colonization. Students will also generate their own researchable questions to expand their understanding of the social and personal meanings of soul as framed by studies in critical race theory, Indigeneity and colonialism, and literary criticism. In addition, students will practice interdisciplinary methods from American Studies as they examine a wide-array of materials: music, film, visual art, popular culture, printed primary sources, and literature.

Limited to 20 students.  Spring semester.  Professor Vigil.

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

268 Rethinking Race and Class in Rural America

(Offered as AMST 268 and SOCI 268) This course will bring a sociological lens to contemporary race and class relations in rural America. Drawing from social-historical analyses, ethnography, interview-based research, and memoir, we will look at the social forces at the base of shifting rural demographics, as well as how these shifts are being experienced in rural daily life. Central to the course will be an analysis of how place shapes the relationship between race and class, and how these place-based relationships in turn shape individual and collective identity. Throughout the course we will reflect on what anti-racist, equitable community building might look like in rural America and beyond.

Fall semester.  Professor Schmalzbauer.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023

296 Black Women and Reproductive Justice in the African Diaspora

(Offered as AMST 296, BLST 296 [D] and SWAG 296). This course explores the transnational politics of race, gender, sexuality, and health from interdisciplinary perspectives. It engages a range of texts and methodologies that locate the historical and contemporary experiences of Afro-diasporic women and girls in the struggle for embodied freedom, autonomy, and reproductive justice. We will draw on examples from Africa and the African diaspora (U.S., the Caribbean, and Latin America) as we engage the main debates in reproductive justice around key issues: sexual and reproductive health and rights; HIV/AIDS; sexual autonomy and choice; sterilization; police brutality; the right to bear children; abortion. The course will also introduce students to theories about health and illness, embodiment and subjectivity, critical race theory, ethnography, black feminist theory, and postcolonial health science studies. Class field trips to reproductive justice organizations will also provide an experiential component that grounds our inquiries.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2023-24. Assistant Professor Jolly.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020, Spring 2022, Spring 2025

305 Gender, Migration and Power: Latinos in the Americas

(Offered as AMST 305, SOCI 305 and SWAG 305) In this course we draw from sociology, anthropology, and geography to explore the gendered dynamics and experiences of Latino migration to the United States. We begin by situating gendered patterns of migration in the context of contemporary globalization and relating them to social constructions of gender. Next we look at experiences of settlement, analyzing the role of women’s and men’s networks in the process of migration, especially in terms of employment and survival strategies. We also analyze how specific contexts of reception influence the gender experience of settlement. For example, how does migration to rural areas differ from migration to traditional urban migration hubs, and how does gender influence that difference? We then look at Latino family formation, paying special attention to the experiences of transnational mothers and fathers, those who have left children behind in their home countries in the process of migration. Finally, we explore the relationship between migration and sexuality.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Schmalzbauer.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2018

308 Gender, Feminisms, and Education

(Offered as AMST-308, EDST-308 and SOCI-308) The relationship between girls’ empowerment and education has been and continues to be a key feminist issue. For instance, second wave liberal feminist approaches sought to make schools more equitable through equal access to educational resources for girls and the elimination of gender discrimination. Yet the relationship between gender and schooling remains a complex site of research and policy.

In this course we will examine how various feminist perspectives have defined and addressed the existence of gender inequality in American schools. We will begin by examining theories that address the production of gendered experiences within the context of U.S. schools and classrooms. Utilizing an intersectional approach, we will explore how the production of gender identities in educational contexts is shaped by the realities of our race, class, ethnic, and sexual identities. We will draw on empirical research and theory to analyze pedagogies, policies, and programs that have been developed to address gender inequality and schooling, including those that address fluid notions of gender. Students will complete the course with a complex view of feminism and an understanding of how feminist approaches have shaped the debates within gender and educational reform.

Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2023-24. Visiting Professor Luschen.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Spring 2021, Spring 2023

309 Island Bodies and Bodily Autonomy

(See BLST 309)

312 BIPOC Children: Targets of the State

This course examines the history of BIPOC children, crime, and punishment in the United States. We survey historical and contemporary examples of the criminalization of indigenous, Black, Latinx, South Asian American, and immigrant children since the late-nineteenth century. Students have the opportunity to pursue a research project about BIPOC childhoods and punitive governance.

Limited to 15 students.  Fall semester.  Professor del Moral.

Pending Faculty Approval

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023, Spring 2025

326 Immigration and the New Latino Second Generation

(Offered as AMST 326 and SOCI 326) This course focuses on Latino immigrant youth and the children of Latino immigrants who are coming of age in the contemporary United States, what social scientists have termed the “new second generation.” Currently this generation is the fastest-growing demographic of children under 18 years of age. The majority of youth in the “new second generation” are Latino.

Drawing on sociological and anthropological texts, fiction, and memoir, we will explore the social factors, historical legacies, and policies that in large part shape the lived experiences of Latino youth. We begin by laying a historical and theoretical base for the course, exploring the notions of assimilation and transnationalism. We then move into an exploration of the intersecting contexts of inequality which contextualize daily life for the new second generation. Specifically we investigate how social class, race, gender, and “illegality” intersect with generation to shape the struggles, opportunities, identities and aspirations of Latino youth.

Requisite: Previous course(s) in SOCI, ANTH, AMST, BLST or LLAS. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Schmalzbauer.

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

328 Indigenous Narratives: Creating Children's Stories about Native American History

(Offered as AMST-328, EDST-328, and HIST-328 [US/TR/TS])  Children’s literature has a diversity problem. A 2018 study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that of more than 3000 children’s books published that year, roughly 50% featured main characters who were White. Only 10% featured Black characters, 7% featured Asian / Pacific Islander characters, and 5% featured Latinx characters. (27% of the books surveyed featured animal characters.) By far the least represented group in children’s literature were Native Americans, who appeared in fewer than 1% of the books surveyed.

This course explores the ethics and impact of inclusive representation in children’s media. It focuses on the challenge of teaching young people under-represented histories, particularly when those histories engage with raw, difficult, and often still painful subjects. How can we tell historically accurate stories to children without whitewashing or sugarcoating the past? Why is the drive to make children’s media more inclusive critically important?  

 A major component of this course involves experiential learning. Working together in small groups, and with guidance from experts in children’s publishing (editors, authors, illustrators, librarians), students will research, write, and publish a book for children on a topic related to Native American history. Readings will combine scholarship about children’s literature and publishing, the importance of historical representation and storytelling, and Native American history. Students will engage directly with the local community through focus groups, discussions with Native American knowledge keepers and cultural consultants, as well as visits to local libraries and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. This course is open to all and no prior experience is necessary, however students must be willing to work collaboratively, and will be required to attend one out-of-class field trip.  

Limited to 30 students.  Omitted 2023-24.  Professors Boucher and Vigil.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Spring 2025

330 Making Asians: Asian American in Literature and Law

This course examines the construction of Asian American identity from the late 1800s to the present day by examining literary texts and legal texts and how they have shaped definitions of distinct Asian ethnicities and panethnic identities. We will explore how Asians in America have been defined in the law and literary arts and how work in these distinct spheres of American life—law and literature—have been in conversation. We will focus on such issues as immigration, citizenship, and civil rights and their relation to Asian American identity. Readings will include fiction, drama, poetry, literary criticism, legal cases, legal codes and statutes, legal studies and history, and ethnic studies. Coursework will include essays, oral presentations, and a research project.

Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2023-24.  Professor Hayashi.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Spring 2019

334 American History and Memory

Americans increasingly debate their monuments, movies, and institutions: the histories they present and how they narrate the past. In this course, we will examine how individuals, organizations, and groups in the United States have recorded and recounted violent histories: Armenian Genocide, Japanese-American Incarceration, Vietnam, The LA Riots/ Insurrection/Sa-I-Gu, and 9/11. We will explore the tensions between individual and collective memories, and the role of memory in shaping national identity. We will also consider the material and ethical challenges of memorializing trauma, as well as the relation between narrative, identity, and place. The course is highly interdisciplinary and includes readings in history, museum studies, literary theory, and critical race studies. We will closely engage a range of primary materials including photographs, memoir, film, poetry, and archival materials. Class meetings include group discussions, lectures, training sessions, and outside speaker visits. Throughout the semester, we will also consider how these historical events impacted the Amherst College community. Course members will design and contribute to a public history project documenting and interpreting the Amherst Uprising of 2015, a student led social protest that further illuminates the challenges of narrating and remembering historical events.

Limited to 12 students. Omitted 2023-24.  Professor Hayashi.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

337 Movie Censorship in American History

(Offered as AMST-337, FAMS-337, and HIST-337)  Almost from their very first days, even as they provoked a sense of wonderment, movies also provoked alarm and became targets of censorship. This course traces that set of reactions from the campaign to shut down the 1915 racist epic, “Birth of a Nation;” through the campaigns against sexual display and ethnic insult in the 1920s; to the Production Code era in the 1930s, with its “fallen women,” gangsters, and “screwballs"; through the end of the studio system and the rise of political censorship in the Cold War era. Frequent film viewing and intensive reading will be required, as also will be several smaller and at least one larger writing assignment.

Limited to 20 students.  Omitted 2023-24.  Professor Couvares

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

345 Model Minorities: Jewish and Asian Americans

(Offered as AMST 345, EDUST 345 and SOCI 345) The United States has long struggled with challenges created by the need to absorb ethnic and racial minorities. In the face of seemingly intractable problems, one solution has been to designate a “model minority,” which then appears to divert attention from the society at large. Earlier in the twentieth century, Jewish Americans played this role; today, Asian Americans are the focus. This course examines specific instances in which Jewish Americans and Asian Americans both embraced and rejected the model minority stereotype. Course units will also examine the underside of the model minority stereotype, quotas imposed to limit access to education and employment as well as social and legal actions taken in response to such restrictions. The course will feature a range of materials, including plays, fiction, journalism, and visual works. Students will read scholarship in the fields of American Studies, Sociology, History, and Critical Race Studies. The course will include a number of guest speakers.

Limited to 20 students.  Omitted 2023-24.  Senior Lecturer Bergoffen.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022

349 Black Latinas: Latin American, Caribbean, and US Latinx Women of African Descent

(See BLST 350)

352 The Purpose and Politics of Education

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2025

355 Reading Land, Writing Waters

(See ENGL 352)

361 Remixing and Remaking: Adaptation in Contemporary Black Literature

(Offered as AMST 361, BLST 361, and ENGL 276) Through a close reading of texts by African American authors, we will critically examine literary form and technique alongside the representation of race, gender, sexuality, and class. 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 twentieth-century fiction. Authors will include Toni Morrison, Lorraine Hansberry, Alice Walker, 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. Fall semester. Professor Henderson.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

368 Discipline and Defiance in Black Creative Expression

(Offered as AMST 368, BLST 368 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.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2017, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2024

370 Indigenous Feminisms

(Offered as SWAG 372 and AMST 370) This course introduces students to the interdisciplinary field of Indigenous feminisms, and explores how questions of sex, gender, and sexuality have been articulated in relation to concerns such as sovereignty, colonization, and imperialism. We will explore how Indigenous feminists engage with or challenge other modes of feminist thought and activism. We will focus on how Indigenous ways of knowing and being can challenge how we conduct research and produce knowledge. While we will concentrate on work produced within the context of Native North America, we will also be attentive to transnational dimensions of Indigenous feminist histories, political movements, and world-building. Specific topics include movements to recognize missing and murdered Indigenous women; Indigenous feminist science and technology studies; and, Indigenous futurisms.

This course fulfills a requirement for the Five College Reproductive Health, Rights and Justice (RHRJ) certificate.

Omitted 2023-24. Visiting Professor Hamilton.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020, Spring 2022

377 Rhythm & Blues Music and Culture

Aretha Franklin insists that rhythm and blues music is “the truth.” With Franklin’s profound theory as its anchor, this seminar explores how 1990s rhythm and blues music offers truth, metaphor, narrative, and history about African American life and culture. We will explore how canonical artists from the 1990s such as Mary J. Blige, Aaliyah, and Brandy as well as “girl groups” such as Total, Xscape, and SWV dramatically transformed American culture. Taking cues from existing scholarship on Black music and culture, we will parse how rhythm and blues artists redefined and remixed various forms of creative expression, including music, visual art, hair, and fashion.

Limited to 15 students. Open to juniors and seniors. Fall semester.  Professor Henderson.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023, Spring 2025

385 Imagining History

(Offered as AMST-386 and ENGL-413)  In this course, we will consider both historical fiction and creative nonfiction as literary forms that enable us to re-imagine American history. We will read closely, deeply and collaboratively. How do different authors approach historical research and storytelling? What is the role of the imagination in historical recovery? How can writing, reading, and translation enable us to engage critically and creatively with difficult, complex histories and legacies of enslavement and colonization? The authors we will read begin with a single object or being: an animated doll, an inscribed sack, a quilled birchbark book, a stolen banana. So, we, too, will begin with objects, beings and questions that might inspire our own writing. Readings will include Mona Susan Power’s A Council of Dolls, Tiya Miles’ All That She Carried, Debra Magpie Earling’s The Lost Journals of Sacajewea, and SJ Zhang’s translation of Louis-Armand Garreau’s“Bras-Coupé.” Participants will have the opportunity to experiment with fiction and creative nonfiction, to research literary texts and historical objects, and to participate in collaborative circles and workshops. A feature of this course is engagement with guest authors, both in class and in public events. 

Limited to 18 students.  Fall semester.  Professor Brooks.

Pending Faculty Approval

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023, Fall 2024

387 Abiayala: Activism and Literature

(See ENGL 397)

390, 490 Special Topics

Independent reading course.

Fall and spring semesters. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, 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, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

468 Research Methods in American Culture

(Offered as AMST 468 and EDST 468) This course is designed to provide American Studies majors, as well as Education Studies majors and others, with a methodological grounding to conduct interdisciplinary research. Students will have the opportunity to conduct research on a topic of their own choosing and develop a research prospectus. Students will be exposed to and experiment with a wide range of theoretical and methodological approaches, gain familiarity with methods such as participant observation, interview and oral history practice, and study a range of materials—visual, literary, print, digital, audio—via a traditionally interdisciplinary American Studies praxis. Students will gauge the utility of various theoretical and methodological approaches to determine which are most useful for their own independent work. A major requirement of this course is participation in a "work-in-progress" presentation as part of a public mini-conference at the end of the semester.

Limited to 18 students. Open to juniors and seniors as a research seminar; or with consent of the instructor. Fall semester. Professor Sanchez-Eppler and Visiting Professor Luschen.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2023, Spring 2025

496 Capstone Project

A one-semester project—either a shorter essay or some other form of independent interdisciplinary research and production. The capstone project serves as the grounds for a comprehensive evaluation of each student's achievement in the major.

Fall and spring semesters. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

498, 499 Senior Departmental Honors

Spring semester. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025