Professors Basu‡, Karkazis, Manion, and Martin*; Associate Professors Polk (Chair) and Shandilya; Assistant Professor Peralta.
*On leave 2023-24. †On leave fall semester 2023-24. ‡On leave spring semester 2023-24.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For the 2023-24 academic year, the core course SWAG 100 Construction of Gender will not be offered. Instead any of the following four courses will fulfill this requirement: HIST/SWAG 158 Asian American History: 1800-Present (Fall 2023); HIST/SWAG 162 History of Sexuality in the U.S. (Fall 2023); SWAG 101 Intro to Queer/Trans Studies (Spring 2024); or BLST/SWAG 117 Race, Difference, and the American Imagination (Spring 2024).
Also for the 2023-24 academic year, either of the following courses will fulfill the SWAG 200 core course requirement:SWAG 200 Theories in Sexuality, Women's and Gender Studies (Spring 2024) or BLST/SWAG 301 Queer of Color Critique: Theory and Practice (Spring 2024).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 the deadline set by the Registrar's Office. 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.
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. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Peralta.2023-24: Not offered
This course introduces students to the interdisciplinary field of queer/trans studies through a diverse range of texts and media, both canonical and new. Queer/trans studies is less about individual identities or groups of people and more about questioning and unpacking categories and concepts -- such as heterosexuality, race, sex, and sexuality -- that have long been viewed as fixed, binary, or normative. We will explore the analytical power and limits of “queering” a range of topics from politics to the family to disability to the state. We will consider how trans studies has created new areas of scholarly inquiry, from an explosion of interest in trans history to a reconsideration of the relationship between women’s rights and gender liberation. Finally, we will explore the creative work, knowledge production, community building, and political advocacy efforts of queer/trans people in modern life with an emphasis on Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and Pacific Islander artists, writers, and activists who have historically been marginalized in the field of queer studies.
Two class meetings per week. Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Professor Manion.
(Offered as BLST 117 [US] and SWAG 117) What role has “race” played in shaping the American imagination? How has its use as a metaphor in U.S. national life influenced our understandings of power, privilege, and justice? In what ways has popular culture influenced our understanding of race, and how do “creatives” today resist, reject, and reimagine racial and ethnic difference on social media? How do gender, sexuality, and other categories of difference intersect with race and ethnicity, and can these intersections give us a better understanding of American culture? In this course, we will examine contemporary racial discourse in the United States, surveying its use as a contested fact of social life by authors, artists, theorists, and activists in the twentieth and twenty-first century. By studying a range of creative and critical texts, including literature, poetry, music, art, film, comedy, cultural criticism, and social media, the course will prepare students to read racial discourse critically across genres and disciplines while also introducing them to the rigors of academic reading and writing.
Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Polk.
(Offered as HIST 162 [US/TC/TS] and SWAG 162) Sexuality is a product of history and culture. This course will survey sex throughout United States history in relation to the various discourses of power and difference that have given it meaning, such as class, ethnicity, gender, race, and religion. Topics covered include the legal and social history of marriage, sex education, sexuality and the family during and after slavery, masculinity and the Western frontier, sexology and the invention of homosexuality, the making of urban gay subcultures, feminism and sexual liberation, the politics of abortion, HIV/AIDS, the LGBT rights movement, and the transgender revolution. We will consider the ways in which the study of sexuality creates opportunities to re-think major themes in U.S. social, cultural, and political history, with emphasis on the history of medicine, the history of social change, and the history of the family.
Two class meetings per week. Limited to 30 students with 10 seats reserved for first-year students. Fall semester. Professor Manion.Other years: Offered in Spring 2017, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2023, Fall 2024
This course provides an introduction to historical and contemporary intersectional and interdisciplinary feminist theory. We begin the course by first asking the questions: What is theory? Who gets to participate in theory building? How is feminist knowledge production influenced by power, privilege and geopolitics? We will explore the ways in which feminism is multi-vocal, non-linear, and influenced by multiple and shifting sites of feminist identities. This exploration includes the examination and analysis of local and global feminist thoughts on gender/sex, race, sexuality, disability, reproductive justice, colonialism, nationalism as they effect and shape social and economic forms of power and oppression. The emphasis of the course will remain focused on the theories produced by feminist, Black, queer, trans, indigenous, and transnational scholars, among others, to help explain and resist dominant or exploitative forms of power.
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
(Offered as ANTH 209, SOCI 207, and SWAG 209) 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
(Offered as HIST 242 [US/TE/TR/TS] and SWAG 242) We will examine a series of “food case studies” to uncover histories of empire, race, and science from the sixteenth century to the present. How does tracing the history of a commodity like sugar or canned tuna change our understanding of who the main actors are of US history? What role does food science play? By focusing on three themes: Labor, Migration, and Social justice, we will examine the role of trade and migration in US history, how food has shaped identity, gendered labor roles in food production and preparation, and the role food has played in survival, joy, and memory. We will specifically highlight the history of food migration from the Global South to the U.S. In the second half of the semester, we will examine food as a social justice issue and the historical movements that have highlighted food precarity such as “Bread and Roses,” the Campbell Soup Boycott, and the Delano Grape Strike. Students will develop skills analyzing historical documents, conducting oral interviews, analyzing race and labor within a comparative ethnic studies framework, as well as completing a final research project which will trace a history of food from a specific site or community.
Limited to 25 students. Not offered in 2023-24. Professor Peralta.2023-24: Not offered
(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. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Peralta.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as BLST 257, SWAG 257, and THDA 257) This course provides an exploration of the African American and LGBTQ military experience during World War II. We will study WWII military theatrical performance, the racialized and gendered construction of “American” and military identities during this time, and racial segregation in the US military during WWII. We will deepen our understanding of this topic by looking closely at military servicemembers’ experiences such as the Black, queer, scholar-artist Owen Dodson who served in the Navy at Camp Robert Smalls, a segregated unit for Black sailors within Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois. His provocative and strategic theatrical productions by and for Black soldiers were designed to bring together the Black community through performance that provided a space of resistance, beauty, and agency. Our work together in this course will draw on interviews and other first-person accounts, scholarly texts and theory, poetry, literature, music, playscripts, and archival documents such as personal and official military correspondence. Students will learn or further develop archival research methodologies, deepen critical reading skills across textual genres, and individually or collaboratively engage in research on a topic relevant to Black or LGBTQ military servicemembers' agency during World War II.
Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Dr. Caldwell-O'Keefe.
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. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Karkazis.2023-24: Not offered
(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 Indian writer Meena Kandasamy's When I Hit You, Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie's Purple Hibiscus, 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
(Offered as BLST 301 [US] and SWAG 301) This interdisciplinary methods course explores the emergent field of Queer of Color Critique, a mode of analysis pioneered by LGBTQ people of color. Using theories and approaches from the discipline of performance studies, the explicit mission of the seminar is to acquaint students with the history, politics, art, and activism of queer and trans people of color while also strengthening student research skills in four overlapping areas: archival research, close-reading, performance analysis, and community engagement. Course activities include working in the Amherst College Frost Archives, the production of a performance piece, and structured engagement with contemporary LGBTQ activism in the Pioneer Valley and the larger world.
Requisite: BLST 236 / SWAG 235 Black Sexualities or similar 200-level gender and sexuality course or consent of the instructor. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Polk.Other years: Offered in Spring 2019, Spring 2020
(Offered as ASLC 321, FAMS 321, and SWAG 321) Bombay cinema, popularly known as “Bollywood Cinema,” is one of the largest film industries in the world. This course focuses on Bollywood cinema and its local and global offshoots to think about questions of gender, sexuality and agency. The course considers questions such as: What beauty standards are imposed on women in Bollywood and how do they connect to colonialism, race and empire? Do LGBTQ romances in Bollywood endorse homonormative narratives? How do we read the sexualization of the female body in song and dance numbers? Do women directors make more feminist films? Films range from the classic Umrao Jaan (1981) to the contemporary Gangubai Kathiwadi (2022), women dominated action-thrillers Kahaani (2012) and Raazi (2018), LGBTQ romances Kapoor and Sons and Aligarh (2016) among others.
Recommended: At least one course in FAMS or SWAGS. Spring semester. Professor Shandilya.Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Spring 2025
(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. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Peralta.2023-24: Not offered
(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 the heterosexual romance such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and popular romance author Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series, alongside queer films like Bros and trans-romances like Torrey Peters' Detransition, Baby . 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. Fall semester. Professor Shandilya.Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Spring 2021, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024
(Offered as SWAG 400 and POSC 407) The topic will vary from year to year. This seminar explores when and how women and LGBTQ communities resist domination across racial, class, and national divides. We will examine varied and changing expressions of agency and modes of activism—through art, poetry, literature, cinema, and electoral politics. We will devote particular attention to how the growth of right-wing nationalisms globally influences the character of resistance. Which modes of protest challenge dominant narratives of the nation? What alternative imaginaries do they offer? What impact do they have on our feminist futures?
Limited to 25 students. Not open to first-year students. Fall semester. Professors Basu and Shandilya.Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024
(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.
Required: At least two courses dealing substantively with gender/sexuality. Open to junior and seniors; sophomores require permission from the professor; not open to first-year students. Limited to 20 students. Fall semester. Professor Karkazis.Other years: Offered in Fall 2021, Fall 2023
(Offered as SWAG 469, ASLC 469, 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. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Shandilya2023-24: Not offered
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
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