American Studies


111 Global Valley

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; 17th century witchcraft trials; the American Revolution and Shays rebellion; religious revivalism of the Great Awakening; abolitionist and other 19th 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.  Fall semester.  Professors Brooks, Couvares, Hayashi, and K. Sanchez-Eppler.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023, Fall 2024

112 The City: New York

This course will explore the imagined and conflicted experience of urban life in the United States through study of the country’s first metropolis: New York. Drawing on primary materials—maps, memoirs, film, poetry, fiction, census data, the natural and the built environment—and a selection of secondary sources, we will encounter moments in the life of the city from the 17th into the 21st century. This semester there will be special focus on the physical city: parks and amusement parks, cemeteries, bridges, housing, skyscrapers, and the public art of memorials.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2012-13. Professor Clark.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2015

120 Writing Ourselves into Existence: Politics, Culture, and Rhetoric

Using the process of writing to uncover the relationship between literary study and history, and as a means for self-discovery, students will read a variety of texts, such as: Meridian by Alice Walker, Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami, Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldua, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. They will then write and revise their responses to these readings through a series of weekly writing assignments, peer-workshops, and informal presentations. Additionally, our discussions and writing assignments will be driven by three essential questions: First, how do we uncover and reveal ourselves through the act of writing? Second, how might we also conceal something about ourselves through our rhetorical choices? And third, how might research and non-fiction academic writing relate to the construction of fictional narratives? These questions, among others related to the study of genre, narrative, and language, will be generated and examined in this seminar in an attempt to bring craft (form) into conversation with research (content).

This is a Writing Intensive course and also discussion based. We will focus on the creation of complex, analytic, well-supported arguments that matter in academic contexts. Students will work closely with their peers, the instructor, and the Writing Center at Amherst, to develop their written prose. Also, because our approaches to writing will be driven by methodologies used by American Studies scholars, primary and secondary readings will be drawn from a wide-variety of genres and academic disciplines including English and History, as well as Ethnic Studies.

Limited to 12 students.  Fall and Spring semesters.  Professor Vigil.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Spring 2013

215 The Embodied Self in American Culture and Society

(Offered as AMST 215 and ANTH 111) "The Embodied Self" in American Culture and Society 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 20 students . Fall semester.  Professor Guttmann.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Spring 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2019, Fall 2020

221 Building Community

This course investigates the practice and ideal of community in America both on a national and a local level, asking students to engage in specific projects aimed at strengthening the public sphere and fostering community life. We will consider the nature and limits of democracy, the meaning of belonging, the experience of stigma and exclusion, the concepts of civic responsibility and public discourse, and the conflict and compromises inherent in political advocacy. This 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 development and fulfillment of projects that assess or respond to contemporary concerns. Projects may range from youth work, to cultural events, to work on local policy goals, environmental, poverty and rights initiatives, or the 2012 elections.

Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor K. Sánchez-Eppler and Ms. Mead, Director of the Center for Community Engagement.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, January 2022, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2024

232 Racialization in the U.S.: The Asian/Pacific/American Experience

This course is an interdisciplinary introduction to Asian/Pacific/American Studies. We will begin by looking at the founding of the field through the student-led social movements of the 1960s and ask ourselves how relevant these origins have been to the subsequent development of the field. We will then use questions that arise from this material to guide our overview of the histories, cultures, and communities that make up the multiplicity of Asian/Pacific America. Topics will include, but not be limited to, the racialization of Asian Americans through immigrant exclusion and immigration law; the role of U.S. imperialism and global geo-politics in shaping migration from Asia to the U.S., the problems and possibilities in a pan-ethnic label like A/P/A, interracial conflict and cooperation, cultural and media representations by and about Asian Americans, diaspora, and homeland politics. In addition, throughout the semester we will practice focusing on the relationships between race, gender, class, sexuality, and nation. The ultimate goal of the course is to develop a set of analytic tools that students can then use for further research and inquiry.

Limited to 20 students. Fall semester. Five College Professor Reddy.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014

235 Racialization in the U.S.: Immigration Nation

This interdisciplinary course defines, analyzes and interrogates processes of U.S. racial formation with a particular focus on immigration, immigrant communities and the question of immigrant rights. We will begin by examining both race and racism as elements in the historical process of “racialization,” and proceed by positing racialization as the key to understanding the political, economic, social and cultural dynamics of the United States. Our focus on immigration will begin in the late nineteenth century and follow through to the present day. It will include an outline of the basic patterns of migration to the United States; the role that empire has played in creating these flows; the relationship between immigration, racialization and nation-state formation; questions of naturalization, citizenship and family reunification; immigrant labor; “illegal” immigrants; nativism and anti-immigration movements; the relationships between gender, sexuality, race, class and nation; and diaspora/transnationalism. Throughout we will pay specific attention to the shape of contemporary debates about immigration and their relationship to the histories we consider.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2012-13. Five College Professor Reddy.

2024-25: Not offered

240 Rethinking Pocahontas: An Introduction to Native American Studies

From Longfellow’s Hiawatha and D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature to Disney’s Pocahontas and 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 Studies, engaging a range of texts from law to policy to history and literature as well as music and aesthetics. Film and literary texts in particular will provide primary grounding for our inquiries. By keeping popular culture, representation, and the nature of historical narrative 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 has the creation of a national American literary tradition often defined itself as both apart from and yet indebted to Native American cultural traditions? This course also considers how categories like race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and religion have contributed to discussions of citizenship and identity, and changed over time with particular attention to specific Native American individuals and tribal nations. Students will be able to design their own final research project that may focus on either a historically contingent or contemporary issue related to Native American people in the United States.

Limited to 20 students.  Fall semester.  Professor Vigil.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Spring 2023, Spring 2024

320 Red/Black Literature:  At the Crossroads of Native American and African American Literary Histories

“One might choose to follow only one path, either African or Native American, turning one’s back on a tradition that lies across the way. Yet one might instead choose to linger at the crossroads, sitting down for a drink brimming with the salt water of the Middle Passage and the Trail of Tears, pouring a libation and offering tobacco, and listening carefully to the interwoven strands of storytelling from African and Native American literary traditions.”

Throughout this class we will consider the crossroads Brennan articulates. The crossroads, marked by an X, offers a visual and symbolic point of intersection with undefined meaning and the potential for fateful outcomes. Reading literary and historical texts students will consider how the crossroads carries specific meanings for an Afro-Native literary tradition. Students will bring Scott Lyons’ theorization of the X mark, as the signature Native people placed on treaties, to issues of coercion and consent in African American literature and history. By considering these traditions together this class focuses on texts that speak in a triple voice, inflected by echoes of a Native American oral tradition, flashes of African American vernacular culture, and forms and techniques adapted from various models of modern Western literature. Students will read literary works as well as primary and secondary historical sources that point us to the sometimes powerful and also fraught intersections of Black and Indian histories in the United States from the nineteenth century to the decades following the Civil Rights and Black and Red Power movements. Topics of particular attention include land and politics, history and identity, and gender and sexuality, and focus on themes of race, place, family, and belonging. Some of the authors featured in this course are Vine Deloria Jr., Michael Dorris, Leslie Marmon Silko, Kaylynn Two Trees, Alice Walker, Frances Washburn, and Craig Womack. In addition to active participation in seminar discussions students will write a series of short papers in response to the readings and conduct short research assignments.

 Limited to 20 Students.  Spring semester.  Professor Vigil.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2017, Fall 2018

358 Indigenous American Epics

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Spring 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

390, 490 Special Topics

Fall and spring semesters.

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, Spring 2024, Fall 2024

468 Research Methods in American Culture

This course is designed to provide American Studies juniors (and others) with a methodological grounding in the discipline and an opportunity to write a research paper on a topic of their own choosing.  We will engage a wide range of materials and methodologies in this course in order to grasp the broad interdisciplinarity of the field of American Studies.  Through short written exercises addressing a variety of documents including manuscripts, journals, census records, images and printed books, students will gauge the utility of various methodological approaches to determine which are most useful for their own independent work.  The major requirement of this course is a research paper, approximately 20-25 pages in length, that will be due at the end of the semester.

Limited to 20 students.  Open to juniors and seniors as a research seminar; underclassmen admitted under special circumstances.  Spring semester. Professor Hayashi.

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

498, 499 Senior Departmental Honors

Spring semester.

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 2024

Departmental Courses

360 Public Art and Collective Memory in the United States

(Offered as AMST 360 and ARHA 360.)  What is public art and what role does it play in public life and collective memory in the United States? In this course we will study art that is commissioned, paid for, and owned by the state as well as private works scaled to public encounter.  A focus of our study will be the evolution of public art in Washington, D.C. (19th-21st centuries), but we will range from New York harbor to the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Great Salt Lake, and we will discuss the fate of works that, like Richard Serra's Tilted Arc, exist today only in photographic record and documented debate. Asking whether and how public art mediates between private and public life will guide us to consider when and how it defines national or local values and why so many public art projects have aroused controversy. The course is organized around class discussion and student presentations, and it includes short papers and a paper/presentation of an independent research project.  Two meetings per week.

Requisite: One course in American Studies, History, or the History of Art.  Limited to 20 students. Permission required for first-year students.  Spring semester.  Professor Clark.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013