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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 and K. Sanchez-Eppler.

2019-20: Offered in Fall 2019
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018

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 17thinto the 21thcentury.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2013-14. Professor Clark.

2019-20: 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.  Omitted 2013-14.  Professor Vigil.

2019-20: 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. Omitted 2013-14. 

2019-20: 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 Couvares and Ms. Mead, Director of the Center for Community Engagement.

2019-20: Offered in Spring 2020
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019

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. Omitted 2013-14. Professor Hayashi.

2019-20: Offered in Spring 2020
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Spring 2011, Spring 2015, Spring 2019

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.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014

237 Inside-Out:  A People's History of Immigration

What does immigration to the United States look like from the perspectives of migrants themselves?  How do hierarchies of race, citizenship, gender, class and sexuality shape immigrant inclusion and exclusion from the space of the nation-state?  How does attention to these differences reveal the boundaries of the United States as a “nation of immigrants”?  How do they open up avenues for conceptualizing the global, imperial dimensions of migration and the formation of the United States?  This course explores these questions by focusing on a series of primary and secondary sources told from the “bottom up.”  These will be drawn from literature, autobiography, film, music, oral history, performance art, history, and works that attempt to combine these. We will analyze these materials in relation to the broad sweep of US immigration history from the late nineteenth century to the present day. Throughout we will focus on the relationship between “official” history and migrant subjectivities and the politics of cultural and historical production. This course will be conducted inside a correctional facility and enroll an equal number of Amherst students and residents of the facility. Permission to enroll will be granted on the basis of a questionnaire and personal interview with the instructor. 

Franklin County Jail:

Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program:

Admission by consent of the instructor. Limited to 8 students.  Spring semester.  Professor Reddy.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2014

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.

2019-20: Offered in Fall 2019
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Fall 2018

280 When Corn Mother Meets King Corn:  Cultural Studies of the Americas

(Offered as AMST 280 and ENGL 273.)  In Penobscot author Joseph Nicolar’s 1893 narrative, the Corn Mother proclaims, “I am young in age and I am tender, yet my strength is great and I shall be felt all over the world, because I owe my existence to the beautiful plant of the earth.” In contrast, according to one Iowa farmer, from the 2007 documentary “King Corn,” “We aren’t growing quality. We’re growing crap.” This course aims to unpack depictions like these in order to probe the ways that corn has changed in its significance within the Americas. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, students will be introduced to critical theories and methodologies from American Studies as they study corn’s shifting role, across distinct times and places, as a nourishing provider, cultural transformer, commodity, icon, and symbol.

Beginning with the earliest travels of corn and her stories in the Americas, students will learn about the rich histories, traditions, narratives, and uses of “maize” from indigenous communities and nations, as well as its subsequent proliferation and adaptation throughout the world. In addition to literary and historical sources students will engage with a wide variety of texts (from material culture to popular entertainment, public policy and genetics) in order to deepen their understanding of cultural, political, environmental, and economic changes that have characterized life in the Americas.

Limited to 25 students.  Fall semester.  Professors Brooks and Vigil.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Spring 2019

310 Spanish Caribbean Diasporas

Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, known as the “Spanish Caribbean,” share a history of slavery, colonialism, and migration. In this course, we examine the twentieth-century history of the islands and island nations, their relationship to the United States as empire since 1898, and the founding of their respective diasporas. We begin with a brief survey of the economic and political history of the nineteenth-century, comparing each place's local, regional, and international relationships with the Caribbean and the Atlantic. The nineteenth-century history generated similar, yet divergent, paths for each Caribbean island in the twentieth century, paths deeply marked by the emergence of the United States as a modern empire. By the mid-twentieth century, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic had developed different nation-building processes that were connected with Latin American and US historical cycles. We examine the trajectories of Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Dominican migrations to the United States, the founding of diaspora communities, and their relationships with each other and the home islands. Our goal is to employ a local, regional, and Atlantic lens to the study of Spanish Caribbean diasporas and Latinos in the United States.

Limited to 20 students.  Fall semester.  Professor del Moral.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013

315 The War of 1898:  U.S. Empire in the Caribbean and Pacific

Despite the dominant historical narrative of American “exceptionalism,” imperial practices are at the heart of United States history and the formation of an American colonial state. In this course, we survey the emergence of the United States as an empire in the Caribbean and Pacific at the turn of the century (1890s-1910s). First, we examine imperial transitions during the mid-nineteenth century, when the United States was emerging as an empire, the traditional Spanish Empire was contracting, and the British Empire was expanding. The formation of the American empire, therefore, was shaped by competing international actors and great historical change. Second, we examine the history of four United States colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific: Hawaii, the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Class readings and lectures privilege the perspective of Caribbean and Pacific peoples. We highlight the multiple ways colonial societies responded to the United States, including radical nationalism, autonomism, and annexation. Throughout the course, we pay particular attention to how racial ideologies informed colonial practices.

Limited to 30 students.  Spring semester.  Professor del Moral.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2014, Fall 2016

317 History of Puerto Rico:  Colony, Nation, Diaspora

 The island of Puerto Rico is only 35 miles wide by 100 miles long. Despite its small size, the island is at the center of multiple histories. A Spanish colony for 400 years, the island became an unincorporated territory of the United States at the turn of the century (1898), a military prize strategically located in the Caribbean. Once valued for its agricultural production of sugar, coffee, and tobacco, since the 1950s the island has undergone intense industrialization. This economic change was accompanied by internal rural to urban migration, as well as the emigration of laborers to the United States. The great migration of Puerto Ricans to United States led to the founding of the mainland diaspora. Puerto Ricans today, split between the island and the mainland, have adjusted to these historical circumstances. Along the way, they have redefined and negotiated the parameters of “authentic” Puerto Rican identities. Although not an independent nation, Puerto Ricans have developed a unique form of cultural nationalism.

This course will investigate the economic, political, and cultural history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Puerto Rico. This includes the history of the island as a colony of Spain and the United States, the relationship between economic modernization and cultural nationalism, and an analysis of the cycles of Puerto Rican migration. One of the broader questions we address is: in what ways are the island and Puerto Ricans crucial to historical narratives of the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States? Puerto Rico sits at the center of multiple historical conversations. Together we will explore these connections, historical constructions, and debates.

Limited to 30 students.  Spring semester.  Professor del Moral.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2014, Fall 2015

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. Omitted 2013-14.  Professor Vigil.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2017, Fall 2018

336 South Asians in the United States

This course focuses on the political, economic, ideological, social, and cultural dimensions of migration from South Asia to the United States, to be understood within the larger context of South Asian diaspora (hi)stories.  Our approach will be interdisciplinary, working with social theory and history as well as literature, film, and music.  We will identify different notions of diaspora and migration and how they give meaning to "home," and displacement.  The semester begins with Indian labor migration with the system of British colonial indenture, proceeds through the "free" labor migration of workers in the colonial and post-colonial period, and concludes with our contemporary moment.

Not open to first-year students.  Limited to 15 students.  Preference given to American Studies majors. Omitted 2013-14. Five College Professor Reddy.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Spring 2015

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.  Omitted 2013-14.  Professor Clark.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013

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 Vigil.

2019-20: Offered in Spring 2020
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2020

490, 390 Special Topics

Fall and spring semesters.

2019-20: Offered in Fall 2019 and Spring 2020
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, 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 2020, Spring 2021

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.

Both semesters. The department.

2019-20: Offered in Fall 2019 and Spring 2020
Other years: Offered in 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 2020, Spring 2021

498, 499 Senior Departmental Honors

Fall semester.

2019-20: Offered in Fall 2019
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020