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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; 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.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019

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 focus on life in the city from the 18th into the 21st century. This semester, there will be a special focus on the history and experiences of New York’s African American, European immigrant, Chinese, and Latinx communities.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Hayashi.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2015

155 The Social Construction of American Society

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 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Dhingra.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019, Spring 2020, January 2021, January 2022, Spring 2022

165 An Introduction to U.S. Latino/a History, 1848–Present

(Offered as HIST 165 [US] and AMST 165) This course is an introduction to the history of U.S. Latinos/as, 1848 to the present. Central themes include ethnic and national identity, migration, gender, and political mobilization. Questions the course will answer include: What is ethnic identity? How does it relate to nationality? How has race historically fit into the equation? We will consider the role that imperialism has played in shaping patterns of Latino/a migration, identity and political mobilization. While the history of some groups begins with U.S. territorial conquest, for most Latinos/as migration has been central to their experiences. How has the crossing of different kinds of cultural and political frontiers changed over time? What is the difference between immigration and transnational migration? And how have different ideas of “home” and changing patterns of migration affected modes of political mobilization and ideas of citizenship? The course pays particular attention to the 1960s through the 1980s when Latinos/as mobilized in defense of their rights and against economic exploitation and undertook the “decolonization” of their communities. We will address why their struggles took the form of the right to have rights, a rejection of stereotypes, and the right to define their own identities. But what kind of narration of self did they recover? What issues divided different groups of U.S. Latinos/as (e.g., Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicanos, etc.) from one another? What commonalities have they shared? By the 1980s, ethnic-specific identities and mobilizations were increasingly subsumed under pan-Hispanic and pan-Latino/a movements. Why? What does “Latino” mean? How is it similar to or different from “Hispanic”? Is there an “American experience” that unites different U.S. Latinos/as groups and that separates them from Latin Americans? Two class meetings per week. 

Omitted 2018-19. Professors del Moral and Lopez.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016

202 From the Moral Majority to the Rise of the "Nones"

Since the earliest years of nationhood, the United States has debated the role of religion in civic life. In the post-World War II era the U.S. stood alone among wealthy industrialized democracies in its levels of religious belief, and the frank and overt religious themes sounded in campaigns and civic discourse. The early decades of the new century have seen a sudden and rapid increase in the percentage of Americans who say they have no religious or congregational affiliation, who reply “none” when asked for a faith affiliation. This course will look at the reasons for the change, and how it is transforming U.S. politics, religion and culture.

Prior study in American history is recommended. Omitted 2018-19. Visiting Professor Suarez.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Spring 2018

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 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Dhingra.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020

205 Whose Game? Sports in America

This course explores the social and cultural history of sports in American society, focusing on the unique histories of sports such as hunting, soccer, basketball and football and, in particular, their relation to issues of race, ethnicity, and gender. Course materials will include a range of primary and secondary materials: archival photographs, academic monographs and journal articles, documentary films, legal documents, poetry and paintings. The course is discussion-based and includes short writing assignments, collaborative work, and a final exam.

Limited to 30 students. Preference given to American Studies majors and first-year students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Hayashi.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018

215 "The Embodied Self" in American Culture and Society

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 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Couvares.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Spring 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2019, Fall 2020

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 20 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor del Moral.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2016, Fall 2017, Spring 2021

217 Religion, Democracy, and American Culture 

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. Omitted 2018-19. Professors Couvares.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2016, Spring 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

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. Professor K. Sanchez-Eppler and Lecturer Mead.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, January 2022, Spring 2022, Spring 2024

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 represenations are.

Limited to 20 students.  Spring semester.  Professor Hayashi.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Spring 2011, Spring 2015, Spring 2019, Spring 2020

240 Rethinking Pocahontas: An Introduction to Native American Studies

(Offered as AMST 240 and SWAG 243) 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.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Spring 2024

250 The History of Education in the U.S.

(Offered as HIST 170 [US] and AMST 250) What do Americans want their schools to accomplish? What happens when they don’t agree (as has frequently been the case)? How have disagreements about educational goals been embedded in policy? And how have schools mediated larger conflicts—over the place of pluralism in the American nation or the contradictions between democratic commitments to political equality and capitalist tendencies towards economic inequality—in American politics and culture? By exploring questions like these, this discussion-based course addresses central themes in the history of American education. First, it explores the history of American educational goals, drawing clear distinctions between what Americans say they want their schools to accomplish and what functions schools actually perform. Second, the course examines struggles for power over educational governance, including debates over localism, bureaucratization, expertise, philanthropy, and privatization. Third, the course focuses on educators’ efforts to foster cohesion and respond to diversity in a pluralist nation. And finally, the course centers arguments over stratification, especially whether schools can transform—or are destined to simply replicate—racial, gender, and socio-economic hierarchies. The course is organized chronologically, addressing: the nineteenth century common school movement and rise of the high school; education for Native Americans, African Americans, and immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century; educational progressivism, including debates over testing, tracking, and vocational education; battles over school desegregation in the half century following Brown v. Board of Education (1954); the expanding federal role in education after the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1964); and late twentieth century movements for privatization, testing, standards, and accountability. Two class meetings per week.

Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Lewis-Sebring Visiting Professor L. Gordon.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Fall 2018

255 The History of Higher Education in the United States

(Offered as AMST 255 and HIST 255 [US]) This course explores the history of higher education in the United States from the nation’s formation to the present.  Four themes are woven through a roughly chronological structure. First, readings outline the competing purposes Americans envisioned for colleges and universities. Students analyze debates between proponents of broad training in the liberal arts and supporters of more narrow occupational preparation as well as disagreements over the appropriate relationship between research and teaching. Second, the course explores student life, institutional access, and debates over the relationship between excellence and equity. Readings highlight patterns of exclusion based on race, class, ethnicity, religion, and gender that have marked the history of American higher education since its earliest days while also exploring the varied forces that eventually diversified student populations. How universities served as sites where class was both produced and contested in American culture will be a particular focus of analysis. When addressing this theme, we will consider the post-World War II democratization of American higher education, the politics of college admissions, and stratification within and between post-secondary institutions. Third, the course raises questions about the power universities came to hold, in the half century following World War II, as centers of knowledge-making networks. We will examine how federal and philanthropic investment altered the role of the university in the twentieth century United States and created new types of expertise while also exploring how ties between the federal government, philanthropy, and the university affected late twentieth century social thought. Finally, the course explores universities as political sites, with a particular focus on the consequences of student activism in the 1960s–1970s and today. We will ask how university administrators responded to student critiques of the “multiversity”; how African American, Latino, women’s, and ethnic studies programs emerged; and how the demands of student activists altered research priorities, student life, and academic culture.

Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Lewis Sebring Visiting Professor L. Gordon.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2019

260 Latino Migration:  Labor, Lifestyle and Legality

(Offered as AMST 260 and SOCI 260) Whereas capital, culture, and commerce flow freely in contemporary capitalism, labor does not. Walls—physical, legal and cultural—aim to keep certain people in and “others” out. In this course we explore the sociological forces behind cross-border labor flows and the parallel reality of immigrant life. We focus specifically on the experience of Latinos in the United States. We pay special attention to the linkages between the demand and supply of Latino immigrant labor, social constructions of (il)legality, and the oft-overlooked privileged lifestyles that immigration supports. While this course has a deep theoretical rooting, we use daily immigrant life as the lens through which to explore migration.

Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Schmalzbauer.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Fall 2017

265 Unequal Childhoods:  Race, Class and Gender in the United States

(Offered as SOCI 265 and AMST 265) This class explores the ways in which race, class, gender and immigration status shape children’s lives. We begin by conceptualizing childhood as a social construct whose meaning has changed over time and that varies across context; for class privileged individuals, for example, childhood or adolescence may extend into the third decade of life, whereas for “others,” poverty and/or family responsibilities and community struggles may mean it scarcely exists at all. The bulk of the course draws from ethnographic scholarship focused on the relationship between childhood and inequality in key institutional contexts including school, family and the legal system. Through ethnography, we will critically examine the ways in which inequalities among and between groups of children shape their daily life experiences, aspirations and opportunities, and what this means for overall trends of inequality in the United States.

Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Professor Schmalzbauer.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Spring 2019

270 Jews at Amherst

This research-intensive course focuses on the history of Jewish experience at Amherst College. Founded in 1821 as an institution for the “education of indigent young men of piety and talents for the Christian ministry,” the college motto remains: Terras Irradient, “let them enlighten the lands.” Throughout the semester, we will ask: What did it mean for Jewish men—and later, women—to choose Amherst College? What was the quality of their experience once they arrived? What (if anything) distinguished their experience from other students? Course units will offer an historical overview of Jewish experience in higher education in the last hundred years. We will focus on the era of quotas, when Jewish students were excluded from elite schools; the proliferation and influence of Menorah Societies; the rise of Jewish fraternities; the radicalism of the 1960s; and the role of Hillel. This background will help us discern the ways Amherst Jewish experience aligns with or deviates from larger trends in American Jewish history. Over 75 Jewish alumni have shared their stories in written accounts. In addition to these valuable narratives, we will work with a range of primary materials in the Amherst College Archives; statistical data from the Office of Institutional Research; and materials from college periodicals and published accounts. Students will draw from these resources to produce a final essay of deeply researched institutional history.

Limited to 15 students. Students are encouraged to contact the professor prior to enrolling. Omitted 2018-19. Lecturer Bergoffen.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018

274 Native American Literature: Decolonizing Intellectual Traditions

(Offered as ENGL 274 and AMST 274) In 2013, Amherst College acquired one of the most comprehensive collections of Native American writing in the world–nearly 1,500 books ranging from contemporary fiction and poetry to sermons, political tracts, and tribal histories from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Through this course, we will actively engage the literature of this collection, researching Native American intellectual traditions, regional contexts, political debates, creative adaptation, and movements toward decolonization. Students will have the opportunity to make an original contribution to a digital archive and interact with visiting authors. Readings will range from the 1772 sermon published by Mohegan author Samson Occom to fiction and criticism published in 2017.

Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Brooks.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Fall 2015, 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. Spring semester. Professors Brooks and Vigil.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Spring 2019

300 The End of Authority, Politics in Post-Truth America

New technologies for finding and disseminating information have created new channels and sources for people trying to determine “the truth” of anything. As traditional sources of authority, the news business, politicians, the academy, and organized religion have all watched as public confidence in them declines, a new world of information has rushed in to fill the void. How do political identity and social class inform, and perhaps deform, knowledge, and credibility when making political choices? This class will assess the impact of new ways of “knowing,” and how the old American sources of authority have scrambled to keep pace, with special attention to the Presidential Election of 2016.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2018-19. McCloy Visiting Professor Suarez.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Spring 2018

302 Globalization, Inequality and Social Change

(Offered as AMST 302 and SOCI 302) This course is an in-depth exploration of the increasing global interconnectedness of economic, political, and social processes, what many have come to call “globalization.” We begin by developing a sociological critique of the relationship between inequality, post-World War II global capitalism, and the neoliberal ideology that underlies it. We do this through study of the major institutions and actors that endorse and perpetuate global capitalism. We then explore case studies which critically examine how contemporary globalization is playing out in daily life via experiences of labor, consumption, family and community. We dedicate the last part of the course to investigating diverse examples of grassroots resistance to the current capitalist order. As we strive to achieve a complex analysis of globalization, we will be challenged to grapple seriously with issues of power and social justice and to reflect on our own social positions within an increasingly intricate global web. In accordance, we will focus throughout the course on how intersections of race, class, gender and citizenship influence the human experience of globalization.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Schmalzbauer.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2018

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. Fall semester. Professor Schmalzbauer.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2018

315 Race and U.S. Empire: 1898 in the Caribbean and the Pacific

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

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor del Moral.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016

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

(Offered as AMST 320 and BLST 332) Throughout this class we will consider the "crossroads," marked by an X, as 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 X carries specific meanings for an Afro-Native literary tradition. We will bring Scott Lyons's theory of the X mark, as the signature Native people placed on treaties, to issues of coercion and consent in African American literature and history. Thus, 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 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. We will also focus on themes of race, place, family, and belonging. Some of the authors featured in this course are Tiya Miles, Craig Womack, Lauret Savoy, LeAnne Howe, and Michael Dorris. 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.

Fall semester. Professor Vigil.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2017, Fall 2018

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 Sociology, Anthropology, American Studies, Black Studies or Latin American History. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Schmalzbauer.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Fall 2017, Spring 2021

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. Spring semester. Professor Hayashi.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Spring 2019

345 Model Minorities: Jewish and Asian Americans

(Offered as AMST 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.

Fall semester. Limited to 25 students. McCloy Visiting Professor Odo and Lecturer Bergoffen.

2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022

350 American Origins

(Offered as ENGL 350 and AMST 350) [before 1800] American Origins is a course in Early American literature and history. It explores when and how this country began. We readily forget that it only became the “United States” in 1789.  Before that and from early in the European conquests, it was “the (Spanish, or French, or English, or Dutch) colonies,” or “America” and thus but a part of European settlements in both the Southern and the Northern hemispheres. It was also a place known as “Turtle Island,” with indigenous trade networks that traversed the continent. It was also a foreign land to which countless African people were brought as slaves, men and women who adapted and made this land their own. These simultaneities and complexities frustrate any comprehensive narrative of the period. 

This will, then, be an experiment in shaping a transnational Early American literature and history course. Our goal is to expand the geographic and temporal boundaries of the subject using archival, print, and digital sources. We hope to learn multiple ways of reading the “texts” of early America: print books, pamphlets, broadsides, petitions, manuscripts and graphic media–and innovative scholarship. These will give us some access to the many peoples reshaping what was, in fact, a very Old World.

The end goal is for students to design a syllabus that can be used in secondary schools, or for a future course at Amherst.

Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Limited to 36 students. Spring semester. Professor Brooks.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Spring 2019

351 The Immigrant City

(Offered as HIST 351 [US] and AMST 351) A history of urban America in the industrial era, this course will focus especially on the city of Holyoke as a site of industrialization, immigration, urban development, and deindustrialization. We will begin with a walking tour of Holyoke and an exploration of the making of a planned industrial city. We will then investigate the experience of several key immigrant groups – principally Irish, French Canadian, Polish, and Puerto Rican – using both primary and secondary historical sources, as well as fiction. Students will write several papers on one or another immigrant group or a particular element of social experience, and a final research paper that explores in greater depth one of the topics touched upon in the course. The course will include students from Amherst College and Holyoke Community College and is open to all students, majors and non-majors. All students will engage in some primary research, especially in the city archives and Wistariahurst Museum, in Holyoke. Amherst College history majors who wish to write a 25-page research paper and thereby satisfy their major research requirement may do so in the context of this course. Classes will be held at both Amherst and Holyoke sites; transportation will be provided.

Enrollment is limited to ten students per institution. Admission with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2018-19. Professors Couvares and Clinton (HCC).

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2018, Spring 2020

352 The Purpose and Politics of Education

(Offered as HIST 352 [US/TC/TS], AMST 352, and BLST 351) Focusing on the United States, this course introduces students to foundational questions and texts central to the history of education and education studies. We will explore the competing goals and priorities Americans have held for primary, secondary and post-secondary education and ask how and why these visions have influenced – or failed to influence – classrooms, schools, and educational policy. We will pay particular attention to sources of educational stratification; the tensions between the public and private purposes of schooling; and the relationship between schooling and equality. In the first part of the course, students will reflect on how Americans have imagined the purpose of self-education, literacy, public schooling, and the liberal arts. Among the questions we will consider: What do Americans want from public schools? Does education promote liberation? Has a liberal arts education outlived its usefulness? How has the organization of schools and school systems promoted some educational objectives in lieu of others? In the second section of the course, we will concentrate on the politics of schooling. Here, we will pay particular attention to several issues central to understanding educational inequality and its relationship to American politics, culture, and society: localism; state and federal authority; desegregation; and the complicated relationship between schooling and racial, linguistic, class-based, gender, and ethnic hierarchies. Finally, we will explore how competing ideas about the purpose and politics of education manifest themselves in current policy debates about privatization, charters, testing, and school discipline. Throughout the course, students will reflect on both the limits and possibilities of American schools to challenge and reconfigure the social order. Course assignments will consist of a mix of short papers and analytical reading exercises. One class meeting per week.

Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Visiting Associate Professor L. Gordon.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2022

353 Unraveling Nationalism in American Literature

(Offered as ENGL 353 and AMST 353) This course begins with the premise that if we are to understand the rise of nationalism in our time, it is worthwhile to grapple with its roots. Although these roots reach back long before the beginning of the United States, we will focus on nationalism during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as it was linked to debates about race, social Darwinism, colonialism and immigration. Some of the guiding questions will include: How was nationalism entangled with Anglo-American claims to “native” American identity? What was the relationship of nationalism to colonialism, including military actions and legal acts that contained and dismembered Native American nations? How can we understand these ideologies and policies in relation to U.S. territorial expansion, and in relation to laws and policies that sought to contain the borders and keep some immigrants out of the national body? How did Jim Crow laws deny African-Americans access to an American national identity? How can citizenship be understood in relation to both Jim Crow and immigration laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act? How did authors of color assert self-determination in their work, to intervene through creative expression and representation? Most important, how might literature (and literary analysis) create a vital space for grappling with this complex terrain? To wrestle with these questions, we will read closely literary texts written during the period between 1880–1930 in conversation with recent critical scholarship, as well as fiction and creative non-fiction set in this tumultuous time.

Limited to 40 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Brooks.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018

358 Indigenous American Epics

(Offered as ENGL 458 and AMST 358) [Before 1800] This course will delve deeply into Indigenous literatures of “Turtle Island,” or North America, and will also extend to the Pacific. The Quiché Maya Popol Vuh (Council Book), the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Great Law of Peace, the Wabanaki creation cycle, and the Hawaiian mo’olelo of Pele and her sister Hi'iaka are rooted in longstanding, complex oral narratives of emergence and transformation, which were recorded by Indigenous authors and scribes. These texts will enable us to consider how the temporal and spatial boundaries of America are both defined and extended by colonization, and disrupted by Indigenous texts and decolonial theory. We will close read these major epics as works of classical literature, narratives of tribal history, and living political constitutions.

Reading each long text (in English translation) over several weeks, we will study the tribally and regionally-specific contexts of each epic narrative as well as the “intellectual trade routes” that link them together. We will also consider the place of these epics within American literature and history and their contributions to historical and contemporary decolonization. In exploring these narratives, we will discuss the ways in which they challenge conceptual boundaries, considering categories such as land/place, gender, sexuality, and other-than-human beings.

Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Brooks.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Spring 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

359 Schools, Poverty, and Social Policy in Twentieth-Century America

(Offered as HIST 359 [US] and AMST 359) When calling for the nation’s first public school systems, Horace Mann described common schools as the “great equalizer of the conditions of men” and “the balance wheel of the social machinery.” This basic idea, that formal education can reduce poverty by “leveling the playing field” or providing a “fair start in life” is among the most cherished ideals in American social and political thought. At the same time, whether and how education can equalize the social, economic, and political order has generated considerable debate, especially in the twentieth century. Drawing on philosophy, history, sociology, anthropology, literature, and popular culture, this course focuses on three questions: What does educational equality mean? Why should we equalize education? And can equal schools create an equal society? By exploring the many ways Americans answered—and argued over—these questions, the course investigates the promise and pitfalls of treating schooling as a social policy tool. Readings and discussions also examine efforts to link educational reform to reform in other policy arenas, namely employment, housing, social welfare, and criminal justice. One class meeting per week.

Limited to 20 students. Fall semester. Lewis-Sebring Visiting Professor L. Gordon.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Fall 2018

365 The Unprinted Page: Working with Manuscripts

(Offered as ENGL 415 and AMST 365) This course will focus on the manuscript culture of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America, using manuscripts as a means of thinking about the act of writing, the implications of audience and publication, and the relations between the private and public word. We will study the private forms of diaries and letters. We will look at the traces of the writing process in manuscripts of ultimately published works–-the window into the literary creation that manuscripts provide. We will also confront the problems raised by literary work that was never published during its author’s lifetime, heedful of the questions of social propriety and power that often inform what can and can’t be published. Texts will include Julia Ward Howe’s The Hermaphrodite, a closeted manuscript of sexual indeterminacy written in the 1840s and only published in 2004; Hannah Crafts’ The Bondswoman’s Tale, a manuscript novel probably written in the late 1850s by a fugitive slave and first published in 2002; the manuscript books of Emily Dickinson; the posthumous publication process of Sylvia Plath’s Ariel poems; and works like Edgar Allan Poe’s “MS. Found in a Bottle” and Henry James’ The Aspern Papers that tell anxious tales about manuscripts. The heart of the course, however, will be independent research with students drawing on rich local archives to do some manuscript recovering of their own. As part of the preparations for the Amherst College bicentennial, research in this semester will focus on materials written by Amherst students over the past two hundred years. A core aspect of coursework will be developing an online exhibition to analyze and share these materials.

Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor K. Sánchez-Eppler.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018

371 Race and Revolution in Cuban History

(Offered as AMST 371 and BLST 371 [C/LA]) Race and revolution are at the heart of Cuban history. As the slave-based plantation economy expanded in nineteenth-century Cuba, enslaved and free black Cubans looked to Haiti as an example of black liberation. Inspired by the Haitian Revolution, in 1812 free black José Antonio Aponte organized an island-wide rebellion to free Cuba from slavery and Spanish rule. When Cuban elites called for independence from Spain in 1868, they relied on enslaved and free blacks for military support and promised gradual abolition in return. The concept of “racelessness” in a Free Cuba powerfully shaped the national identities that emerged during the 1895 War of Independence. In 1912, black veterans organized the Partido Independiente de Color (PIC, Independent Party of People of Color) and demanded that the state recognize the equal rights of black Cubans. The government responded by accusing the PIC of launching a “race war” and massacred thousands of PIC members and other black Cubans. The abolition of racial inequality was a central goal of the 1959 Cuban Revolution. The new revolutionary state invested heavily in social policies designed to promote racial equity. In the United States, white Cuban émigrés reproduced the racial hierarchies of pre-revolutionary Cuba, while subsequent Afro-Cuban immigrants challenged racism in the diaspora. Since the Special Period of the early 1990s, economic liberalization policies have widened economic disparities on the island, threatening the revolutionary goal of equality for all Cubans.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor del Moral.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2017

372 Asian American History: Key Turning Points

This seminar examines six major events that fundamentally impacted the history of Asians in the United States. Several of them involved egregious actions by the US government that prompted official apologies from later administrations, the only such cases in American history: the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893, and the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans in 1942. The others include Asian Americans and the Cold War, the Asian American Movement of the 1960s and 70s, and the Model Minority Paradigm, 1960s to the Present. Throughout, we examine the ways in which memory is made or obscured and the ways in which public history institutions, especially the important national agencies, including the Smithsonian, the National Park Service, Library of Congress, and the National Archives along with documentaries, historic landmarks, and websites, have played a role in public understandings of the events included in this course.

Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. McCloy Visiting Professor Odo.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020

374 WWII and Japanese Americans

(Offered as AMST 374 and HIST 374 [US]) In the largest incidence of forced removal in American history, the U.S. incarcerated 120,000 people of Japanese descent during WWII, two-thirds of whom were American citizens. Preceded by half a century of organized racism, the attack on Pearl Harbor provided justification for imprisonment of an entire ethnic group solely on the basis of affiliation by “blood.” At the same time, Japanese Americans served in the U.S. military with extraordinary distinction, earning recognition in the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe as the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in American military history. Thousands more served in the Military Intelligence Service using their knowledge of the Japanese language as a “secret weapon” against the Japanese Empire. We will examine the historical background leading to these events and Japanese American resistance to official actions including the cases of Yasui, Hirabayashi, Korematsu, and Endo which reached the U.S. Supreme Court. We will also explore the imposition of the draft upon men behind barbed wire and those who became draft resisters. We will also trace the post-war rise of movements to gain redress, successful with President Reagan’s signing of HR 442 in 1988, and the extraordinary rise of memorials and museums commemorating incarceration and memory-making.

Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. McCloy Visiting Professor Odo.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022

390, 490 Special Topics

Independent reading course.

Fall and spring semesters. The Department.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
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 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2023, Spring 2024

468 Research Methods in American Culture

This course aims to provide a "how to" of American Studies from an integrative, multiracial, and socio-cultural perspective. It also takes on the task of surveying the development of American Studies as an interdisciplinary field, while paying attention to the theoretical concerns and bodies of work that have influenced American Studies scholars over the last half century. Students will be exposed to and experiment with a wide range of theoretical and methodological approaches, gain a working competence in debates and approaches, and study a range of materials—visual, literary, print, digital, audio—via a traditionally interdisciplinary American Studies praxis. In the process they will develop rhetorical analyses, gather ethnographic data, and do close readings of assorted texts, spaces, and buildings. We will read the recent American Studies: A User's Guide by Philip J. Deloria and Alexander I. Olson, in addition to several model monographs that represent central issues in studies of American culture and history and will learn library research, archival research, and legal research skills. Students will complete a "work-in-progress" presentation as part of a public mini-conference, as well as an annotated bibliography, and a research prospectus.

Limited to 18 students. Open to juniors and seniors as a research seminar; or with consent of the instructor. Spring semester. Professor Vigil.

2022-23: Not offered
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, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2023

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.

2022-23: Not offered
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 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022

498, 499 Senior Departmental Honors

Fall semester. The Department.

2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
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 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2023