American Studies

The American Studies major is designed to allow students great flexibility in creating a course of study focused on social and cultural issues that matter to them. Students combine required courses in the major with relevant courses selected from across the curriculum, putting together their own individualized and interdisciplinary American Studies major. The biggest questions call for more than one disciplinary lens, but the process of combining academic disciplines in a productive way is complicated. Introductory courses in American Studies are designed to teach students how to approach interdisciplinary learning--as well as probing important topics in their own right.  Students interested in exploring American Studies are encouraged to enroll in one of our introductory courses. All of our 100 level courses offer an introduction to interdisciplinary work in American Studies. 

First Course in American Studies

American Studies 130: Transnational American Studies offers an introduction to the field of American Studies through a transnational framework. (offered in Fall 2020)

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

American Studies 111: Global Valley is an excellent course for students arriving at Amherst.  It provides an introduction both to the range of liberal arts methodologies and to this place -- the Connecticut River Valley.  (not offered in 2020-21)

It is often said that one can’t understand the global except through a study of the local; and that one can’t understand the local except in the context of the global. This course takes those ideas seriously. Drawing on a wide range of primary materials and visits to the sites of many of the topics we study, this course introduces you 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 include interactions between Native peoples and English settlers; changing uses of land and resources; witchcraft trials; the Revolution and Shays rebellion; religious revivalism; the abolitionist and other reform movements; the invention of “scenic New England,” including Thomas Cole’s famous painting of the Oxbow; immigration, industrialization, and deindustrialization, especially in the city of Holyoke; educational institutions and innovations; the reach of the “military-industrial complex” into local educational institutions; feminist and gay activism; present social equity issues; and of course, Emily Dickinson's poetry. 

200 Level Courses

The American Studies Department also offers many 200 level courses each year on a wide range of topics. The 200 level American Studies courses for fall 2020 include: "Race, Education, and Belonging," "The Asian American Experience," "'The Embodied Self' in Amerian Culture and Society," "The Sanctuary Movement, Religion, Activism, and Social Contestation," and "Religious Traditions in America: A History of Communities and their Scriptures." All of these courses are also suitable for First-Year students.