Amherst College Special Seminar for 2016-17
201 Africa: Power/Representation
The right to represent oneself has always been an important piece of symbolic capital and a source of power. External representations of Africa have consistently distorted and misinterpreted the peoples and cultures of the continent. Within Africa, this right--to produce and display particular images--has been inseparable from both secular and sacred power. The discrepancy in interpretation of various images, whether these are in the form of visual objects or in the form of philosophies or concepts, has produced a misunderstanding of African institutions and art. In addition, historically the right to represent and claim one's identity has become increasingly politicized. Control over various representations and images of Africa and things African has become contested. Using an interdisciplinary focus from the fields of art history, history and anthropology, this course will examine representations and interpretations of images of Africa both from within and from outside the continent. Ultimately we will link these various forms of power and legitimacy to consider the complexity behind the development of an idea of Africa.
The assigned readings for this seminar draw on literature from a wide range of disciplines as well as on films and novels. These assignments are designed to teach students the ways in which knowledge and understanding of seemingly disparate and unrelated fields of inquiry combine and are essential to our understanding of this large and diverse continent in the 21st century. This includes both our understanding of larger philosophical questions such as the relationship between control over categories of meaning and representation of both groups and individuals in the calculus of power at various historical moments, and the realities of the historical forces, contingencies and contexts that have led to the situations of African peoples and States in today’s global political economy. Students will complete weekly reading and writing assignments ranging from learning African geography and a map quiz to filling out question sheets on assigned readings designed to teach them how to read for overall themes and questions rather than facts alone, to turning in questions on the readings and being responsible in small groups for leading class discussions. Students are expected to participate actively in class discussion, and most assignments are designed to encourage lively conversation.
Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Goheen.2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014
231 Shakespeare and the History of Books
How does the history of literature relate to the history of media? This course addresses the question by focusing on William Shakespeare’s plays as printed texts evolving from the sixteenth through the twenty-first century. With the Shakespeare archive as our case study, we will explore how drama as a literary form is shaped by the material format of its sources, performance documents, and print editions. Among other topics, we will consider techniques of book production; the business of publishing and circulation; the sociology of readership; the relations among script, actor’s part, and printed play; revision and multiple texts; Shakespearean authorship and canonicity; modern editing and the future of digital texts.
Using special collections at Amherst, the Five Colleges, and the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., students will learn skills of archival research and cultural critique, grappling with fundamental concepts and research procedures in book history while refining their understanding of Shakespeare’s texts, the “Gutenberg parenthesis,” and our current transition to a post-print media world. During the seminar, each student will develop a prospectus for a research project; together, the class will curate an exhibition to be displayed in Frost Library.
This course is part of a new model of tutorial at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty. Open to sophomores and juniors interested in research. Limited to 6 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Bosman and Mr. Kelly.2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2014
234 America's Death Penalty
The United States, almost alone among constitutional democracies, retains death as a criminal punishment. It does so in the face of growing international pressure for abolition and of evidence that the system for deciding who lives and who dies is fraught with error. This seminar is designed to expose students to America's death penalty as a researchable subject. It will be organized to help students understand how research is framed in this area, analyze theories and approaches of death penalty researchers, and identify open questions and most promising lines of future research. It will focus on the following dimensions of America's death penalty: its history, current status, public support/opposition, the processing of capital cases in the criminal justice system, race and capital punishment, and its impact and efficacy. During the seminar, each student will develop a prospectus for a research project on America's death penalty. This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty.
Open to sophomores and juniors interested in research. Limited to 6 students. Spring semester. Professor Sarat.
Part of the Global Classroom Project. The Global Classroom Project uses videoconferencing technology to connect Amherst classes with courses/students outside the United States.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015
236 Art, Things, Spaces, and Places from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment
The purpose of this course is to introduce students to research on lived environments from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, the architecture that shaped them and the art and objects that they contained. We will explore research strategies that are most useful in understanding the forces that explain change in the 400 years marking the beginning of the Renaissance to the Enlightenment in Europe and England. We will examine work on families from a variety of social classes who joined forces through marriage and other alliances and the process through which they acquired and passed on precious objects, furniture, paintings, and sculpture embedded with meanings from their origins. How can we go about understanding how the construction of homes defined their inhabitants’ status, their political allegiance, their spirituality, and their place in the world? How can we best analyze the significance of the ways they adorned their domiciles with family portraits, tapestries, wall paintings, religious prints and icons, beds, marriage chests, silverware and jewelry?
This course will give students tools to conduct their own research about why and how domiciles and their contents expressed meaning for their inhabitants and society, and how we in the 21st century might come to understand these relics of the past. As the culmination of the course each student will choose a topic--anywhere from exploring special qualities found in a single object or work of art in a domicile to identifying unusual properties in architecture of a palace with a public function--and develop a prospectus for a research project. This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive and collaborative research with faculty.
Open to sophomores and juniors interested in research. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 6 students. Omitted. Professor Courtright.2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2014, Spring 2015
237 The Senses in Motion
This course is focused on developing research skills within a multidisciplinary and international context. We will begin with the question debated by neurologists and others: What constitutes a sense? Aristotle identified the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste, but research in many fields identifies a number of additional senses that include nociception (the sense of pain), the sense of time, equilibrioception (the sense of balance), proprioception (the sense of where your body is in space), kinesthesia (the sense of joint and muscle motion and acceleration), thermoception (the sense of temperature differences), and magnetoception (the sense of direction), as well as the interoceptive senses (the internal senses of respiration, heartbeat, hunger, and the need for digestive elimination), among others.
We will investigate the properties and functions of the senses and sensory systems from a variety of disciplinary perspectives including neuroscience, psychology, philosophy of perception, critical theory, literature, performance, architecture, and the visual and electronic arts. We will study moments of aberration, when the senses offer unexpected or unanticipated information, and explore how that often fluid information can contribute to knowledge. Some say the senses offer us information that is only an illusion: we will explore the ways in which illusions are generated and transformed, and the ways in which they can generate further materials to help us develop knowledge about our dynamic experience in the world.
Throughout, we will identify strategies for framing research questions, for gathering and digesting research materials from various sources, and for employing this research in projects of writing and creation according to individual student interest. We will examine how writers, artists, dancers, performers, filmmakers, and architects employ research in the development of their work, and students will articulate the ways in which they can perform their research in writing, performance, design, and the visual and electronic arts according to their own interests and experience. To end the semester, each student will propose a topic and develop a prospectus for an original research project. This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive and collaborative research with faculty.
Limited to 6 sophomores and juniors. Admission with consent of the instructor. Professor Gilpin.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015
239 The Place of Memory: Engaging History in the Digital World
In this seminar, we will focus on one particular place – New England – in one historical moment, King Philip’s War (1675-8). We will explore the intersections of colonial American and Native American histories, relationships of exchange, and the breakdown in reciprocal relations that led to violent conflict. While learning about the war as a whole, the seminar will unravel multiple perspectives regarding the “end of the war.” Reviewing maps, documents, and place names, we will consider how “where” we stand impacts how we “see” the war and its “end.” Then, we will investigate whether the digital world might offer possibilities for presenting and representing these multiple points-of-view, considering how we might engage readers and researchers in multiple strands of inquiry through a rhizomatic, relational structure. This open-ended process of reading and writing, which lends itself to the web, is also reflective of Indigenous oral traditions, a key framework for our collaborative work.
Students will work with primary documents (manuscripts, print texts and maps), and consider the network of people and places that can extend from a single document. They will pursue active, engaged research in primary and secondary texts. However, they will also have the opportunity to engage with contemporary historians and tribal communities who have studied this war closely. While assisting with research for the final chapter of an ongoing book project, students will also have the opportunity to design a website that will extend the life of the book beyond the printed page.
This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty.
Limited to 6 sophomores and juniors. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Brooks.
2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2015
245 Archival Research in Drama: The Samuel French Collection
This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty. Amherst College is home to one of America's most extraordinary archives of theater history: the Samuel French Collection. In this course, you will work extensively with this collection, using it to enrich your understanding of dramatic literature. Hands-on exercises will teach you basic archival skills. Then, we will collaborate on a large-scale archival project as a class. In frequent seminar-style discussions, we will apply what we learn in the archive to our reading of printed plays.
The theme will vary from year to year. This year’s theme will be “Things Onstage”—that is, the material culture of theater.
Open to sophomores and juniors interested in research. Limited to 6 students. Omitted 2016-17. Professor Grobe.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
330 Imagining Education Studies
This course, part of a one-time only two-semester sequence, investigates, interrogates, and critiques the field of Education Studies. It asks students to imagine what an ideal education studies program might look like at an elite liberal arts college like Amherst. The course will consist of three parts. First, through intensive archival investigation, students will examine the historical place of education at Amherst. How have previous generations of Amherst students studied education-related issues, both inside and outside the classroom? How have Amherst alumni contributed to the field of education more broadly? Next, students will explore the current state of Education Studies as a discipline with an eye towards the liberal arts. What is the purpose of a liberal arts education? How have liberal arts colleges made Education Studies central to their pedagogical missions? To answer these questions, students will connect with faculty and students engaged with Education Studies across the Five Colleges and at other liberal arts colleges. Finally, students will debate, discuss, and imagine the future of Education Studies at Amherst. The class will culminate with students collaboratively designing a model Education Studies major appropriate for a liberal arts college like Amherst.
Limited to six students. Spring semester. Professor Moss and Dr. Siudzinski.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
332 Cities, Schools, and Space
[US] In America, a child’s address, more than any other factor, often determines what kind of public education he or she will receive. A complex set of historical forces including local and federal housing policies, mortgage lending practices, highway construction, and school districting have channeled particular economic, racial, ethnic, and linguistic groups into particular neighborhoods, where many remain today. And because public schools are funded by local property taxes and influenced by neighborhood boundaries, they often become harnessed to a narrative of inequality. Yet recent Supreme Court rulings have severely circumscribed the strategies communities might employ to disrupt the linkage between residence and educational opportunity. This research seminar blends urban history with educational policy to explore how spatial relationships have shaped educational opportunity since World War II. It will investigate a range of historical, legal, and contemporary issues relevant to both the segregation and desegregation of American cities and their public schools in the twentieth century. Class meetings will alternate between seminar-style discussion and an intensive, hands-on study of one particular community–Cambridge, Massachusetts–noteworthy for the innovative strategies it has utilized to desegregate its public schools. This course involves a significant research component designed to expose students to a range of approaches including archival analysis and oral interviews. In particular, students will learn to utilize geographic information systems (GIS) to visualize the spatial evolution of inequality in urban communities like Cambridge and to analyze past, present, and future strategies to equalize educational opportunity in American cities.
This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty. It is open to sophomores and juniors interested in developing a senior thesis project.
Limited to six sophomores and juniors. Professor Moss and Dr. Anderson.2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2014
333 Advanced Topics in Latin America's Political Economy
This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty. The objective of the tutorial is to expose students to various aspects of academic research: identify a researchable topic, master the relevant literature, develop a viable research design, learn to formulate causal arguments and address rival hypotheses, become comfortable with the academic practice of revising and resubmitting, etc. Each student is free to choose his or her topic of inquiry, after close consultation with me and other participants. Students are expected to work sometimes independently, other times in teams. We will meet frequently to discuss progress. Some assignments will be common to the group as a whole, other assignments will be individualized, based on each student’s interests and skills. At various points during the semester, students should also be prepared to share their work, orally or in writing, with everyone else in the course. I too will share drafts of some of my work for discussion. Final requirements will vary depending on the selected project and may include: developing a thesis prospectus; writing a literature review; researching a topic in close collaboration with me; collecting, analyzing and presenting data. This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty.
Open to sophomores and juniors. Preference will be given to students who have taken at least one course with me. Limited to 6 students. Professor Corrales.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Spring 2015
334 Archives of Childhood
Childhood is elusive and so is the past. This Mellon Research Seminar explores the particular problems of researching the lives of children, and recognizes those challenges as exemplary of the difficulties of historical inquiry in general. We know that evidence from the past tends to come to us in bits and pieces, and that the motivations and perspectives of people in the past inevitably prove difficult to discern. Across class, gender, racial, religious, and geographic categories the historical records that children leave are often quite literally scribbles and scraps. Moreover, evidence of childhood almost always comes heavily mediated by adult hands and adult memories. This Mellon Research Seminar is devoted to developing research methods and locating research materials that can help us to access the experiences and perspectives of children in the nineteenth-century United States. We will focus on developing strategies for locating primary materials in archives that rarely use age as a category of analysis and on developing methods of interpretation for making sense of materials that may initially seem too scanty, too formulaic, too obedient, or even too cute to be historically meaningful. Research sites may include letters and diaries, school work and copy-texts, marginalia in children’s books, institutional records, photographs, and the adult recollection offered by memoirs. This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive and collaborative research with faculty.
Open to 6 juniors interested in developing a senior thesis project. Enrollment with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2016-17. Professor K. Sánchez-Eppler.2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2014
340 Inquiries into the Catastrophic
News of large-scale disasters and impending catastrophes multiply day by day—news that heralds irreparable ecological devastation, the unbounded ravages of infectious disease, the geological and atmospheric precariousness of “nature,” and the mounting toll of civil wars and non-state political violence. Indeed, by many accounts, we are now living in the “Age of Catastrophe.” Not only has the language of catastrophe established itself as a defining idiom of life and survival in the contemporary world, it has also taken hold as both a backdrop to and condition for the intimate terrain of our everyday lives—as schoolchildren are taught to prepare for massacres and natural disasters, local police departments train and equip for terrorist attacks, communities come into existence to share strategies and scenarios to “prep” for the “next disaster,” and new forms of leisure and media consumption grow around wildly varying visions of the world’s destruction. This course sets out to critically engage disaster and catastrophe as conceptual challenges and, through this engagement, introduce students to catastrophe and large-scale disaster as objects of scholarly inquiry. That is, this course will expose students to a range of disciplinary approaches that scholars have developed in examining the effects of disaster on people, communities, and the world. By the end of the semester, students will have gained significant experience in developing original research. They will have a sense of what it means to identify researchable questions, evaluate relevant approaches to a topic, and formulate a viable research design. This course is part of a model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty.
Open to sophomores and juniors interested in research. Limited to 6 students. Professor C. Dole.2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016