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Amherst College Special Seminar for 2010-11

Bruss Seminar

33 Gender and the Environment

This seminar will compare relationships between gender and the environment in a developed country, the U.S., and a developing country, India.  We will look at the history of gender constructions of nature and natural resources and their relationship to environmental practices. We will examine the disproportionate impact of environmental destruction on women and children, particularly from poor and minority communities, as well as rapidly changing ideas and practices about environmental degradation and climate change. Among the topics we will consider are gender constructions in the history of each country’s agricultural policies and their effects on attitudes and practices toward the land and other resources like minerals, water, and forests. We will analyze gender, land tenure, and the law as it affects resource control and allocation in India. We will look at related questions concerning the control of natural resources in the U.S. like the disputed ownership of the water of Lake Erie in an impoverished suburb of Detroit. We will explore women’s roles in environmental struggles in both countries.

Scholars and aid workers have long observed that environmental destruction has differential impacts on men and women. Women are the major victims of natural disasters, like the Tsunami of 2002 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Environmental destruction affects women’s health and reproduction in unique and dangerous ways. Pesticides and nuclear wastes cause birth defects, complications in labor, and toxic concentrations in women’s breast milk. The growing field of environmental justice has drawn attention to the significance of race in the location of hazardous waste facilities and the disproportionate number of people of color and women who are affected by workplace hazards. Following the earthquake in Haiti, after years of demands by women’s activist groups, the U.N. decided for the first time to deliver aid directly to women because it recognized this was the most effective way of reaching the children who need it.

Limited to 20 students.  Spring semester.  Professors Basu and Saxton. 


2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011


20 Media, Culture and Global Citizenship

(Offered as COLQ 20 at Amherst College and COMM 397A at the University of Massachusetts.)  This course examines different forms of belonging in the modern nation state, and the range of symbolic modes and genres for expressing (and refusing) belonging.  What does it mean to be a national?  What is the difference between nationality and citizenship?  What rights and obligations does citizenship entail?  The First Amendment guarantees the right of citizens to freedom of expression, at the same time that a range of institutions and strategies limit those rights.  We will explore those limits, along with the literacies demanded by citizenship (including those that familiar models of citizenship ignore, such as popular cultural practices and readings).  We will also consider the ways in which new communication technologies have affected how people imagine the communities to which they belong.

Limited to 50 students:  25 from Amherst College and 25 from the University of Massachusetts.  Spring semester.  To be taught at Amherst College.  Professor O’Connell and Professor Henderson of the University of Massachusetts.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Spring 2011

21 Catastrophic Communities

What becomes of communities and individuals in a catastrophe?  How are they destroyed, rebuilt, transformed, challenged and imagined?  What does it mean to grasp an event as catastrophic in the first place? This course approaches these questions from multiple vantage points in order to explore how a catastrophic event makes and unmakes the world.  Over the course of the semester, we will examine a number of catastrophes—natural and man-made, sudden and gradual: the Cherokee Removal (Trail of Tears); the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake; World War I (the Battle of the Somme); World War II (the Holocaust, the London Blitz, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki); the Kennedy assassination; the space shuttle Challenger explosion; Chernobyl; the September 11 terrorist attacks; and Hurricane Katrina. We will consider the different kinds of social formations that arise or are destroyed in disaster and think critically about what it means to be both an individual and part of a collective in times of unprecedented upheaval.  Because catastrophe’s shocks are felt, represented and addressed in a range of disciplines and discourses, our readings will span works of literature (Graham Greene, Virginia Woolf, Albert Camus, Georges Perec), legal opinions, critical and theoretical texts (Blanchot’s The Writing of the Disaster, Jonathan Lear’s Radical Hope, Geoff Dyer’s The Missing of the Somme, Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell), as well as essays by Orwell, Freud and John Berger and at least one film.

Limited to 25 students. Spring Semester. Visiting Professor Reichman.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011

32 Cities, Schools, and Space

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. Because this course provides an intensive research experience, enrollment is limited to six students. 

Only open to juniors. Professor Moss and Dr. Anderson. Spring Semester.


2019-20: Offered in Spring 2020
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2014

33 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.  It is open to juniors interested in developing a senior thesis project on any topic pertaining to Latin America's political economy.  The objective of the tutorial is to help students identify a researchable topic, master the relevant literature, develop a viable research design, learn to formulate causal arguments and address rival hypotheses, and finally, become comfortable with the academic practice of revising and resubmitting.  Each student is free to choose his or her topic of inquiry, after close consultation with the instructor and other participants.  Students are expected to work independently and meet jointly once a week to discuss progress.  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.  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 the instructor; collecting, analyzing and presenting data.  Pre-requisite:  the course is open only to juniors in Political Science who have a proven interest in pursuing independent research on Latin America's political economy. 

Enrollment limit: 6.  Professor Corrales. Spring Semester.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011

34 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 presssure 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.

Limited to 6 sophomores.  Spring semester.  Professor Sarat.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011

35 Concepts and Representations of Fortuna in Ancient Rome

The primary goal of this course is to improve sophomores’ ability to conduct personal and original research, starting from the Roman understanding of fortuna. A supernatural power bringing pleasant or unpleasant surprises, a mysterious entity whose strokes can be skillfully tempered but never quite avoided, a capricious deity to be feared, respected, and at times worshipped, a force to which even gods and goddesses are subjected, and a notion which affected Roman religion, literature, figurative arts, politics, and history, fortuna provides both a unique window into Roman civilization and a fascinating unitary focus for interdisciplinary research. How was the Romans’ view of the forces that governed their world different from that of other Western civilizations? How did their understanding of fortuna affect their view on justice, and how did it shape their mapping of civic, ethical, psychological, and religious systems? Students will be encouraged to formulate questions in pursuit of their specific interests, to investigate and weigh conflicting explanations, to launch and test hypotheses, while drawing connections between disciplines and cultures and becoming familiar with the tools and methods of research.

No knowledge of Latin is required, and enrollment will be limited to 4. Professor Grillo. Spring Semester.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011

Kenan Colloquium

24 Giving

The course offers students who have worked as interns or volunteers an interdisciplinary framework within which to think together about what it means to give.  We will explore philanthropy’s diverse forms over time and across cultures; its philosophical underpinnings; its complex interrelationships with modern notions of charity, advocacy, and democracy; and its often paradoxical effects on social relations and public policy.  The first half of the course considers what it means to foster a “love of humanity,” to offer and receive “the kindness of strangers,” to practice charity as a civic or religious obligation, as a status building stratagem or, simply, to help.  We will look at how these diverse philanthropic expectations are laid out in various religious traditions, as well as in written works by Sophocles, Shakespeare, Alexis de Tocqueville, George Eliot, Marcel Mauss, Jane Addams, Ama Ata Aidoo, and Michael Ignatieff, and in images created by selected artists and filmmakers.  The second half of the course examines case studies and literary representations of philanthropic efforts and outcomes in a variety of social situations, from the perspectives of donors and recipients; board members and volunteers; advocacy groups, policy makers, and non-governmental organizations.

Not open to first-year students.  Priority will be given to students who have recent experience working as volunteers or interns.  Limited to 20 students.  This course may be used for credit towards the major in English and Black Studies.  Fall semester.  Professor Cobham-Sander and Ms. Mead, Director of the Center for Community Engagement.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Fall 2010

Mellon Seminar

16 Numbers Rule the World.

"Numbers rule the world," many scholars agree. That is, they have become “the dominant form of acceptable evidence in most areas of public life.” We will examine these claims and their implications by asking several questions:  How did numbers come to rule?  What kinds of numbers?  Where do numbers rule and where don't they?  What differences do they make?   How are the numbers and scientific claims we encounter created?  How do they change as they travel from their original scientific context into everyday life? Ultimately, we seek to improve our ability to understand and evaluate the numbers and related scientific claims we encounter by seeing them as human creations, not just as "nuggets of objective fact." 

Limited to 15 students.  Spring semester.  Professor Himmelstein

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2011

Pick Colloquium

05 Seminar on Fisheries

The dependency of many countries on marine organisms for food has resulted in severe population declines in cod, bluefin tuna, swordfish, and abalone, as well as numerous other marine organisms. In this seminar we will examine the sociological, political, and economic impacts of global depletion of fisheries. Questions addressed are: What is the scope of extinctions or potential extinctions due to over-harvesting of marine organisms? How are fisheries managed, and are some approaches to harvesting better than others? How do fisheries extinctions affect the society and economy of various countries, and ecosystem stabililty? How do cultural traditions of fishermen influence attempts to manage fisheries? Does aquaculture offer a sustainable alternative to overfishing the seas, and what is aquaculture’s impact on ecosystem stability? Three class hours per week.

Requisite: Environmental Studies 12, Biology 23, or consent of the instructors. Not open to first-year students. Omitted 2010-11. Professors Temeles and Dizard.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2013

08 Conservation Biology and the Reconstruction of Nature

In the waning decades of both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, biologists struggled with one another and with the public over how to regard-and whether to regard at all-our nation’s biotic patrimony. In the early twentieth century, the struggle was distilled into two choices: preservation or conservation. Conservation became the dominant expression of environmental policy. By the end of the twentieth century, however, it became clear that environmental policies were failing. Reflecting this, a number of prominent biologists and ecologists created a new subfield of biology, conservation biology, devoted to addressing what they see as a looming biodiversity crisis. A corollary of this emergent concern quickly emerged: we need to return key ecosystems to an approximation of what they were before humans intruded. In this colloquium, we will explore the interaction between biologists and the general public. In particular, we will critically examine the policies and projects that have recently been promoted by prominent conservation biologists. We will pay particular attention to proposals for large scale “rewilding” of North America (e.g., the proposal to return the Western Plains to a “Buffalo Commons”).

Not open to first-year students. Omitted 2010-11. Professor Dizard.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008