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Amherst College Special Seminar for 2012-13

Colloquium

230 Cultural Agency: Dance, Democracy and Tourism in Bahia, Brazil

This tutorial offers an intensive introduction to writings of contemporary democracy, tourism studies, and cultural agency in Latin America. We will study the role that African dance in Bahia, Brazil plays in the dynamics of social and political inclusion of marginal lives.  Examining the works of cultural agents in Latin American contemporary history, we will interrogate the definition and function of cultural agency set within the context of contemporary discourses of democracy.  Is democracy an empty buzz-word that re-defines the Brazilian nation internationally without really reshaping the everyday lives of individuals locally? What role do tourism and the arts play in creating venues for cultural inclusion? Is cultural inclusion synonymous with political insertion? How does violence preclude or propel political change?   Within that frame, the working goal of the tutorial is to help students identify a researchable topic, master the literature presented by the professor (this includes original interviews and videos), develop a viable research design, and become comfortable with the process of academic research, synthesis, and organization. During the seminar, each student will develop a detailed 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 research with faculty.  It is open to six sophomores. Proficiency in Spanish and/or Portuguese highly welcomed, but not necessary.  Limited to six sophomores. Spring semester. Professor Suarez.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015

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.  It is open to sophomores interested in research.

Limited to 6 sophomores.  Spring semester.  Professor Sarat.

2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, 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.  It is open to sophomores interested in research.

Enrollment with consent of the instructor. All interested students should email Professor Gilpin at hgilpin at amherst.edu to set up an interview in early December, and they must attend the first class meeting.  Limited to 6 students, priority to sophomores.

Spring semester. Professor Gilpin.

2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015

331 The Meaning of Catastrophe

From Noah's flood to the Haitian earthquake, from the Black Death to the Great War, catastrophes have threatened, disrupted, and overturned patterns of daily existence. As radically disordering events, catastrophes have the power to lay bare the fragility of social and institutional architectures and to make painfully clear the weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the organization of social life.  At the same time, by disrupting the fundamental mechanisms and infrastructures of social order, catastrophes serve to define the conditions that inform our sense of the normal.  While much attention has been devoted to the study of specific catastrophic events, surprisingly little academic attention has been directed to the concept of catastrophe itself.  This course sets out to study the social, cultural, and historical meaning of catastrophe. We will examine the role and representation of catastrophe in religion, the visual arts, literature, law, and politics. At a time when societies are directing an unprecedented level of resources and ingenuity to anticipating and mitigating catastrophic events, we hope to better appreciate catastrophe as a key ordering term of civilization--as the specter of disorder that continues to haunt our social and political imagination.

Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professors Sarat and Douglas.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013

332 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.

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.

Limited to six juniors. Spring semester. 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 independently and meet jointly once a week 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 juniors interested in developing a senior thesis project who have taken at least one course with me.  Sophomores will be considered space permitting.  Limited to 6 students. Professor Corrales.

2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Spring 2015

338 American Occupation of Germany

This course will explore the American occupation of western Germany between 1945 and 1949, as well as the continued American presence in Germany thereafter.  We will examine the occupation and post-occupation years through the lens of archival materials found in Special Collections at Frost Library—the John J. McCloy, Karl Loewenstein, and Willard Thorp papers.  Based on these papers, we will focus on American plans for the political, economic, legal, and educational transformation of Germany.  How did American planners envision eradicating Nazism in Germany?  What did they hope to accomplish?  How realistic were their plans?  Because McCloy was the U.S. High Commissioner in Germany from 1949-1952, we will also explore the American role in Germany after that country regained limited sovereignty in 1949.  Class meetings will include general discussion of occupation policy and broader issues of regime transition, as well as hands-on work in Special Collections.  Using materials found in Special Collections, students will write 20-25 page seminar papers on some aspect of American-German relations in the first postwar years.  While all papers will focus on Germany, students will be encouraged to draw parallels with other American occupations, including those of Japan and Iraq.  The course will be co-taught by a professor of history and an archivist.  This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research, with faculty.  One class meeting per week (2 hours).

The course is open to juniors interested in developing a senior-thesis project. Limited to six juniors.  Spring semester.  Professor Epstein and Ms. Crosby.   

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013

339 American Performance Culture circa 1900

Centering on the Samuel French Collection, a rich and untapped archive of theater and performance history at Amherst, this course will explore American culture at the turn of the twentieth century through the lens of performance.  Through shared readings, discussions, and archival exploration, students will consider the complexity of each of the terms in this course’s title, asking such questions as:  (1) how local or transnational was American performance? (2) what kinds of behavior “counted” as performance in this period? and (3) how did such performances take part in the creation of a truly national culture in turn-of-the-century America?

Students will learn how to pose a productive and original research question, how to master the critical and historical literature relevant to that question, and how to enter into the scholarly conversation on their topic.  Particular emphasis will be placed on the value and difficulty of interdisciplinary work.  The semester will culminate in two projects.  Individually, students will produce research papers involving materials from the Samuel French Collection.  Together, the class will curate an exhibition of materials from the archive to be displayed in the Frost Library.

Admission with consent of the instructor.  This course is part of a Mellon-funded program designed to encourage students to engage in substantive, original humanities research.  It is open to any junior preparing to do thesis research in the humanities, but given the intensive nature of the course, enrollment will be limited to six students.  Spring semester.  Professor Grobe.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013