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Amherst College Special Seminar for 2018-19

Colloquium

203 On Time: In Political Thought and Scientific Observations

From evolution and extinction, to nuclear holocaust and the Anthropocene, our scientific understanding of time and Earth history suggest real political effects. This course offers an interdisciplinary approach to the concept of time, exploring both the ways we conceive of time scientifically and the political consequences of such conceptions. Is there a changing material basis to our human conception of time? What logics and observations undergird such interpretations? How could our changing conceptions of time and natural history reorient our understanding of the human and political agency? What possible notions of agency (emancipatory or authoritarian) appear in the wake of such transformations? Engaging such questions requires a diverse array of resources, and this course will approach these problematics with theories and observations from political science and geology. We will trace the parallel development of politically theoretic and scientific ideas on time, encountering how these discourses contend and inform each other. Possible readings include scientific arguments about time from Hutton and Lyell to Kelvin, Patterson, and contemporary Earth historians, as well as political reflections on the concept of time, including Whitehead and Bergson, to Benjamin, Lyotard, and Meillassoux. Through these literatures, we aim to uncover how specific political problems may be linked to particular scientific notions of time and history, and ways we might respond in our contemporary politics. This course will have both seminar and laboratory components.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2018-19  Professors Poe and Jones.

2018-19: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018

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 model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

Open to sophomores and juniors interested in research. Limited to 6 students. Spring semester. Professor Sarat.

 

2018-19: Offered in Spring 2019
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018

235 Radio Storytelling

Radio is an essential tool for democracy. Aside from entertainment, it fosters critical thinking and civic engagement. It might also be the most patient, intellectually-minded of all media forms in that it uses storytelling as a means to appreciate our common humanity. This course has two symmetrical components: through a variety of readings and listenings, it gives the social, political, and historical context to understand the influence of radio in modern times in industrialized and developing nations; and it offers studio experience and practical tools for those enrolled to produce their own radio stories. Students will also be involved in various production aspects of the NEPR podcast “In Contrast.”

This course is part of a model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

Open to juniors and sophomores interested in research. Limited to 6 students. Spring Semester. Professor Stavans.

2018-19: Offered in Spring 2019

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. 

Open to sophomores and juniors interested in research. Limited to 6 students. Omitted 2018-2019. Professor Gilpin.

2018-19: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017

238 Propaganda During Wars

Civil wars are conflicts that develop between a country’s government and an armed group rebeling against it. These conflicts can often be lengthy, gruesome, and quite resource intensive. Yet, oftentimes, actors fighting these wars decide to divert time, money, and resources away from the battlefield to engage in propaganda campaigns in foreign countries, touting themselves as the legitimate representatives of that country. When are these campaigns more likely to happen? And why? This research colloquium will explore these questions, both theoretically and empirically. Students will learn several research skills: how to gather evidence, how to understand multiple sources of evidence, and how to build and test arguments. We will meet once a week for two hours and one half, with additional independent work of at least 10-12 hours per week expected.

This course is part of a model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

Open to juniors and sophomores interested in research. Limited to 6 students. Spring Semester. Professor Mattiacci.

2018-19: Offered in Spring 2019

242 Jews at Amherst

The history of Jews at elite colleges and universities appears in a number of recent studies. This Mellon research seminar focuses on Jews at Amherst College. Its subject poses the unique challenge of trying to research the identity and experience of individuals whose Jewishness may not have been known or visible. That Jews can be identified in multiple ways—including religion, sense of peoplehood, shared history, and/or language—raises an important question: what methodologies are best suited for researching Jewish life at Amherst? To generate analytic models, we will read works that examine the implications of admissions policies, fraternity participation, and class dynamics for Jewish students, especially those attending elite institutions; they offer frameworks for studying changes in institutional culture. A goal of the seminar is to develop research strategies for recovering the identities of Jews in the past. To this end, students will learn how to interpret archival materials and situate them in the contexts of Amherst College history, local history, educational history, and American Jewish history. Students will work extensively in the Amherst College Archives and gather data from the College’s Office of Institutional Research. Additionally, we will ask to what degree Jewish experience has differed from the experience of other groups on campus, thereby conceiving our subject as part of a larger study of inclusion at Amherst College.

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 six students. Omitted 2018-2019. Lecturer Bergoffen.

2018-19: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2017

246 Natives in Transit: Indian Entertainment, Urban Life, and Activism, 1930-1970

This class takes Los Angeles and New York as case studies for tracing different histories related to Native Americans, urbanism, and entertainment. So students can engage a range of interdisciplinary strategies for studying Native American migration in the twentieth century we will draw on materials from the Kim-Wait/Pablo Eisenberg Native American Literature Collection to practice developing researchable questions. Students will also assist in conducting primary research and data gathering related to Native American actors and entertainers to shed light on the lives they led off-screen and off-stage while they worked in Los Angeles and New York City. To ground our discussions and approach to research students will read secondary sources about the history of Native performance in the United States, especially in relation to cinema. There may be some ethnographic work as well and an introduction to methods from oral history. The main aim of this research tutorial is to have students focus on the ways in which Native people have participated in the film industry as laborers and shapers of culture, and since there are no “official” archives left to us by Native entertainers much of what students will learn is how to conduct research based on clues from a diverse array of sources. For example, by examining articles from Variety, catalogs from the American Film Institute, and papers from social reform institutions, like the L.A. Indian Center and the American Indian Community House (AICH) in New York City, students will begin to piece together a meaningful understanding of Native people as actors and activists during the twentieth century. Students who can be in residence for part of the summer following the tutorial will visit archives in New York related to the AICH—a non-profit organization that has served the health, social service, and cultural needs of Native Americans in the city since 1969. Additional work over the summer will involve visualization tools from the Digital Humanities, like Gephi, so students can demonstrate what they have learned about the many Native entertainment and activist networks that existed in L.A. and NYC.

This course is part of a model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

Open to sophomores and juniors interested in research. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 6 students. Spring Semester. Professor Vigil.

2018-19: Offered in Spring 2019

248 Secret Lives of the Late-Soviet Stage: the Archive and the Repertoire

How can an archive tell the story of a cultural practice that resists the very idea of being archived? If performance, in Peggy Phelan’s formulation, “becomes itself through disappearance,” what might it mean to document this endless disappearance? And what can we learn about the relationship between performance as an artistic project, theater as a cultural institution, and the everyday, intimate existence of those who made performances happen from examining such an archive? We will examine these questions through the lens of the Alma Law Soviet Theater Collection, recently acquired by the Amherst Center of Russian Culture. Over the course of nearly thirty years, Alma Law (1927-2003), the best-informed American scholar of Russian and Soviet theater in her generation, amassed a treasure trove of materials that chronicle the theater scene of the late-Soviet period. Hundreds of interviews with actors, directors, designers, playwrights, critics, and scholars working in Soviet theater at the time, which Law conducted during her frequent research trips to the USSR, are complemented by video and audio recordings of live rehearsals and performances, thousands of photos and over a hundred reels of microfilm. They give us access to very rare testimony about the “backstage” existence of a crucial cultural institution. But what kinds of things can we actually learn from these diverse pieces of evidence?  This tutorial will begin by exploring key methodological insights from the fields of performance studies and cultural history, which will help us formulate the research questions that we will pursue, individually and in pairs, as we examine Law’s diaries, notebooks, and card catalogs. All of these materials were originally created in English, so no knowledge of Russian language (or Soviet culture or theater studies) is required. Students who are able to read Russian are highly encouraged to participate and will receive research assignments that allow them to employ their proficiency. This course is part of a tutorial series that engages Amherst students in substantive research with faculty in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

Open to juniors and sophomores interested in research. Limited to 6 students. Omitted 2018-2019. Professor Wolfson.

2018-19: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018

335 Transgender Histories

A revolution in transgender rights in the United States is underway. Once marginalized and denigrated by mainstream society, the medical establishment, the legal system, and even the lesbian and gay rights movement, transgender people are increasingly gaining rights and recognition. This seminar will introduce students to transgender representations and experiences in the past as a researchable subject. Students will be introduced to the three dimensions of historic research: theory, method, and archives. The course will focus on the key theories of gender that have informed historic research for the past forty years, the methodological issues involved in conducting research of sexual and gender minority communities, and effective strategies for defining the parameters of a usable archive. Some questions to be engaged include: What is gender? What is transgender? What constitutes a transgender past? How does the historian determine correct terminology for writing? What role does history play in the present or future? Students will write their own prospectus for a research project in transgender history.

This course is part of a model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

Open to juniors and sophomores interested in research. Limited to 6 students. Spring Semester. Professor Manion.

2018-19: Offered in Spring 2019

337 The Expansion of LGBT Rights in the Americas and Beyond

This tutorial will teach students about the history of LGBT rights in the Americas and, more innovatively, the skills required to contribute to my “LGBT Timeline in the Americas” project. The Timeline is a digital archive that I have been developing with faculty colleagues, students, IT and Library staff, as well as scholars outside the Five Colleges. In class, we will research possible entries, select entries, edit entries, work with images and copyright questions, generate infographics and other forms of data dissemination. This course is part of a model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty. We will meet once a week for two hours, with additional independent work of at least 10-12 hours per week expected.

Open to juniors and sophomores interested in research. No prior experience required, but social science or humanities majors preferred. Limited to 6 students. Omitted 2018-2019. Professor Corrales.

2018-19: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018

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. Omitted 2018-2019. Professor C. Dole.

2018-19: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2016

341 Meanings of Mobility: Low-Income Latinx Youth and the American Dream

This seminar will explore the meanings of social mobility experienced by low-income Latinx youth in elite academic institutions. Specifically, it will focus on the ways in which family, gender, and legal status shape their experiences and aspirations. Sociological theories of immigrant incorporation suggest that social mobility is determined in large part by immigrants’ context of reception, the strength of their co-ethnic communities, and group levels of human capital. Latino youth, many of whom come of age in low-income, minority neighborhoods, are therefore not expected to attain high levels of education or to achieve socio-economic mobility. Indeed, theory predicts many youth will experience downward mobility. Much of the academic scholarship focuses on youth whose lives map onto these expectations. Yet in the age of need-blind admissions, elite colleges and universities have seen growing enrollments of low-income Latino youth who defy these theoretical predictions. This seminar seeks to understand Latino youths’ mobility paths and the complexities and challenges implicit in them. It is meant to be “emergent.” This means that while we immerse ourselves in the scholarship on Latino immigration, youth and mobility we will work together to determine the methodological directions(s) of the seminar.

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 six students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Schmalzbauer.

2018-19: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2017

343 A Social History of the Spanish Language

(Offered as COLQ 343 and SPAN 343) Histories of the Spanish language regularly focus on the syntactical changes (grammatical structure, verb conjugations, etc.) undergone through time. This course takes a different approach: it looks at the concrete way people have used Spanish in everyday life over the last one thousand years, concentrating on revolutions, labor and political movements, domestic life, and cultural activities such as reading, writing, and consuming newspapers, radio, TV, movies, and the internet. The course will provide the theoretical framework to approach the material appropriately, from Saussure and Samuel Johnson to contemporary arguments in socio-linguistics. Students will select a Spanish-language country (Argentina, Mexico, Cuba, Peru, Chile, Puerto Rico, Colombia, or the Dominican Republic) and, in chronological order, delve into specific texts and examples in order to understand linguistic usage across history. This course is part of a model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty. The size of the course will be small: six students. Participants must also commit to working for six weeks in the summer of 2018. The college will provide housing and a stipend. All semester and summer work will culminate in the publication of a new social history of the Spanish language. Conducted in Spanish.

Open to sophomores and juniors interested in research. Limited to 6 students. Omitted 2018-2019. Professor Stavans.

 

2018-19: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018

345 Cultures of Survival in the Twentieth Century

The destructive capabilities of war weapons expanded exponentially in the twentieth century, from the advent of aerial bombing and gas attacks through the threat of nuclear annihilation. As the targeting of civilians became accepted military practice and the lines between battlefield and home front blurred, the question of how ordinary people could prepare for the unimaginable became the focus of heated public debate. This Mellon research seminar investigates the changing ways in which survival, both individual and societal, was conceived, defined, and practiced in Britain and the United States during the twentieth century. It follows the theme of survival through a variety of topics, including science fiction accounts of future wars, civilian responses to aerial bombing and gas warfare, civil defense programs, campaigns for nuclear disarmament, and popular forms of survivalism. In addition, it will engage with the methodologies and theoretical insights emerging from new scholarship on the history of emotions, seeking to trace the impact of certain collective emotional states – such as fear, anxiety, or paranoia – on politics, society, and culture. This course contains a significant research component designed to introduce students to the concepts and skills involved in archival analysis. It 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. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 6 students. Omitted 2018-19. Professor Boucher.

2018-19: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2017

348 War in Translation

The “War in Translation” research tutorial aims to allow students the opportunity to identify, analyze and translate a work or body of work of literary and historical significance that has not been previously available in English. Focusing on the personal experiences of a war or conflict during the twentieth century, students will begin by identifying untranslated primary source material that is written in a foreign language in which they are highly proficient. This will entail working with the professor and library staff to identify databases and digitized texts that have not been previously translated. Students will be encouraged to focus on materials such as letters, essays, newspaper articles, speeches and short works of fiction relevant to a single twentieth century conflict of particular interest to each student, such as the Spanish Civil War, World War II/the Holocaust, the Guatemalan Civil War, or the Argentine “Dirty War.” Students will work closely with the professor and with their classmates to produce a prospectus and sample annotated translation of their selected material, providing relevant literary and historical context. The ultimate goal is to produce a publishable work (online or in print) that will ultimately make this primary source not only available in English but also accessible to scholars and lay readers who may not be familiar with the historical period under scrutiny.

This course is part of a model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

Open to juniors and sophomores interested in research. Limited to 6 students. Spring Semester. Professor Brenneis.

2018-19: Offered in Spring 2019

412 Globalism and Its Discontents: Point/Counterpoint

The rise of populism worldwide today, personified by Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, is a fierce reaction to globalism policies of the past few decades. Anti-immigration movements in Europe and the United States, assaults on free speech; racial profiling; polarized politics; intolerance for gender, economic, and linguistic diversity; the building of walls and the renegotiation of international trade treaties; the tension between rural and urban communities; and the questioning of the basic tenets of pluralism are some of the symptoms. Democracy itself might be at peril. This colloquium takes a balanced view of the debate, using the Socratic method to explore its pros and cons without prejudice. Focusing on different forms of oral and written expression, students will engage with works of Voltaire, Isaiah Berlin, Susan Sontag, Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, Mario Vargas Llosa, and others, as well as films, travel writing, and poetry from the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Sponsored by a generous gift of the Class of 1970, the course will feature a number of distinguished guests—activists, intellectuals, scientists, lawyers, journalists, and artists—from various origins and from both sides of the ideological divide.

Limited to 20 students. Fall semester. Professor Stavans.

2018-19: Offered in Fall 2018