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Amherst College Special Seminar for 2019-20

Colloquium

105 New Women in America

This course will examine the emergence of the “New Woman” as a category of social theory, political action, and literary representation at the turn of the twentieth century. Early readings will trace the origins of the New Woman as a response to nineteenth-century notions of “True Womanhood.” Discussions will situate literary representations of women in larger cultural events taking place during the Progressive Era–debates over suffrage as well as their relationship to issues of citizenship, immigration, Jim Crow segregation, urbanization, and nativism. The course will focus on texts, written by a diverse group of women, which present multiple and, at times, conflicting images of the New Woman. Close attention will be paid to the manner in which these women writers constructed their fictions, particularly to issues of language, style, and form. Readings will include texts by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, Pauline Hopkins, Anzia Yezierska, and Sui Sin Far.

This is a writing intensive course. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 12 students. Fall semester. Lecturer Bergoffen.

2019-20: Offered in Fall 2019
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2014, Fall 2016

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 2019-20. Professors Poe and Jones.

2019-20: 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.

2019-20: Offered in Spring 2020
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019

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. Omitted 2019-20. Professor Stavans.

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

238 Propaganda During Wars

Civil wars are conflicts that develop between a country’s government and an armed group rebelling 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. Omitted 2019-20. Professor Mattiacci.

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

240 The Making of Dictionaries

The course focuses on the history of dictionaries as epistemological resources from the Enlightenment to the present. It debates the changing nature of language, the strategies lexicographers employ to compile word banks and the capital bestowed on them, the connections between dictionaries and readers, the evolution of dictionaries from print to digital, and the marketing mechanisms that have been used. We will also examine the multifaceted nature of the genre (historiographic, etymological, bilingual, specialized, etc.), gaming (crosswords, scrabble, and so on), and other derivatives. While concentrating on the English-speaking world, comparisons with Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew, and other languages will be made. Students will collaborate on a study that includes working with Merriam-Webster in Springfield, Mass. Co-taught by Professor Stavans and Peter Sokolowski.

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 Stavans.

2019-20: Offered in Spring 2020

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

This course 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.

2019-20: Offered in Spring 2020
Other years: 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 at 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. What kinds of things can we actually learn from these diverse pieces of evidence? The 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 notebooks (diaries and drafts), and card catalogs. These materials were originally created in English, so no knowledge of the 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 tutorial builds on the work, in the spring and summer of 2018, of the pioneering group of Amherst undergraduates who produced a comprehensive inventory of Alma Law’s diaries from one key period of her travels (the early 1990s, when she was working closely with the legendary theater maker Yuri Lyubimov) and an inventory of the hundreds of personalities, on both sides of the ocean, with whom she worked on her Soviet theater-related projects. The research conducted by that group makes it possible to take several important new steps in conceptualizing the material and shaping the first scholarly study of the archive and the world it captures. 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. Spring semester. Professor Wolfson.

2019-20: Offered in Spring 2020
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018

252 Future People Puzzles

What are our obligations to future generations of human beings? This question has pressing implications for everything from climate change policy to the accumulation of national debt. Perhaps we owe nothing to future people, since they don’t (yet) exist, or since their future identities depend upon our actions. But if we reject these lines of thought, as most of us do, then how exactly should we weigh the well-being of future people against the lives of those currently living? Should we apply some sort of “discount rate,” and if so, which one? Should we aim for a future population whose well-being is maximized, or should we apply some other standard, perhaps one that includes considerations of justice? Even more fundamentally: are we right to think that human life is, on balance, a positive thing, or are we under an “anti-natalist” obligation not to bring more people into this world? (And how should non-human animals and the environment-as-such figure into our thinking here?) Finally, how might a policy based on answers to such questions be weighed against other factors, such as our reproductive rights, or procedural and historical considerations?

These questions have been the subject of recent work by philosophers and social scientists in the emerging and fascinating field of population ethics. In this colloquium, we focus on several theoretical puzzles that lie at the heart of this area of inquiry. In conjunction with the professor’s own research on these issues, students will be introduced to the central puzzles of population ethics, and then guided through the process of developing their own research projects.

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 Moore.

2019-20: Offered in Spring 2020

332 Cities, Schools and Space

In the United States, a child’s address, more than any other factor, 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 has 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 in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

Limited to 6 students. Open to sophomores and juniors interested in developing a senior thesis project. Spring semester. Professor Moss and Dr. Anderson.

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

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. Omitted 2019-20. Professor Manion.

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

342 Hearing Difference: The Political Economy of Accent

Accents can be global and local, ethnic and national, cosmopolitan and provincial, unconscious and performative, racialized and gendered—often all at once. And yet, although everyone speaks with an accent, some accents are heard as “neutral” whereas others are heard as “accented.” These differences have serious implications: accent can be a passport for entry or grounds for discrimination, leading to the denial or approval of asylum claims and job or housing applications. Indeed, accent has become a lynchpin of the contemporary global economy, with complex industries devoted to the training, detection, neutralization, and monetization of particular accents. This seminar will introduce students to representations of accented speech and the experience of accented subjects as a researchable subject that teaches us much about the political economy of listening and the commodity-status of vocal sounds. The course will be organized into three units: theory, method, and site. During the first half of the course, we will encounter how accent has been theorized in a range of disciplines, including sociology, linguistics, sound studies, literary studies, and film studies. Diverse methods, from ethnography and case studies to close textual analysis and quantitative analysis, are employed in each of these fields. In the final unit of the class we will mobilize these competencies by studying various global sites that demand an approach that is intersectional, interdisciplinary, and methodologically nimble, including the offshore call center and cloud-based voice services. Students will then write their own prospectus for a research project on accent focused on a site that they will identify.

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 Rangan.

2019-20: Offered in Spring 2020

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. Omitted. Professor Brenneis.

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

349 Asian Americans and Affirmative Action

This research colloquium will explore the lawsuit alleging anti-Asian American admissions discrimination as a result of affirmative action policies currently pursued by Harvard College. Students will do background readings on the history of affirmative action and explore several of the major lawsuits that attempted to dismantle the policy. The focus of the semester will be on the current lawsuit: its background, principals, allegations, and directions. We will examine legal, political, intra- and inter-racial contexts, and potential outcomes in the near and long term futures as well as their broader societal implications.

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 sophomores and juniors interested in research. Limited to 6 students. Omitted 2019-20. Professor Odo.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: 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. Omitted 2019-20. Professor Stavans.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018