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Amherst College Special Seminar for 2017-18

Bruss Seminar

310 Female Gothic

Conceiving of the gothic as a kind of counter-narrative to Enlightenment and humanistic values, this course will explore the portrayal of women as embodied, liminal, irrational, and supernatural forces in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century novels in England and the U.S.  What kind of social forces helped bring about the emergence of narratives of excess and transgression?  How do these works conceive of female sexuality and sexual violence?  How do they think through and express the relation between reason and unreason, agency and irresponsibility?  We will also explore the rebirth of the gothic in the late twentieth- and early twenty-first centuries in the U.S., and ask what cultural forces brought it about.  Possible texts:  Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish; Charlotte Brontë, Villette; Bram Stoker, Dracula; Henry James, The Turn of the Screw; Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Twilight.

Limited to 20 students.  Omitted 2016-17.  Professor Frank.

2017-18: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015


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.  Spring semester.  Professors Poe and Jones.

2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018

220 Good Speech:  Philosophy and Rhetoric in Theory and Practice

In Plato’s Gorgias, Socrates argues with three sophists who practice and teach the art of rhetoric.  To Socrates’ mind, rhetoric is a dangerous tool that is indifferent to the truth of what is said.  Philosophy, in contrast, aims at genuine knowledge. In this class, we will examine and participate in the ancient battle between philosophy and rhetoric.  What makes for a good speech?  Are the logical tools of philosophy necessarily at odds with the rhetorical tools that effective speakers use to move their audience to conviction and action?  What constitutes a good argument?  How do effective speakers move their audience through the use of their voice, body, and character?  We will consult Aristotle’s Rhetoric in order to gain some theoretical insight into the constituents of effective speech.  We will also gain some first-hand insight into the nature of good speaking by trying out, and assessing, various techniques and strategies that have been used in famous speeches throughout history.  Throughout the semester, students will write and perform three speeches, and provide their classmates with effective and constructive feedback.

Limited to 15 students.  Spring semester.  Professor Gentzler and Associate in Public Speaking Daniels. 

2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
Other years: Offered in Spring 2017, Spring 2019

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. Part of the Global Classroom Project. The Global Classroom Project uses videoconferencing technology to connect Amherst classes with courses/students outside the United States.

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


2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, 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 2017-18.  Professor Gilpin.

2017-18: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017

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.  It is open to sophomores and juniors interested in research.

 Limited to six students. Omitted 2017-18.  Lecturer Bergoffen.

2017-18: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2017

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 2017-18. Professor Grobe.

2017-18: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2016

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

“Natives in Transit” takes Los Angeles and New York as case studies for researching the histories of Native American migration and entertainment during the twentieth century. This course offers students a chance to learn about how Native people have been critical to the creation of cinema in the United States (beyond the ways that “Indianness” has been represented in film) to include the kinds of social lives Native people experienced as actors, writers, and directors. This intimate research tutorial involves non-traditional archives and sources as well as interdisciplinary approaches based on methodologies from Native American Studies and American Studies. In addition, students will practice ethnographic methods of inquiry through exposure to oral history. In many cases there are no “official” archives left by Native entertainers so much of what students will learn is how to conduct research based on tracing sets of clues from a diverse array of sources, like articles from Variety or the papers of social reform institutions, such as the L.A. Indian Center. Finally, students will have the opportunity to conduct research over the summer which includes a trip to New York City to visit the archives of the American Indian Community House—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 using visualization tools from digital humanities, like Gephi, as students collaborate on a final project that showcases what they have learned about the many Native entertainment and activist networks in both L.A. and NYC. As much as this research tutorial will help students learn more about the topic of Native people in entertainment, it will also, necessarily, have them consider the impact of forced relocation for the pan-tribal communities that emerged in urban centers after WWII and the different archives, people, and institutions that emerged because of federal relocation. Finally, students will rely on key texts from the Kim-Wait/Pablo Eisenberg Native American Literature Collection to develop researchable questions and practice their close reading skills. This course is part of a model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty.

Open to juniors and sophomores interested in research. Limited to 6 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Vigil.

2017-18: Not offered
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, 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. Spring semester. Professor Wolfson.

2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018

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.  Omitted 2017-18.  Professor Moss.

2017-18: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2016

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 sophomores and juniors interested in developing a senior thesis project.

Limited to six sophomores and juniors. Omitted 2017-18.  Professor Moss and Dr. Anderson.

2017-18: 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. Omitted 2017-18.  Professor Corrales.

2017-18: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Spring 2015, Spring 2016

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. Spring semester. Professor Corrales.

2017-18: 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 2017-18. Professor C. Dole.

2017-18: 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 2017-18. Professor Schmalzbauer.

2017-18: 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. Spring semester. Professor Stavans.


2017-18: 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 2017-18. Professor Boucher.

2017-18: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2017

411 Trump Point/Counterpoint

This course looks at the Trump Administration from a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives—political science, race and ethnicity, gun rights, culture and the media, religious affiliation, global and local labor trends, gender and reproductive rights, internationalism and foreign relations, linguistics and the arts--offering a forum whereby to ponder, in civil fashion, the clashing liberal and conservative viewpoints that define the United States and the world today. The framework will rotate around the legacy of the Enlightenment as well as theories of individualism, free enterprise, First Amendment rights, American exceptionalism, and neoliberalism, among others. In conjunction with the course, a series of prominent national speakers of both sides of the ideological divide will be brought to campus to share their views in lectures and colloquia to enrolled students and the larger College community. 

Open to juniors and seniors or with permission of the instructor. Limited to 30 students.  Fall semester. Professor Stavans.

2017-18: Offered in Fall 2017