Arts In Context Electives

The following courses count towards the Arts in Context specialization. For more information, refer to the Major Requirements.

AMST 102(S)Artists Respond to Dangerous Times

This introductory studio art course focuses on how contemporary time-based artists engage their historical moment. We will look at ways in which language, performance, and the moving image can be used to reckon with the forces that historical events and conditions press upon us as citizens, art makers, and living beings, and think about art-making as a dialogical social force that has the potential to press back. Students will develop their own video, performance, or written work in this vein. The course will give special consideration to particular forms of artist-made film and video: the essay film, activist/grassroots/social media, and performance-based and narrative media that reflect on historical events and the ongoing present. We will look at a variety of work, including: Fiona Banner, Catherine Bigelow, Wafaa Bilal, Nao Bustamante, Paul Chan, Adam Curtis, Jean-Luc Godard, Danny Glover, Dara Greenwald, Sharon Hayes, Spike Lee, Zoe Leonard, Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, Anna Deveare Smith, Lisa Steele, Agnes Varda, The Yes Men, Haskell Wexler, and collectives including ACT UP, Pink Bloque, TVTV, and Occupy Wall Street. Readings will include work by Margaret Atwood, Jerome Bruner, Judith Butler, Gregg Bordowitz, Joan Didion, George Lipsitz, Chantal Mouffe, Paul Virilio, David Foster Wallace, among others. [ more ]

AMST 105(F)American Girlhoods

The image of the girl has captivated North American writers, commentators, artists, and creators of popular culture for at least the last two centuries. What metaphors, styles of writing, ideas of "manners and morals" does literature about girls explore? What larger cultural and aesthetic concerns are girls made to represent? And how is girlhood articulated alongside and/or intertwined with other identities and identifications, such as race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality? These are some of the issues we will explore in this course. We will read works by such authors as Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Jacobs, Henry James, Sui Sin Far, Toni Morrison, Sandra Cisneros and Alison Bechdel, as well as discuss such popular phenomena as Barbie and the American Girl Doll Company, Girl Scouts, and Riot Grrrrls. This course meets the requirements of the Exploring Diversity Initiative in that it focuses on empathetic understanding, power and privilege, especially in relation to class, gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity within a U.S. context. [ more ]

AMST 120(F)Science Fiction of the African Diaspora

Publishers, authors, academics, and critics often assume that science fiction and fantasy readers are all or mostly white, an assumption driven, perhaps, by the scarcity of black writers inside the genre--the science-fiction creative-writing classes I teach at Williams, for example, are depressingly undiverse. And for a long time, among professional science-fiction writers, Samuel R. Delany and Octavia Butler represented pretty much the entire deal. The last fifteen years, however, have witnessed the emergence of a number of black science fiction and fantasy authors from the Americas and Africa. In this course we will read a sample of this fiction, paying particular attention to these questions: In what new ways (if any) do these authors use or imply themes of social hierarchy or race? In what ways (if any) do the standard science-fiction devices of imagined futures, interplanetary colonization, or contact with alien life allow black writers a new metaphorical vocabulary to talk about their own experience? In what ways (if any) are they constrained by readers' expectations, while white writers are not? This is a discussion-based class. Assignments will include original creative writing, imitative or parodic writing, and of course that old stand-by, interpretive essays on assigned texts. We will be reading well-thumbed classics by Charles Chesnutt, Paulina Hopkins, Amos Tutuola, W.E.B. DuBois, George Schuyler, Delany, and Butler, but also newer works by Pam Noles, Nalo Hopkinson, NK Jemisin, Tananarive Due, Steven Barnes, Nisi Shawl, Sofia Somatar, Kuni Ibura Salaam, and Nnedi Okorafor, among others. This course fulfills the EDI requirement, as it engages questions of power and privilege, and the coded representation of racial or ethnic otherness. Any story that involves the clash of sentient species, for example, or a nostalgic or disruptive reinterpretation of the social hierarchies of the past, partakes implicitly of this coded language. [ more ]

AMST 128(S)Reading Asian American Literature

Though the category and term "Asian American" came about as a result of political struggle in the 1960s, what we now call Asian American writing in English began in the nineteenth century and has played a significant role in every American literary "movement" from Modernism, realism, protest literature to various avant-gardes, the graphic novel, and digital poetries. This writing-intensive course closely reads a sampling of texts in a variety of genres and styles-produced by writers from various Asian American ethnic groups-from the late nineteenth century to the present and contextualizes them historically, both domestically and globally. We will examine the material, cultural, political, and psychic intersections of larger structural forces with individual writers and texts. Along the way, we will interrogate the notion of "Asian American"--its contradictions, heterogeneous nature, and our assumptions--and its relation to the idea of "American." Some questions we will ask: "Why have Asian Americans and Asian American writers and writing so often been viewed as 'foreign' or 'alien' to the American body politic and the English-language literary tradition?" "How might Asian American writing be linked to other English-language texts in the Asian diaspora?" [ more ]

AMST 149(F)First-Hand America

Gonzo journalism, the nonfiction novel, literary journalism, the "new new journalism": the study of American culture has thrived in the able hands of writers, reformers and amateur anthropologists. This course is an introduction to American writing and culture through the eyes of extraordinary witnesses who work as public intellectuals, addressing a readership that reaches beyond the university. Through essays, films and music we will track the documentary impulse from coast to coast: from Ferguson, Baltimore, Miami, Watts, Denver, Harlem, Chicago, Compton and Sing-Sing prison to the wilds of Alaska and rural Georgia; from mass demonstrations to the most intimate, bedside revelations. How have writers and artists given their audiences tools for understanding power, privilege, and difference in America? This course contributes to the College's Exploring Diversity Initiative by reading the work of witnesses in their literary, social, political, cultural, and historical contexts in order to understand the sources of their beliefs and actions and the effects of their words. Artists include: Jane Addams, James Baldwin, Charles Burnett, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ted Conover, Angela Davis, Joan Didion, Zora Neale Hurston, Kendrick Lamar, Audre Lourde, John McPhee and Jack Kerouac. [ more ]

AMST 156Thirteen Ways of Looking at Jazz

Not offered this year

Taking its title from the Wallace Stevens poem, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," which interprets the blackbird in different ways, this course similarly explores a more complex, multi-layered perspective on jazz, from jazz and American democracy to jazz in visual art. Accordingly, the course introduces students to several genres, including historical documents, cultural criticism, music, literature, film, photography and art. The course does not draw on a musicological method but rather a socio-cultural analysis of the concept, music and its effect--so students are not required to have any prior musical knowledge or ability. In this writing intensive course, students will write and revise short close analyses of multiple types of media, ultimately honing their writing skills on one form of media for a polished, original analysis that weds their increased critical thinking skills. This EDI course explores the musical expressions of the culturally diverse peoples of African descent in the New World, as well as the myriad ways in which representations of jazz signify on institutional power, reaffirm dominant U.S. and/or European hierarchies of race, gender and class, and signal inequality in order to contest it. [ more ]

AMST 166(S)Politics and Prose: Invisible Man in Historical Context

"I am an invisible man." So begins Ralph Ellison's treatise on black life in the U.S. in the middle of the 20th century. Ellison's book Invisible Man appeared in 1952, won the National Book Award, and secured a prominent place in the canons of both American and African American arts and letters. Often studied for its literary crafting and for the ways it echoes the work of classic American writers, Invisible Man iterates the black past as it affects its protagonist. This course brings readings in black sociology, anthropology, law, literature, political science, education, folk-life, and music to bear on its examination of the novel and its historical themes, including debates among black ideologues and leaders; links between culture and protest; processes of black migration, urbanization, and community development. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 1681968-1969: Two Years in America

Not offered this year

These two years were tumultuous ones worldwide. The escalation of the war in Vietnam, the Soviet invasion of Prague, the student uprisings in Paris and Japan, and the racial politics in the Summer Olympics held in Mexico City all had their counterparts that reverberated in the streets, college campuses, the halls of Congress, movie theaters, and concert halls and rock festivals in the United States. This first-year seminar will examine some of the major events of this time period in America: the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Democratic Convention in Chicago, as well as cultural trends such as the development of the anti-war movement, the push for curricular reforms on college campuses, and the rise of the "counter culture." [ more ]

AMST 205Chicana/o Film and Video

Not offered this year

Hollywood cinema has long been fascinated with the border between the United States and Mexico. This course will examine representations of the U.S.-Mexico border, Mexican Americans, and Chicana/os in both Hollywood film and independent media. We will consider how positions on nationalism, race, gender, identity, migration, and history are represented and negotiated through film. We will begin by analyzing Hollywood "border" and gang films before approaching Chicana/o-produced features, independent narratives, and experimental work. This course will explore issues of film and ideology, genre and representation, nationalist resistance and feminist critiques, queer theory and the performative aspects of identity.Through a focus on Chicana/o representation, the course explores a wide spectrum of film history (from the silent era to the present) and considers numerous genres. By introducing various interdisciplinary approaches and theoretical methods related to race, representation, and the media, the course fulfills the Exploring Diversity Initiative's themes of critical theorization and power and privilege. [ more ]

AMST 207Introduction to Latina/o Literatures

Not offered this year

This discussion course serves as an introduction; the reading list is not meant to be exhaustive or comprehensive, but will rather provide a sampling or range of texts for students to engage. We will explore a number of readings across different genres (the novel, play, poem, short story, graphic novel). Students will endeavor to understand how each author defines Latinidad. What characterizes Latina/os for each of these writers and how do their works articulate the historical conditions out of which they emerge? How is Latina/o literature marked by notions of language, nationality, gender, sexuality, class, race, politics, form, and genre? The readings will provide both a survey of general ideas in the study of Latina/o literatures as well as specific case studies and historical examples from which we will extrapolate about the larger field. Readings include works by Tomas Rivera, Cristina Garcia, Cristy C. Road, Oscar Zeta Acosta, Junot Diaz, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, and more. This course fulfills the Exploring Diversity Initiative requirements as it offers students a comparative study of cultures and societies by examining the U.S. racial project of constructing a Latina/o people out of various peoples. Additional attention is given, under the rubric of power and privilege, to the specific economic and political institutions that structure Latina/o cultural production. [ more ]

AMST 208 TTime and Blackness

Not offered this year

The concept of time is one of the most examined, yet least theorized, concepts in Africana Studies. While the field is saturated with historical studies and literary analyses that take up issues of cultural memory, both of which involve thinking about time, time itself is rarely the subject of sustained inquiry. This may be due to its abstractness as an idea and the level of analysis its conceptualization demands, or because time in the African American experience cannot be understood outside of the meaning of race, which itself is far from tangible. In this tutorial, "Time and Blackness," we will explore how African American writers across a number of genres understand time. We will read select texts of fiction as well as spiritual autobiographies, historical narratives, and sociological studies to understand how writers draw from--and create--paradigms of time to organize their work. The following questions will structure our investigation: What are the constituent elements of time in African American writing? How does race shape the ways a writer conceives of the experience of time? In examining writings across genres, is there something that we can call an identifiable African-American "timescape"? [ more ]

AMST 215Experimental Asian American Writing

Not offered this year

Asian American literature did not begin in the 1980s with Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. Nor has the writing primarily been confined to autobiographical accounts of generational conflict, divided identities, and glimpses of Chinatown families. Asian American literature in English began with poetry in the late nineteenth century, and has encompassed a variety of aesthetic styles across the last century--from Modernism to New York School poetry to protest poetry to digital poetics. This course will explore Asian American writings that have pushed formal (and political) boundaries in the past 100+ years, with a particular focus on avant-garde writers working today. We will look at such authors as Jose Garcia Villa, Chuang Hua, Wong May, Theresa H., Cha, John Yau, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Tan Lin, Prageeta Sharma, Bhanu Kapil, and Tao Lin. [ more ]

AMST 220(S)Introduction to African American Literature

What does it mean, socially, culturally, historically, personally, and spiritually, to be African American? No single, simple answer suffices, but African American literature as a genre is defined by its ongoing engagement with this complex question. This course will examine a series of texts that in various ways epitomize the fraught literary grappling with the entailments of American blackness. Readings will include texts by Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Amiri Baraka, Toni Morrison, and Ishmael Reed. [ more ]

AMST 227Utopias and Americas

Not offered this year

Where does the term "new world" come from? What do we mean by "utopia," "utopian," and "utopianism?" What relationships exist between the people who imagine utopias and the lands they inhabit? This course considers the relationship between utopian imaginations and the imaginations of the lands and peoples in the Western hemisphere. We will spend some time studying utopian theory, ancient proto-utopias, and utopias in Latin America, though our main focus will be on particular examples of utopianism in the U.S.A. We will attend to particular instances of utopian social dreaming that re-imagine time, space, environment, gender, family, education, and power. While the U.S.A. is the main focus of the class, students are encouraged to pursue and bring to class utopian perspectives from other parts of the Americas. Students are also strongly encouraged to take questions from class and engage utopian images not listed on this syllabus but pertinent to our classroom learning. [ more ]

AMST 229(S)Reel Jesus: Reading the Christian Bible and Film in the U.S.A.

In this course we examine some of the ways that Christian biblical narratives have appeared in late twentieth-century and early twenty-first century Hollywood movies, looking in particular at films such as The Matrix (1999),The Passion of the Christ(2004),Jesus Christ Superstar(1973),The Shawshank Redemption(1994),The Omen (1976),Children of Men (2006), and The Book of Eli (2010). What are the overt and subtle ways that these films seek to interpret and employ biblical texts? Why do they draw upon the texts they do and read them as they read them? What can cinematic interpretations of biblical texts reveal to us about how these texts are used in broader U.S. culture, especially to crystallize and reflect certain political, economic, ethnic, racial, sexual, and social parameters of U.S. cultures? How does an awareness of this scriptural dimension in a work of "popular culture" affect our interpretation of both the film and the scriptural text's meanings? How do varying interpretations of biblical texts help us to understand cinematic meaning? By assuming that we can read both biblical texts and films in multiple and contradictory ways, this class can use film as the occasion for interpreting, analyzing, and debating the meanings, cultural functions, and affective responses generated by biblical narratives in film. Finally, this course asks us to analyze the implications of ways in which we read texts and films. For this interdisciplinary course we will read selected biblical and extra-canonical texts, including selections from canonical and non-canonical gospels, the letters of Paul, and the book of Revelation, but our focus will be on the way that movies (and the people who make them and watch them) make meaning out of these biblical texts. [ more ]

AMST 231(S)Approaches to Media Studies: Analyzing Mediated Difference

Media's influence in 21st century life is pervasive, and encompasses visual, sonic, and discursive formats.This course introduces students to a variety of qualitative approaches to the study of contemporary media. Simultaneously, we will explore questions of ethno-racial identity, gender, and sexuality. Structured around a series of hand-on exercises designed to provide experience in the areas of textual analysis, in-depth interviews, virtual ethnography and participant observation, this class will provide students with interdisciplinary training that enhances their understanding of everyday media and its interaction with multiple categories of identity. This course is a comparative Ethnic Media Studies class that encourages students to employ media as a lens for theorizing the intersections between ethno-racial identity, gender, and sexuality. We review materials focusing on a wide range of minoritarian communities. According to the EDI framework, this class engages in the comparative study of cultures and societies, examines questions of power and privilege, and aims to sharpen students' critical theorization of difference in the media. [ more ]

AMST 240(F)Latina/o Language Politics: Hybrid Voices

In this course we will focus on issues of language and identity in the contemporary cultural production and lived experience of various Latina/o communities. As such, how are cultural values and material conditions expressed through Latina/o language and literature? How does Latina/o identity challenge traditional notions of the relationship between language, culture, and nation? In what ways might Latina/o literary and linguistic practices serve as tools for social change? Departing from an overview of common linguistic phenomena such as code-switching (popularly known as "Spanglish") and Latina/o English, we will examine bilingual education, recent linguistic legislation, and the English Only movement. Throughout the course we will survey texts culled from a variety of literary genres as well, including theatre, autobiography, novels, and poetry. Both directly and/or indirectly, these texts address Latina/o language politics, as well as the broader themes of power, community, ethno-racial identity, gender, sexuality, class, and hybridity. [ more ]

AMST 242(S)Americans Abroad

This course will explore some of the many incarnations of American experiences abroad between the end of the 19th century and the present day. Materials will be drawn from novels, short stories, films, and nonfiction about Americans in Europe in times of war and peace. We will compare and contrast the experiences of novelists, soldiers, students, war correspondents, jazz musicians, and adventurers. What has drawn so many Americans to Europe? What is the difference between a tourist, an expat, and an emigre? What are the profound, and often comic, gaps between the traveler's expectations and the reality of living in, say, Paris or a rural village in Spain? What are the misadventures and unexpected rewards of living, working, writing, or even falling in love in translation? Authors may include: Henry James, Langston Hughes, Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway, Elaine Dundy, Richard Wright, and Ben Lerner. Additional reading will be drawn from historical and critical works. All readings will be in English. This comparative course fulfills the EDI requirement because it is designed to highlight the challenges and benefits of cultural immersion abroad. It will focus on the linguistic, emotional, intellectual, and social adaptation skills that are required to understand others, and oneself, in new contexts. [ more ]

AMST 257Beyond Tonto: American Indians in Film

Not offered this year

In 1893, Thomas Edison unveiled the kinetoscope and allowed audience members to glimpse the Hopi Snake Dance by peeking into the device's viewing window. Since the birth of the motion picture, films portraying Native Americans (often with non-Native actors in redface) have drawn upon earlier frontier mythology, art, literature, and Wild West performances. These depictions in film have embedded romanticized and stereotyped ideas about American Indians in the imaginations of audiences throughout the United States and around the world. In this course, we will critically examine representations of American Indians in film, ranging from the origins of the motion picture industry to the works of contemporary Native filmmakers who challenge earlier paradigms. We will reflect upon revisionist narratives, the use of film as a form of activism, Indigenous aesthetics and storytelling techniques, reflexivity, and parody. Throughout the semester, we will view and discuss ethnographic, documentary, and narrative films. This course will satisfy the Exploring Diversity Initiative (EDI) requirement as we will examine power relations, cross-cultural interaction, and Indigenous social experiences. [ more ]

AMST 264(F)American Art and Architecture, 1600 to Present

American art is often looked at as a provincial version of the real thing--i.e., European art--and found wanting. This course examines American architecture, painting, and sculpture on its own terms, in the light of the social, ideological and economic forces that shaped it. Special attention will be paid to such themes as the Puritan legacy and attitudes toward art; the making of art in a commercial society; and the tension between the ideal and the real in American works of art. [ more ]

AMST 265Pop Art

Not offered this year

The use of commercial and mass media imagery in art became recognized as an international phenomenon in the early 1960s. Items such as comic strips, advertising, movie stills, television programs, soup cans, "superstars" and a variety of other accessible and commonplace objects inspired the subject matter, form and technique. This course will critically examine the history and legacy of Pop Art by focusing on its social and aesthetic contexts. An important component of the course involves developing skills in analyzing visual images, comparing them with other forms, and relating them to their historical context. [ more ]

AMST 266(F)Topics in American Literature: Freedom and Captivity

Letters from prison are as central to American literature as are dreams of freedom. This course explores the persistent concern in American literature and culture with forms of freedom and captivity. How have writers witnessed and imagined the experience of dispossession, displacement, internment, diaspora, and emancipation? The course will be weighted toward the 19th century, but will make constant reference to contemporary works as we explore the American carceral imagination in the shift from a slavery democracy to a penal democracy. This course contributes to the College's Exploring Diversity Initiative by focusing on how cultures and peoples within American society have interacted and responded to one another in the past. In addition to works by Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Lydia Maria Child, Zitcala-Sa, Charles Johnson and Julie Otsuka, we will view contemporary films that represent slavery and emancipation (Twelve Years a Slave, Daughters in the Dust, and the 2016 Birth of a Nation), as well as contemporary visual art in the collection of the Williams College Museum of Art. [ more ]

AMST 272(S)American Postmodern Fiction

American fiction took a turn at World War II: from modernism to postmodernism. The most obvious mark of postmodern narration is its self-consciousness. Already a paradox emerges: why would World War II make narratives self-reflexive? The best text for this paradox is Heller's Catch-22. Subsequent books: Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, Morrison's Beloved, DeLillo's White Noise, Johnson's Jesus's Son, Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. [ more ]

AMST 275 TAmerican Drama: Hidden Knowledge

Not offered this year

The Buddha is said to have identified three things that cannot stay hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. What's the secret? Who is lying? Who is breaking the rules? American drama abounds with hidden knowledge and false representations. (This is not surprising: theatre is always on some level a deceptive practice, a place where one person pretends to be another, and where what is spoken is always open to skeptical scrutiny. We might say theatre is always lying as much as lying is always theatre.) This tutorial course will examine what lies hidden in American plays from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first. Beginning with excerpted critical and historical writings on secrecy and lying (The Adventures of Pinocchio, Machievelli's The Prince, Thomas Carlson's Lying and Deception: Theory and Practice, among others), we will proceed to a set of American plays from across a wide spectrum of playwrights, including Edward Albee, Suzan-Lori Parks, Sarah Ruhl, Sam Shepard, Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller, David Mamet, Amy Herzog, and others. Student papers will explore how hidden knowledge structures dramatic action, how different characters create and respond to untruths, and what can we learn in particular from American drama about a national relationship to honesty and its opposites. [ more ]

AMST 300Lessons of 'The Game': The Wire and American Culture

Not offered this year

The critically acclaimed television program, The Wire, ran for five seasons on Home Box Office (HBO) between 2002 and 2008. Set in "inner city" Baltimore, the program addressed a wide array of topics, including, but not limited to, the urban drug trade, law enforcement, local city politics, labor unions, education, and the newspaper industry. Though a work of "fiction," sociologist William Julius Wilson has called the show an important and instructive portrayal of the "deep inequality in inner-city America." By contrast, some scholars and critics have decried the series and indeed, courses like this one, as examples of mainstream America's fascination with and acceptance of African American drug use, criminal tendencies, and corruption. In this course, we will not deconstruct The Wire per se, but use select episodes from the series to explore key issues in Africana Studies, ranging from political geography to a history of Baltimore and the "War on Drugs." Students should have some familiarity with the show. Africana Studies will show select episodes during Winter Study. Readings will include texts about African American urban life, such as Elijah Anderson's Code of the Street and Sudhir Venkatesh's Gang Leader for a Day. Due to its attention to crime, drug addiction, violence, and urban decay, this course is a part of the Gaudino Danger Initiative. [ more ]

AMST 304Asian American Writing and the Visual Arts

Not offered this year

This course examines the intersection of Asian American writing and the visual arts in a range of works: graphic novels, art criticism, collaborative projects between poets and visual artists, works that combine textual and visual elements, ekphrastic poetry, poetry "inspired by" paintings, video work, digital poetry, among others. Writers and artists to be discussed include Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Theresa Cha, Patty Chang, Mel Chin, Bhanu Kapil, Janice Lee, Tan Lin, Yoko Ono, Adrian Tomine, and John Yau. [ more ]

AMST 307Experimental African American Poetry

Not offered this year

Contemporary African American poets in various cities and towns across the nation--from New York City to Los Angeles, from Berkeley to Durham, N.C.--are currently producing a vibrant and thriving body of formally experimental work, yet this poetry is largely unknown to readers both within and outside the academy. This formally innovative poetry defamiliarizes what we normally expect of "black writing" and pushes us to question our assumptions and presumptions about black identity, "identity politics," the avant-garde (for example, is it implicitly raced?), formalism, socially "relevant" writing, the (false) dichotomy of form versus content, the black "community," digital poetics, and other issues of race and aesthetics. We will examine the writings of living poets, who range widely in age, and those of their avant-garde predecessors in the twentieth century. We will also be making links between this poetry and African American music and visual art. [ more ]

AMST 314(F)Groovin' the Written Word: The Role of Music in African American Literature

In an interview with Paul Gilroy, Toni Morrison once said, "Music provides a key to the whole medley of Afro-American artistic practices." Morrison is not the only one who believes that music speaks to numerous aspects of the African American experience. From Sterling Brown and Zora Neale Hurston to John Edgar Wideman and Suzan Lori-Parks, many African American authors have drawn on music to take political stands, shape creative aesthetics, and articulate black identity. In this course, students will explore the work of these authors and more, investigating music's ability to represent and critique African American culture in their literature. Texts will cover a range of literary forms including poetry, plays, short stories and novels alongside theoretical and critical essays. Students will discuss such key issues as assimilation into mainstream culture, authenticity claims on black music, and music used as a tool for protest. Additionally, class assignments will include musical examples in spirituals/gospel, blues, jazz, and rock/rhythm and blues. While this class requires students to practice in-depth literary and performance analysis skills, students are not required to have technical musical knowledge. [ more ]

AMST 315Blackness 2.0: Race, Film and New Technologies

Not offered this year

Media theorists have raised three key questions regarding representations of race (or the lack thereof) within contemporary media forms: (1) Is race a liability in the 21st century where utopian forecasts suggest a race-free or `post-race' future" (2) Is there more to new media and race than assumptions about a 'digital divide'? (3) Are race distinctions truly eliminated with digital technologies? In this course we will respond to these questions by investigating the nuanced ways that race becomes constructed in popular media forms. Although we will largely focus on representations of blackness in modern film, we will also explore the implications of `new' medias and technologies upon the categories of race, gender, and sexuality. We will, for example, consider how avatar-based social and entertainment medias become viable forums for conceptualizing race, and whether or not these formats are somehow `better' spaces in which racialized `bodies' can exist. Additional discussion topics may include: how racial discourses in the `real world' are (or are not) reshaped and redefined in the virtual world; blogosphere politics; social networking; gaming and the virtual world; activism on the web; and fandom in the twitter era. [ more ]

AMST 316Sacred Cinema: Black Religion and the Movies

Not offered this year

Although they represent different genres, what popular films Madea's Family Reunion (2006), First Sunday (2008), The Princess and the Frog (2009) have in common is that they each offer complex and at times contradictory images of black religious expression in North America. These films, which present varied perspectives of African American experience, implicitly and explicitly engage themes inherent to the study of religion, such as the role of faith in decision-making processes and the use of religious tradition as a means of reinforcing or contesting socio-cultural norms. This course is as much about the use of film to study black religious expression as it is about the use of paradigms of religious thought to study the intersections of gender, race, and religion in film. We will study films of different genres to facilitate discussion about the various dimensions of black religious expression. Conversely, we will use images, metaphors, and teachings found in Religious Studies to discuss what appears on screen. Through interdisciplinary, critical approaches in Film Studies and Popular Culture Studies, this course will examine how black religious expression pervades modern cinema, and will offer constructive strategies for engaging in dialogue with this phenomenon. [ more ]

AMST 317Black Migrations: African American Performance at Home and Abroad

Not offered this year

In this course, students will investigate, critique and define the concepts migration and diaspora with primary attention to the experiences of African Americans in the United States and Europe. Drawing on a broad definition of performance, students will explore everything from writing and painting to sports and dance to inquire how performance reflects, critiques and negotiates migratory experiences in the African diaspora. For example, how did musician Sidney Bechet's migration from New Orleans to Chicago to London influence the early jazz era? How did Katherine Dunham's dance performances in Germany help her shape a new black dance aesthetic? Why did writer James Baldwin go all the way to Switzerland to write his first novel on black, religious culture in Harlem? What drew actor/singer Paul Robeson to Russia, and why did the U.S. revoke his passport in response to his speeches abroad? These questions will lead students to investigate multiple migrations in the African diasporic experience and aid our exploration of the reasons for migration throughout history and geography. In addition to critical discussions and written analysis, students will explore these topics through their own individual and group performances in class. No prior performance experience is necessary. [ more ]

AMST 323(F)Comic Lives: Graphic Novels & Dangerous Histories of the African Diaspora

This course explores how the graphic novel has been an effective, provocative and at times controversial medium for representing racialized histories. Drawing on graphic novels such as Jeremy Love's Bayou and Ho Che Anderson's King: A Comic Biography, this course illustrates and critiques multiple ways the graphic novel commingles word and image to create more sensorial access into ethnic traumas, challenges and interventions in critical moments of resistance throughout history. Students will practice analyzing graphic novels and comic strips, with the help of critical essays, reviews and film; the chosen texts will center on Africana cultures, prompting students to consider how the graphic novel may act as a useful alternate history for marginalized peoples. During the course, students will keep a journal with images, themes and reflections and will use Comic Life software and ipads to create their own graphic short stories based on historical and/or autobiographical narratives. [ more ]

AMST 331New Orleans as Muse: Literature, Music, Art, Film and Theatre in the City

Not offered this year

This course will look at the representation of a city and how it has influenced artists. Students will read, listen to, and view a selection of the literature, music, film and art that represent the city from both pre-flooding and current re-building. Reading selections will include examples such as Harper's Weekly (Lafrcadio Hearn), The Awakening (Kate Chopin), A Streetcar Named Desire (Tennessee Williams), The Moviegoer (Walker Percy), Why New Orleans Matters (Tom Piazza), A Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy O'Toole), New Orleans Sketches (William Faulkner), One Dead in the Attic (Chris Rose). Film examples such as A Streetcar Named Desire, An Interview with a Vampire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Briton, When the Levees Broke, Treme, Waiting for Godot (in the 9th Ward). Music selections from examples such as Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, The Meters, Kermit Ruffins and the Rebirth Brass Band. Art selections will come from a variety of sources such as THE OGDEN Museum of Southern Art and Prospect 1, 2, & 3. [ more ]

AMST 333An American Family and "Reality" Television

Not offered this year

An American Family was a popular documentary series that featured the Loud family from Santa Barbara, California, whose everyday lives were broadcast on national television. The series generated an enormous amount of media attention, commentary, and controversy when it premiered on PBS in 1973. Today, it is regarded as the origin of so-called "Reality TV." In addition to challenging standard rules for television programming, the show challenged social conventions and asked viewers to think seriously about family relations, sexuality, domesticity, and the "American dream." Documenting the family's life over the course of eight months, the series chronicled the dissolution of the Louds' marriage and broadcast the "coming out" of eldest son Lance Loud, the first star of reality television. In this class, we will view the An American Family series in its entirety, research the program's historical reception, and analyze its influence on broadcast and film media, particularly on "reality" television. A final 16- to 20-page research paper will be prepared in stages, including a 6- to 8-page midterm essay that will be revised and expanded over the course of the semester. [ more ]

AMST 335(F, S)Uncovering Williams

Sparked by current controversies around visual representations at Williams, this course--a joint effort of the Williams College Museum of Art and the American Studies Program--interrogates the history of the college and its relationship to land, people, architecture, and artifacts. Students in this course will examine the visual and material culture of Williams and the land it occupies to uncover how the long and complex history of the college reverberates in the spaces and places students, faculty, and staff traverse daily. We take seriously that objects and environments are not neutral nor are the atmospheres that they reflect and produce. Our interdisciplinary approach draws from the methods and theories of American studies, art history, material culture studies, critical race theory, gender studies, and eco-criticism. Topics of discussion may include: the foundation of the college and displacement of native populations; buildings, objects, and monuments linked to Williams' evangelical history and the role of missionaries in American imperialism; the symbolic meaning of the varied architectural styles at the college; and the visibility/invisibility of the college's relationship to slavery and Abolitionism. [ more ]

Taught by: Kevin Murphy, Dorothy Wang

Catalog details

AMST 336 TTwo American Poets: Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery

Not offered this year

This tutorial focuses on the work of two major American poets who are known for their "difficult" poetry. In some respects, Stevens (1879-1955) and Ashbery (b. 1927) book-end twentieth-century poetry: Stevens is a major Modernist poet, perhaps the most philosophically oriented American poet of the twentieth century, and Ashbery is considered by most critics to be the most important American poet alive. Students will do close readings of their poems (and one play, "Three Travelers Watch a Sunrise", by Stevens), as well as read their writing on poetry and art. We will discuss the overlaps between Stevens' and Ashbery's work and lives--their having grown up in the Northeast and attended Harvard, what some see as the abstractness of their writing, their mastery of tone, among others--but also the differences: Ashbery's sexuality, his having lived in France, the supposedly more "avant-garde" nature of Ashbery's work, and so on. Along the way, we will ask questions about the nature of poetic difficulty, of abstraction, of the (lyric) poetic speaker in their works, of poetic tone, of the link between the poem and the world (e.g., in description), of the thinking and philosophizing that poems do. We will also ask about their links to major poetry "movements" (Modernism, the New York School) and pose questions that are rarely asked about their poetry, such as "What are the politics, implicit and explicit, in their poems?" "What are their views about the United States and American society and culture?" "What assumptions about race, gender and class are embedded in their poetry?" And, always, we will be paying close attention to the question of form and language in Stevens' and Ashbery's poetry. [ more ]

AMST 339Latina/o Musical Cultures: Sounding out Gender, Race, and Sexuality

Not offered this year

In this class we will investigate a wide variety of Latina/o popular musical and dance forms, with particular emphasis on questions of gender, sexuality, and ethno-racial identity. Employing interdisciplinary materials and approaches, this course focuses on the sonic and visual analysis of contemporary Latina/o popular music and the identities of its producers, performers, and audiences. We will focus on the following questions, among others: How are the various facets of Latina/o identities expressed through popular music and dance? In what ways do gender, sexuality, and ethno-racial identity inform the performance and interpretation of particular Latina/o musical forms? What unique role does sound play in our understanding of popular music and identity? [ more ]

AMST 341(S)American Genders, American Sexualites

This course investigates how sexual identities, desires, and acts are represented and reproduced in American literary and popular culture. Focusing on two culturally rich periods--roughly 1880-1940 (when the terms "homosexual" and "heterosexual" came to connote discrete sexual identities), and the contemporary context of the "postmodern" 21-century--we will explore what it means to read and theorize "queerly." Among the questions we will ask: What counts as "sex" or "sexual identity" in a text? Are there definably lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or transgender writing styles or cultural practices? What does sexuality have to do with gender? How are sexual subjectivities intertwined with race, ethnicity, class, and other identities and identifications? Why has "queerness" proven to be such a powerful and sometimes powerfully contested concept? We will also explore what impact particular historical events, such as the rise of sexology, the Harlem Renaissance, and the emergence of a transgender movement have had on queer cultural production. Readings may include works by the following authors: Butler, Cather, Diaz, Ferguson, Fitzgerald, Foucault, Freud, Hammonds, Hughes, James, Larsen, Lorde, Mu?oz, Rich, Rodriguez, Sedgwick, and Stein, and as well as screenings of contemporary videos and films. This course meets the requirements of the Exploring Diversity Initiative in that it focuses on empathetic understanding, power and privilege, and critical theorization, especially in relation to class, gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity within a U.S. context. [ more ]

AMST 342 TInterior Lives: Ninteenth-Century American Literature and the Idea of Home

Not offered this year

We often discuss US history in terms of leaving home: the escape from an old world and the discovery of a new one, the journey from a civilized east to a western frontier, the violent displacement of indigenous peoples and Africans from their native lands. In contrast to these narratives, this course is about staying home. It will explore houses as both actual structures and imaginary places in the work of several major nineteenth-century American writers. We will think about the home as a real space whose walls, windows, and doors organized domestic life-- how and when individuals worked, ate, slept, had sex, were enslaved, raised children, cared for the sick, and died--and study the home's functions as a metaphor for big, abstract ideas about privacy and politics, individualism and nationhood, escape and return, freedom and oppression. Through careful examination of fiction and personal narratives, as well as poetry, photographs, and domestic manuals, the class will consider what it meant to be "at home", what it meant to be imprisoned there, and what it meant to run away. The syllabus will include writing by J.H. Banka, Gustave de Beaumont and Alexis de Tocqueville, Emily Dickinson, Frederick Douglass, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Harriet Jacobs, Herman Melville, Florence Nightingale, Edgar Allan Poe, Jacob Riis, Henry David Thoreau, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton, as well as secondary materials by Gaston Bachelard, Russ Castronovo, Michel Foucault, Diana Fuss, Caleb Smith, and Wharton (on decorating). [ more ]

AMST 346Latinas/os and the Media: From Production to Consumption

Not offered this year

This interdisciplinary course focuses on the areas of Latina/o media production, policy, content, and consumption in an attempt to answer the following questions, among others: How do Latinas/os construct identity (and have their identities constructed for them) through the media? How can we best understand the complex relationship between consumer, producer, and media text? How are Latina/o stereotypes constructed and circulated in mass media? Where do issues of Latina/o consumer agency come into play? In what ways does popular media impact our understanding of ethno-racial identities, gender, sexuality, class, language, and nation? [ more ]

AMST 352(S)Grassroots Organizing and Civil Resistance

This course examines the ways that ordinary people exercise collective power to influence elites, access resources, and even topple authoritarian governments. We will explore a variety of case studies--from the U.S. labor movement and urban community organizing, to recent direct action campaigns to prevent climate catastrophe--in order to gain insight into the art and science of grassroots mobilization. The class will make use of scholarship from the fields of history, sociology, and peace studies to probe the nature of political consent and the efficacy of forms of nonviolent action, such as boycotts, strikes, and blockades. Most importantly, however, we will draw from the personal expertise, tool kits, and training manuals of on-the-ground organizers to develop practical skill sets that can be applied in a variety of settings. Students will gain hands-on experience with important organizing techniques, such as power-mapping, 1-on-1 conversations, and action scenario planning. We will also consider the importance of expressive cultures and artistic practices to social change efforts, and delve into abiding challenges, such as building coalitions across race and class differences. The course will prove useful for those considering careers in social work, the labor movement, international NGOs, the law, public education, or political journalism. [ more ]

AMST 403New Asian American, African American, Native American, and Latina/o Writing

Not offered this year

Critics reading minority writing often focus on its thematic--i.e., sociological--content. Such literature is usually presumed to be inseparable from the "identity"/body of the writer and read as autobiographical, ethnographic, representational, exotic. At the other end of the spectrum, avant-garde writing is seen to concern itself "purely" with formal questions, divorced from the socio-historical (and certainly not sullied by the taint of race). In the critical realm we currently inhabit, in which "race" is opposed to the "avant-garde," an experimental minority writer can indeed seem an oxymoron. In this class we will closely read recent work by Asian American, African American, Native American and Latino/a writers which challenges preconceptions about ethnic literature, avant-garde writing, genre categorization, among other things. The writing done by these mostly young, mostly urban, poets and fiction writers is some of the most exciting being written in the United States today; their texts push the boundaries of aesthetic form while simultaneously engaging questions of culture, politics, and history. Reading them forces us to re-think our received notions about literature. Authors to be read include Will Alexander, Sherwin Bitsui, Monica de la Torre, Sesshu Foster, Renee Gladman, Bhanu Kapil, Tan Lin, Tao Lin, Ed Roberson, James Thomas Stevens, Roberto Tejada, and Edwin Torres. [ more ]

AMST 462Art of California: Pacific Standard Time

Not offered this year

In this course, we will study the visual arts and culture of California after 1960 and consider the region's place in modern art history. We will focus on a series of recent exhibitions organized as part of a Getty initiative entitled Pacific Standard Time. Diverse in scope, these shows explored important developments in postwar art in California, including feminist art, African American assemblage, Chicano collectives, Modernist architecture, craft, and queer activism. In this seminar, we will pursue research projects directly related to the art exhibitions we study, and examine southern California conceptualism, photography, performance, painting, sculpture (including assemblage and installation), and video by artists both canonical and lesser known. Student projects will analyze the critical responses to the exhibitions, while also exploring the roles of archives, art criticism, and curatorial practice in contemporary art history. This course fulfills the Exploring Diversity Initiative requirement as it offers students a comparative study of cultures and societies and provides various interdisciplinary perspectives on the art and visual culture of a specific region. [ more ]

AMST 465Race and Abstraction

Not offered this year

Minority artists--writers and visual artists mainly and, to a lesser degree, musicians--face a difficult "double bind" when creating works of art: the expectation is that they, like their racially marked bodies, will exhibit their difference by means of concrete signifiers (details, tropes, narratives, themes) of racial difference. Thus, the work is judged primarily in terms of its embodied sociological content (material, empirical) and not by "abstract" standards of aesthetic subtlety, philosophical sophistication, and so on. At the same time, in the popular and academic imaginary, minority subjects and artists poets occupy a single abstract signifying category--homogeneous, undifferentiated, "other," marginalized, non-universal--while racially "unmarked" (white) artists occupy the position of being universal and individual at once. The irony, of course, is that, say, an African American poet's being read as an abstract signifier does not mean that the black subject or writer is seen as capable of engaging in abstract ideas. This course will ask questions about the problem of race and abstraction by looking at the work of various African American and Asian American writers, visual artists and musicians--including Will Alexander, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, David Hammons, Yayoi Kusama, Tan Lin, Nathaniel Mackey, and Cecil Taylor--as well as critics. We will pay particular attention to formally experimental works. This course will ask questions about the problem of race and abstraction by looking at the work of various African American and Asian American writers, visual artists and musicians--including Will Alexander, John Keene, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, John Yau, Cecil Taylor, David Hammons, and Yoko Ono--as well as critics. We will pay particular attention to formally experimental works. [ more ]