Courses

Rationale for Course Numbering

In addition to an occasional 100-level topical course, the introductory course is offered at the 200 level to suggest the desirability of some preliminary training in college-level history, literature, sociology, or political science. The American Studies 301, the designated Junior Seminar, is offered primarily for juniors, although they are open to sophomores who have had 201 and will be away from campus during the spring of their junior year. 400 level courses designated as Senior Seminars are designed for senior majors.

Courses for Non-Majors, First-Year Students, and Sophomores

American Studies 201 is open to non-majors including first-year students. All elective courses are open to students who meet the requirements of the departments that sponsor those courses. Courses designated as junior or senior seminars are open to non-majors with permission of the instructor.

Courses for the Major

Students who plan to major in American Studies may find it useful to filter courses by Arts in Context, Comparative Studies in Race, Ethnicity, and Diaspora, Critical and Cultural Theory, Space and Place, or pre-1900, using the sidebar on the right.

American Studies majors are advised to read the Major Requirements carefully ensure they are able to take the courses they need.


AMST 101(F, S) SEM America: The Nation and Its Discontents

This course introduces students to the capacious and extraordinarily varied interdisciplinary field of American Studies. First institutionalized in the mid-twentieth century, American Studies once bridged literature and history in an attempt to discover a singular American identity. Over 80 years later, many American Studies scholars reject this exceptionalizing rhetoric, working instead to understand how genocide, enslavement, colonization, and militarism/war are foundational to the formation of the U.S. nation-state, and how marginalized and minoritized peoples have survived through, rebelled against, and created new visions for collectivity, relationality, and community. In this course, students will be introduced to the dynamic ways American Studies work links to ethnic studies; women, gender, and sexuality studies; literary studies, political science; critical geography; critical media studies; disability studies; history; anthropology; sociology; art; and more. We will anchor this array of approaches by examining beliefs, practices, places, and migrations that have shaped and been shaped by the U.S., and we will pay particular attention to the people who labor for, have been racialized by, and who think critically about "America." Through close reading; discussions; and analyses of music, art, and film, we will collectively reckon with the questions of who and what makes "America" -- hemispherically, transnationally, globally. In the process, students will be encouraged to co-create a learning experience rooted in praxis, political consciousness, intersectionality, and mutual support. [ more ]

AMST 107(F) LEC Arts of Ancestral Native and Indigenous North America

This course introduces students to the art and architecture of ancestral Indigenous and Native North America. It will consider the artistic productions of several pre-contact and early colonial cultures that emerged in the regions now referred to as Mesoamerica, the "United States," and "Canada." Cultures to be addressed include Olmec, Maya, Teotihuacan, Zapotec, Mexica (Aztec), Chaco, Mississippian, Inuit, and Native Hawaiian, among others. Students will learn not only about these cultures but also the sources and methods by which present-day scholars have come to know of their complexity. Artforms to be addressed will include ceramics, murals, sculpture, inscriptions, feather work, shell work, sacred architecture, residential architecture, and urbanism. This is one half of a two-course sequence that also includes, "Arts of Ancestral Native and Indigenous South America and the Caribbean," (Spring 2024) and may be taken in any order or independently. [ more ]

AMST 108(S) LEC Arts of Ancestral Native and Indigenous South America and the Caribbean

This course introduces students to the art and architecture of ancestral Indigenous and Native South America. It will consider the artistic productions of several pre-contact and early colonial cultures that emerged in the Andes, Amazonia, the Southern Cone, and the Caribbean. Cultures to be addressed include Chavín, Nazca, Moche, Tiwanaku, Inca, Casarabe, Tupi-Guarani, Cocle, Taíno, and Mapuche, among others. Students will learn not only about these cultures but also the sources and methods by which present-day scholars have come to know of their complexity. Artforms to be addressed will include ceramics, murals, sculpture, khipu, tocapu, feather work, shell work, sacred architecture, residential architecture, and settlement. This is one half of a two-course sequence that also includes, "Arts of Ancestral Native and Indigenous North America," and may be taken in any order or independently. [ more ]

AMST 113(F) SEM The Feminist Poetry Movement

Feminist poetry and feminist politics were so integrated in the 1960s and 1970s in America that critical essays on poets, such as Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde, appeared in the same handbook that listed such resources for women as rape crisis centers and health clinics. This course will map the crucial alliance between feminist politics (and its major cultural and political gains) and the feminist poetry movement that became a major "tool" for building, organizing, and theorizing second-wave feminism. In order to track this political and poetic revolution, we will take an interdisciplinary approach that brings together historical, critical, and literary documents (including archival ones) and visual products (through the Object Lab of the Williams College Art Museum) that recreate the rich context of the period and help us consider the important social nature of aesthetic production. At the center of the course will be writings of major poets of the period, as well as anthologies and feminist periodicals that published their work and created a significant forum and shared space for women to articulate the politics and poetics of change. These periodicals and anthologies will also help us track the diversity of the feminist poetry movement and its intersection with issues of race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality. Ultimately, we will want to consider how poetry serves as an important tool for thinking through questions of power and injustice and what role it plays in creating necessary imaginative space in the world for expression, critique, and change. [ more ]

AMST 125(F, S) SEM Introduction to Asian American Studies

Who or what constitutes the term "Asian American"? Leading with this provocation, this course offers an introductory overview of the interdisciplinary discipline of Asian American Studies, tracing its formation and evolution from the late 1960s onward. Focusing on an array of foundational texts, cultural production, and primary sources, we will ask who has been included/excluded from this term, what the bounds are (if any), and how others approach and negotiate this term. As such, we will analyze its shifting constructions and enactments alongside other markers of difference from the nineteenth century to the present. In particular, we will be attentive to how these constructions have been shaped both relationally through other racial formations as well as overlapping systems of power, including settler colonialism, U.S. war and empire, capitalism, and globalization within and beyond the U.S. With this, we will examine how this term has been widely undone and remade via political activism, visual and performance art, plays, media, poetry, etc. The aim of this course is not to identify a single or right definition of the term "Asian American" but to collectively assess and explore the limits, reaches, utility, and expansiveness of it. [ more ]

AMST 128 SEM Reading Asian American Literature

Last offered Spring 2020

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 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 132 SEM Contemporary Africana Social and Political Philosophy

Last offered Spring 2022

This introductory seminar investigates the relationship between three major schools of thought in contemporary Africana social and political philosophy: the African, Afro-North American, and Afro-Caribbean intellectual traditions. We will discuss a range of thinkers including Dionne Brand, Aimé Césaire, Angela Davis, Édouard Glissant, Kwame Gyekye, Paget Henry, bell hooks, Katherine McKittrick, Charles Mills, Nkiru Nzegwu, Oyèrónke Oyewùmí, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Cornel West, and Sylvia Wynter. A primary goal of the course is to provide students with the intellectual resources to decipher problems central to philosophical discourse and to allow students an opportunity to apply what they learn to critical issues in current geopolitics. [ more ]

AMST 135 SEM Queen Sugar and Black Study

Last offered Fall 2023

The critically acclaimed and award winning television series, Queen Sugar, follows the Bordelon family through its struggles to sustain hold of its ancestral land. An adaptation of the eponymously named 2014 novel by Natalie Baszile, the series will soon enter its seventh and final season. This gateway course to Africana Studies will explore the historical, political, and economic contexts of the making of the series before considering its representations and dramatizations of key topics of Black study: the afterlives of enslavement, plantation regimes, global sugar production, land dispossession, the carceral state, gender and sexualities, kinship, activism, and African-diasporic spiritualities. [ more ]

AMST 142 TUT AlterNatives: Indigenous Futurism and Science Fiction

Last offered Spring 2024

Indigenous people occupy a paradoxical position in time. As survivors of genocide, they are already post-apocalyptic, occupying what could be called "their ancestors' dystopia." But Indigenous people are also imagined to exist frozen in history, merely one step in the ceaseless march of civilization that brought us to the present. This tutorial explores how contemporary Native science and speculative fiction imagines and enacts futurity from this dynamic temporal position. Looking across numerous national and transnational Indigenous contexts, we will survey a diverse range of media, including short stories, novels, visual art, video games, films, and online platforms like Second Life. Pairing these with works in Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS), we will explore concepts like the Native "slipstream," eco-erotics, post-post-apocalyptic stress, Native pessimism, biomedical speculative horror, and what it would be like to fly a canoe through outer space. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 146(S) SEM Introduction to Native American and Indigenous Studies

Consider just the last few years... during the 2016 presidential campaign then-candidate Donald Trump called Senator Elizabeth Warren "Pocahontas," a disparaging reference to Warren's claim to Native American heritage. In 2017, Los Angeles became the largest US city to rename "Columbus Day" to "Indigenous Peoples Day." Indigenous-led resistance to oil pipelines continues in multiple locations, and in 2022 Washington DC's professional football team abandoned their old name, a racial slur for Native Americans, rebranding as the Washington Commanders. Struggles in Indian Country over politics, natural resources, and representation have become increasingly visible. This course will prepare students to better understand contemporary indigenous issues. Course content will actively work against the myth that Native American history ended in 1890 with the end of militant Native resistance to US expansion. Instead, we will ask: Who are indigenous peoples? How is their status and identity determined? How do Indian nations sit within and in relation to state and federal governments? What are the pressing issues of the present moment? What are the histories that make sense of those issues? How do we explain that curious American urge to claim "Indian blood" and to create novels and films about Indians? Course topics will include colonialism, tribal sovereignty, Native American art, literature, and culture, activism and "Red Power," struggles over natural resources, gender and sexuality, representations of indigenous people in popular culture, and more. We will enrich our classroom activities with visits to the Williams College Special Collections and the Williams College Museum of Art. This course offers a broad introductory survey of these and other issues as it explores the development and current state of the interdisciplinary field known as Native and Indigenous Studies. [ more ]

AMST 149 SEM First-Hand America

Last offered Fall 2016

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? [ more ]

AMST 150(F) LEC Data for Justice

This course is a unique and inclusive introduction to data science where quantitative thinking, programming, and social justice intertwine. We will build our data science skills using R, a popular open-source data science tool. We will focus on essential stages of data analysis, including data acquisition, cleaning, wrangling, visualization, and exploration. But rather than divorcing these techniques from the social issues they can help illuminate, we ground them in a social justice context. Overall, we will apply data science skills to topics drawn from criminal justice, environmental justice, diversity and inclusion in arts and media, education equity, and much more, with the goal of growing our collective capacity to use data science as a tool for social good. During a time when humans are increasingly subjugated to data-driven algorithmic decisions, when there are social media accounts dedicated to highlighting misuses of data, and when artificial intelligence makes faking data a nearly trivial task, using data to ethically and carefully promote justice is more important than ever. [ more ]

AMST 157 SEM 1960s and U.S. History

Last offered Spring 2020

This 100­-level seminar will introduce students to the craft of history through the study of the 1960s, an important decade in American history (indeed, the world). In the U.S., this decade was marked by the on­going war in Vietnam, the struggle against racial inequality and racist oppression, changes in attitudes toward sex and sexuality, music, the role of youth culture, advances in technology, the rise of new expressions of American conservatism, and other tumultuous transformations in politics, culture, and the economy. [ more ]

AMST 164(F) SEM Communications in Early America

How did the multiplicity of people who shaped "early" North America communicate with each other, across profound linguistic, cultural, social, political, and spiritual differences? What strategies did they use to forge meaning and connections in times of tremendous transformation, while maintaining vital continuities with what came before? This course examines histories of communication in North America and the technologies that communities have developed to record, remember, advocate, persuade, resist, and express expectations for the future. Using a continental and transoceanic lens of "Vast Early America," we will take up Indigenous oral traditions, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, wampum belts, and winter counts as expressions of ethics, identity, relationality, and diplomacy among sovereign Native/Indigenous nations. We will reflect on artistic and natural science paintings, engravings, and visual culture that circulated widely; and diaries and journals as forms of personal as well as collective memory. We will work with political orations, newspapers, pamphlets, and other forms of print culture that galvanized public opinion in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions; memorials and monuments that communities have created to honor ancestors and significant events; material culture such as baskets and weavings that signified through their imagery and physical forms; and social critique and visions of justice in the verse and prose of Phillis Wheatley Peters and William Apess. These materials take us into the complexities of individuals' and communities' interactions and relations of power. They also illuminate spaces of potential or realized solidarity, alliance, and co-building of new worlds. Throughout we will work together to understand different methodologies, theories, practices, and ethics involved in approaching the past. We will at every turn be attuned to the ongoing significances of these experiences among communities in the twenty-first century. [ more ]

AMST 166 SEM Being Muslim, Being American: American Muslim Literature in the 21st century

Last offered Fall 2022

Islam and Muslims in the United States are the subject of extensive public scrutiny and media coverage in broader public discourses. It is less common, however, to hear Muslims' own voices speak about their lives, experiences, beliefs, and commitments. This course will take a literary approach to exploring American Muslims' own narratives about themselves, which will serve as an introduction to religion in contemporary U.S. culture. We will address questions such as: How do American Muslims attempt to fashion their identity in the wake of 9/11? What are the pressures and demands of American national belonging and cultural citizenship that Muslims must navigate? How are race, gender, ethnic heritage, and immigration definitive of Muslim experiences and self-understandings? How are Muslims approaching the tensions between communal belonging and individuality? What are the competing claims and contestations about authentic expressions of Islam? We will be engaging such themes through an analysis of popular memoirs, autobiographies, novels, short stories, poetry, films, and comedy. [ more ]

AMST 167 SEM Let Freedom Ring? African Americans and Emancipation

Last offered Spring 2021

This course will examine African Americans' transition from slavery to freedom. In the years that encompassed the Civil War and immediately after, most African Americans changed from being legal property, able to be bought, sold, mortgaged, rented out, and leveraged into U.S. citizens, with the Constitutional right to male suffrage. This course examines this transition. How did it come about? To what extent were African Americans able to exercise their rights that the constitution guaranteed? How did Emancipation shape African American family relations, culture and demography? This is a research seminar. We will examine work of historians and discuss the contradictions and nuances of emancipation. Readings will include monographs, scholarly articles and heavy dose of primary sources, as many as possible written by African Americans themselves. Assignments include an original research paper on an aspect of Emancipation. We will devote considerable time throughout the semester to finding primary and secondary sources and on the writing process. [ more ]

AMST 19 Unfixing Masks, Upending Masquerades: Writing into the Waters of Melville's Benito Cereno

Last offered NA

Guided by close readings and discussions of Herman Melville's Benito Cereno, and engagement with generative writing prompts, students will identify themes in the work which they feel most compelled to explore through creative writing-braiding or fraying the threads of the text's concerns with their own. Among the possible topics for further exploration are notions of self, myth, mask, masquerade, rebellion, revolution, memory, and collectivity. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 200 SEM Ethnographic Directions in American Studies

Last offered Spring 2022

This course introduces students to the practice and politics of ethnography, broadly defined as the study and representation of people, culture, and society. Our approach will be post-positive and interpretive, with attention to the social stakes of ethnographic research and methodology writ large. We begin the semester by looking at the history of ethnographic methodologies in anthropology and sociology, and then examine efforts to decolonize ethnography. We then read several examples of decolonial, feminist, or otherwise critical ethnographic research related to marginalized or minoritized groups in the U.S. -- such as undocumented migrants from Latin America, formerly unhoused Black girls, Diné fighting resource extraction on the reservation, and Cambodian refugees in the Bronx -- along with articles that illuminate issues of power, observation, consent, and representation in ethnographic research. Through readings, discussion, and engagement in ethnographic exercises, students will gain familiarity with the different phases or components of conducting ethnographic research, while also considering different styles of ethnographic production, including creative work. While this course is designed to look specifically at ethnographic directions that intersect with the interdisciplinary field of American Studies, it is open to any student interested in the study of pressing social issues (such as the prison-industrial complex, refugee resettlement, and drug addiction) and creating communities of mutual care and solidarity for surviving, fighting, and quite possibly, solving them. [ more ]

AMST 201 TUT Cold War Intellectuals: Civil Rights, Writers and the CIA

Last offered Fall 2022

This weekly tutorial has alternating primary and secondary writers (5pages/2pages). In weekly one-hour sessions, students read their work aloud followed by dialogue and critique. Primary papers are due to respondent/professor 48hrs before the tutorial meets; response papers are emailed to the professor 2hours before the weekly tutorial meets. Readings include: We Charge Genocide; Williams J. Maxwell, F. B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover's Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature; Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire; Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America; "Part III Supervision and Control of the CIA," Rockefeller Commission Report; Malcolm X Speaks; Sam Greenlee, The Spook Who Sat By the Door; and, The Murder of Fred Hampton. The tutorial is open to all students. [ more ]

AMST 203 SEM Militarism and American Culture

Last offered Spring 2024

This course examines the impact of warfare on the history of the United States. Considering a range of conflicts, from the violence of European colonialism to the ongoing War on Terror, the course pays particular attention to the ways in which military violence has shaped (and been shaped by) American culture. In particular, students will engage with texts that interrogate the relationship between race and violence in US history. Students will analyze shifting representations of war through engagement with cultural texts such as film, television, literature, and comics. The scope will be broad, with attention paid to larger conflicts such as the World Wars and the Cold War, as well the lesser-known wars and occupations that have continually occupied the US military. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 206(S) SEM Designer Genes

In this course, we explore cultural texts that attempt to come to terms with--or exploit--the revolution in contemporary genetics with a particular focus on gender, race, class, and sexuality. The mapping of the human genome in 2001 opened incredible opportunities for medicine, law, and society, but it also, as Alice Wexler has written, "opened a vast arena for contests of power over what it means to be human, who has the power to define what is normal, [and] who has access to what resources and when." Wexler was writing before the final sequencing of the human genome. Now we have CRISPR technology, ushering in a new, more pressing set of ethical concerns. We are currently in the midst of a "global race to genetically modify humans," as the anthropologist Eben Kirksey has documented in his new book The Mutant Project. How will we come to define the human? Who gets to decide? Our writers and filmmakers make clear that genetic medicine cannot be thought apart from a profit-driven American health care system or family and gender dynamics. Joanna Rudnick's documentary In the Family, for instance, explores the personal and political issues associated with hereditary breast cancer and the patenting of genes. Octavia Butler's Afro-futurist novel Dawn explores black female sexuality, reproduction, and the survival of the species in her character's encounter with a genetically enhanced alien species. The film Gattaca shows us a fully realized dystopian society where genetically modified humans are the norm--a society that now "has discrimination down to a science." The transgender artist Tamara Pertamina, on the other hand, "hopes to decolonize the science of genetic engineering," as Kirksey has written, with her performance artist projects. Our texts come from a number of different genres, including the memoir, science fiction, film, documentary, art, and non-fiction writing at the intersections of science, medicine, philosophy, anthropology, and law. [ more ]

AMST 208 TUT Time and Blackness

Last offered Spring 2023

The concept of time has been one of the most examined, yet least explicitly theorized, concepts in Africana Studies. While the field is saturated with historical studies and literary analyses that take up issues of cultural memory--which involves thinking about time--time itself has 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 Black experience cannot be understood outside of the meaning of race, which itself is not completely tangible. In this tutorial, "Time and Blackness," we will explore how Black writers across a number of genres--spiritual autobiography, fiction, memoir, literary criticism, and cultural theory--understand time, and create paradigms of time to organize their work. The following questions will structure our investigation: What are the constituent elements of time in Black writings? How does race shape the ways Black writers conceive the experience of time? And, finally, to what can we attribute the recent surge in explicit, theoretical examinations of "time and blackness"? [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 209(F) LEC Latinx Visual Arts

This course introduces students to Latinx visual arts and the histories of the communities from where this artistic production emerges. Latinx art and artists have gained significant attention and inclusion in the art world. For example, the opening of the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture reignited interest in Chicana/o art and revamped pressure on peer institutions to diversify their collections, exhibitions, and programming. While this renewed interest is positive, this context runs the risk of framing Latinx art as a new and an emergent category, thus dismissing a longer history of visual arts within Latinx communities across the U.S. This course offers an historically grounded introduction to Latinx visual art by placing the artistic production for the groups included under the label "Latinx" in their social, political and historical contexts. The course provides students with the visual arts vocabulary and theoretical skills to analyze visual art forms including sculptures, murals, posters, performances, and altares, while exploring their relevance to Latinx communities and American art. In debunking the notion of Latinx art as a new phenomenon, students will understand the conditions, struggles, and modes of resistance that inspire Latinx visual arts production in the U.S. since the 19th century and into our contemporary moment. Students will deepen their visual art literacy, enrich their understanding of the histories encapsulated by the term "Latinx," and develop their appreciation for the visual arts. [ more ]

AMST 210 SEM Culture and Incarceration

Last offered Fall 2011

This seminar examines incarceration, immigration detention centers, and the death penalty from historical and contemporary perspectives. Students will study and examine interdisciplinary texts as well primary sources (legislature and criminal codes and writings by the incarcerated). The emphasis will be on the study of social attitudes concerning ethnic groups, gender/sexuality and class as they pertain to a "penal culture" in the United States. [ more ]

AMST 211 LEC Race, Environment, and the Body

Last offered Spring 2023

This course is organized around three distinct, but overlapping, concerns. The first concern is how polluting facilities like landfills, industrial sites, and sewage treatment plants are disproportionately located in communities of color. The second concern is the underlying, racist rationales for how corporations, in collaboration with state agencies, plot manufacturers of pollution. The final concern is how the environmental crises outlined in the first two sections of the course are experienced in the body. In reviewing a range of Black cultural productions--like literature, scholarship, music, and film--we will not only consider how environmental disparities physically affect human bodies, but also how embodiments of eco-crises lend to imaginaries of the relationship between the self and the natural world. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 212 SEM Moving While Black

Last offered Spring 2022

Opening your apartment door, driving down the highway, taking a knee, raising a fist, sitting at the lunch counter then or sitting in a café now, these movements have historically and presently prompted fear at a minimum and in the most grave cases death for black people. Whether in the U.S. or globally, moving in the world as a black person often means being perceived as different, foreign and threatening. Crawling, dancing, running and boxing, these movements have countered fear and articulated the beauty, pride, creativity and political resistance of black people. In both cases, black movement matters and means much. While many consider movement to be just organized dance moves, this course expands students' definitions of black movement and teaches them to analyze multiple perceptions, uses, and reactions to it. "Moving while Black" offers examples of physical movement in improvised and practiced performance, quotidian movement, geographical movement across national borders and symbolic, politicized gestures. Students will investigate black movement via interdisciplinary sources that reflect various time periods and locations. Students may analyze such texts as Jacob Lawrence's visual art in The Migration Series, the movement of the rumba dance form between Cuba and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's "Revelations," William Pope.L's choreographed crawls, the 1995 World Rugby Cup in South Africa, and the 2018 case of a Kansas resident arrested while moving into his own home. Additionally, this course features an important practice element, in which students experiment with in-class movement exercises and workshops, engage with dance archives at Jacob's Pillow, interview participants of Kusika, and create and perform their own choreographies. While no previous experience in performance is required, curiosity and openness to learning through one's own body movement is expected. [ more ]

AMST 213(F) SEM Asian/American Identities in Motion

The course aims to explore dance and movement-based performances as mediums through which identities in Asian and Asian American (including South Asian) communities are cultivated, expressed, and contested. Students will engage with how social and historical contexts influence the processes through which dance practices are invested with particular sets of meanings, and how artists use performance to reinforce or resist stereotypical representations. Core readings will be drawn from Dance, Performance, Asian, and Asian American Studies to engage with issues such as nation formation, racial and ethnic identity politics, appropriation, tradition and innovation among other topics. This is primarily a discussion-based seminar course, and might also include screenings, movement workshops, and discussion with guest artists and scholars. No previous dance experience is required. [ more ]

AMST 214 SEM Performance Ethnography

Last offered Fall 2019

The course aims to explore the theory, practice, and ethics of ethnographic research with a focus on dance, movement, and performance. Traditionally considered to be a method of research in anthropology, ethnography is the descriptive and analytical study of a particular community through fieldwork, where the researcher immerses herself in the culture of the people that she researches. In this course students will be introduced to (i) critical theory that grounds ethnography as a research methodology, (ii) readings in ethnographic studies of dance and performance practices from different parts of the world, and (iii) field research in the local community for their own ethnographic projects. This is primarily a discussion-based seminar course and may include fieldwork, attendance at live performances, film screenings, workshop with guest artists etc. No previous dance or performance experience is assumed or required. [ more ]

AMST 215 SEM Experimental Asian American Writing

Last offered Spring 2015

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 217 TUT Women and Girls in (Inter)National Politics

Last offered Fall 2021

This tutorial focuses on the writings and autobiographies of women who have shaped national politics through social justice movements in the 20th-21st centuries. Women and girls studied include: Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Chisholm, Safiya Bukhari, Erica Garner, Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, Marielle Franco, Winnie Mandela. [ more ]

AMST 218(S) SEM Black and Brown Jacobins

What does it take to be free in the free world? In this class we explore the dark side of democracy. The title is inspired by C.L.R. James' famous book, Black Jacobins, about the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). This revolution was the most successful revolt of the enslaved in recorded history. But the irony is that their oppressors were the leaders of the French Revolution across the Atlantic. Those who proclaimed "liberty, egality, fraternity" for themselves violently denied them to others. There is a similar dismal irony to the American Revolution, as captured by the title of Frederick Douglass' famous 1852 speech, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" Not even the Civil War could resolve this issue, as demonstrated by the failure of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow. To revisit this history, we will read W.E.B. Du Bois' great book, Black Reconstruction in America. Alongside a selection of readings by canonical postcolonial writers and current political theorists, James and Du Bois provoke us to ask what it would take for the democratic world to be truly free. [ more ]

AMST 220 SEM Introduction to African American Literature

Last offered Spring 2023

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 ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 222(S) SEM Hip Hop Culture

The course examines how young people of color created hip hop culture in the postindustrial ruins of New York City, a movement that would eventually grow into a global cultural industry. Hip hop music producers have long practiced "diggin' in the crates"--a phrase that denotes searching through record collections to find material to sample. In this course, we will examine the material and technological history of hip hop culture, with particular attention to hip hop's tendency to sample, remix, mash-up, and repurpose existing media artifacts to create new works or art. We will use a media archaeological approach to examine the precise material conditions that first gave rise to graffiti art, deejaying, rapping, and breakdancing, and to analyze hip hop songs, videos, and films. Media archaeology is a critical and artistic practice that seeks to interpret the layers of significance embedded in cultural artifacts. How does hip hop archaeology remix the past, the present, and the future? How do the historical, political, and cultural coding of hip hop artifacts change as they increasingly become part of institutional collections, from newly established hip hop archives at Cornell and Harvard to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture? [ more ]

AMST 224(S) LEC U.S. Latinx Religions

In this course, we will engage aspects of Latina/o/x/e religious beliefs, experiences, practices, and expressions in the United States of America. Given the diversity of Latinx communities and religious lives in the U.S.A., we consider select contexts that help us understand the challenges of studying and defining the "religious" and its hybridity in Latinx contexts. We will survey certain selected religious traditions and practices in Latinidad -- such as popular devotions to La Virgen de Guadalupe, healing traditions and curanderismo, home altar traditions, Latinx Pentecostalism, crypto-Judaism, Latinx Muslims, and African-rooted spiritualities such as Santería. In addition, we will study Latinx approaches to traditional US religious expressions of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. By focusing on particular moments of religious expression as elucidated in specific historiographies, ethnographies, art, literature, film, we will seek to garner a greater understanding of how Latinx communities express and practice their religious traditions and spiritualities. [ more ]

AMST 225 Black Outside the U.S.

Last offered NA

This course explores multiple ways Black identity evolves, adapts and is experienced differently depending on location. Students analyze Black experience in the U.S., France and Senegal through a range of texts from books and social media to music and film. One key aspect of the course is a study abroad trip to Senegal, which increases cultural awareness through experiential learning. This combination of textual learning with experiential knowledge exemplifies how language, religion, gender, geography, and performance shape one's racial identity. In the first section of the course, students investigate Black experience in the U.S., focusing on such topics as the one-drop rule, racial profiling and where mixed people fit within Black/White tensions. The second section highlights the politics of language in France. Students explore how words like "Black," "noir" and "race" have strong political connotations in France and spur both resistance to and alliance with Black American civil rights history. In the third part of the course, students visit Dakar, Senegal, and analyze Blackness through their own observations and encounters. Their trip insights jumpstart the final focus of the course on Senegal. Students investigate the influence of French colonialism on Black identity in Senegal, which makes the two geographical experiences of Blackness very different but still forever linked. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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AMST 226(S) SEM Gender and the Dancing Body

This course posits that the dancing body is a particularly rich site for examining the history of gender in America and beyond. The aim of the course is to explore ideas related to gender as prescribed by dominant cultural, social, and religious institutions, and how dance has been used to challenge those normative ideologies. We will examine a wide range of dance genres, from stage performances to popular forms to dance on television, with particular attention to the intersections of race and class with gender. This is primarily a discussion-based seminar course and may also include film screenings, movement workshops, discussions with guest artists and scholars. No previous dance experience required. [ more ]

AMST 227 SEM Utopias and Americas

Last offered Spring 2012

The very word for "utopia," a Latin word coined by Thomas More in 1516, owes much of its initial imagination to European voyages of "discovery" and conquest. In this course, we examine the ways that the "New World," and particularly the United States of America, has been a utopian project from the early days of colonization. How have particular historical experiences in the Americas been shaped by utopian machinations, and how has the New World transformed the dreaming of utopia? In this course, we consider the theory of utopia in conversation with select historical writings from and scholarship about early Spanish and English colonization, early nation-building in the U.S., Haiti, and Mexico, the Shakers, the Oneida Community, the Canudos Massacre in Brazil, Father Divine's International Peace Mission Movement, Chicanx Aztlán, Chalatenango in El Salvador, and Oyotunji Village in South Carolina. We also examine literary and artistic selections from Edward Bellamy, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Ayn Rand, Sun Ra, and Black Panther (2018). Through these different utopian moments and selections, we trace themes of time, space, environment, gender, family, class, race, colonialism, and rebellion and examine the ways in which different utopias have responded to and reproduced structural injustices. Because utopias have been so common throughout the Americas, students are encouraged to bring in comparisons with utopias not listed on the syllabus. [ more ]

AMST 228 LEC Revolt and Revelation in 20th-Century Americas

Last offered Fall 2017

Writing in 1971, Dominican priest and Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez asked "Is the Church fulfilling a purely religious role when by its silence or friendly relationships it lends legitimacy to dictatorial and oppressive government?" Such a question encapsulates the sometimes agonistic and other times deeply intertwined relationships between religious institutions, religious thought, and movements for political transformation in the 20th century Americas. This course examines those forms of "God-talk" broadly termed "liberation theologies" that responded to and challenged social relationships of class, colonization, race, culture, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability, and ecology. These theologies were borne out of and in turn deeply shaped struggles against oppressive regimes and structures in the Americas, and as such we will focus on some specific theological writings--such as those of Gutierrez--and their relationship to distinct social movements and struggles over land, economy, and political power, especially in Brazil, El Salvador, Perú, and the United States of America between 1960-2000. [ more ]

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

Last offered Spring 2017

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 230 SEM Contemporary American Fiction

Last offered Spring 2019

In this course we will read and analyze a selection of fiction written between 1945 and the present, with an emphasis on proving (in the sense of testing) the three terms in the course title. Could John Cheever's "The Enormous Radio" really be contemporary? Is James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room American in the same way as Alice Munro's Dear Life? And is Michelle Tea's Black Wave fiction or something else? Along the way, we'll also ask: What forms and themes define contemporary American fiction? And why should we invest in defining the "contemporary" period at all? Other authors we will study may include: Raymond Carver, Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison, Renata Adler, Margaret Atwood, Lydia Davis, Chang Rae Lee, Jennifer Egan, and Colson Whitehead. [ more ]

AMST 232 Bewilderment: Contemporary U.S. Poetry and the Ethics of Unknowing

Last offered NA

"I perceive I have not really understood any thing, not a single object, and that no man ever can," wrote Walt Whitman in a great poem of 1860. "Tell all the truth, but tell it slant," answered Emily Dickinson a few years later, as if suggesting a strategy for how to write one's way into Whitman's radical uncertainty. These articulations of knowing and unknowing, of telling and untelling, continue to thread their way into U.S. poetry today. This course will explore bewilderment as both a poetic strategy and an ethical position. How do error, randomness, contradiction, obliquity, and dissociation serve the poem and the poet? How do such strategies counter ideas of literary mastery, heroism, virtuosity, privilege and celebrity? What are the political possibilities of such counter stances, especially as embodied and expressed by poets who speak from outside the stronghold of the white male establishment? We will primarily read from recently published work in the U.S., but will also be interested to track the literary traditions that have shaped how contemporary poets think and write. Authors read may include: Wanda Coleman, Eileen Myles, Anne Carson, Layli Long Soldier, Vanessa Angelica Villarreal, Fanny Howe, Terrance Hayes, Jennifer Chang, Tiana Clark, Brenda Hillman, Jane Wong, Tommy Pico, Paisley Rekdahl, Brian Teare, Diana Khoi Nguyen, and C. D. Wright. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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AMST 233 SEM Memory and Forgetting

Last offered Spring 2023

On the surface, remembering generally confronts us as a deeply personal act. What is more private than nostalgic reverie or the secrets of a dark and painful past? Yet even "individual" memories take shape through social frameworks, and we also remember "collectively" through shared myths, narratives, traditions, and the like. This course will explore the social dimensions of memory and remembering as well as their inevitable counterpart--forgetting. How do social frameworks inform our individual understandings of the past and shape our sense of selfhood? How and why are figures from the past cast as heroes or villains? How do collectivities celebrate past glories, and how do they deal with shameful or embarrassing episodes? How do economic and political power relations shape struggles over the past? In an increasingly global society, can we speak of "cosmopolitan" or "transcultural" forms of memory? Topics will include autobiographical memory and self-identity; memorials, museums, and monuments; reputations, commemorations, and collective trauma; silence, denial, and forgetting; and transitional justice, official apologies, and reparations. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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AMST 236 SEM Making Things Visible: Adventures in Documentary Work

Last offered Spring 2019

Photography, like ethnography, is an art of looking carefully and taking notice. This course will explore the overlaps between documentary photography and field methods of social science, concentrating particularly on the genre in which the two intersect: the photo essay. The students will learn methods of visual narrative and storytelling, using techniques of interviewing, still photography, and video. Concurrently, we will explore a number of examples of investigative work that blend word and image. We will ask questions about the changing practices and expectations associated with the documentarian's role, and the evolving media in which such work can be presented. Lastly, we will discuss ethical questions that haunt documentary work, including issues of responsibility and politics of representation, as well as the perennial question of whether "objective representation" is even possible or desirable. Experience in photography and/or video is not required, but students will be expected to master basic technical skills in image acquisition and audio editing taught in a separate lab section. Students should also be prepared to interact extensively with people in the community and spend a significant time off campus doing fieldwork. [ more ]

AMST 237 SEM Islam in the United States: Race, Religion, Politics

Last offered Fall 2023

Malcolm X is one of the most iconic yet controversial figures in the black freedom struggle in the United States. He is also arguably the most prominent and influential Muslim in the history of the United States. His story and legacy powerfully illustrate the complex intersections of Muslim identity, political resistance, and national belonging. From the early period of "Black Muslim" movements represented by Malcolm X, to the current "War on Terror" era, American Muslims have faced a complex intersection of exclusions and marginalization, in relation to national belonging, race, and religion. Taking Malcolm X as our point of departure, this course examines how American Muslims have navigated these multiple layers of marginalization. We will therefore consider how the broader socio-political contexts that Muslims are a part of shape their visions of Islam, and how they contest these competing visions among themselves. In so doing, we will examine the complex relation between religion, race, and politics in the United States. Throughout the course, we will be engaging with historical and anthropological material, autobiographies, documentaries, films, historical primary-source documents, music, and social media materials. The course fosters critical thinking about diversity by challenging assumptions of who Muslims are, what being American means, and what Islam is. It also focuses on the complex interaction of different dimensions of diversity, from religion to ideology, race, nationality, ethnicity, culture, gender, and language. [ more ]

AMST 240(S) SEM Latinx Language Politics: Hybrid Voices

In this interdisciplinary course we focus on questions of language and identity in the contemporary cultural production and lived experience of various Latinx communities. We consider the following questions and more: In what ways does Spanish shift as it crosses over to the US from Latin America and the Caribbean? How does Latinx identity challenge traditional notions of the relationship between language, culture, and nation? How does careful attention to language elucidate the dynamics of gender and sexuality in the Latinx community? How are cultural values and material conditions expressed through Latinx linguistic practices? In what ways might Latinx literary and linguistic practices serve as tools for social change? Departing from an overview of common linguistic ideologies, we will examine code-switching or Spanglish, bilingual education, linguistic public policy, the English Only movement, and Latinx linguistic attitudes and creative responses to linguistic colonialism. In addition to a consideration of language and identity grounded in sociolinguistics, anthropolitical linguistics, Latinx studies, and cultural studies, we will survey a variety of literary genres including memoir, novel, and poetry. Both directly and/or indirectly, these texts address Latinx language politics, as well as the broader themes of power, difference, and hybridity. [ more ]

AMST 242(S) SEM Americans Abroad

This course will explore some of the many incarnations of American experiences abroad from the end of the 19th century to the present day. Materials will be drawn from novels, short stories, films, and nonfiction about Americans in Europe in times of war, peace, and pandemic. 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 émigré? 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? How did recent lockdowns and border closings impact and/or interrupt these complex experiences? Authors may include: Edith Wharton, 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 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. Many of the authors and artists we will study chose, or were forced to, leave oppressive situations in the United States where their futures were limited due to factors related to politics, gender, race or class (and combinations thereof). We will study their dislocation, and freedom, and struggles to reshape their (and our) concept of "home" into something that reflects individual identity, and not one imposed by any national culture--American or foreign. [ more ]

AMST 243 SEM Asian/American and Black Literary and Cultural Thought

Last offered Spring 2020

One durable legacy of white settler colonialism has been to its divide-and-conquer management of minority populations--an amazingly effective strategy still widely practiced in a variety of forms today. While Asian Americans have been deemed "model minorities" in contrast to "unmodel" minorities--namely, African Americans--and racial minorities have been pitted against one another in the oppression Olympics and on the issue of affirmative action, there has, in fact, been a long history of political, literary, and cultural thought that have joined blacks and Asian/Asian Americans, from W.E.B. Du Bois to current ideas about digital possibilities (and constraints). In this course we will examine the theory, political writings, art, music and literature that sprang from and attended the early Marxist-Communist fight for universal brotherhood; movements against colonialism, capitalism, and the Vietnam War; Yellow Power and Black Power; and topics such as black and Asian diasporas, Afro-futurism, multiculturalism, "Afro-pessimism", racial melancholia, and digital futurities. [ more ]

AMST 244(F) SEM What They Saw in America

This course traces the travels and writings of important observers of the United States, including Alexis de Tocqueville, Max Weber, G.K. Chesterton, Sayyid Qutb, and Wang Huning. The course will consider their respective journeys: Where did they go? With whom did they talk? What did they see? The historical scope and varying national origins of the observers provide a unique and useful outsider's view of America--one that sheds light on persisting qualities of American national character and gives insight into the nature and substance of international attitudes toward the United States over time. The course will analyze the common themes found in the visitors' respective writings about America and will pay particular attention to their insights on religion, democracy, agrarianism, capitalism, and race. [ more ]

AMST 247(S) LEC Cities, Suburbs, and Rural Places

Long associated with cities in the scholarly and popular imagination, transnational migrants have increasingly settled in U.S. suburbs and rural localities and have made these places home. Through the lens of new destinations for im/migrants, this course introduces spatial methods, perspectives, and concepts to understand cities, suburbs, and rural places. We ask how geographically specific forces and actors shape migrants' living conditions, as well as consider the spatially uneven outcomes of complex processes like globalization. We analyze how different actors discursively and materially demarcate who belongs and who does not, and how these boundaries shape migrants' everyday practices. This interdisciplinary course highlights the legal, economic, political, environmental, social, and cultural dimensions of how transnational migrants become part of and create homes in new destinations. Through a range of textual materials (academic, literary, popular, visual), we explore the construction of landscapes, how people shape space at local and regional scales, and where people do life's work and come together to build cultural space. Rooted in critical race geographies, case studies are comparative across different racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. West, South, Midwest, and Northeast. This course will be mostly discussion-based, grading based on participation, short writing exercises, four assignments, and a final project. [ more ]

AMST 248 SEM Black Women in African American Literature and Culture

Last offered Fall 2017

This course surveys constructions of black womanhood from the nineteenth century to the present through readings of texts by and about black women. In this course, students will trace how black womanhood became central to uplift ideology and the making and sustaining of black communities in the post-Reconstruction, Harlem Renaissance, and Black Power eras. We will read works across a broad historical spectrum to identify the ways different writers wrestle with race and gender using literary tropes, such as the "tragic mulatto," in different social contexts. We will also engage a range of forms, including an essay (Patricia Hill Collins's "Mammies, Matriarchs, and Other Controlling Images"), a choreopoem (Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf), and socio-political propaganda (the "Black is Beautiful" movement). This course will end with a consideration of the way writer and producer Issa Rae engages with contemporary ideologies of black womanhood in the HBO series Insecure. [ more ]

AMST 249 SEM Asian American Performance: Activism and Aesthetics

Last offered Fall 2021

This seminar will explore contemporary Asian American plays, stand-up comedy, performance art, and spoken word with an eye to how artists do politics through their cultural labor. We will begin with a brief survey of images from popular media to identify legacies of Orientalism. From here we will move towards examining the ways in which Asian American artists from various eras subvert stereotypes and pursue projects of social justice. In watching performances and reading scripts, essays, and interviews, we will attend to narratives, acting methods, theatrical design, spectatorship, and the political economy of cultural production that shapes how Asian American artists make and show work. In addition, we will explore how artists stake political claims in the public sphere through teaching and community organizing. [ more ]

AMST 250 SEM Penning the Path: Writing and Publishing Black Studies

Last offered Spring 2024

Since the mid-20th century, Black intellectuals from Africa and the Diaspora have founded seminal journals within and beyond academic boundaries. Despite being separated by global distances and different contexts, these initiatives have decisively contributed to the emergence and consolidation of Black and Pan-African studies. Presence Africaine, founded in Paris in 1947 by Senegalese intellectual Alioune Diop; Quilombo, first published in 1948 by the Afro-Brazilian intellectual Abdias do Nascimento; and The Black Scholar, founded in California in 1969 by Robert Chrisman, Nathan Hare, and Allan Ross are just a few groundbreaking examples. From this global perspective, students will explore these and other cornerstone journals which paved the way for the emergence of Black and Pan-African Studies in the US and abroad. Additionally, the course aims to encourage students to be part of a collective effort to relaunch Kaleido[scopes]: Diaspora Re-imagined, a student led-journal created in 2014 in the Africana Studies Department by Sevonna Brown ('15), Ahmad Greene-Hayes ('16), and Nneka Dennie ('13). Students will receive guidance and mentoring to conceive and write articles, essays, audiovisual creations, and interviews with students and intellectuals from the African continent and the Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean. [ more ]

AMST 251 North American Histories to 1865

Last offered NA

This course surveys North American histories from ancient Indigenous pasts to the U.S. Civil War. Beginning with the diverse Native societies that have long lived and interacted in specific Indigenous homelands, it then traces Indigenous encounters with a range of expansionist European colonial projects, and the dynamic, contested quality of these relationships and resistances. The course delves into the origins, evolution, and violences of the transatlantic slave trade, and the ways that peoples of African descent created new lives and identities in the Caribbean and North America. The transformations of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are examined in detail, including political, economic, cultural, and religious transformations and upheavals that fostered new senses of individual and collective identities. Connecting the pivotal Seven Years War and American Revolution, the course traces out the legacies of these contestations for multiple empires, nations, and communities. The last section of the course examines the antebellum era, multiple struggles for rights, land, and autonomy, and the coming of the U.S. Civil War as well as its ongoing legacies. The course introduces students to a wide range of historical methodologies and critical approaches to the past, and moves from large-scale vantages to on-the-ground accounts of how specific people experienced historical changes. The course conveys a sense of how key debates and struggles from the past have shaped North American presents and futures, and how scholars and communities have grappled with these topics. It also provides opportunities for engaging original archival and material culture collections at Williams College. [ more ]

AMST 252(F) SEM Im/mobilities

We think of the freedom to move as a mark of privilege. In the United States, passing a driving test, owning a car, and getting a passport are milestones that signal modernity and freedom. Likewise, we think of restrictions on movement as the domain of the underprivileged, such as the current and formerly incarcerated. But as the Covid-19 pandemic revealed, there have always been two sides to immobility: privileged as well as involuntary immobility. There are correspondingly two sides to mobility: those who move because they want to and others because they have no choice. In this class, students will explore conceptions of mobility as adventurous, free, and modern (as with jet-setting international elites). They will compare and contrast when mobility can be threatening, exclusionary, and limited (as recognized by the Black Lives Matter movement). This class invites students to interpret their environment through the lens of mobility and inequality. Drawing on sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, geography, and migration studies, this interdisciplinary course offers a beginning conversation on the causes and consequences of the freedom to move--or to stay still. [ more ]

AMST 253 SEM Embodied Knowledges: Latinx, Asian American, and Black American Writing on Invisible Disability

Last offered Fall 2023

This interdisciplinary course assumes an expansive approach towards disability, defining it not exclusively as a legible identity that one can lay claim to, but rather as an identity grounded in one's relationship to power (Kim and Schalk, 2020). This course centers on the critical role of lived experience as a key site of everyday theorization for the multiply marginalized, and specifically on the ways in which invisibly disabled Latinx, Asian American, and Black American individuals write the self. As scholars in disability studies argue, self-representations of disabled individuals carry the potential for us as a society to move beyond the binary narratives of "tragedy or inspiration" so often associated with disability. Rather, the self-produced narratives of US disabled writers of color offer a much more nuanced portrayal of everyday life with disability/ies for the multiply marginalized. Much like invisible disability itself, these self-representations ultimately refute traditional depictions of disability, and underscore the ways in which the bodymind serves as a rich, albeit often overlooked, site of knowledge. Embodied Knowledges draws on the insights of disability studies, crip studies, anthropology, literary studies, medicine, psychology, education, cultural studies, ethnic studies, American studies, gender and sexuality studies, sociology, and trauma studies. We will examine the works of Latinx, Asian American, and Black American writers and scholars others in relationship to one another, and as points of departure for examining issues such as the relationship between immigration and disability; intergenerational trauma; the impacts of paradigms such as the Model Minority Myth and notions of cultural deficit; passing; the politics of disability disclosure, the paradoxes of invisible disability; invisible disability in academic spaces; the role of culture and categories of difference such as race, gender, class and immigration status in societal approaches to and understandings of invisible disability; and future visions in the realm of disability justice and care work. [ more ]

AMST 254 LEC Sovereignty, Resistance, and Resilience: Native American Histories to 1865

Last offered Fall 2023

This course surveys Native American/Indigenous North American histories from beginnings through the mid-nineteenth century, tracing the complex ways that sovereign tribal nations and communities have shaped Turtle Island/North America. Equally important, it reckons with the ongoing effects of these pasts in the twenty-first century, and communities' own forms of interpretation, critique, action, and pursuits of justice. It also introduces foundational methodologies in Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) and strategies for pursuing decolonizing scholarship and action. Emphasis is on primary and secondary works produced by Indigenous authors/creators. Starting with the diversity of Indigenous societies that have inhabited and cared for lands and waters since "time out of mind," it foregrounds the complexity of Native peoples, nations, and worldviews situated in particular homelands, as well as accounts of origins and migrations. It addresses how societies confronted devastating epidemics resulting from the "Columbian Exchange," and contended with Euro-colonial processes of colonization, extraction, and enslavement. Indigenous nations' multifaceted efforts to maintain sovereignty and homelands through pervasive violence, attempted genocide, and dispossession are addressed, as well as forms of relations and kinship with African-American and Afro-Indigenous people. It concludes with how different communities negotiated the tumultuous eras of the American Revolution, forced removal in the 1830s, and Civil War, and created pathways for endurance, self-determination, and security in its aftermath. The course centers on Indigenous actors--intellectuals, diplomats, legal strategists, knowledge keepers, spiritual leaders, artists, and many others--and consistently connects historical events with present-day matters of land, historical memory, education, caretaking, and activism. Additionally, it provides an opportunity to engage with original materials in the Williams College Archives/Special Collections and Art Museum. While the scope of the course is continental and transoceanic, it devotes significant attention to the Native Northeast and the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican homelands in which Williams College is located. [ more ]

AMST 255(S) LEC Patterns of African Diasporas to the U.S.

Migration remains an integral aspect of Black experiences. This comprehensive course, formerly titled "Black Migrations: Histories of African Diaspora in the US," centers the histories of Black migration to and within the United States. Migration includes the involuntary, forceful movement of populations, but it also comprises voluntary movement of populations that seek new economic opportunities. Therefore, this course covers three historical periods of migration: 17th- 19th century (Transatlantic slave trade), early 20th century (Great Migration and the arrival of Caribbean migrants to major urban centers in the United States), and the late 20th and early 21st century (Migration continental Africans to the US). This course will ask the following questions as it relates to Black migration: What were the social, political, and economic factors that contributed to the migration of Black populations to and within the US especially in the 20th and 21st century? How do current-day Black migration patterns differ from earlier periods? In what ways can migration be utilized as a form of resistance to oppression both domestically and internationally? [ more ]

AMST 256 SEM Social Justice Traditions: 1960s to #Black Lives Matter

Last offered Fall 2018

We live in a time of renewed social justice activism, as people from all walks of life confront economic inequality, police violence, discrimination against transgender individuals, and other forms of oppression. This course is designed to clarify where recent initiatives like Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street came from, and to evaluate how they might shape American life in the near future. Movements have histories, as today's activists draw on the "freedom dreams," tactics, and styles of rhetoric crafted by their predecessors, while making use of new technologies, such as Twitter, and evolving understandings of "justice." Taking a historical approach, we will begin by studying the civil rights, Black Power, anti-war, counter-culture, and feminist initiatives of the 1960s. We will then explore how progressive and radical activists adjusted their theories and strategies as the country became more conservative in the 1970s and 1980s. Making use of movement documents, documentary films, and scholarly accounts, we will study the development of LGBTQ, ecological, and economic justice initiatives up to the present day. Throughout, we will seek to understand how movements in the United States are shaped by global events and how activists balance their political work with other desires and commitments. [ more ]

AMST 257(F) LEC Race, Environment, and the Body

This course examines the relationship between structural racism and racial/ethnic health disparities. Through class discussions of readings and media images, we will explore three topics: 1) how racism intersects with classism, sexism, and xenophobia to govern the implementation of local, state and federal health care policies; 2) how the uneven enforcement of health care policies ultimately produces differences in mortality, morbidity, and quality of life among various populations; and 3) anti-racist public health scholarship that offers strategies for creating racial health equity. [ more ]

AMST 258(F) SEM Transatlantic Political Theory

Political theory tends to look towards Europe for inspiration. This course suggests an alternative. It traces how theory crisscrosses the Atlantic Ocean to and from Europe, Africa, and the Americas. We will begin with Alexis de Tocqueville's 1840 classic, Democracy in America, which is a snapshot of antebellum America from the perspective of a French aristocrat. Then we will flip things around and view Europe from America. During the Cold War, American political theorists, including European émigrés, were preoccupied by the threat of totalitarianism. We will read the definitive text on this subject, Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism, paying special attention to the link she makes between totalitarianism and imperialism. In the final section of this course, we will read Richard Wright's reports on Europe and Africa during the decolonization era, and conclude with a reading of Cedric Robinson's classic, Black Marxism. Together, these texts emphasize the importance of an African perspective on modern politics. Assignments in this reading- and writing-intensive course consist of reading quizzes, term papers, and in-class debates. [ more ]

AMST 261(S) SEM America Inside Out

Why does the land of the free put so many people in prison? The United States of America has more prisoners than any other country in the world and one of the highest rates of incarceration. During the Cold War, prison writings such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago were held up as the truest literature to escape the USSR. But could the same be true of the USA? Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered as a prophet and peacemaker who spoke to America's soul. But in his own lifetime, he was famous for being a political prisoner locked in a Birmingham jail. What does it say about America when advocates of freedom and democracy end up behind bars? To be sure, there are people in prison who have committed crimes we would all consider heinous. But the plurality are non-violent offenders serving time on drug-related charges. This crackdown has continued regardless of rates of drug use and disproportionately targets poor people of color. In this class, we will explore the origins of the carceral state, starting with Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault. From there, we will read the writings of US prisoners, such as Angela Davis and George Jackson, in comparison with literature from that other vast prison empire, the USSR. We will conclude by confronting the War on Drugs with Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. [ more ]

AMST 262(F) SEM Race-Making and the Politics of Performance

What is the relationship between contemporary understandings of race, American national identity, and performance? From the Sons of Liberty "playing Indian" during the Boston Tea Party to spectacles of racialized violence into the freakshow exhibition of "primitive, exotic Others" and the emergence of modern theater and film in the 19th and 20th century, performance has played a central role in shaping and disseminating ideas of race and racism in the American popular imaginary. This course will examine how the overlapping histories of settler colonialism, slavery, immigrant exclusion, and imperialism have been variously framed, justified, and contested through performance (in both an artistic and everyday sense). A central contention of this class is that race is constantly "made" (and remade) through performance, which we will explore through a historical survey of theater, film, popular culture, anthropological documents, and law. We will take a comparative ethnic studies approach that tracks the interconnections between Black, Indigenous, Asian, and Latina/o racial formations across public spectacle and theatrical/cinematic representation. We will also tend to the ways in which minoritized folks have used performance as a powerful tool to rethink identity, subjectivity, and community. [ more ]

AMST 263 SEM Cold War Technocultures

Last offered Spring 2015

With the Soviet Union's collapse at the end of the twentieth century and the emergence of the United States as an unchallenged victor and "new world" hegemon, have we lost a sense of the drama, fear, and unbridled terror that permeated American life during the Cold War? In this course we will set out to understand Cold War American culture(s) by examining the intersection of politics, aesthetics, and a range of major technoscientific developments during this period. The course will take shape in three parts. Part I will explore the emergence and role of the computer in shaping the distinctly American style of thought aimed at Soviet "containment". We will furthermore trace historical treads connecting MIT's legendary Whirlwind computer, the SAGE continental air defense system, nuclear wargaming at the RAND Corporation, artificial intelligence, and the advanced technologies, management strategies, and atrocities of the Vietnam War. Part II takes up the symbolic potency of the space race, which we will use as a conduit through which to explore the following events and developments: Sputnik, Yuri Gagarin's spaceflight, the Apollo moon landing, and American civil defense; the postwar science of cybernetics and the emergence of the now iconic cyborg; the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth report and the Gaia hypothesis; plans backed by NASA for the industrialization, humanization, and colonization of outer space; and Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, '"Star Wars". Finally, case studies considered in Part III will focus on moments of conflict and resistance, appropriation, and unintended consequences of the preceding and other Cold War technological developments, among them antipsychiatry and environmentalism; Project Cybersyn, an infrastructural causality of the US/CIA-backed Chilean coup of 1973; the American counterculture and the countercultural roots of neoliberalism(s). [ more ]

AMST 264 LEC American Art and Architecture, 1600 to Present

Last offered Fall 2023

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 265 LEC Pop Art

Last offered Spring 2020

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 267(F) SEM The Roaring Twenties and the Rough Thirties

This course will probe the domestic history of the U.S. from 1919 to 1939 and the cultural, economic, political, and social changes accompanying America's evolution into a modern society. Themes include: developments in work, leisure, and consumption; impact of depression on the organization of the public and private sectors; persistence of traditional values such as individualism and the success ethos in shaping responses to change; and the evolving diversity of America and the American experience. [ more ]

AMST 272 SEM American Postmodern Fiction

Last offered Spring 2020

American fiction took a turn at World War II; the simplest way to name the turn is from modernism to postmodernism. The most obvious mark of postmodern narration is its self-consciousness: postmodern books tend to be about themselves, even when they are most historical or realistic. Already a paradox emerges: why would World War II make narratives more self-reflexive? The first book in the course, and the best for approaching this paradox, is Heller's Catch-22. It also serves as a good introduction to the unlikely merging in American fiction of high European post-structuralist postmodernism and low American punk postmodernism. Subsequent books in the course will probably include Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, Morrison's Beloved, DeLillo's White Noise, Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,, Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao, and Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. [ more ]

AMST 275 TUT American Drama: Hidden Knowledge

Last offered Spring 2022

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, Machiavelli'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 Eugene O'Neill, Edward Albee, Sarah Ruhl, Arthur Miller, Amy Herzog, Susan Glaspell, Sophie Treadwell, Annie Baker, 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 276 SEM Southern Literary Aesthetics

Last offered Spring 2020

Hip-Hop artists signify as "the dirty South" the distinct sounds, rhythms, landscapes, gestures, desires as well as frustrations of Black residents living in the southernmost regions of the U.S. American continent. In this course, students will examine what the South means to American concepts and how the South is used to make meaning in literature, music, art, digital archives, and film. We will give particular attention to how representations of the South are informed by region, gender, sexuality, and class. At the end of the course, students will be able to identify Black southern aesthetics across various genres and mediums with attention to historical and regional specificity despite the opacity of these categories. Potential artists include Jean Toomer, Alice Walker, Ernest Gaines, William Faulkner, Jesmyn Ward, Zora Neale Hurston, Natasha Trethewey, E. Patrick Johnson, Trudier Harris, Kiese Laymon, Julie Dash, Spike Lee, Askia Muhammad Touré, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Alison Janae Hamilton, Outkast, DJ Khalid, Beyoncé Knowles, and Solange Knowles. [ more ]

AMST 283 SEM Black Queer Looks: Race, Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary African-American Film

Last offered Fall 2022

In this course we will foreground questions around visibility and memory. We will explore representations of Black queer bodies in experimental, documentary and narrative film. This course will engage foundational texts from Black Queer Studies. We will pair texts with film in order to examine the various relationships between art and scholarship. You will also be asked to think about yourself as a filmmaker. We will screen films such as Looking for Langston (Isaac Julien, 1989), The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996), U People (Olive Demetrius and Hanifah Walidah, 2009), Tongues Untied (Marlon Riggs, 1989) and Litany for Survival (Ada Gay Griffin and Michelle Parkerson, 1995). Throughout the course we will evaluate the different ways filmmakers represent Black queerness on screen. The goal is to think about the possibilities and limitations of representation and visibility. Each of you will be asked to facilitate a class discussion. You also will be required to do weekly critical response papers. In lieu of a final paper you will create a detailed proposal for a short film that "represents" some segment of Black queer living. [ more ]

Taught by: Marshall Green

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AMST 284(F, S) LEC Asian American History

This course offers an overview of Asian American history from the late seventeenth century to the present. It will cover the earliest Asian migration and settlement in the U.S., the rise of anti-Asian movements, the experiences of Asian Americans during World War II and the Cold War, the emergence of the Asian American movement in the 1960s, the post-1965 Asian immigration, and the War on Terror. We will investigate broader themes including labor, citizenship, political resistance, gender and sexuality, community formation, empire, and transnationalism. We will also consider key contemporary issues, including race and ethnic relations, anti-Asian harassment and violence, and the legacy of U.S. colonialism in Asia-Pacific. Along the way, we will engage classic and recent scholarship in the field, and form our own interpretations of the past based on a wide range of sources--including films, novels, newspapers, government documents, political cartoons, and more. Throughout, the course advances the argument that citizenship and belonging in the U.S. cannot be fully understood without accounting for the experiences of Asian Americans. [ more ]

AMST 299 TUT Let the Record Show: U.S, Literature of Research and Witness

Last offered Fall 2023

This is a course on the literature of research and witness in the U.S., from 1853 to the present. We will train our attention on works of long form journalism that stand at the intersection of reportage, archival history, documentary nonfiction, narrative and activism. The writers we study present quantitative and qualitative data that document the existence and effects of systemic racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia and uneven economic development. How have American writers defied disciplinary boundaries to speak truth to power? What critical reading skills are mobilized by books of sweeping scope and unflinching detail? The course will be taught in reverse chronological order. Readings include: Sarah Schulman, Let the Record Show; Layli Long Soldier, Whereas; Nicholas Lemann, The Promised Land; Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee; James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men; Tillie Olsen, Yonnondio; Ida B. Wells, A Red Record; and Harriet Beecher Stowe, Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin. [ more ]

AMST 301(F, S) SEM Theories and Methods in American Studies (Junior Seminar)

This seminar serves as an introduction to theories, methods, sources, and approaches for interdisciplinary research and creativity in and through the interdisciplinary field of American Studies. We will study diverse ways of "doing" American Studies work (including but not limited to visual studies, ethnography, literary studies, theory, or museum studies) and how this work speaks to various intellectual and political priorities within the field. Through readings, discussions, and unit assignments, students will not only deepen their knowledge of American Studies but will also have concrete opportunities to research, explore, experiment, construct arguments, and play. In the process, students will gain a working competence in all four tracks of the major (Space and Place; Comparative Studies in Race, Ethnicity, and Diaspora; Arts in Context; and Critical and Cultural Theory). Topics in the course may include environmental justice, racial formation, social movements, the prison industrial complex, infrastructure, or the aesthetics and form of minority literature. [ more ]

AMST 303 SEM Feminist Disability Studies: Bodyminds in Place and Space

Last offered Spring 2021

In this course we will engage anti-racist feminist theory, disability (or 'crip') theory, and human geography to think critically about disability. We will draw on critical geographies of disability to understand the built environment and institutional design; geographic scales of the body and the bodymind; spaces of the home and institutions; and im/mobility and spatial access. We will also consider how disability is shaped by (and shapes) practices of care and mutual aid; experiences of embodiment and impairment; and structures of vulnerability and agency. The course will trace, historically, how ableism has been produced through slavery, colonization, surveillance, and incarceration as well as through movements like eugenics and white liberal feminism. The course will also analyze disability's construction through medicalized notions of wellness, illness, pathology, and cure. Throughout the course, we will consider disability as intersecting with gender, race and ethnicity, queerness, trans*ness, fatness, class, nationality, and citizenship. Most centrally, we will ask: What is the spatiality of dis/ability, and how can space be occupied and reappropriated for radically inclusive uses? How can we understand both normality and deviance as socially constructed concepts that nonetheless have real, and uneven, implications for people's lives? [ more ]

AMST 304(F) SEM Queer in Asian America

Asian America has always been queer. This is both to say that, since the first waves of Asian immigrants to the Americas, there have always been queer individuals counted among them, and that the Asian American subject has historically figured as "queer" and "different" within the Western cultural, social, and economic landscape. How does queerness resonate, redound, or otherwise modulate the idea and experience of Asian Americanness? What are the textures and contours of this queerness? Does it have an aesthetic and literary dimension? This course surveys a range of scholarship and literature by queer and feminist Asian Americans that explore the interpenetrations of race, gender, and sexuality in the construction of Asian America and Asian American identity. Particular focus is paid to how Asian American artists and writers actualize queer subjectivity, relation, and intimacy across experiments in narrative, form, and media. The class will move between foundational scholarship at the intersections of Asian American studies, queer studies, and gender and sexuality studies alongside key works of art and literature. Potential artists and writers include Ocean Vuong, Justin Chin, Larissa Lai, Monique Truong, Alok Vaid-Menon, TT Takemoto, Jes Fan, and Leonard Suryajaya. Students will also have the opportunity to contribute their own selection of art and literature to the class conversation. [ more ]

AMST 305 SEM The Gay Menagerie: Gay Male Subcultures

Last offered Fall 2022

Bears. Cubs. Otters. Pups. Twinks. Radical Fairies. Leathermen. Mollies. Drag queens. Dandies. Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Gay men, including gay trans men, have organized themselves into various subcultures within their community for centuries. This seminar is devoted to exploring these subcultures in (a mostly US-context) in greater detail using ethnographic texts, anthropological studies, historical accounts (including oral histories), and media. Topics include cruising and flagging, the anthropological significance of gay bars, histories of bath house culture, rural vs urban queer experiences, the ball scene, drag, diva worship, the reclamation of "fabulousness and faggotry," the leadership roles of trans women and effeminate gay men in activist movements, gay gentrification, the growth of gay consumerism/ gay tourism/homonationalism, hierarchies of masculinity in the gay community (i.e., masc for masc culture), HIV/AIDS and the politics of PrEP, chemsex, the role of racialized dating "preferences," genealogies of BDSM and leather culture, sexual health and discourses of "risk," the politics of barebacking and other sexual practices, queering consent, and the effects of hookup apps on gay culture. In addition to lectures, and discussions, there will also be some low-key performance-studies based exercises in queer praxis (e.g., drag workshops, mock debates, animal improvisation, role playing, etc.) [ more ]

AMST 307 SEM Experimental African American Poetry

Last offered Fall 2019

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 308 SEM The Impact of Black Panther Party Intellectuals on Political Theory

Last offered Spring 2023

This seminar examines the historical and contemporary impact of the Black Panther Party--and key allies such as Angela Davis--on political theory. Texts include: narratives from 1966-2016; memoirs; political critiques; theoretical analyses; interviews; speeches; government documents. The seminar will examine: original source materials; academic/popular interpretations and representations of the BPP; hagiography; iconography; political rebellion, political theory. Readings: Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party; Soledad Brother: The Prison Writings of George Jackson; Mao's Little Red Book; The Communist Manifesto; Still Black, Still Strong; Imprisoned Intellectuals; Comrade Sisters: Women in the Black Panther Party. [ more ]

AMST 309 LEC Womanist/Black Feminist Thought

Last offered Fall 2018

This course explores the genealogy and development of black feminist and womanist thought. We will investigate the expansion of womanist thought from a theologically dominated discourse to a broader category of critical reflection associated more commonly with black feminism, analyze the relationship between womanism and black feminism, and review the historical interventions of black feminism. As critical reflections upon western norms of patriarchy, heterosexism, and racism, womanism and black feminism begin with the assumption that the experiences of women of color--particularly black women--are significant standpoints in modern western society. Through the examination of interdisciplinary and methodological diversity within these fields, students will be introduced to key figures including Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, and Katie Cannon, and will engage materials that draw from multiple fields, including, but not limited to, literature, history, anthropology, and religious studies. [ more ]

AMST 310 SEM "A language to hear myself": Advanced Studies in Feminist Poetry and Poetics

Last offered Spring 2023

The title of this course comes from Adrienne Rich's 1969 poem "Tear Gas," grounding our study in 1960s, 70s, and 80s feminist activist poetry but also in our current moment to answer a fundamental question: what can poetry do for us? In this period, feminist activist poets were at the center of a revolutionary social justice movement that changed the world. Feminist presses published much of the new poetry. This course focuses on the theory and practice of feminist poetry and print culture during this period, and how feminist experiments in language changed how we understand American poetry. We focus on the theoretical writings and poetry chapbooks of a diverse group of poets who powered the movement, including Audre Lorde, Mitsuye Yamada, Nelly Wong, Robin Morgan, June Jordan, Joy Harjo, Gloria Anzaldúa, Sonia Sanchez, Adrienne Rich, Judy Grahn, and Pat Parker. We also read the work of some later feminist theorists, such as Sara Ahmed. We spend time in the archives, analyzing documents from the period, including feminist magazines and original publications of poetry chapbooks often published by the period's many feminist presses and consider how such attention allows us to construct alternative narratives for feminism and American poetry. Writing at the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality, and of multiple social justice movements (Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam War, LGBTQ activism, and Black Power), these poets gave us a new language to "hear," not only ourselves, but the experience and pain of others, and, in so doing, they moved personal experience into public discourse around issues of inequality and human flourishing in a democratic society. [ more ]

AMST 311 Four Poets: Gwendolyn Brooks, Frank O'Hara, Sylvia Plath, and Amiri Baraka

Last offered NA

The study of literature often relies on seemingly "objective" labels to sort and group writers. These four major American poets from the last century were often segregated into different categories: Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) and Amiri Baraka (1934-2014) clumped together as black poets; Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) labelled a "Confessional Poet" and/or taught as a female poet but not a "white poet"; Frank O'Hara (1926-1966), designated a "New York School" poet but not a "white poet" or "male poet." In looking closely at the poetry of these four writers, whose work is usually not taught side by side, we will ask questions about the assumptions implicit in the concepts and categories of American (and English-language) poetics and how literary history usually gets written. For example, who is the presumed "universal" poetic speaker? Who is the assumed reader? Do our attitudes about raced and gendered bodies influence how we read raced and gendered poets? Is a queer poet read with the same particularity as a black poet? [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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AMST 312(S) SEM Contemporary Immigration Landscapes

What is the relationship between racial formations, transnational migrations, and power in the United States? How do geometries of power shape our relationship to place? How do people navigate and resist the exercise of unequal power relations? This course examines geographies of transnational migration, bringing together insights from critical race theory, queer theory, and postcolonial theories to enrich our understanding of human geography. Theories on belonging, identity, and power will serve as a bridge between the state's role in structuring the lives of transnational migrants and the politics of conceiving futures as alternatives to current political geographic imaginations in the U.S. immigration landscape. Through an interdisciplinary exploration of 'migration,' we will examine the depth and range of migrants' experiences (such as through Javier Zamora's Solito: A Memoir) and how these communities' lives are structured through various axes of difference, such as race, gender, sexuality, class, and documentation status. We will give attention to the variegated landscape of immigration enforcement and its relationship to issues of labor, political economy, and incarceration, among others. Through materials that embrace both social science and humanities approaches, this course will help students develop a critical understanding of how space matters when considering transnational processes of migration as well as migrant communities' political practices throughout the US. This course asks students to compare and contrast the intellectual genealogies covered and apply these theories of identity and power to case studies that focus on political interventions for social justice (such as UndocuQueers in the immigrant justice movement). [ more ]

AMST 313(F) SEM Gender, Race, and the Power of Personal Aesthetics

This media/cultural studies course focuses on the politics of personal style amongst women of color in the US and around the globe in the digital era. We undertake a comparative, transnational exploration of the ways in which categories of difference such as gender, disability, sexuality, class, and ethno-racial identity inform normative beauty standards and ideas about the body. The class pays particular attention to the ways in which neoliberal capitalism shapes contemporary understandings of gendered bodies and the self. We examine an array of materials from across the disciplines including commercial websites, music videos, photography, histories, film, television, personal narratives, ethnographies, and sociological case studies. Departing from the assumption that personal aesthetics are intimately tied to issues of power and privilege, we engage the following questions, among others: What are some of the everyday functions of personal style among women of color in the US and globally? How do Latina/x, Black, Arab American, and Asian American personal aesthetics reflect the specific circumstances of their creation, and the unique histories of these racialized communities? What role do transnational media and popular culture play in the development and circulation of gendered, raced, and sexualized aesthetic forms? How might the belief in personal style as an activist strategy complicate traditional understandings of feminist political activity? And what do the combined insights of ethnic studies, feminist studies, cultural studies, media studies, queer studies and disability studies contribute to our comprehension of gendered Asian American, Arab American, Black, and Latina/x bodies? [ more ]

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

Last offered Fall 2016

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 315 SEM Blackness 2.0: Race, Film and New Technologies

Last offered Spring 2019

Are distinctions of race truly eliminated with digital technologies? Through an engagement with scholarship in media studies, cultural studies, gender studies, and Africana studies (to name a few), this course will investigate the nuanced ways blackness is (re)constructed and (re)presented in digital technologies. Although we will largely focus on representations of blackness in modern film, we will examine the impact of 'new' technologies upon the broader categories of race, gender, and sexuality. Additional topics may include: avatar-based entertainment; race in the 'real' vs 'virtual' world; emoji wars; blogosphere politics; internet and hashtag activism; social networking and a post-race future; and fandom in the twitter era. [ more ]

AMST 316 LEC Sacred Cinema: Black Religion and the Movies

Last offered Spring 2015

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

Last offered Fall 2023

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 318 SEM Myths and the Making of Latine California

Last offered Spring 2024

California is home not only to the largest ethnic Mexican population in the USA but also to the largest Central American population, while also being home to long-standing Latine communities hailing from Chile to Cuba. Since the era of Spanish colonization, especially starting in 1769, California has been woven into fantastic imaginations among many peoples in the Americas. Whether imagined as Paradise or Hell, as environmental disaster or agricultural wonderland, as a land of all nations or a land of multiracial enmity, many myths have been inscribed onto and pursued within the space we call California. In a state whose name comes from an early modern Spanish novel, how did certain narratives of California come to be, who has imagined California in certain ways, and why? What impact have these myths had on different Latine populations in the history of California, and how have different Latines shaped, contested, and remade these myths as well as the California landscape that they share with other peoples? In this course, we consider "myth" as a category of socially powerful narratives and not just a simple term that refers to an "untrue story." We examine myths by focusing on a few specific moments of interaction between the Latine peoples who have come to make California home and the specific places in which they have interacted with each other. Of special interest are select creation stories (found in Jewish, Christian, and Indigenous traditions), imaginations of the Spanish missions, the Gold Rush, agricultural California, wilderness California, California as part of Greater México, California as "sprawling, multicultural dystopia," and California as "west of the west," including its imagination as a technological and spiritual "frontier." [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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AMST 319 SEM Ethnographic Approaches to Africana Studies

Last offered Spring 2012

Ethnography is the systematic study and recording of human cultures. It involves the collection and analysis of information from multiple sources including (but not limited to) first-person accounts, life histories, interviews, observations, and autobiographical materials. Within Africana Studies, ethnographic approaches have been utilized to reflect complex narratives of black experience throughout the Diaspora. This seminar is a critical introduction to the theory, method, and practice of ethnography in Africana studies. We will explore a variety of cultures and settings, and discuss the practical, methodological, and ethical issues related to ethnography. Three broad questions will dominate our discussions: 1) What are the theoretical, practical, and stylistic tools needed to fashion compelling ethnographies that get to the heart of what it means to document Africana experience? 2) What are the ethical and political implications of representing Africana perspectives in fieldwork studies? 3) What are the strengths and limitations of ethnography as a research method in Africana studies? Each student will utilize the materials covered in the course to research and write their own ethnography. [ more ]

AMST 320 SEM Dangerous Bodies: Black Womanhood, Sexuality & Popular Culture

Last offered Spring 2023

Whether presented as maternal saints, divas, video vixens, or bitches, black female celebrities navigate a tumultuous terrain in popular culture. This course considers the ways that black female celebrities such as Oprah, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, Janet Jackson, and Michelle Obama negotiate womanhood and sexuality, and the popular landscapes through which we witness that negotiation. It also engages contemporary black feminist scholarship, which most frequently presents the presentation of black female bodies in popular media forms as exploitive. We will review historical stereotypes of black women in popular media forms, discuss the history of the "politics of respectability" within black culture, engage black feminist responses to these types, and examine theoretical approaches to assess social constructions of womanhood and sexuality. We will also consider provocative questions relevant to discussions of contemporary black sexual politics: Should we view these women as feminists? Are they merely representatives of cultural commodification and control of black women's bodies? Do these women best exemplify the reiteration of problematic characterizations? Are they positive models for demonstrating female empowerment, agency, or "fierceness?" This course explores the histories of representation of black female figures in popular culture, and in so doing, troubles contemporary considerations of black womanhood and sexuality. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 323(S) SEM 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 the late Congressman John Lewis' March and Ebony Flowers' Hot Comb, 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 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 build comic creation and analysis skills through short exercises, eventually building up to the final project of a graphic short story that illustrates historical and/or autobiographical narratives. No art experience is required, only an openness to expanding one's visual awareness and composition skills. This course is often taught in collaboration with the Williams College Museum of Art's Object Lab program, which allows the class to have its own space and art objects that are directly related to the course topic. This class may feature Object Lab participation, film screenings, and collaborations with guest speakers. [ more ]

AMST 324 SEM Indigenous Women's History

Last offered Spring 2019

What would it mean to locate indigenous women and their stories at the heart of American history? This advanced junior seminar course answers this question by centering the lives of indigenous women from the pre-colonial period through the present. We will discuss both the historical importance of these women's lives, as well as the methodological and ethical concerns that arise through the historiographic recovery of their stories. We analyze both canonical figures--such as La Malinche, Pocahontas, and Sakakawea--as well as lesser known historical actors, political leaders, writers, and artists. [ more ]

AMST 325 SEM Asian/African American Cultural and Political Theory

Last offered Fall 2021

Contrasted as "model minorities" or "incorrigible minorities" Asian Americans and African Americans have been pitted against one another in social standing and political objectives. However, throughout the twentieth century, African/Asian solidarity and alliances existed in political movements and literary and cultural productions. From Ho Chi Minh's anti-lynching writing, the founding conference of the WIDF (Women's International Democratic Federation) in China in 1945, through the Bandung Conference, coalitions against U.S. wars in Southeast Asia, and alignments with Chinese anti-imperialist endeavors, black and Asian peoples have joined in international political formations. Contributions to theory include the writings and activism of Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, Robert Williams, Yuri Kochiyama, Grace Lee and Jimmy Boggs, Ishmael Reed, and Amiri Baraka; films of Bruce Lee; music of Fred Ho; revolutionary praxis of Mao Tse Tung's Little Red Book and his writings on art and society; the Marxism of the Black Panther Party; the Afro-futurism of Sun Ra and Samuel Delany; and contemporary "Afro-pessimism." Such cultural works depict futurities and possibilities for Black and Asian diasporas. This seminar examines theory, politics, literature, film, and music produced from and linked to twentieth-century movements against capitalism, racism, colonialism, and imperial wars to think through how Black and Yellow Power have shaped solidarity to challenge white supremacy and racial capitalism. Requirements: One midterm paper (5-6 pp.) = 30%; final paper/project (10-12 pp.) with a creative option = 50%; short response paper and GLOW posts = 10%; participation (attendance and class discussion) = 10% Course cap: 19 Priority given to AMST majors, Africana concentrators [ more ]

AMST 326(F) SEM Unfinishing America

The Great American Novel is a moribund cliché. Few would argue that any one work of fiction could capture the essence of American life. In this class, we will flip the Great American Novel on its head by reading Ralph Ellison's unfinished second novel. After publishing the acclaimed Invisible Man in 1952, Ellison seemed poised to deliver the next Great American Novel. But he never did. When he died in 1994, 42 years later, he left behind thousands of pages of material, but no finished second novel. Why wasn't he able to finish it? Some of it was bad luck. Some of it was a struggle with genre and form. However, perhaps the real reason Ellison's novel proved impossible is what it was trying to say. This is a book about the historical trauma of racism. Therefore, the thesis of this class is that the Great American Novel cannot be written as long as American history remains whitewashed. Ellison's manuscript shows this in surprising ways, from its depiction of racial passing and the taboo of interracial sex to its extended exploration of Black and Indigenous cultures in the former Oklahoma Territory. In addition to Ellison, we will read the work of the Chicano author Tomás Rivera, whose fragmentary fictions provoke similar questions. This class culminates in a final project that asks students to "unfinish" an American cultural object. [ more ]

AMST 327 SEM Racial and Religious Mixture

Last offered Spring 2020

The very term "mixture" implies that two or more distinct substances have been brought together. Distinctions of race and religion are social fictions; yet, the lived ramifications of these social fictions involve tense struggles over the boundaries of racial and religious communities. These boundaries are not just ideas but also practices. In the history of the Americas, mixed racial and religious identities and experiences have more often been the result of violent clashes than romantic encounters. Still, the romanticization of the New World as a geography that makes such mixtures possible reaches back to the earliest days of Spanish conquest in the Americas. This course critically reconsiders varying ways that racial and religious mixtures have been imagined, defined, challenged, negotiated, and survived under imaginative and legal rubrics of mestizaje, creolization, transculturation, passing, syncretism, religious hybridity, and mixed race studies. [ more ]

AMST 328 SEM American Social Dramas

Last offered Fall 2016

As Shakespeare wrote memorably in As You Like It, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." Sociologists have heeded Shakespeare's wisdom, arguing that social and political events are "performances" that take shape in accordance with familiar cultural scripts, and indeed that social actors implicitly interpret real-world events using plot structures from literary and dramatic genres such as romance, irony, comedy, and tragedy. We will explore this thesis through the lens of contemporary American political events, including the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, September 11, Hurricane Katrina, the 2012 presidential election, and current debates over Confederate symbolism. We will also pay careful attention to the unfolding drama associated with the 2016 presidential election. How do social performances and struggles to "control the narrative" shape the meanings and outcomes of political events? Are they merely "spectacles," or wellsprings for genuine civic participation? What role do political comedy, satire, and social media play in shaping the trajectory of contemporary events? Major authors will include Victor Turner, Clifford Geertz, J.L. Austin, Erving Goffman, and Jeffrey Alexander. Throughout the semester, each student will develop a significant project on a political event of their choosing. [ more ]

AMST 334(S) SEM Sexual Economies

This course examines various forms of sexual labor around the world in order to better understand how gendered and sexual performances are used in a variety of cultures and contexts for material benefit. Our topics include "traditional" forms of sex work such as street prostitution, pornography, and escorting as well as other forms of sexualized performances for benefit such as stripping or camming. We also discuss current issues and debates about discourses of "sex trafficking." Course readings come from a range of fields, but focus most heavily on anthropology, sociology, American studies, and gender studies. The readings for this class will frequently foreground the lived experiences of sex workers from a variety of nations, races, classes, religions, and backgrounds in order to explore the broader social implications of our subject matter. The format is largely discussion-based, with short lectures supplementing the reading with summaries of current scholarly and activist debates. We have a variety of guest speakers to share their diverse lived experiences related to this topic. [ more ]

AMST 335 SEM Uncovering Williams

Last offered Spring 2021

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 ]

AMST 337 SEM Queer in the City

Last offered Spring 2020

In this course we will examine the various ways scholars and filmmakers have used ethnography as a critical tool for understanding the intersections of race, place, space, gender and sexuality. We will foreground studies that examine unfamiliar sites of Black struggle, resistance, and survival. We will examine Black gender variant and sexual minorities and how they produce, reproduce and struggle for spaces and places of desire, community, pleasure, love, and loss. We will explore these stories through primarily ethnographic modalities. We will discuss the political and ethical ramifications of these ethnographic narratives paying particular attention to the usefulness and limitations of both 'Thin' and 'Thick' descriptions. We will use ethnography to center debates regarding the politics of representation of racialized queer space, place, and people through both filmic and written accounts. All students will be asked to discover and develop their ethnographic voices through various critical, creative, experimental and performative assignments. [ more ]

AMST 338(S) SEM Literature of the American Renaissance

The term "American Renaissance" refers to a period of US writing, primarily a couple of decades before the Civil War but extending after it: the time of Poe, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Dickinson, Whitman, Jacobs, and Douglass. At stake throughout was the soul of the nation in a time of exuberant political expansion, spiritual optimism, social experimentation, deadening social conventionality, spiritual constriction, labor exploitation, and slavery. The question repeatedly asked was what it means to be free. The question is personal, political, social, and spiritual, and always, for writers, literary: what are the limits or possibilities of writing freely? The course is foundational for any understanding of American literature of the 20th- and 21st centuries. [ more ]

AMST 339 SEM Latina/o/x Musical Cultures: Sounding Out Gender, Race, and Sexuality

Last offered Spring 2019

In this class we will investigate a wide variety of Latina/o/x popular musical forms, with particular attention to issues 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/x popular music and the identities of its producers, performers, and audiences. We will focus on the following questions, among others: How are hybrid Latina/o/x 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 340 SEM Elizabeth Bishop in the Americas

Last offered Spring 2020

Elizabeth Bishop has emerged as one of the most important poets of the 20th century. She is admired not only for her dazzling mastery of the craft but also her adventurous life as a world traveler. Her more than two decades living in Brazil and translating the culture and literature of that country for a North American audience, for instance, make her life and work a rich focal point for cross-cultural study. At the center of the course will be Bishop's stunning meditations on childhood, memory, travel, lesbian sexuality, gender identity, ecology, and race and class in the U.S. and Brazil. We will look at how Bishop intertwines personal and global historical encounters in order to raise serious ethical questions about our shared history of conquest and sense of place in the Americas from the 16th century to the Cold War period of the twentieth. What is ultimately at stake in our claiming of a "home"? We also read a number of the writers in North and South America who were closely connected to Bishop, from Robert Lowell and Ernest Hemingway in North America, to Pablo Neruda and Clarice Lispector in South America. Ultimately, we study how craft, poetic process, and an ethical eye on the world can open up the study of poetry and poetics in the 21st century. [ more ]

AMST 342(S) SEM Central American Visual Cultures

This course explores who U.S.-Central Americans are through their visual cultural production, as well as how US-Central Americans have been portrayed by others. Recently, Central Americans have gained visibility in the U.S. public sphere as mainstream media coverage of the "crisis at the border" has sensationalized the arrival of migrant caravans. The images and visuals resulting from mainstream coverage has led to monolithic representations of Central Americans framing them as "illegal aliens," violent gang members, or agentless victims. By engaging with visual culture ranging from social media, films, and zines, we challenge these monolithic perceptions and representations of Central Americans by pursuing the following set of questions: How have others visualized Central Americans and what has been the effect on lived experiences of U.S. Central Americans? How do U.S.-Central American communities visualize their identity formation in the U.S.? What is the role of visual culture in their resistance to racism, classism, sexism, and other structures of marginalization in the U.S.? As part of this course, we explore the range of social, political, economic, and historical forces that have pushed migration from each of the countries in the isthmus and the formation of their respective diasporas in the U.S. [ more ]

AMST 343 TUT Representations of Racial-Sexual Violence from Enslavement to Emancipation

Last offered Spring 2023

This tutorial examines representations of and resistance to racial-sexual violence in American society, from colonial America to contemporary US culture. Interdisciplinary texts cover history, politics, literature, film, feminist studies, American studies, lgbtq and ethnic/black studies. Books include Southern Horrors; Intimate Matters; Scenes of Subjection; Trauma and Recovery; The Delectable Negro; At the Dark End of the Street; films include Birth of a Nation; Bush Mama; To Kill a Mockingbird. The primary focus is on racial and sexual vulnerability to violence and mobilization for freedom from the 18th-21st centuries. [ more ]

AMST 344 SEM Pacific-New England Material Histories

Last offered Fall 2019

This course looks at the indigenous, colonial, maritime, and missionary histories that connect New England to island nations in the Pacific in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Rather than thinking of Hawai'i and Massachusetts merely as opposite ends of United States colonial expansion, we will focus on the heterogenous cast of historical actors-from queens to whalers-who interacted in these places and generated new forms in architecture, painting, printmaking, the decorative arts, textiles, and publishing. Particular attention will be paid to the politics of Hawaiian visual culture and the histories of Williams alumni in Hawai'i, but the readings, discussions, and student papers will not be limited exclusively to those subjects. Our time together will be split between lecture and class discussion, with some meetings devoted to archival research and object-based case studies in collections on campus. As a group, we will establish a corpus of objects and conceptual frameworks for analyzing what "Pacific-New England" means and how that might challenge our existing assumptions about regional art histories. Finally, we will experiment as a class with the best ways to convey what we've learned through our collective inquiry-whether in different forms of writing or by workshopping more creative approaches. [ more ]

AMST 345 SEM Capitalism and Racism in the American Context and Beyond: A Global Approach

Last offered Fall 2023

American Studies emerged with the idea that transdisciplinarity is crucial for comprehending the concept of America. Building on this framework, this course foregrounds transepistemology as an equally important method for understanding the dynamics of America, both locally and globally, at the level of the world-system. In addition to tracing the consubstantial genealogy of racism and capitalism, we will examine their local manifestations, mainly in Asia, Europe, Africa and America, as well as their current geopolitical, social and economic outcomes, especially the reproduction of systemic inequalities and domination. Through an interdisciplinary approach and engagement with a variety of resources from economics, anthropology, sociology, critical race theory, comparative ethnic studies and decolonial thinking, this course will address the following: i) review the different forms of economic organization of human societies throughout history (with special focus on the work of Karl Polanyi); ii) trace the epistemological origins of capitalism and investigate what makes capitalism and its crises unique; iii) trace the genealogy of the concepts of race, racism and discrimination; iv) interrogate the intersection of racism and capitalism in different traditions of thought and epistemologies in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. For example, we will read key texts from "French theory", (Deleuze, Foucault, etc.), US Black tradition, (W. E. B. Du Bois and Cedric Robison, etc.), Chinese social sciences (Li Shenming, Cheng Enfu, etc.) and African economy and anthropology (Mahdi Elmandjra, Cheikh Anta Diop, etc.) and Latin American decolonial philosophy (Quijano, Dussel, Mignolo, etc.) By doing this, we will situate the rupture that capitalism and racism introduced at the level of global history, which is the first step to conceptualizing racism and capitalism. After showing that the development of capitalism and racism are historically linked, we will proceed to examine the manifestations of their interaction at local and global levels. Locally, we will focus on the effects of racism on the labor market: discrimination in hiring, wage discrimination, segregation, duality and stratification of the labor market, etc. We will also analyze how sexism and racism play out in the labor market in racialized communities. We will also reflect on the links between racism and politics and their effects on economic policies. From a more global perspective, we will analyze the roots of the global economic crisis and the resulting geopolitical issues at the international level and the racist dynamics they generate. Overall, as we will move through readings, we will situate the United States in a cross-regional perspective that would enable us to develop critical insights concerning links and convergences between capitalism and racism. [ more ]

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

Last offered Fall 2020

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 347 SEM Beyond Cli-Fi: Climate Change Histories & the Arts of Resilience

Last offered Spring 2020

This interdisciplinary environmental humanities seminar begins with the premise that our present climate crisis is a political project of globalization propelled by capitalism and its cultural logic. Causes and consequences of climate change can only be understood by examining the historical trajectories of carbon-based economic, political, and cultural systems since the 19th century. We trace the intellectual genealogy of modern climate science, consider the politics of indigenous knowledge as related to extractivism, and examine literary and artistic engagements with the natural world. We pay particular attention to the narrative strategies that scientists and policymakers use to talk about climate, and we develop creative critiques of the dominant discourses. We use historical and cultural analysis to study social movement strategy and tactics among advocates for climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience. We begin and end with creative responses to climate crisis, always asking: How can we move beyond dystopia and defeatism? How might history inform social movements for climate resilience? How can the arts, theater, and literary production articulate a new politics of survival? What narrative forms enable and inspire climate action? [ more ]

AMST 348 SEM Drawing Democracy: Graphic Narratives as Democratic Ideals

Last offered Spring 2022

This course examines the graphic narrative in terms of how each author/illustrator employs narrative elements (plotting, structure, characterization, text, and visuals) to express social realities within the context of democratic ideals. Regular assignments and in-class exercises throughout the course offer students the opportunity to create their own graphic narratives. [ more ]

AMST 349 SEM The Politics of Algorithms

Last offered Fall 2021

Every day, you interact with or through computer algorithms. In ways often obscure to users, they structure communication or conduct in social media, education, healthcare, shopping, entertainment, dating, urban planning, policing, criminal sentencing, political campaigns, government regulation, and war. Moving from the emergence of cybernetics during World War II through such contemporary examples as facial recognition software, this seminar approaches algorithms as complex technological artifacts that have social histories and political effects. Asking how algorithms are political and what that tells us about politics today (particularly in the U.S.), we will consider how their design expresses forms of power and their deployment shapes ways of living. What behaviors do different algorithms solicit, reward, discourage, or stigmatize? What kinds of selfhood and relationships do they promote or thwart? How do various algorithms influence political partisanship and beliefs and intersect with existing hierarchies of race, class, gender, and sexuality? When inequities are built into a design, can that be addressed by rooting out "bias," or do such efforts miss something more inherent in the kinds of artifacts algorithms are or what they can be in a capitalist economy? Might developments in artificial intelligence transform our sense of the human or even threaten the species? Many of the seminar's themes, including democracy, power, inequality, judgment, deliberation, publicity, subjectivity, and agency, are central to political theory, but readings and course materials will also be drawn from such fields as media theory, surveillance studies, sociology, American studies, critical data science, film, and contemporary art. The course neither requires nor teaches any computer science skills. [ more ]

AMST 351 SEM Queer Tongues & Lavender Linguistics

Last offered Fall 2021

This course in linguistics provides an introduction to linguistic anthropology, sociolinguistics, and folklore studies using topics and approaches related to gender and sexuality. It is a methods course based in empirical research principles, but a basic familiarity with the broad strokes of queer/feminist theory may be helpful. One goal of the class will be learning to read and write in IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) and how to construct and use IPA "change charts." We then build on this as we turn to sociolinguistics as students will learn how to do Discourse Analysis and Conversation Analysis, using WGSS-oriented topics (e.g., upspeak, vocal fry, so-called "gay voice," the gendered nature of turn-taking and interrupting.) We then turn to an extended unit on queer folklore and folklife, learning how anthropologists and folklorists use motif type indexes (e.g., Propp Functions, Thompson Type Index, etc) to study oral narratives and how feminist/queer theorists can use these to analyze gender in folk/fairytales and other stories. We also read several linguistic anthropologists' ethnographies of queer communities' language practices in global context. The semester concludes with a unit on LGBT slang, argots, and profanity. [ more ]

AMST 352 SEM Global Health in the Transpacific

Last offered Spring 2022

East is East, and West is West, Rudyard Kipling famously wrote in 1889, but never has this been true. Just as war, imperialism, and transnational flows of capital move people, cultures, and ideas across the Pacific, similar patterns of migration and mobility shape the transmission of illness and disease as well. This course explores global health and disease control as sites of domination and resistance in the Pacific Rim. Articulating the linkages between Asia/America, we will look at the racialization of people and pestilence during the third plague pandemic in Hong Kong and San Francisco, malaria control projects in colonial Southeast Asia, and the rise of modern genomics out of the ashes of Hiroshima and concern over radiation risk, and other cases, to understand how disregard for Asian bodies has shaped the development of modern medicine and public health. At the same time, Indonesia's claim of "viral sovereignty" to protect their biological specimens from Western intellectual property regimes and Hmong refugees' resistance to biomedical intervention in their struggles with mental illness offer counterpoints to Western hegemony. This course provides a critical examination of biosecurity as modern geopolitical struggle and puts Asia-Pacific and the Pacific Rim at the center of our exploration of global health. [ more ]

AMST 354(S) SEM Race/War: Critical Readings on Violence

We live in a moment where the media visibility of warfare is surging. On both mainstream media outlets and social media platforms often-pervasive depictions of violence challenge our ability to analyze, historicize, and empathize. This course will step back and explore a longer history of military violence and its connection to key American Studies concepts including race, empire, settler colonialism, and more. We will interrogate a mix of historical, literary, and theoretical texts that offer tools for analyzing the tangled intersections of race and violence, with an emphasis on the history of the United States and its militarized relationship to the rest of the world. Course texts will invite us to investigate how categories like "civilized" and "savage" have intersected with concepts like the "rules of war," international law, and forms of violence that draw the label "race war." Course topics will include Native resistance to US continental expansion, overseas US imperialism in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, indiscriminate violence during World War II, the relationship of Cold War foreign policy to the Global War on Terror, and more. Students can expect to engage a range of sources, including archival materials, legal texts, novels, films, video games, and much more. [ more ]

AMST 357 SEM Re/Generations II: Contemporary Experiments in Memory, Trauma, and Self

Last offered Spring 2021

This is a two-part junior seminar in which we take an expansive approach to memoir as a form, genre, and practice, with specific attention given to texts reckoning with the traumas, transgressions, and transformations of what we understand as "America" and its many discontents. In this second part, we convene on a selection from our historical present and explore how categories of identity and experience, memory and history are being constructed and deconstructed, reimagined and remade anew. We will ask: how do these authors narrate the overlapping cycles of loss, pain, grief, survival, resilience, and resistance in the face of historical violence? What possibilities for (individual and collective) healing can exist in and beyond the world as we know it? What does it even mean to have or to not have, to find, to lose, to have stolen, to dissolve, and/or to recover a self in a besieged American present-future tense? Texts to be considered may include: How to Write an Autobiographical Novel (Alexander Chee); When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir (Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele); Heart Berries (Terese Marie Mailhot); Know My Name (Chanel Miller); On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous (Ocean Vuong). [ more ]

AMST 358 SEM Performing Masculinity in Global Popular Culture

Last offered Fall 2023

This course examines popular cultural contexts, asking what it means to be a man in contemporary societies. We focus on the manufacture and marketing of masculinity in advertising, fashion, TV/film, theater, popular music, and the shifting contours of masculinity in everyday life, asking: how does political economy change the ideal shape, appearance, and performance of men? How have products - ranging from beer to deodorant to cigarettes -- had their use value articulated in gendered ways? Why must masculinity be the purview of "males" at all; how can we change discourses to better include performances of female masculinities, butch-identified women, and trans men? We will pay particular attention to racialized, queer, and subaltern masculinities. Some of our case studies include: the short half-life of the boy band in the US and in Asia, hip hop masculinities, and the curious blend of chastity and homoeroticism that constitutes masculinity in the contemporary vampire genre. Through these and other examples, we learn to recognize masculinity as a performance shaped by the political economy of a given culture. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 360(F) SEM The Atlantic World: Connections, Crossings, and Confluences

This course considers the Atlantic World as both a real place and a concept: an ocean surrounded and shaped by diverse people and communities, and an imagined space of shared and competing affiliations. Moving from "time out of mind" to the early nineteenth century, it examines ecological, cultural, political, economic, intellectual, and spiritual transits as well as exchanges among Indigenous/Native American, African and African American, Asian and Asian American, and Euro-colonial people. It introduces conceptual dimensions of this Atlantic paradigm and case studies that illuminate its human subtleties, with the goal of examining "early American" histories through transnational and transoceanic lenses. The course takes an interdisciplinary approach to these intertwined histories, and reckons with how the very construction of "history" has, at different turns, affected what is shared, known, valued, and commemorated--or overwritten, denied, or seemingly silenced. Attentive to the structures of power that inflect every part of Atlantic histories, it offers specific ethical frameworks for approaching these topics. Blending methods grounded in oral traditions and histories, place-based knowledge systems, documentary/written archives, songs, archaeology, material culture, and other forms of expression and representation, it invites class members to revisit the nature and meanings of these connected spaces. The course consistently connects historical experiences with the twenty-first century, and how communities today are grappling with the afterlives and ongoing effects of these Atlantic pasts through calls to action for reparations, repatriation and rematriation, Land Back, climate justice, and other forms of accountability. The course also provides an opportunity to engage with original materials pertaining to Atlantic World histories in the Williams College Archives/Special Collections and Art Museum. [ more ]

AMST 361 SEM Marking Presence: Reading (Dis)ability in/to Latinx Media

Last offered Spring 2024

This course explores the intersection of (dis)ability and Latinx identity in the contemporary US context. Employing Angharad Valdivia's (2020) notion of "marking presence" to describe the intentional ways in which Latinx subjects gain and hold on to mainstream media space, the class places the fields of Disability Studies, Latinx Studies, Gender Studies and Media Studies into conversation. We address the following questions and others: What does media reveal to us about the place of (dis)ability and Latinidad in contemporary US life, particularly as these categories intersect with questions of gender, sexuality, national identity and citizenship? How might we read Latinidad and (dis)ability into media texts in which they are not otherwise centered? What are the advantages of deploying mainstream media presence as a claim to power for disabled Latinx individuals, particularly those who are multiply marginalized? What are the limitations of such an approach? We will focus on these questions, as well as deploy various media examples (podcasts, social media, film, television and music) alongside scholarly texts to explore topics impacting the Latinx communities such as the relationship between the relationship between immigration and (dis)ability, intergenerational trauma and migration, the gendered archetype of the Latina "Loca," (dis)ability in academia, the politics of self-care amongst Latinxs in the neoliberal context, and the very legal, cultural, and social category of "(dis)abled" itself within dominant society as well as in Latinx communities. [ more ]

AMST 362 SEM "'Rebel Ecologies': Black and Indigenous Struggles for Land and Life"

Last offered Spring 2023

This course will ask, what other socioecological models exist? We will weave together a study of differing, yet often converging or synergistic traditions of Black/Womanist eco-feminism that often confronts the social constructions of race, gender, class and sexuality, dominant religion as a means of social control, imperialism, capitalism, and colonialism; Ecosocialism which often frames ecology in terms of a mode of production beyond or outside of capitalism; and Indigenous perspectives on resistance to capitalist extraction, imperialism, and colonialism. Given ongoing struggles against the extraction of land and labor, the urgent calls raised in the present-day "climate strike," the COVID-19 Pandemic, Black-led pandemic rebellions, along with long(er) histories of land-based peoples around the planet opposing racial capitalism, settler colonialism, and imperialism, this class will explore not only what those in opposition to both extractivism and expropriation resist, but also what we want. We will critique binaries, settler notions of time and explore theories of change. Additionally, this class will look to an array of literature, film, sound, and other forms of cultural production in order to not just "locate," but describe and reveal rebel ecological visions emerging "from below." Ultimately this class will consider how the above ecological praxis can work simultaneously and within a sense of plurality, examining what we can learn from the work of activists, intellectuals, and defenders on the frontline. This course is an extension of Dr. Guess' concept of a "rebel ecology." [ more ]

Taught by: Allison Guess

Catalog details

AMST 363(S) SEM Data for Justice Research Practicum

Civil rights activist, educator, and investigative journalist Ida B. Wells said that "the way to right wrongs is to shine the light of truth upon them." In this inclusive, collaborative, research-based course, students will bring statistical, computational, and/or mathematical approaches to bear on issues of social justice. Guided closely by the instructor, students will work in groups to carry out original research in an area such as criminal justice, education equity, environmental justice, health care equity, economic justice, or inclusion in arts/media. Prior research experience is not required; one goal of this course is to build skills for advanced research. [ more ]

AMST 364(F) SEM Trans Film and Media

This course provides an introduction to contemporary trans culture and politics via the lens of film and other (mostly visual) media. We'll focus mainly on media production in the U.S. since the early 1990s, as this moment is usually understood as inaugurating contemporary "transgender" politics; additionally, the 90s saw a profusion of diversity in popular representation generally. This class has two main priorities: first, to use visual media as a lens for surveying major developments in trans studies, politics, and representation over the last few decades; second, to develop a critical repertoire for thinking about our current conjuncture of "trans visibility" in particular. By tracking a longer history of both popular and alternative trans media production, this course will question the vanguardism and celebratory progress narratives associated with "trans tipping point" visibility conditions. Drawing from perspectives in WGSS, American studies, and ethnic studies, we will especially situate trans representation in relation to the institutionalization of minority difference under neoliberal capitalism. In line with scholarship, we'll approach trans representation as interlocking with structures like race, heteropatriarchy, dis/ability, immigration, and nationality and empire. [ more ]

AMST 365 SEM Race and Psychoanalysis: Slavery and the Psyche

Last offered Fall 2022

This course explores slavery and the psyche through a constellation of Black diasporic literary, visual, and theoretical texts from the US, Caribbean, and Africa. Unwieldy and generative, the opacity of race within the field (and practice) of psychoanalysis shares a fraught intimacy with the co-constitutive terrains of violence and race that form the unconscious. Querying what escapes the hermeneutics of psychoanalysis and aesthetics in the fantasies race engenders, we will examine modernity's articulation of racialization through conceptualizations--both fantasmatic and real--of self, world, knowledge, and possibility. Course texts may include: Edwidge Danticat's The Farming of Bones, Adrienne Kennedy's Funnyhouse of a Negro, Bessie Head's A Question of Power, Arthur Jafa's APEX and Love is the Message and the Message is Death, Conceição Evaristo's Ponciá Vicêncio, Lars von Trier's Manderlay, Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep, Derek Walcott's "Laventille"; and, selections from Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, David Marriott, Kathleen Pogue White, Franz Fanon, Hortense Spillers, Nathan Gorelick, Jaqueline Rose, Jared Sexton, Melanie Klein, Jacques-Alain Miller, Melanie Suchet, and Jean Laplanche. Note: This course will reflect the Continental tradition in philosophy. Student should be familiar with the basic interventions of psychoanalysis. [ more ]

AMST 366 Music in Asian American History

Last offered NA

Is "Asian American music" all music made by Asian Americans, music by Asian Americans specifically drawing on Asian heritage, or music engaging with Asian American issues? This course embraces all three definitions and the full diversity of Asian American musical experience. We will study the historical soundscapes of immigrant communities (Chinese opera in North America; Southeast Asian war refugees) and how specific traumatic political events shaped musical life (Japanese American internment camps). We will encounter works by major classical composers (Chou Wen-Chung; Chen Yi; Tan Dun; Bright Sheng) and will investigate the careers and reception of prominent classical musicians (Midori; Seiji Ozawa; Yo-Yo Ma). Afro-Asian fusions, inspired by civil rights protest movements, manifested in jazz (Jon Jang; Fred Ho; Anthony Brown; Hiroshima; Vijay Iyer) and hip hop (MC Jin; Awkwafina; Desi rappers). Asian Americans have been active in popular music at home and abroad (Don Ho; Yoko Ono; Wang Leehom; Mitski). Finally, we will investigate communal forms of Asian American music making that have crossed racialized and gendered boundaries (taiko drumming; Indonesian gamelan; belly dance; Suzuki method). This seminar is designed to develop research skills, as we pursue original fieldwork, archival research, and oral history interviews. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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AMST 367 SEM Colonialism and the Environment

Last offered Fall 2022

In this course students will explore the intersections of environmental history and the history of colonialism in the United States. We will examine how scholars have crafted narratives that focus on "nature"--both as a cultural concept and as a set of biological processes and systems. Readings and assignments will analyze the ways in which these different "natures" have acted as both agents and objects of historical change. We will pay particular attention to how different environments were impacted by the Euro-American conquest of indigenous homelands. Course topics will include (but are not limited to) European settlement in New England, the North American fur trade, US continental expansion and the destruction of the bison, the transcontinental railroad, the creation of the National Park system, Native American environmental activism, and paramilitary responses to struggles over natural resources (such as the Dakota Access Pipeline protests). [ more ]

AMST 368 SEM Framing American Slavery

Last offered Fall 2020

Readings in American Slavery This course will delve into how and what historians have written about US slavery for the last century or so. Rather than marching through time, like we might in a survey course, we'll explore the nooks and crannies of slavery's history. We'll consider gender and sexuality, labor and capitalism, regional difference, maritime culture, and every day life. We'll compare histories produced well before the Civil Rights Movement to books written afterward. We'll consider the obstacles and challenges Black scholars faced in the academy and consider the significance of their work. Finally, we'll examine slavery's role in today's world, beginning with the institution's relationship with American universities and continuing on to the recent protests against monuments and statues. [ more ]

AMST 369(S) SEM Gender, Sexuality & Disability

From classical mythology to reality TV, bodies and minds that depart from the ordinary have long been sources of popular fascination. In recent history, people marked as "disabled" have been subject to medical scrutiny, labeled deficient or defective, and often barred from full participation in society. And yet, what counts as "disability"--and who counts as disabled--varies greatly depending on cultural and historical context. Arguably, disability has more to do with social conditions than with any innate characteristics of disabled people themselves. This class introduces disability studies, situating disability within its historical, political, and cultural contexts. As a GWSS course, we'll center queer and feminist perspectives; this class also emphasizes recent work. Echoing arguments in gender and sexuality studies, scholars have insisted that disability is not a natural or biological fact, but a socially constructed category. As such, scholars and activists have challenged medical models that conceptualize disability as an individual defect in need of elimination. They have also questioned the idea that disability is simply a minority identity -- to the contrary, disability is a condition that most humans will experience at some point in our lives. This class frames "disability" broadly--encompassing not just conditions of physical impairment, but a wide range of bodily, sensory, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral differences and capacities. This class also centers how disability is produced intersectionally through regimes like race, capitalism, and empire. Topics include: theories of embodiment, eugenics, institutionalization and incarceration, neurodivergence, mad studies, the politics of health, storytelling and narrative, disability justice activism, neoliberalism, biopolitics, and crip theory. Along with scholarly writings, we'll consider activist texts, popular press, fiction, memoir, and a variety of other media. [ more ]

AMST 370 SEM Visual Politics

Last offered Spring 2023

Even casual observers know that appearances matter politically and that the saturation of politics by visual technologies, media, and images has reached unprecedented levels. Yet the visual dimensions of political life are at best peripheral topics in contemporary political science and political theory. This seminar explores how our understanding of politics and political theory might change if visuality were made central to our inquiries. Treating the visual as a site of power and struggle, order and change, we will examine not only how political institutions and conflicts shape what images people see and how they make sense of them but also how the political field itself is visually constructed. Through these explorations, which will consider a wide variety of visual artifacts and practices (from 17th century paintings to the optical systems of military drones and contemporary forms of surveillance), we will also take up fundamental theoretical questions about the place of the senses in political life. Readings may include excerpts from ancient and modern theorists, but our primary focus will be contemporary and will bring political theory into conversation with other fields, particularly art history and visual studies but also film and media studies, psychoanalysis, neuroscience, and STS. Possible authors include Arendt, Bal, Belting, Benjamin, Browne, Buck-Morss, Butler, Campt, Clark, Crary, Debord, Deleuze, Fanon, Foucault, Freedberg, Hobbes, Kittler, Mercer, Mitchell, Mulvey, Plato, Rancière, Scott, Sexton, Starr, Virilio, Warburg, and Zeki. [ more ]

AMST 371 SEM Rebels, Guerillas, and Insurgents: Resistance and Repression in US History

Last offered Spring 2024

This course examines histories of resistance and repression throughout US history. We will consider the role of militancy in social or revolutionary movements, how states deploy power to respond to those movements, and debates around "violence" and political action. Wide ranging in both chronology and topic, course materials will explore slavery, piracy, indigenous resistance to US continental expansion, the expansion of US empire to places like Hawaii and the Philippines, social movements focused on race, class, gender, sexuality, and citizenship, as well as struggles over environmental justice and indigenous sovereignty. The course will also interrogate the rise of far-right paramilitary violence in the United States and the backlash to the social movements of the 1960s and 70s. Students will develop their skills in reading, writing, and communication, and classes will emphasize engagement with primary sources, cultural texts, and different forms of media. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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AMST 372(S) SEM Technologies of Race

This course is an introduction to theories, methods, sources, and approaches for interdisciplinary research and creativity in and through the interdisciplinary field of American Studies. We will focus on the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, and disability with modern media technologies, from early photography in the mid-19th century to contemporary trends in machine learning and artificial intelligence. Through a process of shared inquiry, course participants will investigate the ways that historical legacies of oppression and futuristic speculation combine to shape human lives in the present under racial capitalism. Whether analyses of the automation of militarized border control in Texas, or of the ways that obsolete, racist concepts are embedded in machine vision and surveillance systems, the readings in the course will chart out the key moments in the co-evolution of race and technology in the Americas. Students will gain a working competence in all four tracks of the American Studies major (Space and Place; Comparative Studies in Race, Ethnicity, and Diaspora; Arts in Context; and Critical and Cultural Theory). Finally, we will also explore alternative paths toward a future where technology might help to effect the abolition of oppressive structures and systems, rather than continue to perpetuate them. [ more ]

AMST 373 SEM US Empire in the Philippines: Capitalism, Colonialism, and Revolution

Last offered Fall 2023

When the United States of America took official colonial control of the Philippines in 1898, Filipinos had already been fighting an anti-colonial struggle against Spain for several years. With the start of the Philippine-American War in 1899, that fight continued. Keeping the always-present possibilities of Filipino revolt in mind, this course takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of U.S. empire-building in the Philippines from the late-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. We will frame our understanding in terms of racial capitalism and the coloniality of power, with particular attention to the materiality of empire -- infrastructure, architecture, financing, markets, and population management -- and U.S. empire's production of racial, gender, indigenous, religious, and sexual categories and difference. Our readings may be drawn from critical ethnic studies, gender & sexuality studies, American studies, postcolonial theory, Black studies, disability studies, and more. Topics include the military "management" of Muslim, Christian, and animist groups, the Katipunan society, interracial intimacies, and early 20th century Filipino migration to the United States. Students are expected to take an active role in discussion, but no prior knowledge of the Philippines is expected. [ more ]

AMST 374 SEM Black Critical Theory, Black Avant-Garde

Last offered Spring 2024

What is the relationship between violence and what constitutes the Black avant-garde and Black critical theory? Is it possible to conceptualize the latter two without an investigation of Black rebellion and its relationship between Black artistic and intellectual production? Can one argue that Black critique is none other than Black experimentation in form, or that Black abstraction is the requisite effector for all modes of Black praxis and thought? This course will explore these questions through a study of Black continental and diasporic avant-garde texts in multiple mediums. Alongside, we will also consider the emergence of contemporary Black critical theory, chronicling its development as both experimental and critical. Through the works of historical subjects of experimentation also considered to be objects critiquing in experimental form, the course will approach Black avant-gardism and Black critical theory as a productive opportunity to think about Blackness as critique, as experimentation, and as theoria. This pairing of Black avant-gardes and Black critical theory takes "avant" at its root--indicating what precedes or takes precedent--and "garde" as what is preeminent, or what protects. As such, we will start with the question of whether blackness, as an ideological fiction produced through violent historical ideologies and practices, could ever, or ever not, be anything but avant-garde? [ more ]

AMST 375(S) SEM Asian American Sexualities

Perceived as objects of sexual use and perversity, how might Asian/Asian American subjects contend with these projections and enact their own genders and sexualities? Anchored in this question, this theory-intensive seminar will provide a study of seminal and recent scholarship at the intersections of Asian American Studies, feminist criticism, and queer theory that focus on or are read in tandem with a collection of cultural expressions, including film, sculpture, poetry, drag performance, music, manifestos, and visual and performance art. To first root us, the seminar will introduce key uses and theorizations of sex/gender, sexuality, and queerness. Then, across the semester, we will focus on deployments of them through a range of topics, including sexual subjugation and activism of "comfort women," orientalism/ornamentalism, the queering of Sikh, South Asian, and Muslim Americans post-9/11, western demands to "come out," representations in pornography, lesbian invisibility, devaluation of trans* lives, etc., exploring questions of racialized, gendered, and sexual subordination alongside power, pleasure, play, and critique. To this end, we will approach gender and sexuality not as identity categories that one is or has but socially and biologically construed categories, loci for intervention and play, anti-normative positions, lived experiences, and ever-evolving processes of doing, becoming, and unbecoming. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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AMST 376 SEM Landscapes in American Literature

Last offered Fall 2019

This course examines representations of American landscapes in selected texts from the British colonial era to the present. Critical approaches will include narrative theory, formalism, eco-criticism, and science and technology studies. The central questions are: (1) How do authors adapt narrative and poetic forms to the representation of particular landscapes? (2) How do literary landscape representations change when new technologies arise for traversing and transforming them? (3) What effects can literary landscapes have on the landscapes we live in? Landscapes include settlements, cities, wildernesses, "frontiers," suburbia, and infrastructural scenes. Relevant technologies include the postal service, the railroad, the telegraph and telephone, the automobile, commercial aviation, and Skype. Texts may include: letters of Columbus, American Indian creation stories, early American religious texts, captivity narratives, slave narratives, and poems, short stories, and novels from the 17th to the 21st centuries, as different from one another as Dickinson's "Nature-sometimes sears a Sapling-" and Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain. [ more ]

AMST 379(S) SEM American Pragmatism

Along with jazz, pragmatism stands as the greatest uniquely American contribution to world culture. As the music wails in the background, we will study the classic pragmatists: William James, C. S. Peirce, and John Dewey. We will continue with the contemporary inheritors of the tradition: Cornel West, Richard Rorty, and Hilary Putnam. Although it has influenced both analytic and continental philosophy, pragmatism is a powerful third philosophical movement. Always asking what practical difference would it make, our authors investigate the central questions and disputes of philosophy, from epistemology and metaphysics to ethics and religion. Rather than seeing philosophy as an esoteric discipline, the pragmatic philosophers (with the possible exception of Peirce) see philosophy as integral to our culture and see themselves as public intellectuals. [ more ]

AMST 383(F, S) SEM Comparative History of Science and Medicine in Asian/Pacific America, 1800-Present

How have scientific knowledge and medicine been tools of exclusion, violence, and imperial control against Asian Americans, as well as indigenous peoples, Black, Latinx, and white migrants, and their descendants? How have these groups negotiated and resisted encounters with such knowledge from the 19th century to the present? This seminar explores these questions by examining a series of case studies--including American colonial medicine and science in the Philippines and Hawai'i, Cold War migration of Chinese scientists and South Asian doctors to the U.S., and the politics of HIV/AIDS, psychiatry, and culturally competent care in Black, Asian, and Cuban migrant communities. Together, we will survey the literature in history, English, Global Health, Sociology, and other fields and consider how the Asian/Pacific American experience in science and medicine has been integral to, as well as informed by, the experiences of other groups in the transpacific world. Students will leave this course with interdisciplinary tools for understanding present-day health inequities in underserved Asian/Pacific American communities and other marginalized groups. [ more ]

AMST 384(S) SEM Asia and Asian Americans During the Cold War

This course traces how American geopolitical interests and involvement in Asia during the Cold War affected Asian Americans. It examines the history of the Cold War as a period of U.S. imperial expansion as well as a time when various actors and organizations, especially those of Asian descent, harnessed the East-West rivalry to advance their own agendas. We will consider how diverse diplomatic strategies including militarization, educational exchange, and immigration reform shaped East, South, and Southeast Asian migrations to and settlement in the United States and the social and material lives of these diverse communities. Case studies include transnational adoptees from Korea, Hmong and Vietnamese refugees in the U.S. and across Guam and Israel-Palestine, Black, Latinx, and Asian American activists who traveled to Vietnam, educated Indian and Pakistani immigrants, and American-born individuals of Japanese ancestry in Japan. We will also explore how individuals of Asian descent leveraged Cold War geopolitics and forged cross-ethnic, cross-class alliances to advocate for social change both at home and abroad. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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AMST 390(F) SEM Feminist and Queer Horror Films

This course focuses on pairing theoretical readings with a variety of horror films with feminist or queer themes. Many tropes are associated with this genre - "the final girl" in slasher movies, "the transvestite murderer," femme lesbian vampires, supernatural BDSM figures, vampires as allegories for HIV/AIDS, werewolves as metaphors for FTM gender transitions or puberty, lonely mothers in creaky houses as unreliable narrators, Satanic spawn, and creepy long-haired girls. Some films reinforce gender stereotypes while others snap on more explicitly feminist and queer lenses. This course functions as a survey of many different genres, introducing students to classic 1970s films and working up to the present day and we will learn how these tropes developed and then were subverted by more modern day films such as those by A24 Studies and the new renaissance of Black horror, etc. Most films will focus on the US, with some notable exceptions in Japan, Spain, and elsewhere globally. There will be graphic content. You must be 18 or over to take this class. [ more ]

AMST 400 SEM Cuba, US, Africa, and Resistance to Black Enslavement, 1791-1991

Last offered Fall 2022

This seminar focuses on the entwined histories of liberation movements against racism, enslavement, and imperialism in the US, Cuba and Africa. Readings include: Hugh Thomas, Cuba: A History; Che Guevara: The Motorcycle Diaries; Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa; Laird Bergad, The Comparative Histories of Slavery in Brazil, Cuba, and the United States; Thomas Sankara, Women's Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle; Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro, How Far We Slaves Have Come! Students will read and analyze texts, screen documentaries, collectively compile a comprehensive bibliography, and present group analyses. The seminar is open to all students; however, priority is given to seniors majoring in American Studies. [ more ]

AMST 402(F) SEM Marxist Feminisms: Race, Performance, Labor

This seminar provides an overview of queer, black and women of color feminist, decolonial, and critical ethnic studies critiques of orthodox Marxism. Beginning with core texts from the tradition, including Capital Volume I, we will examine a range of social positions and modes of extraction that complicate Marx's emphasis on the white male industrial factory worker. Every week, we will focus on texts that foreground conditions of reproduction, racial slavery, care and domestic work, indentured servitude, immigrant labor, land expropriation, and sex work among others. Throughout the seminar and specifically at the close of it, we will turn to critical perspectives and aesthetic practices that not only respond to these conditions but also incite new social relations and ways of being in the world. As such, this seminar will equip students with critical understandings of how racial capitalism has fundamentally relied on the mass elimination, capture, recruitment, and displacement of different racialized, gendered, and abled bodies in and beyond the U.S. as well as how the capitalist system of value and life under these conditions can and must be undone and reimagined. [ more ]

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

Last offered Spring 2020

The most exciting and forward-thinking writing in the English language today is being done by formally experimental writers of color. Their texts push the boundaries of aesthetic form while simultaneously engaging questions of culture, politics, and history. This course argues not only for the centrality of minority experimental work to English literature but a fundamental rethinking of English literary studies so as to confront the field's imbedded assumptions about race, a legacy of British colonialism, and to make the idea of the aesthetic more open to ideas generated in critical race studies, diaspora studies, American studies, and those fields that grapple more directly with history and politics. In the critical realms of English, work by minority writers is often relegated to its own segregated spaces, categorized by ethnic identity, or tokenized as "add-ons" to more "central" or "fundamental" categories of literature (such as Modernism, poetics, the avant-garde). Recent work by Asian American, African American, Native American and Latino/a writers challenges our assumptions and preconceptions about ethnic literature, American literature, English literature, formal experimentation, genre categorization, and so on. This writing forces us to examine our received notions about literature, literary methodologies, and race. Close reading need not be opposed to critical analyses of ideologies. Formal experimentation need not be opposed to racial identity nor should it be divorced from history and politics, even, or especially, a radical politics. [ more ]

AMST 404 SEM New Works in Asian American Studies

Last offered Spring 2022

In this seminar, we will consider recent and/or recently intensifying debates, conversations, and intellectual directions in Asian American Studies. Topics may include settler colonialism; indigeneity, the Pacific, and the transpacific; war and refugee experiences; media, including video games; political participation, conservativism, and religion; affirmative action; sexual violence; mental health; and comparative and relational racialization e.g. scholarship at the intersection of Asian American, Latinx, Native American/Indigenous, and African American/Africana studies. We may also consider some new works of Asian American film and literature, and the criticism it generates. Course material will focus on scholarship that critically engage race, gender, sexuality, indigeneity, and/or disability as key terms. Students may be asked to develop a final project or paper based on one of the topics or books covered in the course; review a new work independently; or conduct an interview with an author. Students will gain an understanding of the field's recent concerns but also become familiar with the broader political, social, and cultural contexts from which they emerge. [ more ]

AMST 405 SEM Critical Indigenous Theory

Last offered Fall 2020

Intellectual decolonization is not a bounded project. On one hand, it demands a vocabulary of difference and refusal that rejects colonial theories and epistemologies. On the other, it demands that we interrogate our own intellectual and cultural traditions and trauma. Critical Indigenous theory is a tool in those projects, as it offers a corrective and an opening up of both dominant critical theory traditions that violently erase Indigenous bodies and political realities and of Indigenous theory that can essentialize difference and replicate oppressive dynamics in our communities. Critical Indigenous theory seeks to understand the structures and relations of power in settler colonialism, nested sovereignty, and culturally specific Indigenous philosophical traditions, like Indigenous studies more broadly, but also questions the key concepts that define Indigenous studies: tradition, sovereignty, authenticity, identity, race, gender, and sexuality. In this course, we will read major works in critical Indigenous theory that address indigeneity as it relates to race, postcolonial theory, feminist and two-spirit critique, alternative political engagement with the settler colonial state, and questions of "colonial unknowing." We will work on cultivating the reading practices needed to parse dense theoretical texts, and over the course of the semester you will develop a research project on a topic of your choosing that will allow you to take critical Indigenous theories and employ them as analytic tools and lenses. [ more ]

AMST 406(F) CON Environmental Planning Workshop: Community Project Experience

In this class you apply your education to effect social and environmental change in the Berkshires. Students work in small collaborative groups to address pressing issues facing the region. Class teams partner with community organizations and local & county governments to conduct applied research and to develop solutions. Students will learn experientially and contribute to the community. The field of environmental planning encompasses the built environment (eg: housing, zoning, transportation, renewable energy, waste, neighborhood design), the natural environment (eg: farmland, ecosystems, habitat, natural resources, air and water pollution and climate change), and the social environment (eg: spatial geography, racial zoning, recreation, placemaking, ecojustice, food security, and public health). Skills taught include land use planning, community-based research, basic GIS mapping, developing/conducting surveys, interview technique, project management, public presentations and professional report-writing. The class culminates in presentations to the client organizations. Class hours include time for team project work, client meetings and team meetings with the professor. Recent project topics: https://ces.williams.edu/environmental-planning-papers/ [ more ]

AMST 407(F) SEM Colonialism and Critical Theory

French philosopher Michel Foucault argued that "racism first develops with colonization, or in other words, with colonizing genocide." Many prominent philosophers have developed intellectual tools that can help us better understand the ongoing colonialisms that impact our world. At the same time, many of these same theorists--Foucault included--are criticized for failing to pay adequate attention to the colonialism that shaped their historical moments. Taking this paradox as our jumping-off point, this course will examine prominent philosophical and theoretical texts and assess their utility for understanding processes of colonialism, imperialism, and militarism. We will also explore how the interventions of Postcolonial Theory and Critical Indigenous Theory highlight gaps in prominent theories of political-economy, ideology, biopower, race, gender, sexuality, and more. How do ideas like orientalism, settler-colonialism, sovereignty, or decolonization challenge the traditional "canon" of critical theory? How do intellectual ideas evolve over time, and how can we use these tools to make sense of a complex world too-often organized around fundamental inequalities? In our class meetings students will develop the reading and discussion practices necessary to parse dense theoretical texts, and practice deploying theoretical concepts to better understand complex philosophical, ethical, and political questions. Since this course counts as a Senior Seminar (core course), writing will be organized around a longer, more intense research project that follows from a student's particular interests. [ more ]

AMST 409 SEM Prehistories of the War on Terror

Last offered Fall 2023

On September 11th, 2001, members of the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and rural Pennsylvania. For many Americans this tragedy seemed to come out of nowhere. In an attempt to historicize these shocking events, and the global wars that resulted from them, this course will examine the prehistories of the War on Terror. We will study the United States' emergence as a global power after World War II, US foreign policy and its relationship to the Middle East, and the political and cultural currents that informed American responses to the events of 9/11. We will also explore the history of the War on Terror itself. Topics will include the Cold War, the environmental history of oil, the history of terrorism, the relationship between race and war, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. [ more ]

AMST 410 SEM Black Literary and Cultural Theories

Last offered Fall 2016

This course will examine the writings of black twentieth- and twenty-first-century Anglophone and Francophone literary and cultural theorists in the African diaspora. We will begin with Sojourner Truth and W.E.B. Du Bois and end with current debates between the "Afro-Pessimists" and "Afro-Optimists." We will be reading writers from the United States, Britain, Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe, moving through the writings of the Harlem Renaissance, Négritude, Pan-Africanism, the Black Arts movement and Black Panthers, the Black Atlantic, and black feminism and queer studies. We will come to see that there is no easy separation between questions of politics (e.g., anti-colonialist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist) and those of aesthetics and poetics. [ more ]

AMST 411 SEM Transnationalism and Difference: Comparative Perspectives

Last offered Fall 2021

In the age of digital communications and mobile applications such as WhatsApp and Skype, transnational living has rapidly emerged as the norm as opposed to the exception. However, what does it really mean to "be transnational"? How are the lived experiences of transnational individuals and communities shaped by categories of difference such as gender, ethno-racial identity, sexuality, and class? What impacts do the growing number of transnational citizens and residents in the U.S. have on our understanding of "American" identity in the local, national, and global contexts? In this interdisciplinary seminar we will analyze recent theories regarding the origins and impacts of transnationalism. Particular attention will be paid throughout the semester to the intersections of gender, ethno-racial identity, sexuality, and class in connection with everyday transnational dynamics. The broad range of case studies examined includes Central American, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Indonesia, Jamaica, Mexico, the Middle East, and Peru. [ more ]

AMST 412 SEM Cold War Archaeology

Last offered Spring 2024

In this advanced American Studies course, we will examine Cold War history and culture with attention to the intersection of racialization and nuclear paranoia. The concurrent unfolding of the struggle for Civil Rights and the national strategy of Civil Defense played out against the backdrop of a global ideological battle, as the United States and the Soviet Union fought each other for planetary domination. From the scientific fantasy of bombproofing and "safety in space," to the fears of both racial and radioactive contamination that drove the creation of the American suburbs, the affective and material dimensions of nuclear weaponry have, from the beginning, been entangled with race. Drawing on the critical and analytical toolkits of American Studies and media archaeology, students will dig beneath the surface of received narratives about the arms race, the space race, and race itself. Students will uncover generative connections between mineral extraction, the oppression of Indigenous populations, the destructive legacies of "urban renewal," and the figure of the "typical American family" huddled in their backyard bunker. Finally, this course will examine the ways in which the Cold War exceeds its historical boundaries, entangles with the ideology and military violence of the Global War on Terror, and persistently shapes the present through its architectural, affective, and cultural afterlives. [ more ]

AMST 413(S) SEM Dreaming Latina/x Feminist Disability Studies

In this course we will defy the traditional notion that disabled and queer people of color have no right to future dreams, as we collectively imagine how the emergent field of Latina/x feminist disability studies might take shape. What are the sites of focus, methods, and political commitments of Latina/x feminist disability studies? Where is the power in meaningfully uniting an analysis of disability to one of sexuality and gendered Latinidad? How does a Latina/x-centric approach productively inform our understanding of disability? What is the political potential of Latina/x feminist disability studies -- not exclusively as a set of theories, but also as a mindset and an everyday call to action? If we were to collectively compose a manifesto for Latina/x feminist disability studies, what might it contain? How might we actively cultivate a community of care in the classroom as well as other spaces at Williams? Just what might Latina/x feminist disability justice dreams look like? How might Latina/x feminist disability justice dreams feel? Feminist, queer, and disabled crip-of-color scholars have recently called for a more meaningful engagement with race in feminist disability studies. Simultaneously, we have also witnessed a small but steady growth in the amount of Latinx studies scholarship that thoughtfully integrates questions of disability. This interdisciplinary course responds to these important shifts in its focus on a series of topics bridging Latinx studies, gender studies, queer studies, crip studies, and critical disability studies. These include but are not limited to the body, the environment, temporality, labor, citizenship, dependency, and visibility/invisibility. Through these topics, we will explore the ways in which the different approaches to these specific issues across Latinx, critical disability, crip, queer and gender studies are in fruitful conversation with one another -- and sometimes even at odds -- as we actively interrogate the intersections of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and disability within the everyday. [ more ]

AMST 414 SEM Race and Performance

Last offered Spring 2024

How does one "do" race? This seminar offers a survey of foundational and emergent scholarship at the nexus of performance studies, critical ethnic studies, and gender and sexuality studies alongside contemporary visual and performance art works. It will explore how the framework of performance destabilizes notions of race, gender, and sexuality as identities that are inherent to us and approaches them as ones we enact, do, and undo. We will begin the course by tracing key concepts in performance studies (i.e., performance, performative, performativity) before examining a range of performances that respond to and negotiate life under the ongoing conditions of racial capitalism, empire, anti-blackness, and settler colonialism. To this end, we will focus on how qualities attributed to racialized and gendered bodies, such as silence, diseased, patience, depression, passivity, and aloofness, are retooled as feminist and queer of color actions or positions. [ more ]

AMST 415(S) SEM Racial Melancholia, Queer Melancholia

The psychoanalytic theory of melancholia--the ways in which one refuses to fully let go of that which one has lost--is a foundational concept to the fields of ethnic studies, queer theory, and cultural studies. In the wake of losses due variously to histories of forced migration and slavery, the AIDS epidemic, war, and social exclusion, various scholars and critics have posited melancholia as a structuring condition of contemporary life as subjects differently navigate loss, displacement, and exclusion. Theories of racial and queer melancholia have emerged as supple frameworks through which to consider how queer and racialized subjects hold onto non-normative ways of being, relation, and sociality against the normalizing tides of erasure. We will chart out a connection between how we relate to and apprehend the past as it then pertains to how we relate to and apprehend others. Beginning with a dive into Freudian psychoanalysis, this seminar will explore concepts of loss and melancholia and their uptake into critical theory, critical race theory, and queer theory/queer of color critique. Alongside our scholarly inquiries, we will engage with a range of art, literature, performance, and film that explore topics of memory, trauma, migration, the queer past and the queer future, subjectivity, relationality, and gender and sexuality. [ more ]

AMST 418 SEM Modernisms and the Archive

Last offered Spring 2024

This seminar positions us at the intersection of archival theory, print culture, and literary study in order to chart new pathways for understanding the making of modern poetry and poetics during the period of literary history (from 1900 to 1945) that we most closely associate with the term Modernism. Modernist Studies is at the moment undergoing a major and exciting shift made possible by digital archives that allow us to access and document the rich intertextual experience of reading Modernism as it unfolded in the influential little magazines that came to define Modernisms. Some, like Poetry magazine, defined the new poetry strictly along aesthetic lines and treated these publications as collectible objects. Others, such as The Crisis, brought together poetry and the politics of race and social justice and encouraged, as Bartholomew Brinkman has argued, "both aesthetic and socially engaged readings." We take advantage of digital archives, as well as physical ones, in order to tell new stories about both familiar and unfamiliar writers that can be discovered at the intersections of literary history and archives. Students will also have the opportunity to work in the Sterling Brown archive here at Williams. Recently acquired by Williams College Library Special Collections, this significant archive documents the life, work, and poetic practice of African-American writer and educator Sterling Brown, whose poetry and prose spans nearly five decades of the twentieth century, yet Brown has often been left out of the narrative we tell about modern poetry. Work in the Sterling Brown archive will culminate in a curated public exhibition featuring your discoveries. Iain Bailey has argued that we should think of the archive "as a place of work, rather than as a cache from which to draw certainties." With this caveat in mind and in the spirit of discovery, we will act over the course of the semester as investigators, curators, collaborators, and inquirers in the workshop of literary production and its aesthetic products. [ more ]

AMST 427(F) SEM Anticolonial Approaches to the Arts of Ancestral Indigenous Americans

Approaches to the study of the arts of Ancestral Americans have traditionally emanated in both their conceptions and practices from settler colonialism, resulting in often hostile relations between investigators and descendant communities, the exclusion of Indigenous researchers, their sovereignties and knowledge regimes, and substantial distortions to historical understandings of the past. This course takes art histories of the Ancient Americas as its site for intervention as a means of introducing students to the oftentimes challenging labors of anticolonialism and the pursuit of the repair of past harms. Over the semester, students will learn how colonialism and its epistemologies have guided the formation of the field; how they can prioritize Indigenous and Native American ways of knowing and thinking in their understandings and research; how they can ethically conduct research without disturbing Ancestral American remains and the sovereignties of their descendants; and learn to make meaningful contributions to the projects of decolonization and repair. [ more ]

AMST 428(S) SEM Relationality and Its Antagonisms

Relationality has been the defining approach, feature, and framework of ethnic studies since its inception in the late 1960s. Since then, notable scholars have applied multiple keywords, including difference, comparison, entanglements, cacophonies, and intimacies, to emphasize how processes of racialization and racial formation are not isolated and separate but inextricably linked and shaped by one another. Only from these distinct, uneven, yet shared positions of oppression, as scholars argue, solidarity across race, gender, class, sexuality, and location may emerge. At its crux, this seminar will underscore major tensions and antagonisms against frameworks of relationality. Tracing primary sources, cultural expressions, and literature within the traditions of ethnic studies and transnational/women of color feminisms, it will trace the shifts in approaches to relationality, especially as it relates to practices of reciprocity and community-building across difference. At the same time, it will turn to works that name relationality as what Frank B. Wilderson calls a "ruse," or trick, that subsumes the specific, exceptional position of blackness. Our units will include discussions of Afro-Pessimism, indigeneity, racialized settler colonialism as well as queer theory debates on queer presentism (i.e., a queer "no future") versus queer futurity. Studying the tensions that emerge from multiple, distinct, and contradictory planes of power, oppression, and temporalities, how do we assess, work through, and reconcile, if at all, relations deemed as "irreconcilable" across vectors of difference? [ more ]

AMST 430 SEM Race, Identity, Nature

Last offered Spring 2021

From 18th-century claims that climate determined character to the 21st-century proliferation of DNA tests underwriting claims to Indigenous ancestry, race, colonialism, identity, and "nature" operate as interconnected terrains of power. Anchored in the contexts of U.S. colonialisms, racialization, and accumulation, this course aims to expose students to the cultural politics of "nature" as a way of "doing" American Studies. Specifically, this course investigates formations of and struggles against U.S. colonialisms, racialization, and accumulation via the many symbolic and material iterations, negotiations, and contestations of the contingent relations between and among human and non-human natures. Organized around a significant research paper and weekly written responses, this course ultimately aims to foster students' critical writing, reading, analytical thinking, and comparative inquiry skills across such contexts and sites of contestation, and across texts of different genres and media. We will work with a wide range of primary sources, including published fiction and poetry, legal documents, newspaper articles, speeches, recorded songs, and films, photos, paintings and other visual culture. By the end of this course, students should be able to describe the historical foundations of dominant ideas, attitudes, and practices toward non-human natures, as well as analyze how ideas of "nature" mediate the ways in which colonial, racial, gender, and sexual categories and structures inform and are (re)produced by U.S. institutions and in public areas such as the law, public policy, and property. Finally, students should be able to interpret how racialized and colonized peoples' visions, representations, and practices of liberation with regard to relations with non-human natures and the materiality of land precede, contend with, and exceed normative political, economic, and social categories of governance and systems of dispossession and exploitation. [ more ]

AMST 435 Ghosts: Race, Memory, and Haunting in the United States

Last offered NA

This course explores interdisciplinary scholarship, literature, and artistic work related to race, memory, and haunting in the United States. Across diverse historical moments and sites of cultural production, ghosts and other absent presences are conjured to mediate the meanings of race, gender, colonialism, enslavement, patriotism, and other keywords in American Studies. From plantations and abandoned prisons, to battlefields and sites held sacred by indigenous communities, the contemporary ghost tourism industry offers a blend of history, national mythology, and popular beliefs about paranormal activity to reshape national memory. During the 19th century, activities such as spirit photography, telepathic experiments, and seances engaged with ghostly phenomena. In the 21st century, digital technologies have the capacity to resurrect dead musicians and other cultural icons as "holograms" or "digital humans" that can interact with the living. In a series of self-designed, analytical essays, students will explore how haunting has played an important role in the formation of American identities, how various kinds of ghosts come to life through texts, material culture, performance, and technology, and how the past can be reimagined to generate new understandings of the present and the future. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 440 SEM Racial Capitalism

Last offered Spring 2017

This class will interrogate the ways in which capitalist economies have "always and everywhere" relied upon forms of racist domination and exclusion. Although the United States will be in the foreground, the subject requires an international perspective by its very nature. We will consider the ways in which the violent expropriation of land from the indigenous peoples of the Americas, paired with chattel slavery and other coercive forms of labor, made possible the rise of a capitalist world economy centered in Europe during the early modern period. We will then explore ways racial divisions have undermined the potential for unified movements of poor and working people to challenge the prerogatives of wealthy citizens, and served to excuse imperial violence waged in the name of securing resources and "opening markets". Ideas about gender and sexuality always undergird racial imaginaries, so we will study, for instance, the ways rhetoric about "welfare queens" has impacted public assistance programs, and claims about the embodiment of Asian women play into the international division of labor. We will also be attentive to the means - from interracial unionism to national liberation struggles - by which subjects of racial capitalism have resisted its dehumanizing effects. This is a reading intensive course that will challenge students to synthesize historical knowledge with concepts drawn from scholars working in the traditions of Marxist, decolonial, and materialist feminist thought, including: Angela Davis, Cedric Robinson, Anibal Quijano, Chandra Mohanty, David Roediger, Stuart Hall, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Silvia Federici [ more ]

AMST 455 SEM Material Cultures in North American History

Last offered Fall 2023

Material culture studies consider the dynamic relationships that people develop with the physical world. Tangible items like clothing, furniture, tools, and the built environment are all shaped by communities' identities, aspirations, resources, struggles, and forms of power. This course approaches North American histories through the lens of materiality, and examines how interdisciplinary methodologies can illuminate multiple or alternate understandings of the past--and its continuing impacts in the twenty-first century. While many historians emphasize written archives and documents as primary sources, scholars and practitioners of material culture studies center everyday as well as exceptional material items that communities have produced and interacted with over many generations. Equally important are the afterlives of these items. At different turns, and across time, social groups have cherished certain belongings; contested, rejected, or remade them; ascribed and activated meanings that may be very different from what the original makers conceived. These continuing transits compel reckoning with major issues of justice, rights, restitution, and sovereignty. The course traces key theories, ethics, and practices of caretaking, preservation, repatriation, curation, creative re-making, and digitization. Members will participate in a series of visits to area museums, collections, and meaningful places to deepen skills of critical analysis. The scope of the course is North American and at times transoceanic. It also includes substantial focus on our location in the Northeast and local formations of materiality and memory, as well as topics in Native American and Indigenous Studies, settler colonialism, and decolonizing approaches. Class members will build familiarity with appropriate techniques for approaching and handling different forms of material culture. They will also cultivate skills for developing and carrying out an original research project; and explore diverse modes of analysis and expression for representing the stories of materials and the communities who engage with them. [ more ]

AMST 465 SEM Race and Abstraction

Last offered Spring 2015

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 ]

AMST 478(S) SEM Cold War Landscapes

The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union set in motion dramatic changes to the natural and built environments of many nations between 1945 and 1991. Nuclear test and missile launch sites, naval installations, military production operations, and border securitizations are just a few of the most obvious ways in which the stand-off between the two countries altered rural and urban landscapes around the world. But one can also see the Cold War as setting in motion less immediately direct but nonetheless profound changes to the way that many people saw and planned for the environments around them, as evidenced, for instance, by the rise of the American suburb, the reconstruction of postwar Europe, and agricultural and industrial initiatives in nations across the globe. We will begin this seminar by exploring several distinct "Cold War landscapes" in the United States and North America. We will then move on to examining others in Europe and the Soviet Union. Our approach to our topics will be interdisciplinary throughout the semester, with the additional goal of helping students frame their final projects. Students are encouraged to write their research papers on any geographical area of the world that interests them. [ more ]

AMST 490(S) TUT The Suburbs

The suburbs transformed the United States. At the broadest level, they profoundly altered spatial residential geography (especially in terms of race), consumer expectations and behavior, governmental policies, cultural norms and assumptions, societal connections, and Americans' relationship to nature. More specifically, the different waves of post-World War II suburban development have both reflected large-scale shifts in how power and money have operated in the American political economy; and set in motion deep-seated changes in electoral politics, in Americans' understandings of how their income should be used, and in how the built landscape should be re-imagined. This tutorial will explore the rich historical literature that has emerged over the last twenty years to provide students with a history of the suburbs, to see the suburbs as more than simply collections of houses that drew individual homeowners who wanted to leave urban areas. We will focus most of our attention on the period from 1945 through the 1980s. Some of the questions we will consider will include: how did the first wave of suburban development bring together postwar racial and Cold War ideologies? Is it possible, as one historian has argued, that suburbs actually created the environmental movement of the 1960s? And how have historians understood the role that suburbs played in America's conservative political turn, leading to the election of Ronald Reagan? [ more ]

AMST 491(F) HON Senior Honors Project: American Studies

This seminar is the first half of a year-long seminar that is required of AMST seniors who have been approved to write an honors thesis (critical-analytical, research-focused, creative, performative, or hybrid). Students will share work, critique each other's proposals and drafts, and support each other in the process of producing a thesis project. Although each student's major work for the year will be focusing on a specific topic with an advisor, the instructor of the honors seminar will offer helpful guidance on more general concerns such as conceptual approaches, research methodologies, creative exploration, the honing of arguments, writing issues, and other theoretical and practical questions. Satisfactory completion of the course will be required for students to continue on in the honors program. [ more ]

AMST 492(S) HON Senior Honors Project: American Studies

This seminar is the second half of a year-long seminar that is required of AMST seniors who have been approved to write an honors thesis (critical-analytical, research-focused, creative, performative, or hybrid). Students will share work, critique each other's proposals and drafts, and support each other in the process of producing a thesis project. Although each student's major work for the year will be focusing on a specific topic with an advisor, the instructor of the honors seminar will offer guidance on more general concerns such as conceptual approaches, research methodologies, creative exploration, the honing of arguments, writing issues, and other theoretical and practical questions. Guest speakers may also be invited to talk to the class. [ more ]