Courses

Please click the following AMST Spring courses to view courses available for the upcoming semester.

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)America: The Nation and Its Discontents

America has always named something more than a geographical place; being "American" has always been about something more than political citizenship. This course is an introduction to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and the nation of the United States. We will focus on the workings of that culture and nation as they both shape and have been shaped by factors such as race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, place, and religion. Over the semester, we will ask critical questions of a wide variety of materials: essays, novels, autobiographies, poems, photographs, films, music, visual art, architecture, urban plans, historical documents and legal texts. We critique notions of American exceptionalism, empire, power, citizenship, labor, borders, inequality, assimilation, aesthetic form, and the role of the U.S. and its products in the world. [ more ]

AMST 105(F, S)American Girlhoods

The image of the girl has captivated North American writers, commentators, artists, and creators of popular culture for at least the last two centuries. What metaphors, styles of writing, ideas of "manners and morals" does literature about girls explore? What larger cultural and aesthetic concerns are girls made to represent? And how is girlhood articulated alongside and/or intertwined with other identities and identifications, such as race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality? These are some of the issues we will explore in this course. [ more ]

AMST 106 TComing of Age in the City: Growing up and Growing Older in Communities of Color

Last offered Spring 2019

This tutorial examines urban life in communities of color through the lens of aging. We will focus on the political and economic dimensions of cities that have profoundly affected the daily collective lives of certain populations from childhood to elderhood. In so doing, we will also consider how age and age relations are highly differentiated by race, class, and gender, as well as how cities are organized and arranged to create and recreate categories and ideas associated with age. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 113(F)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 114(S)Of Caravans and Narcos: U.S. Media Narratives about Central and South America

What do contemporary U.S. media discourses about Central and South America reveal about relationships of power in the Americas? How does the systematic analysis of visual, textual, and sonic media discourse enhance our comprehension of broader social dynamics? How do South and Central Americans in the diaspora actively counter dominant media narratives about their communities? And what does it mean to center the unique histories, cultures, and political contexts of diasporic Central and South Americans within Latina/o/x Studies? Drawing from a wide range of scholarly materials and media platforms, this interdisciplinary course assumes a transnational approach to these issues, with an emphasis on how to conduct effective discourse analysis of everyday media texts. Above all, we will highlight the ways in which ethno-racial identity, gender, sexuality, class, and nation intersect to inform mainstream U.S. media narratives and our understandings of past and present modes of representation. [ more ]

AMST 125(F)Introduction to Asian American Studies

This course will offer students an introduction to the field of Asian American Studies. First, we will examine how history is shaped not only by laws and institutions but more significantly by people and social movements responding to the challenges of war, capitalism, colonialism, imperialism, immigration, globalization, and white supremacy. Secondly, we will pay an immediate attention to the dynamic, narrative intersections of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and nationality/citizenship. We will question how the social, political, and economic differences produced by these categories help to make and remake the multiple dimensions of Asian America from within and without. Finally, our discussions will illuminate the contradictions of power and spaces for possibility that emerge in key moments -- namely, how human actors strive to imagine, if not build visions and practices of the world in difference to the master narratives of American history and American exceptionalism. Our study will be supplemented with documentary screenings, oral histories, and personal memoirs. [ more ]

AMST 126(F)Black Literature Matters

Black literature remains central to struggles for freedom and equality across the African diaspora. In this course, we will examine why black literature matters: What are its aesthetic and political imperatives? How have black writers used certain literary forms in their constructions of identity, freedom, and citizenship? Through our exploration of these questions, we will discover the significant matters of African American literature from the Harlem Renaissance moment to the Black Lives Matter movement. By reading a broad range of texts---essays, novels, drama, music, and poetry---by such authors as Alain Locke, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Audre Lorde, Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Jesmyn Ward, and Kendrick Lamar, we will develop a critical vocabulary for evaluating and engaging with this body of literature. This course contributes to the DIfference, Power, and Equity requirement by centering on the relationship between black literature and black political movements from the 1920s to the present. [ more ]

AMST 128(S)Reading Asian American Literature

Though the category and term "Asian American" came about as a result of political struggle in the 1960s, what we now call Asian American writing in English began in the nineteenth century and has played a significant role in every American literary "movement" from Modernism, realism, protest literature to various avant-gardes, the graphic novel, and digital poetries. This 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 132Contemporary Africana Social and Political Philosophy

Last offered Fall 2018

This introductory seminar investigates the relationship between three major schools of thought in contemporary Africana social and political philosophy, namely the African, Afro-American, and Afro-Caribbean intellectual traditions. We will discuss a range of thinkers including Aimé Césaire, Angela Y. Davis, Édouard Glissant, Lewis R. Gordon, Kwame Gyekye, Paget Henry, bell hooks, Charles W. Mills, Nkiru Nzegwu, Lucius Outlaw, Oyèrónke Oyewùmi, Tommie Shelby, 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 142 T(F)AlterNatives: Indigenous Futurism and Science Fiction

Indigenous people occupy a paradoxical position in time. On one hand, as survivors of genocide and occupation, they are already post-apocalyptic, occupying what many Indigenous thinkers argue is "our ancestor's dystopia." On the other hand, Indigenous people are relegated to the past in settler and colonial discourses, which, in relying heavily on notions of contact, authenticity, and vanishing, preclude Indigenous peoples from not only futurity, but from modernity and associated visions of science and technology too. This tutorial explores how Native science fiction imagines and enacts futurity from this paradoxical Indigenous temporality. Looking across numerous national and transnational Indigenous contexts, in addition to different kinds of media, including short stories, novels, visual art, video games, films, and online platforms like second life, this tutorial foregrounds the ways in which science fiction functions as a mode of Indigenous theory, knowledge production, and claiming of not only the future but of the past and present, as well. Pairing media readings with works in science fiction and Indigenous studies, we will explore the role of indigeneity in the founding and tropes of European and settler science fiction, Native "slipstream" and eco SF, post-post-apocalyptic thinking, space travel and frontiers, Native pessimism, and Indigenous technologies and epistemologies cast into the future. We will pay careful attention to the political stakes of these narratives and expression for Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination. [ more ]

AMST 146Introduction to Native American and Indigenous Studies

Last offered Fall 2018

What does it mean to be a citizen of an Indigenous nation? Why are there laws against selling inauthentic Native American art? Who is two spirit and what obligations and politics does that position and identity entail? Where do we locate tradition and Indigenous peoples in time? In this course, we will address these questions and more, surveying indigeneity as it is constructed and expressed in historical narratives, activism and education, governance and identity, art and literature, science and religion, and gender and sexuality. Knowledge of the Indigenous is a foundational element of the United States. From missionaries documenting Indigenous languages, to sports mascots, DNA testing, and even to New Age spirit quests and sweat lodges, the coherence and legitimacy of this settler colonial empire has demanded expertise in and the appropriation of Indigenous bodies, knowledges, and cultures as a means of continually displacing and erasing them. And yet, that is not the only way to produce knowledge of, by, and with Indigenous people. Indigenous Studies provides a variant way of thinking and learning about indigeneity. The imperative of Indigenous Studies is to understand Indigenous peoples on their own terms and the world on those same terms. In this course we will explore not only questions related to Native America today, but also the various reasons and implications for why we study it. [ more ]

AMST 149First-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 157(S)1960s and U.S. History

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 ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 163(S)From Wampum to Phillis Wheatley: Communications in Early America

How did the diverse peoples who inhabited early North America communicate with each other, across profound linguistic, cultural, social, and religious differences? This course examines histories of communication in early America and the technologies that communities developed across landscapes of coexistence and also contestation. We will study Indigenous oral traditions, traditional ecological knowledge, and wampum belts as signifiers of identity, meaning, and diplomacy for Native American nations and peoples; artistic and scientific paintings, engravings, and visual culture that moved around the Atlantic World; political orations, newspapers, and pamphlets that galvanized public opinion in the "Age of Revolutions"; stone memorials and monuments that connected communities to ancestral pasts; and the powerful poetry of African American writer Phillis Wheatley along with the orations of Pequot intellectual William Apess. Together we will raise new questions about the meanings and ongoing legacies of early American histories, and grapple with diverse approaches to understanding the past. Additionally, this course provides an opportunity to engage with original materials pertaining to early American histories in the Williams College Archives/Special Collections and Art Museum. [ more ]

AMST 165Slavery in the American South

Last offered Spring 2019

This writing intensive seminar will focus on slavery in the southern United States--one of the most difficult and challenging subjects in this country's history. After looking at several different approaches to North American slavery and examining in depth two of the key primary sources for the study of this institution, students will select an aspect of slavery for intensive research. The rich sources of the Chapin and Sawyer Libraries will be examined to show students the extensive body of materials available on campus for their research projects. Separate class sessions on approaches to research and available research materials held with Lori DuBois, Sawyer reference librarian, and Wayne Hammond, Chapin librarian. Instructor holds individual meetings with each student to help them with the selection of a viable research topic. [ more ]

AMST 167(F)Let Freedom Ring? African Americans and Emancipation

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 205Chicana/o Film and Video

Last offered Fall 2018

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

AMST 207Introduction to Latina/o Literatures

Last offered Fall 2015

This discussion course serves as an introduction; the reading list is not meant to be exhaustive or comprehensive, but will rather provide a sampling or range of texts for students to engage. We will explore a number of readings across different genres (the novel, play, poem, short story, graphic novel). Students will endeavor to understand how each author defines Latinidad. What characterizes Latina/os for each of these writers and how do their works articulate the historical conditions out of which they emerge? How is Latina/o literature marked by notions of language, nationality, gender, sexuality, class, race, politics, form, and genre? The readings will provide both a survey of general ideas in the study of Latina/o literatures as well as specific case studies and historical examples from which we will extrapolate about the larger field. Readings include works by Tómas Rivera, Cristina García, Cristy C. Road, Oscar Zeta Acosta, Junot Díaz, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, and more. [ more ]

AMST 208 TTime and Blackness

Last offered Fall 2018

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

AMST 209(F)Introduction to Black, Brown, and Queer Theory

Have you ever tried to relate your experiences, rooted in your own complex identities, history, and social networks, to those of others you perceive as different and perhaps allied, but found you lacked some fundamental vocabulary? This is a common problem, even for critical theorists who take as their object of study political, affective, and epistemological structures of difference and power. Critical race, postcolonial, Indigenous, and queer theories have often centered the relationship between the normative and non-normative, between straight and queer, colonizer and colonized, and white and black. Connections between the differently non-normative can sometimes be pushed to the periphery. But what if we were to center that periphery? What views of complex power structures and new avenues of thought and solidarity would arise if we took as our starting point the social and theoretical interconnectedness and overlap of black, brown, and queer folks? This course will serve as an introduction to critical race, postcolonial, Indigenous, and queer theories as conceptually and phenomenologically interlocking and allied fields. By reading with theorists in all these traditions and at their intersections, we will explore how blackness, indigeneity, and brownness are constructed and function in the context of colonialism and settler colonialism, how differently racialized bodies are sexed and sexualized, and how queerness as method can speak across these issues. No background in critical theory is required for this course. We will focus on how to read and discuss theory, and how to think holistically about the structures that work to keep us divided. [ more ]

AMST 210Culture 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 211Race and the Environment

Last offered Fall 2018

In contemporary societies, race remains an enduring impediment to the achievement of equality. Generally understood as a socially meaningful way of classifying human bodies hierarchically, race manifests itself in a number of arenas, including personal experience, economic production and distribution, and political organization. In this course, we will explore how race emerges in local and global environmental issues, like pollution and climate change. We will begin with a review of some of the landmark texts in Environmental Studies that address "environmental racism," like Robert Bullard's Dumping in Dixie and David Pellow's Garbage Wars. We will examine how and to what extent polluting facilities like landfills, oil refineries, and sewage treatment plants are disproportionately located in communities of color; we will also pay attention to how specific corporations create the underlying rationale for plotting industrial sites. After outlining some of the core issues raised in this scholarship, we will turn to cultural productions--like literature, film, and music--to understand how people of color respond to environmental injustice and imagine the natural world. [ more ]

AMST 213(S)Asian-American Identities in Motion

The course aims to explore dance and movement-based performances as mediums through which identities in Asian-American (including South Asian) diasporas are cultivated, expressed, and contested. We will examine theories related to nationalism, post-colonialism and diasporic identity-formation, and learn about the socio-historical contexts in which performances are used to maintain cultural continuity. We will explore how diasporic artists use performances to enforce or resist traditional practices and ideologies. Throughout the course, we will investigate issues of race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, tradition/innovation, agency/resistance, and borrowing/appropriation among other topics. This is primarily a discussion-based seminar course but will also include attendance at live performances in the area, film screenings, and discussion and workshops with guest artists. No previous dance experience required. [ more ]

AMST 214(F)Performance Ethnography

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 215Experimental 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 216Landscape, Place and Power

Last offered Fall 2018

How does culture shape the way we imagine, use, and experience the physical environment, and how does the physical environment shape culture in turn? What can landscapes tell us about the values, beliefs, and ideas of the people who make them? What is the relationship between place and social power? This course will explore the various ways in which scholars from a broad range of disciplines have sought to answer these questions by incorporating insights from social theory and cultural criticism. Focusing on studies of place and landscape in the Americas from the time of European colonization to the present, it will examine key works from fields such as cultural geography, environmental history, ecocriticism, environmental philosophy, and anthropology, and it will survey the major methodological and theoretical commitments that unite these fields. [ more ]

AMST 218(S)Gender and Sexuality in the Neo-slave Narrative

Hortense Spillers has noted that ex-slave Harriet Jacobs, "between the lines of her narrative, demarcates a sexuality that is neuterbound" and we live with the aftermath of her observation. "Ungendering," one of the transformations undergone by bodies subjected to the Middle Passage, is one of the keywords that forms the foundation for a conversation about slavery, blackness, gender, sexuality, and archive. Throughout this course we will wrestle with the questions: How does the designation "slave" rupture, reify, or expand our understandings of sexuality and gender? What conditions have necessitated the neo-slave narrative form? Texts include: slave narratives and neo-slave narratives in the forms of novels, visual art, and film. Course texts include: Octavia E. Butler's Kindred, Jewelle Gomez's Gilda Stories, Glenn Ligon's "Runaways", and Jordan Peele's Get Out. Critical theories of blackness, gender, and sexuality are also central texts in this course including that by Darieck Scott, Saidiya Hartman, Hortense Spillers, Matt Richardson, and others. Given that neo-slave narratives intervene in the sexual and gendered silences of slave narratives and the power relations that produced them, students who are hesitant to study sexual violence might consider taking another course. [ more ]

AMST 220Introduction to African American Literature

Last offered Spring 2019

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 221Introduction to Urban Studies: Shaping and Living the City

Last offered Fall 2017

Generally, cities have been described either as vibrant commercial and cultural centers or as violent and decaying urban slums. In an effort to begin to think more critically about cities, this course introduces important topics in the interdisciplinary field of Urban Studies. Specifically, we will discuss concepts and theories used to examine the peoples and structures that make up cities: In what ways do socio-cultural, economic, and political factors affect urban life and development? How are cities planned and used by various stakeholders (politicians, developers, businesses, and residents)? How do people make meaning of the places they inhabit? We will pay particular attention to the roles of race, ethnicity, class, and gender in understanding and interpreting urban communities. Texts include works by anthropologists, historians, sociologists, cultural critics, cultural geographers, and literary writers. [ more ]

AMST 223(F)Eating Empire: Asian/Pacific Islander/American Foodways and Culture

"War is probably the single most powerful instrument of dietary change in human experience." --Sidney Mintz. Cans of spam, bars of chocolate, and bubbling pots of military stew. A motley mix of sucrose, sodium, monosodium glutamate, and spices; often overprocessed, constantly repackaged, sometimes illicitly exchanged, and daily consumed. In this course, we will take an interdisciplinary approach to exploring the historical processes, social practices, and cultural politics of food in the age of U.S. empire, mapping out reverse pathways from our palates, plates, counters, and kitchens towards the lands and seas that connect the Americas, the Pacific Islands, and Asia in the 20th and 21st centuries. We will examine food through a range of contexts and case studies, including but not limited to scholarship, (auto)ethnography, literature, film, television, advertising, social media, and blogs. We will ask: how is food entangled within histories and patterns of war, imperialism, settler colonialism, capitalism, diaspora, and migration? What does food tell us about our attachments, investments, and (dis)taste for narratives around democracy and multiculturalism, authenticity and appropriation, gentrification and privilege, "tradition" and change? Finally, how can food help us reimagine the social and political dimensions of the places we live in and nourish pathways to decolonial futures and possibilities? This will be primarily a discussion-based seminar although a minimal amount of cooking may also be required. [ more ]

AMST 224U.S. Latinx Religions

Last offered Spring 2018

In this course, we will engage aspects of Latinx religious experiences, practices, and expressions in the United States of America. We examine moments where religious expressions intersect with politics, popular culture, and daily life in the U.S.A. Given the plurality of Latinx communities and religious lives in the U.S.A., we will engage certain selected religious traditions and practices --such as popular Catholic devotions to Guadalupe, crypto-Judaism, curanderismo, Latinx Muslims, and Santería--by focusing on particular moments of religious expression as elucidated in specific historiographies, ethnographies, art, literature, and film. We will also consider, though more briefly, questions of how one studies Latinx religions. [ more ]

AMST 226(S)Gender and the Dancing Body

This course posits that the dancing body is a particularly rich site for examining the history of gender and sexuality in America and beyond. The aim of the course is to explore ideas related to gender and sexuality as prescribed by dominant cultural, social, and religious institutions, and how dance has been used to challenge those normative values. We will examine a wide range of dance genres, from stage performance 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 but will also include attendance at live performances, film screenings, and discussions with guest artists. No previous dance experience required. [ more ]

AMST 227Utopias and Americas

Last offered Spring 2012

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

AMST 228Revolt 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 229Reel 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 230Contemporary 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 231Approaches to Media Studies: Analyzing Mediated Difference

Last offered Spring 2017

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

AMST 236Making 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 237Islam in the United States: From Black Muslims to the War on Terror

Last offered Fall 2017

Malcolm X is likely the most prominent and influential Muslim figure in the history of the United States. His story represents two fundamental themes in the history of Islam in America: conflict between Muslims over what is "authentic" or "orthodox" Islam; and the ways that American history, politics, and culture determine the contours of "American Islam". This course will explore these two themes through an array of topics in the history of American Islam. In so doing, we will examine the complex relation between religion, politics, and culture in the United States. Beginning with the story of Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam, and other African-American Muslim movements, we will try to understand: What made Islam so appealing to millions of African-Americans throughout the 20th century? And were these genuinely "religious" and "Islamic" movements, or just racial/political "black nationalist" movements in the guise of religion? What counts as legitimately "Islamic", and who gets to decide? We will then move into the latter half of the 20th century and the post-9/11 debates over authentic Islam. What happened to American Muslim communities and organizations after the waves of post-1965 immigration from Muslim countries? How have debates about Muslim identity shifted over time, from being configured in terms of black separatism, to transnational/diasporic identity, to the attempts at articulating an indigenous "American-Muslim" identity? How have national narratives around 9/11 and the "War on Terror" impacted these debates over identity and "true Islam"? And how have these debates intersected with gender, racial, and ethnic politics? Throughout the course, we will be studying historical and anthropological material, autobiographies, novels, documentaries, films, and social media. 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 race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, gender, language, and age. [ more ]

AMST 238(F)Zen and the Art of American Literature

In 1844, the Transcendentalist magazine, The Dial, published an excerpt from the Lotus Sutra, translated into English by Elizabeth Palmer Peabody. It was the first English-language version of any Buddhist text to be published in the United States. At the time, very few Americans knew the first thing about what Buddhism was, but now, a little over a century and a half later, Buddhist ideas and practices seem ubiquitous (available even in the form of apps like Headspace and Calm). In this class, we'll explore how Buddhism came to be the profoundly important cultural force in American life that it is today, looking particularly at the influence of Zen on American literature. We'll read an array of Buddhist-influenced literary texts, from the Beat poetry of the 1950s to novels like Middle Passage, A Tale for the Time Being, and Lincoln in the Bardo. But we'll also range far beyond the world of literature into a variety of other cultural domains in which Buddhism has had a deep impact, like environmentalism and deep ecology, Western psychotherapy, and Western attitudes towards death and dying. We'll also explore the role that Buddhism is playing in the fight against racism and racial injustice (from bell hooks to Black Lives Matter). And we'll engage in an experiential investigation of the benefits of incorporating contemplative practices like meditation into the classroom: students in the course will learn a variety of meditation techniques, and we'll spend some time each class practicing and reflecting upon those practices. Students will be expected to meditate outside of class as well (2-3 times per week) and keep a meditation journal. No prior experience with meditation is necessary. Just an open mind. [ more ]

AMST 239Asian/Pacific Islander/American Documentary Cinemas

Last offered Spring 2019

In Asian America Through The Lens, film scholar Jun Xing contends, "documentaries have been, and remain, the predominant genre of Asian American cinema" (1998). In this course, we will launch an investigation into this statement and examine a selection of A/P/A documentaries ranging from independent and experimental film, public access television, and digital and social media, 1960s---present. We will ask: (1) how did A/P/A documentary develop as a tradition and practice in relation to mainstream media industries?, (2) how has documentary been mobilized to critique, demystify, and/or disrupt dominant scripts like Orientalism, the Yellow Peril, and the Model Minority Myth?, and (3) how do documentary makers formally negotiate the generic impulse for the "real" and "authentic" against the burden of A/P/A representation? While neither chronological nor all-encompassing in its capacity, we will do our best to situate the historical and material conditions that form and inform the works and contextualize their visual aesthetic practices and tactics of representation. We will also pay particular attention to untangling the intersectional and multidimensional categories of race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and ability that emerge from the sociohistorical processes of war, immigration, nationalism, colonialism and settler colonialism, state violence, and social movements. Finally, we will meet and engage with current artists, filmmakers, and organizers in order to gain insight into development, production, distribution, and reception. [ more ]

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

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

AMST 241Performing Masculinity in Global Popular Culture

Last offered Fall 2017

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 (e.g., J/K-Pop), hip hop masculinities at home and abroad, 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. The course includes a field trip to a drag performance in Northampton. [ more ]

AMST 242Americans Abroad

Last offered Spring 2019

This course will explore some of the many incarnations of American experiences abroad between the end of the 19th century and the present day. Materials will be drawn from novels, short stories, films, and nonfiction about Americans in Europe in times of war and peace. We will compare and contrast the experiences of novelists, soldiers, students, war correspondents, jazz musicians, and adventurers. What has drawn so many Americans to Europe? What is the difference between a tourist, an expat, and an 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? 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 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 concept of "home" into something that reflected their individual identity, and not one imposed by any national culture--American or foreign. [ more ]

AMST 243(S)Asian/American and Black Literary and Cultural Thought

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 244What They Saw in America

Last offered Spring 2018

This course traces the travels and writings of four important observers of the United States: Alexis de Tocqueville, Max Weber, G.K. Chesterton, and Sayyid Qutb. 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. This course is part of the Williams College program at the Berkshire County Jail and House of Corrections and will be held at the jail. Transportation will be provided by the college. The class will be composed equally of Williams students and inmates, and one goal of the course will be to encourage students from different backgrounds to think together about issues of common human concern. * Please note atypical class hour Monday, 4:45-8:30 pm. [ more ]

AMST 245(F)Race, Power, & Food History

Have you ever wondered why Spam is so popular in Hawaii and why ramen noodles are a cheap, ubiquitous food? Are you curious why black-eyed peas and collards are considered "soul food"? In this course, we will answer these questions by digging in to the histories of global environmental transformation through colonialism, slavery, and international migration. We will consider the production and consumption of food as a locus of power over the last 300 years. Beginning with the rise of the Atlantic slave trade and continuing through the 20th century, we trace the global movement of plants, foods, flavors, workers, businesses, and agricultural knowledge. Major units include rice production by enslaved people in the Americas; Asian American food histories during the Cold War; and fat studies critiques of critical food studies. We will discuss food justice, food sovereignty, and contemporary movements for food sustainability in the context of these histories and our contemporary world. Readings are interdisciplinary, but our emphasis will be on historical analyses of race, labor, environment, and gender. [ more ]

AMST 246Aesthetics and Place-making in Latina/o New York

Last offered Spring 2018

New York City has long served as a nexus of Latina/o migration and settlement since the late nineteenth century. From the New York sound of Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican salsa to the poetics of slam poetry forged in the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, New York's Latinas/os have defined and developed numerous forms of Latina/o popular expression. This course examines the aesthetic foundations of Latina/o New York, remaining attentive to the numerous diasporas that have migrated to and made the city their home. Student will engage with a multiplicity of popular cultural genres including memoirs, literature, poetry, sound, visual art, and photography in the context of the history of the city while focusing on key themes of racial formation, the politics of space and place, and the labor of culture. [ more ]

AMST 247Race and Religion in the American West

Last offered Spring 2017

From the "Land of Enchantment" of New Mexico in the far reaches of the desert to the sacred temples on the West Coast that overlook Pacific Ocean, this course examines the peoples and the "sacroscapes" of the American West. Historian Patricia Limerick regards this region as an extraordinary site of convergence and one of "the greatest meeting places on the planet." The region is a site of cultural complexity where Penitentes maintained a sacred order, Pentecostals attracted a global audience, Native Americans forged legal/protected definitions of "religion," and Asian immigrants built the first Buddhist and Sikh temples. Until recently, standard surveys of religious history in North America have devoted minimal attention to the distinctive role of religion in the American West. They have focused on religious history in the flow of events westward from the Plymouth Rock landing and Puritan establishment while generally overlooking the Pueblo Revolt in modern-day New Mexico which occurred in that same century and marked the temporary suspension of Spanish encroachment. How do scholars of religion and history account for these renditions between the past and present? Most mainstream religious histories treat religious experience and identity in the U.S. West as additive rather than complementary to or constitutive of its mainstream narratives. Contemporary historians of religion note the need for new "sights," "cites," and "sites" in order to deconstruct and reconstruct this incomplete meta-narrative, taking into account such factors as migration, gender, region, and the environment. [ more ]

AMST 248Black 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(F)Asian American Performance: Activism and Aesthetics

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 252Puerto Rico and its Diaspora

Last offered Spring 2019

On September 20, 2018, Maria---a category four hurricane made landfall on Puerto Rico. The most powerful storm to hit the island since 1932, Maria caused widespread catastrophic damage on a land already suffering from the devastating effects of a decades-long economic recession. Three months after the hurricane, half the island remained without power, water service yet to be reestablished in many areas, and aid distribution inadequate and inconsistent. The hurricane and its aftermath brought mainstream U.S. attention to Puerto Rico and its diaspora, while simultaneously calling attention to the island's status and relationship to the United States. This hybrid onsite-Skype-travel course is for students interested in learning about the historical, social, and political relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. We will examine, for example, the political status of Puerto Rico, migration, race, social movements, and expressive cultural forms that have emerged as a result of this asymmetrical relationship. Through the study of the impact and legacy of U.S. policies on the island, we will also consider how the fiscal and humanitarian crisis and proposed solutions affect the daily collective lives of the people in the U.S. territory and the diaspora. This course is a unique collaboration between Vassar, Williams, and the UPR. To enroll in this course, students must commit to participating in an alternative spring break/community engagement project in Puerto Rico and flexible with possible changes in class time when Skyping with students from the University of Puerto Rico. We will gather in Puerto Rico to meet with peers from UPR and for an alternative spring break collaboration, interfacing with various community organizations that have taken up vital social, medical, and economic roles vacated by the United States. Taller Salud, PECES, and Casa Pueblo are among the organizations in Puerto Rico that students may work with as a part of the course's community engagement component. [ more ]

Taught by: Mérida Rúa

Catalog details

AMST 254(F)Sovereignty, Resistance, and Resilience: Native American Histories to 1865

This course surveys Native American/Indigenous North American histories from creation through the U.S. Civil War, tracing the complex ways that tribal nations and communities have shaped North America. It also introduces foundational methodologies in Native American and Indigenous Studies and strategies for pursuing decolonizing scholarship and action. Beginning with the diverse Indigenous societies that inhabited the Americas millennia before Columbus's arrival, it discusses the cultural complexity of Native peoples, nations, and worldviews rooted in particular ecosystems and homelands, as well as accounts of beginnings and migrations. It addresses how Native peoples confronted grievous epidemics resulting from the "Columbian Exchange," and contended with Euro-colonial projects of "discovery" and colonization. Indigenous nations' multifaceted efforts to maintain sovereignty and lands through eras of pervasive violence and removal are discussed, as well as the important yet under-recognized ways that Native communities negotiated the tumultuous era and conflicting allegiances of the Civil War. The course centers on Indigenous actors-intellectuals, diplomats, legal strategists, knowledge keepers, spiritual leaders, artists, and others-and consistently connects historical events with present-day debates over land, historical memory, education, and activism. Additionally, it provides an opportunity to engage with original materials pertaining to Native histories 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 particular Indigenous homelands in which Williams College is located. [ more ]

AMST 256Social 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 259New England Environmental History

Last offered Spring 2019

Have you ever wondered why there are few old-growth forests in New England? What Williamstown looked like before Williams was founded? How ideas about environmental preservation have changed over time? These are some of the questions we will explore in this course, which introduces students to the discipline of Environmental History through New England examples. During the semester we will: (1) read and discuss scholarship on the environmental history of New England and the world; (2) use case studies and field trips to examine how past environments are represented in museum exhibits,digital projects, and physical landscapes; (3) Develop a research paper based on original archival research [ more ]

AMST 263Cold 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(F)American Art and Architecture, 1600 to Present

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

AMST 265(S)Pop Art

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 266Being American, Being Muslim: American Muslim Literature in the 21st century

Last offered Spring 2019

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. We will address questions such as: How have American Muslims understood 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? What are the competing claims and contestations about authentic expressions of Islam? How are Muslims approaching the tensions between communal belonging and individuality? We will be engaging such questions primarily through an analysis of popular memoirs, autobiographies, novels, and short stories, but will also explore some plays, films, poetry, and comedy. [ more ]

AMST 272(S)American Postmodern Fiction

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 T(F)American Drama: Hidden Knowledge

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(S)Southern Literary Aesthetics

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(F)Black Queer Looks: Race, Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary African-American Film

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 ]

AMST 284Introduction to Asian American History

Last offered Spring 2019

This course covers the immigration of Asian to the U.S. from the 1850s to the present and the lives of both immigrants and their descendants. Possible topics are the Chinese Exclusion Act, the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII and the arrival of Vietnamese to the U.S. after the war in Viet Nam. [ more ]

AMST 300Tell Even Us: Writing Memory, Trauma, Self

Last offered Fall 2018

In this course, we will read a diverse selection of personal memoirs dealing with the traumas, transgressions, and transformations of what we understand to be "modern life." We will meditate on how categories of identity and experience, memory and history are being constructed and deconstructed, reimagined and remade anew. We will pay special attention to how these writers/artists narrate the overlapping cycles of loss, pain, grief, survival, resilience, and resistance in the face of (structural, institutional, interpersonal, and intimate) violence, and consider the possibilities for (individual and collective) healing that can exist in and beyond the world as we know it. What, after all, 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 America? Books we will cover may include: Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (Gloria Anzaldúa), Dictee (Theresa Hak Kyung Cha), 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), Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir (Deborah Miranda), This is for the mostless (Jason Magabo Perez), Redefining Realness (Janet Mock), like a solid to a shadow (Janice Lobo Sapigao), Men We Reaped(Jesmyn Ward), 7 Miles A Second (David Wojnarowicz). [ more ]

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

This course aims to provide a "how to" of American Studies from an integrative, multiracial, and socio-cultural perspective. Taking American culture as a site for testing classic and contemporary theories about how cultures work, the Junior Seminar in American Studies serves as an introduction to resources and techniques for interdisciplinary research. Students will be exposed to and experiment with a wide range of current theoretical and methodological approaches employed in American Studies and contributing disciplinary fields, and in the process 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). The goal of the course is not only for students to develop knowledge of main currents in the field of American Studies but also to become practitioners through a series of assignments that will permit students to exercise their newfound skills. Students will thus, for instance, develop rhetorical analyses, gather ethnographic data, and "read" assorted spaces and buildings, as the class explores such problems or topics as national narratives, ethnoracial formations, the American prison system, and the circulation of commodities. [ more ]

AMST 302(F)Environmental Planning Workshop: Community-Based Experience

This interdisciplinary, experiential workshop introduces students to the field of planning through community-based projects. Environmental Planning encompasses many disciplines pertaining to the natural and built landscape such as city planning, ecological design, climate resiliency, natural resource planning, landscape architecture, agricultural and food systems, walkable neighborhood design, energy planning, and community development, to name a few. In this workshop, students regularly get out of the classroom and gain direct experience working in the greater Berkshire region. The class is organized into two parts. Part 1 involves reading and discussion of the planning literature: history, theory, policy, ethics, and legal framework, site visits, and concludes with a design project. Part 2 focuses on hands-on field work tackling an actual planning project under the guidance of a community partner. Small teams of students, working in conjunction with a client in the region and under supervision of the instructor, conduct a planning project using all the tools of a planner, including interviews, survey research, site visits, primary research, mapping, and site design and other activities as demanded by the particular project. The project work draws on students' academic training and extracurricular activities, and applies creative, design thinking techniques to solve thorny problems. The midterm assignment is a creative landscape/site design project. The lab sections include field trips, GIS mapping labs, project-related skill sessions, public meetings, and team project work. The course includes several class presentations and students will gain skills in public speaking, preparing presentations, interviewing, survey research, report-writing, design, and teamwork. The class culminates in an on-site public presentation of each team's planning study. [ more ]

AMST 304Asian American Writing and the Visual Arts

Last offered Spring 2016

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

AMST 306Queer of Color Critique: Race, Sex and Urban Life

Last offered Spring 2015

This seminar is an introduction to queer of color critique, a field of scholarship that seeks to intervene in the predominantly white canon of queer studies. We will examine the history of this line of critique, beginning with Black and Chicana feminisms and extending into present day issues and activism highlighting intersectionality, exploring how and why QOCC became a necessary intervention into the then still emerging field of queer studies. Our texts include scholarly works as well as science fiction novels, plays, films, diaries, and graphic novels. Methodologically, we draw on many fields of study, including anthropology, literary studies, feminist studies, and ethnic studies. We focus primarily but by no means exclusively on US contexts, paying particular attention to the role that urban environments have served for queer communities of color. Topics include: feminisms of color, inter-racial desire and fetishization, orientalism and colonial fantasy, black queer science fiction, transgender subjectivities, and the political economy of sexual desire. A key feature of this course will also be the inclusion of numerous and diverse authors to appear on Skype or in person to answer questions about their work as we read it in class. [ more ]

AMST 307(F)Experimental African American Poetry

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 308Thinking Diaspora: The Black Atlantic and Beyond

Last offered Fall 2018

Water imagery has been central to black diasporic culture since its beginnings in the Middle Passage---suggesting imprisonment, isolation, escape, ancestral communion, and death, for example. This course wrestles with the significance of water in diasporic literature--how it endures, how it has diminished, how it slips away from us. Black diaspora theory was revolutionized by Paul Gilroy's The Black Atlantic, which urged us to consider more deeply the role of the ship, the routes, and the roots entailed in the formation of diasporic consciousness. This course aims to expand students' theoretical skills as we discuss cornerstone and cutting edge texts of diaspora theory, with an emphasis on theories that work with the relationship to water, such as those by Jacqueline Nassy Brown, Omise'eke Tinsley. and Vanessa Agard-Jones. Primary texts will include The Big Sea by Langston Hughes, Sugar and Slate by Charlotte Williams, Barry Jenkins' Moonlight, and more. [ more ]

AMST 309Womanist/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 312Chicago

Last offered Spring 2018

"The city of big shoulders has plenty of room for diversity," reads the official visitor's website for the City of Chicago. Focusing on this claim, this course asks students to think critically about what kind room has been made for diversity--social, spatial, and ideological. Additionally we examine the ways in which diverse social actors have shouldered their way into the imagined and physical landscape of the city. Working with ethnography, history, literature, critical essays, and popular culture, we will explore the material and discursive constructions of Chi-Town and urban life among its residents. Appreciating these constructions we also consider how Chicago has served as a key site for understandings of urbanity within a broader national and global context. [ more ]

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

This course focuses on the politics of personal style among women of color in an era of viral video clips, the 24-hour news cycle, and e-commerce sites dedicated to the dermatological concerns of "minority" females. With a comparative, transnational emphasis on the ways in which gender, sexuality, ethno-racial identity, and class inform standards of beauty, we will examine a variety of materials including commercial websites, histories, personal narratives, ethnographies, sociological case studies, and feminist theory. Departing from the assumption that personal aesthetics are intimately tied to issues of power and privilege, we will engage the following questions: What are the everyday functions of personal style among women of color? Is it feasible to assert that an easily identifiable "African American," "Latina," "Arab American" or "Asian American" female aesthetic exists? What role do transnational media play in the development and circulation of popular aesthetic forms? How might the belief in personal style as activist strategy challenge traditional understandings of feminist political activity? [ more ]

AMST 314Groovin' 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 315Blackness 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 316Sacred 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 317Black Migrations: African American Performance at Home and Abroad

Last offered Fall 2017

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 318California: Myths, Peoples, Places

Last offered Fall 2016

Crosslisting Between Paradise and Hell, between environmental disaster and agricultural wonderland, between Reagan and Berkeley, between a land of all nations and a land of multiracial enmity, a diversity of myths have been inscribed onto and pursued within the space we call California. How did certain narratives of California come to be, who has imagined California in certain ways, and why? What is the relationship between certain myths, the peoples who have imagined them, and the other peoples who have shared California dreams? In this course, we will examine some of the myths that surround California by looking at a few specific moments of interaction between the peoples who have come to make California home and the specific places in which they have interacted with each other. Of special interest will be imaginations of the Spanish missions, the Gold Rush, agricultural California, wilderness California, California as "sprawling multicultural dystopia," and California as "west of the west." [ more ]

AMST 319Ethnographic 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 320Dangerous Bodies: Black Womanhood, Sexuality & Popular Culture

Last offered Spring 2015

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 ]

AMST 322(S)Race, Culture, Incarceration

This course explores racially-fashioned policing and incarceration from the Reconstruction era convict prison lease system to contemporary mass incarceration and "stop and frisk" policies of urban areas in the United States. Also explored will be political imprisonment in the United States. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

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

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

AMST 324Indigenous 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 327(S)Racial and Religious Mixture

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 328American 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 331(S)New Orleans as Muse: Literature, Music, Art, Film and Theatre in the City

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

AMST 333An American Family and "Reality" Television

Last offered Spring 2016

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

AMST 334Sexual Economies

Last offered Fall 2018

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 will have either guest speakers or a field trip to hear from people working in various commercial sex sectors. [ more ]

AMST 335Uncovering Williams

Last offered Spring 2019

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 336 TTwo American Poets: Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery

Last offered Spring 2016

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

AMST 337(S)Queer in the City

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 ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 338(S)Literature of the American Renaissance

The 1840s and '50s have often been described as "the American Renaissance" because of the breathtaking explosion of literary achievements in that period, which included Walden; Moby-Dick; The Scarlet Letter; The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; and Uncle Tom's Cabin, to say nothing of the short stories of Poe and the groundbreaking poetry of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. For the first time, American writers were broadly the equal or more of their European counterparts. We will explore the distinctive character of this achievement, paying close attention to the widespread belief in the transformational power of language, and the opportunities it offered to refigure both personal and political identity in a time when the American experiment often seemed on the brink of collapse. [ more ]

AMST 339Latina/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(S)Elizabeth Bishop in the Americas

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 341American Genders, American Sexualites

Last offered Spring 2017

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

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 343 T(S)Representations of Racial-Sexual Violence from Enslavement to Emancipation

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 ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 344(F)Pacific-New England Material Histories

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 ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

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

Last offered Fall 2018

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(S)Beyond Cli-Fi: Climate Change Histories & the Arts of Resilience

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 348Graphic Narratives as Democratic Ideals

Last offered Fall 2017

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. The primary focus will be on texts that explore themes of democracy and Latinidades. We will also discuss the "graphic activism" of artists like Sharon Lee De La Cruz of Digital Citizens Lab, a design collective with a focus on civic technology. Throughout the course, students will have the opportunity to create their own graphic narratives, either digitally or in print. Possible guest speaker: comic book artist Ivan Vélez (Planet Bronx, 2015 Creative Capital Award in Visual Arts). [ more ]

AMST 349Sexuality and US Literatures of the 19th Century

Last offered Spring 2017

If homosexuality and heterosexuality, as it is commonly argued, only came into being as legible identities at the end of the nineteenth century, what constituted "sexualities" before that? This course will explore how sexualities were expressed, regulated, denied and embraced "before identity" through reading closely some of the most central literary and cultural works of the period alongside a set of methodologically and theoretically diverse critical works that engage this query. Some questions we may explore include: What counts as sex and why would that be important to understanding a work of literature? What effect does race, ethnicity, gender, class and other differences make on sexual expression and regulation? How does literature itself represent, theorize, and respond to discourses of desire? Authors whose works we may explore include Emily Dickinson, Frederick Douglass,Harriet Jacobs, Henry James, Herman Melville, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 353(S)Is Science Native to Turtle Island? The History of Native Science in North America

Settler sciences and technologies deployed by Europeans colonizing Turtle Island (what settlers called North America) were introduced as weapons of Indigenous termination. From medical violation, to anthropological theft, and industrial pollution, settler technoscience objectified and appropriated Indigenous people and lands, and attempted to displace Indigenous knowledge in the pursuit of settler supremacy. Indigenous bodies were cast as victims, objects and sometimes the tools of this project. And yet, as tools and objects, Indigenous peoples took up settler technoscience in a multitude of ways that failed (both purposefully and not) to adhere to the colonizing mission, incorporating Indigenous knowledges and orientations, subverting settler science as a source of authority, and positioning science as a site of Indigenous sovereignty. The practice of taking up science as a tool of decolonization has become explicit in recent decades as expressly Native sciences now shape tribal funding, college education, and negotiations with international governing bodies. This course will trace the history of Native science across different nations and disciplines from the antebellum period when settler sciences were taking shape in civilian institutions to the present when Native science is professionalizing and being codified. We will read primary sources and scientific treatises by Indigenous leaders, activists, and scientists alongside secondary sources in Indigenous science and technology studies (STS), history, and postcolonial and queer theory. [ more ]

AMST 355Creating Whiteness: Racial Taxonomies in 'American' Art, 1650-1900

Last offered Fall 2018

"What is race?" "How is a race created?" "What are the racial histories and subsequent political implications of 'American' art?" These are the central questions of our exploration. Drawing on two centuries of making in the Americas--from 17th century casta paintings of New Spain to the pictorialist photographs of Fred Holland Day--this object-based seminar for graduate students (and undergraduates with instructor's approval) draws upon area collections (including WCMA and The Clark Art Institute) to make the argument that racial ideologies have always been sutured to definitions of an American canon. Our approach is the case study: devoting one or two class meetings to the exploration of eight specific moments/artists in order to engage with the intersectional ideologies of personal and collective identity, e.g., self and the Divine; portraiture and the nation, armed conflict, and the constructed mutabilities of gender and sexuality. Additional artists and topics include: the Stuart family's images of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson; advances in photographic technology vis-a-vis the amputated bodies of Civil War veterans; gender fluidity in John Singer Sargent; and the equation of homoeroticism and black bodies in pictorialism. Designed to provide breadth and specific moments of depth, we will be covering processes of making across multiple mediums and time periods. An elementary reading knowledge of French, Latin, Portuguese, and/or Spanish will not go amiss. [ more ]

AMST 359Spirits of Rebellion: The L.A. Rebellion Filmmakers

Last offered Spring 2019

When Beyoncé unveiled the Lemonade visual album in 2016, her production captured the artistic spirit and gave new life to an earlier work: Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust (1991), a luminous film about three generations of the Gullah people and the first motion picture by a Black woman to obtain wide theatrical release in the United States. Many, however, are unaware of the decades-long cinematic movement to which Dash belongs. In this course, we will devote our critical inquiry to the creative output of the L.A. Rebellion, a group of Black cinematic artists trained at the UCLA Film and Television School between the 1960s and 1990s. Our visual journey will take us through a diverse set of filmmakers like Charles Burnett, Ben Caldwell, Barbara McCullough, Julie Dash, Zeinabu irene Davis, Haile Gerima, Alile Sharon Larkin, Billy Woodberry, among many, many others, and how they sought to not only redefine the Black image on-screen but also reimagine the infinite possibilities of Blackness. We will pay close attention to the heterogeneity of genres, styles, and techniques that they put into practice from narrative to neorealism to documentary to avant-garde/experimental to African and African American musical and storytelling traditions. We will explore the various social and political issues that were represented by their films including: racial and class oppression, woman of color feminisms, Black Power, Afrocentrism, anti-colonialism and decolonization, police brutality and mass incarceration, radical social movements and coalition building, and the importance of community-based art and film practices. Finally, we will touch upon some of the recent works that have been inspired by the L.A. Rebellion, including the aforementioned Lemonade and Barry Jenkins' Moonlight (2016). Our viewership will be supplemented with readings in Black social and cultural criticism. [ more ]

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

Early Americans inhabited an interconnected world through which people, beliefs, and objects circulated. This course explores the "Atlantic World" as both a place and a concept: an ocean surrounded by diverse communities and empires, and an imagined space of shared or competing affiliations. Moving from the tenth century to the nineteenth, it examines ecological, cultural, political, economic, intellectual, and religious exchanges among Native Americans, Europeans and colonizers, and Africans and African Americans. It introduces both conceptual dimensions of this Atlantic paradigm and case studies that investigate its human subtleties, with the goal of examining early American history through a transnational lens. The course will take up the stories of Wabanaki mariners and Norse/Viking expansionists; Pocahontas, a trio of Inuit people, and myriad other Indigenous travelers to Europe; West African survivors of the Middle Passage and their enslaved descendants who pushed for survival and recognition of their humanity overseas; New England religious dissidents, intellectuals, and profiteers from Caribbean slavery; Touissant L'Ouverture and the reverberations of the Haitian Revolution; and whaling ship crews who pursued cetaceans ever farther out at sea, among other topics. The course also delves into new methodologies for telling histories that have been unevenly presented or seemingly silenced in traditional documentary archives, probing ways that oral traditions, songs, archaeology, material culture, and other forms of expression and representation can help recast the nature and meanings of these connected spaces and histories. Additionally, it 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 364(F)History of the Old South

During the course of the semester, we shall investigate two broad, interrelated topics: slavery in the antebellum South, and the impact of slavery on Southern civilization. Our approach will be primarily topical. In the first half of the course, we shall look at subjects like the foreign and domestic slave trade, patterns of work and treatment, the nature of the master-slave relationship, resistance and rebellion, and slave cultural, social, and family life. The second half of the course will concentrate on the influence of the institution of slavery on the mind, social structure, and economy of the Old South, and slavery's impact on Southern politics and the decision for secession in 1860-61. [ more ]

AMST 365History of the New South

Last offered Spring 2019

A study of the history of the American South from 1877 to the present. Social, political and economic trends will be examined in some detail: the rule of the "Redeemers" following the end of Reconstruction; tenancy, sharecropping, and the rise of agrarian radicalism; Southern Progressivism; the coming of racial segregation and the destruction of the Jim Crow system during the years of the Civil Rights movement; Southern politics during the depression and post-World War II years. [ more ]

AMST 371(F)Oral History: Theory, Methods and Practice

Oral history offers a powerful means to document history "from the bottom up," filling gaps in the historical record and creating ways to make new community connections. This class introduces methods for conducting oral history interviews and provides an opportunity to record interviews and use them in a public project. This semester we will use oral history interviews and other sources to explore the lived experience of LGBTQ individuals in the United States. The class combined history, theory, and practice, giving you the chance to conduct and interpret oral history interviews. [ more ]

AMST 376(F)Landscapes in American Literature

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 379American Pragmatism

Last offered Fall 2017

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 380Freedom Dreams, Afro-Futures & Visionary Fictions

Last offered Fall 2018

In this course we will examine the various ways Black scholars, artists, & writers use science fiction and visionary fiction to imagine freedom and new world orders. We will focus on the role of history, particularly slavery, in the Black radical imagination. "Freedom" is the keyword throughout the course. We will grapple with the various and sometimes conflicting meanings and uses of freedom as it relates to blackness, gender, sexuality, class and ability. We will explore multiple forms of scholarship and cultural productions, including film, music, novels, short-stories, art, poetry, and other academic texts. All students will be asked to discover and develop their writerly voices through various critical, creative, experimental and performative assignments. [ more ]

AMST 381(S)The Legal History of Asian America

This course will focus on how certain legal structures have shaped the Asian American experience. We will examine the impact of the laws that are part of the anti-Chinese movement, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII, school desegregation, citizenship cases, and other legal decisions that have influenced the development of Asian American history. [ more ]

AMST 382(S)Transnational Asian/American Film and Video

In this course, we will examine transnational Asian/American film and video through the frameworks of film and visual studies, cultural studies, and critical media literacy. We will traverse communal, national, and transnational lines with a heterogeneity of forms and genres, including narrative, documentary, experimental, short film, music video, public access television, and YouTube. We will attend to multiple modes of critical analysis: (1) the conditions of power and visibility being mediated by sites of representation, (2) the networks and platforms helping to make these sites possible, and (3) the materials, meanings, and acts being generated by them. We will also interrogate: How are Asian, American, and/or Asian American representation being produced, performed, embodied, circulated, and consumed? What are the social, political, economic, and cultural forces at play in a given historical context? What artistic and political strategies are at play in the complex nexus of producers, directors, actors, distributors, and viewers? And what are the possibilities, limits, and stakes for different strategies of invention and intervention, activism and resistance? We will consider films from the United States as well as the inter-Asian context. Students will produce a creative media project at the end of the semester. [ more ]

AMST 384(F)Selected Topics in Asian American Studies

Assuming some previous knowledge of Asian American history, this course will examine a number of specific topics in Asian American Studies. Using historical sources, monographs, graphic memoirs, novels, and films, potential topics include Asians of mixed race, Orientalism, adoption, food culture, the "model minority," legal studies, Asian Americans and the environment, and the impact of war on Asian American history. [ more ]

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

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 405Critical Indigenous Theory

Last offered Spring 2019

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 408Envisioning Urban Life: Objects, Subjects, and Everyday People

Last offered Fall 2018

What is the relationship between real life in urban communities and the multiple ways in which they are imagined? What does it mean to be "urban," to live in an "urban community," or to be the product of an "urban environment"? Who do we think the people are who populate these spaces? This course takes a critical look at specific populations, periods, and problems that have come to dominate and characterize our conceptions of the quality, form, and function of U.S. urban life. A few of the topics we may cover include historical accounts of the varied ways in which poverty and "urban culture" have been studied; race, class, and housing; the spatial practices of urban youth and the urban elderly; and gendered perspectives on social mobility and community activism. Finally, this course will explore how diverse social actors negotiate responses to their socio-spatial and economic circumstances, and, in the process, help envision and create different dimensions of the urban experience. [ more ]

AMST 410Black 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(F)Transnationalism and Difference: Comparative Perspectives

In the age of satellite television, e-mail, 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, comparative course we will analyze recent theories regarding the origins and impacts of transnationalism. Particular attention will be paid throughout the semester to the interplay of gender, ethno-racial identity, sexuality, and class in connection with everyday transnational dynamics. The broad range of case studies examined includes China, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Middle East. [ more ]

AMST 420Blackness and Gender: The Drag of Black Masculinity

Last offered Spring 2019

In this seminar, we will study the evolution of Black masculinities through cultural, social, and political movements from 19th century to the present. This course engages Black feminist thought, Black masculinities studies, queer theory, and performance studies. We will examine the relationship and constitutive nature of masculinity and femininity. How is blackness always already gendered? How is gender always already racialized? What are the effects of these gendering and racializing practices on Black bodies, spaces, and places? We will trouble the relationship between manhood and masculinity by examining the ways in which masculinity can move across various kinds of bodies. By examining representations and presentations of Black masculinities, we will pursue questions such as: How has dominant society attempted to define Black masculinity? In what ways have Black people undermined these narratives and redefined themselves? How do racial stereotypes about Black men's sexuality inform representations of Black masculinities? Can we/should we be moving beyond heteropatriarchy and gender binaries? What is the future of Black Gender? By reading critical and creative texts, viewing films and engaging other kinds of media, students will hone their critical theorization skills. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 440Racial 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(S)The Afterlives of Objects: Telling American Histories through Material Culture and Museums

Material culture studies examine relationships between people and objects. Tangible artifacts like furniture, clothing, ceramics, tools, and buildings give insight into communities' identities, aspirations, and struggles. This course approaches American histories through objects, and considers how interdisciplinary methodologies can reveal alternative understandings of the past. The course traces changing theories and practices of preservation, curation, and display; shifting conceptions of "heritage" among diverse peoples; and ethical challenges posed by Native American and African American items held in museums, particularly in relation to repatriation considerations. The course involves a staged set of class visits to work with collections at the Williams College Archives/Special Collections and Art Museum as well as local/regional repositories and historic sites. While the scope of the course is continental and at times transoceanic, it includes substantial focus on the Northeast/New England and the material assemblages and landscapes that shape western Massachusetts. Students will build familiarity with appropriate techniques for handling objects, cultivate skills for developing and carrying out an original research project, and explore diverse modes of analysis and expression for telling the stories of objects and their associated communities. [ more ]

AMST 456(F)Civil War and Reconstruction

An examination of one of the most turbulent periods in American history, with special emphasis on the changing status of Afro-Americans during the era. During the war years, we shall study both the war itself and homefront conditions: military, naval, political, economic, and especially social aspects will be examined in some detail. Our study of Reconstruction will concentrate on the evolution of federal policy toward the Southern states and the workings out of that policy in the South, particularly as it relates to the freedmen. [ more ]

AMST 462Art of California: Pacific Standard Time

Last offered Fall 2017

In this course, we will study the visual arts and culture of California after 1960 and consider the region's place in modern art history. We will focus on a series of recent exhibitions organized as part of a Getty initiative entitled Pacific Standard Time. Diverse in scope, these shows explored important developments in postwar art in California, including feminist art, African American assemblage, Chicano collectives, Modernist architecture, craft, and queer activism. In this seminar, we will pursue research projects directly related to the art exhibitions we study, and examine southern California conceptualism, photography, performance, painting, sculpture (including assemblage and installation), and video by artists both canonical and lesser known. Student projects will analyze the critical responses to the exhibitions, while also exploring the roles of archives, art criticism, and curatorial practice in contemporary art history. In fall 2017, a new Getty PST initiative focused on Latin American and Latino art will commence and this class will consider these exhibitions as well. [ more ]

AMST 465Race 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 468(F)Race, Empire, and the Birth of the American Century

This course examines the birth of the "American Century" by studying the extension of Manifest Destiny to the Pacific, especially the American occupation of Hawaii and the Philippines. [ more ]

AMST 478(S)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 many developing nations. We will begin this seminar by exploring several distinct "Cold War landscapes" in the United States, then move on to examining others in Europe and the Soviet Union. We will spend the final weeks of the semester discussing examples from other parts of the world. Our approach to our topics will be interdisciplinary throughout the semester, and students are welcome to write their research papers on any geographical area of the world. [ more ]

AMST 490 TThe Suburbs

Last offered Spring 2019

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 ]