Arts In Context Electives

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

AMST 128 SEM Reading Asian American Literature

Last offered Spring 2020

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

AMST 142 TUT AlterNatives: Indigenous Futurism and Science Fiction

Last offered Spring 2024

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

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

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

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

AMST 149 SEM First-Hand America

Last offered Fall 2016

Gonzo journalism, the nonfiction novel, literary journalism, the "new new journalism": the study of American culture has thrived in the able hands of writers, reformers and amateur anthropologists. This course is an introduction to American writing and culture through the eyes of extraordinary witnesses who work as public intellectuals, addressing a readership that reaches beyond the university. Through essays, films and music we will track the documentary impulse from coast to coast: from Ferguson, Baltimore, Miami, Watts, Denver, Harlem, Chicago, Compton and Sing-Sing prison to the wilds of Alaska and rural Georgia; from mass demonstrations to the most intimate, bedside revelations. How have writers and artists given their audiences tools for understanding power, privilege, and difference in America? [ more ]

AMST 208 TUT Time and Blackness

Last offered Spring 2023

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

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 215 SEM Experimental Asian American Writing

Last offered Spring 2015

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

AMST 220 SEM Introduction to African American Literature

Last offered Spring 2023

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

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AMST 222(S) SEM Hip Hop Culture

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

AMST 227 SEM Utopias and Americas

Last offered Spring 2012

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

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

Last offered Spring 2017

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

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

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

AMST 242(S) SEM Americans Abroad

This course will explore some of the many incarnations of American experiences abroad from the end of the 19th century to the present day. Materials will be drawn from novels, short stories, films, and nonfiction about Americans in Europe in times of war, peace, and pandemic. We will compare and contrast the experiences of novelists, soldiers, students, war correspondents, jazz musicians, and adventurers. What has drawn so many Americans to Europe? What is the difference between a tourist, an expat, and an émigré? What are the profound, and often comic, gaps between the traveler's expectations and the reality of living in, say, Paris or a rural village in Spain? What are the misadventures and unexpected rewards of living, working, writing, or even falling in love in translation? How did recent lockdowns and border closings impact and/or interrupt these complex experiences? Authors may include: Edith Wharton, Henry James, Langston Hughes, Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway, Elaine Dundy, Richard Wright, and Ben Lerner. Additional reading will be drawn from historical and critical works. All readings will be in English. This comparative course is designed to highlight the challenges and benefits of cultural immersion abroad. It will focus on the linguistic, emotional, intellectual, and social adaptation skills that are required to understand others, and oneself, in new contexts. Many of the authors and artists we will study chose, or were forced to, leave oppressive situations in the United States where their futures were limited due to factors related to politics, gender, race or class (and combinations thereof). We will study their dislocation, and freedom, and struggles to reshape their (and our) concept of "home" into something that reflects individual identity, and not one imposed by any national culture--American or foreign. [ more ]

AMST 261(S) SEM America Inside Out

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

AMST 264 LEC American Art and Architecture, 1600 to Present

Last offered Fall 2023

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

AMST 265 LEC Pop Art

Last offered Spring 2020

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

AMST 272 SEM American Postmodern Fiction

Last offered Spring 2020

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

AMST 275 TUT American Drama: Hidden Knowledge

Last offered Spring 2022

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

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

Last offered Fall 2023

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

AMST 307 SEM Experimental African American Poetry

Last offered Fall 2019

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

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

Last offered Fall 2016

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

AMST 315 SEM Blackness 2.0: Race, Film and New Technologies

Last offered Spring 2019

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

AMST 316 LEC Sacred Cinema: Black Religion and the Movies

Last offered Spring 2015

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

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

Last offered Fall 2023

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

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

This course explores how the graphic novel has been an effective, provocative and at times controversial medium for representing racialized histories. Drawing on graphic novels such as the late Congressman John Lewis' March and Ebony Flowers' Hot Comb, this course illustrates and critiques multiple ways the graphic novel commingles word and image to create more sensorial access into ethnic traumas, challenges and interventions in critical moments of resistance throughout history. Students will practice analyzing graphic novels with the help of critical essays, reviews and film; the chosen texts will center on Africana cultures, prompting students to consider how the graphic novel may act as a useful alternate history for marginalized peoples. During the course, students will build comic creation and analysis skills through short exercises, eventually building up to the final project of a graphic short story that illustrates historical and/or autobiographical narratives. No art experience is required, only an openness to expanding one's visual awareness and composition skills. This course is often taught in collaboration with the Williams College Museum of Art's Object Lab program, which allows the class to have its own space and art objects that are directly related to the course topic. This class may feature Object Lab participation, film screenings, and collaborations with guest speakers. [ more ]

AMST 326(F) SEM Unfinishing America

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

AMST 335 SEM Uncovering Williams

Last offered Spring 2021

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

AMST 338(S) SEM Literature of the American Renaissance

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

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

Last offered Spring 2019

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

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

Last offered Fall 2020

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

AMST 348 SEM Drawing Democracy: Graphic Narratives as Democratic Ideals

Last offered Spring 2022

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

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

Last offered Spring 2021

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

AMST 372(S) SEM Technologies of Race

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

AMST 374 SEM Black Critical Theory, Black Avant-Garde

Last offered Spring 2024

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

AMST 375(S) SEM Asian American Sexualities

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

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

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

Last offered Spring 2020

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

AMST 418 SEM Modernisms and the Archive

Last offered Spring 2024

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

AMST 465 SEM Race and Abstraction

Last offered Spring 2015

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