Space and Place Electives

The following courses count towards the Space and Place specialization. For more information, refer to the Major Requirements.

AMST 200 SEM Ethnographic Directions in American Studies

Last offered Spring 2022

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

AMST 211 LEC Race, Environment, and the Body

Last offered Spring 2023

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

Taught by: TBA

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

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

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

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

AMST 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 312(S) SEM Contemporary Immigration Landscapes

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

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

Last offered Fall 2023

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

AMST 318 SEM Myths and the Making of Latine California

Last offered Spring 2024

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

Taught by: TBA

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AMST 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 367 SEM Colonialism and the Environment

Last offered Fall 2022

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

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

Last offered Spring 2024

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

Taught by: TBA

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AMST 372(S) SEM Technologies of Race

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

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

Last offered Fall 2023

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

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

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

AMST 412 SEM Cold War Archaeology

Last offered Spring 2024

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

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

Last offered NA

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

Taught by: TBA

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AMST 440 SEM Racial Capitalism

Last offered Spring 2017

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

AMST 478(S) SEM Cold War Landscapes

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

AMST 490(S) TUT The Suburbs

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