Space and Place Electives

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

AMST 200(S) SEM Ethnographic Directions in American Studies

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 ]

Taught by: TBA

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AMST 211(S) LEC Race, Environment, and the Body

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 216 SEM Landscape, 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 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 264(F) LEC 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 302(F) SEM Environmental Planning Workshop: Community-Based Experience

In this interdisciplinary, experiential workshop students effect environmental change through hands-on community projects. Environmental Planning includes a range of disciplines pertaining to the natural and built landscape such as city planning, environmental management, affordable housing, food system planning, climate resiliency planning, habitat restoration, alternative transportation, renewable energy, farmland, open space and recreation, municipal services (recycling, composting, parks, playgrounds, schools etc), ecological site design, green buildings, landscape architecture, neighborhood design, economic development, and community development, to list a few. Each year, the projects focus on the most pressing issues in the region and in the planning field. The class is organized into two parts. Part 1 involves reading and discussion of the planning literature: history, theory, policy, ethics, legal framework, and case studies. Labs include site visits, GIS mapping, hands-on planning exercises and project development. Part 2 involves project work: in small teams, you will work with a community organization or local government on a current project. The includes primary research, conducting interviews with policymakers, stakeholders and residents, site visits, attending meetings, and other activities as demanded by the particular project. The project work draws on students' academic training and extracurricular activities, and applies creative solutions to thorny problems. Labs will be small group work and project work. The course includes several class presentations; students will gain skills in interacting with public officials, interviewing, preparing presentations, public speaking, report-writing, and teamwork. The class culminates in a public presentation. [ more ]

AMST 317 SEM Black 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 318 SEM California: 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 322 SEM Race, Culture, Incarceration

Last offered Spring 2020

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

Last offered Spring 2020

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 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 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 462 SEM Art of California: Pacific Standard Time

Last offered Fall 2020

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. [ 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 TUT The Suburbs

Last offered Fall 2020

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 ]