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Courses in American Studies

American Studies Course Offerings

Winter/Spring 2021

AMST 0160 (JUDS 0066) - The Lower East Side and Beyond: American Jewish History 1880-2000
In this course we will explore the forces that have shaped American Jewry and made it what it is today. We will ask how the Jews who came to America as immigrants created a unique form of Jewish life that combined the political and social traditions of their old countries with the ethos and values they found here. Another key question is the place of American Jews in the Jewish world prior to World War II and how this affected the American Jewish public arena. We will then examine the post-Holocaust years focusing on the creation of a new American Judaism, as well as the cultural, literary and ideological accomplishments of American Jews. We will also examine the complex relationship between American Jews and the State of Israel and how it has shaped Jewish life in the United States. R. Rojanski

AMST 0170D - Musical Youth Cultures
This sophomore seminar explores how and why young people form communities around popular music. We will discuss readings and documentary films about musical subcultures, media circulation, and how young people make music meaningful in their lives. The course requires critical engagement with a variety of popular music genres and cultures, as well as reflection on our own musical production and consumption practices. Major topics include punk, hip-hop, metal, rock, and club music; popular music and intersectional identity (including race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and disability); fan communities; activist musical collectives; music-sharing technologies; the politics of style; and ethnographic theory and method. (K. Miller)

AMST 0192F - Whose Land? Tracing History and Memory in the Native Northeast
This course explores local histories of the Native Northeast to introduce relationships between land, indigeneity, and settler colonialism. Students will learn about the Native peoples of present-day New England through readings of origin stories, historical documents, material culture, documentaries, poetry, mapping projects, and academic texts. We will consider the ways history is produced and reiterated in historical writing, popular narratives, and the land itself. Students will gain proficiency in decolonizing historical research methods and learn strategies for interpreting primary and secondary source documents in multiple short writing assignments, with opportunities for revision throughout the semester.  (A. LaForge)

AMST 0192I - Mapping Desire: Queer Spaces in Contemporary Literature
What makes a space queer? How are queer spaces mapped, remembered, and debated within queer communities but also American culture at large? And what sorts of access does literature provide us to these spaces? This introductory course in American Studies aims to engage with these questions by setting students loose in the back roads, closets, and dance clubs of queer literature. Though issues of sex and sexuality will be at the heart of this course, our readings will also explore questions of race, gender, and nation. Authors include James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Ocean Vuong, and Maggie Nelson.  (T. Dai)

AMST 1090 (AFRI 1090) Black Freedom Struggle Since 1945
Lecture course that examines the extended history of the mass civil rights movement in the U.S. Starting at World War II, we consider the roles of the courts, the federal and state governments, organizations, local communities, individuals and various activist strategies in the ongoing struggle for African American equality, focusing on African American agency, particularly in the South, but also in Boston, Mass. Sources include photographs, documentaries, movies, letters, speeches, autobiographies, and secondary readings. Requirements: Weekly readings, documentary viewings, 4 short papers, 2 exams.  (F. Hamlin)

AMST 1510 - Museum Collecting and Collections
This course will explore and examine the methods, practices, and theory of collections management in a museum setting including collections development, museum registration methods, cataloging, collections care, and interpretation. Through readings, discussion, workshops, site visits, and exhibitions, students will explore what it means to be physically and intellectually responsible for museum objects. This course places heavy emphasis on experiential learning and will include several project-based assignments. (R. Potvin)

AMST 1611M - Trauma and the Shame of the Unspeakable: The Holocaust, American Slavery, and Childhood Sexual Abuse
The problem of representing traumatic experience has been raised by witnesses and survivors, psychoanalysts, psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, and artists. This course compares three historical situations--The Holocaust, American slavery, and childhood sexual abuse--by reading histories, memoirs, and fictions, and analyzing material cultural artifacts such as memorials. Questions about the relation of individual trauma to collective and cultural trauma will be pursued through readings that will include Freud, Jeffrey Alexander, Judith Herman, Dominique La Capra, Primo Levi, Jill Christman, Harriet Jacobs,Toni Morrison, Gayle Jones and Art Spiegelman.

AMST 1700N - Public Memory: Testimony, Memorial, Ritual
This seminar explores theories and practices of public memory by studying three related topics and media. Questions about the relation of history and memory are pursued by reading verbal testimony. Questions about commemoration are developed by looking at material objects and public spaces. Questions about embodied memory are explored by witnessing trauma, performance, and ritual. Readings will include Freud, Nora, Derrida, Halbwachs, Laub, Savage, Connerton, Taylor and Young. Rhode Island will provide our field for understanding how public memory works in verbal, material, and embodied signs of the past and present. (B. Haviland)

AMST 1800 - Honors Seminar
This seminar is for second-semester junior American Studies and Ethnic Studies concentrators who are interested in writing an honors thesis in their senior year. The outcome of this course will be a proposal for the honors thesis along with a bibliography and a research plan and schedule. Topics covered will be the research methods associated with different disciplines; how to make the thesis interdisciplinary; integrating public projects and new media into a thesis. Open to juniors concentrating in American Studies and Ethnic Studies. Enrollment limited to 20. S/NC. (E. Shih)

AMST 1900P - Essaying Culture
This course is interested in the essay as form. As a verb, essay means "to make an often tentative or experimental effort to perform." We will explore through reading and our own writing the poetic, gnomic, and often desultory moves the essay makes as it seeks to understand its cultural objects. Like the novel, the essay is an omnivorous form. It consists of fragments, poetry, personal reflection, lists, rational argument, and much more as it winds its way to understanding. We will be reading a range of essays, as well as theories of the form.  (R. Rodriguez)

AMST 1901B - Form Matters: Contemporary Short Fiction
Form Matters is an advanced seminar in reading contemporary short fiction, mainly centered on US writers. The class particularly focuses on socially-attuned and historically-minded neo-formalist analyses of literature. Fiction readings will be supplemented with relevant critical readings from both scholars and practicing writers. Students will be expected to engage in rigorous discussion of the material. Goals of the course include introducing you to a relevant critical vocabulary for discussing form, deepening your familiarity with contemporary US short fiction, and improving your oral and written communication skills.  (R. Rodriguez)

AMST 1906V - Virtual Bodies: Play, Power, Performance
This seminar investigates digital media practices at the intersection of virtual and embodied experience, from video games and virtual communities to viral dance videos and motion-sensing surveillance systems. How do digitally mediated play, performance, and participatory culture incorporate and/or undermine technologies of power and control? How have new interfaces and media platforms invoked and reshaped ideas about liveness, creativity, authenticity, community, and privacy? What happens when embodied techniques and repertoires are taught and learned using digital media? Readings draw on media ethnography, performance studies, interface studies, and theories of intersectional embodied identity. Class members will undertake a series of practice exercises in which they learn new skills from online sources and collectively reflect on this process. Registration permission granted based on questionnaire distributed at first class meeting.  (K. Miller/S. Skybetter)

AMST 2220T - Slavery in the Recent American Imagination
This seminar explores the representations of antebellum slavery in contemporary mass culture. Manifestations of popular interest include neo-slave narratives and Broadway shows, plantation weddings and tourist-friendly reenactments, documentary-style television dramas and time-travelling speculative fictions and films, radical artistic interpolations and the destruction or preservation of memorials. What disciplinary and interdisciplinary methodologies can frame an understanding of these representations? What politics of memory enables this fascination? And what, lastly, is the relationship between this material and those aforementioned regimes of enslavement – between the contemporary fascination with antebellum slavery and the very real and continued existence of racialized bound labor?  (M. Guterl)

AMST 2220U (HMAN 2401D) - The Fugitivity of Slowness, Stillness, and Stasis
Slowness, stillness, stasis – these terms signal diminished velocity, extended duration, delayed development or reduced exertion. But what if we understand them as an intensification, rather than a reduction, of forces? How do slowness, stillness, and stasis animate fugitivity in various bodies of thought? What if slowness, stillness, and stasis instantiate modes of anti-colonial practice and thought, or imagine/realize a world nonsensical to much of dominant western thought? This collaborative humanities seminar will explore practices of slowness, stillness, and stasis in literature, theory, performance and art, and the ways in which they unsettle our understanding of fugitive social practices of refusal.  (T. Campt)

AMST 2525 - American Studies MA Capstone
This course is required for all Masters students in American Studies who are in their final semester. Enrolled students will work with American Studies faculty to complete an interdisciplinary research paper or project of their choice.  (A. Anderson)

AMST 2600 - Intro to Digital Humanities
The humanities value nuance, while computers process precisely formatted information and structured data. How do we use computers to do humanities work? What are the benefits and the limitations? Students in the course will examine these questions and learn how to use and experiment with a variety of digital methodologies for humanistic research (e.g. text mining, working with structured data, creating data visualizations). The course will also engage students in analyzing the potential intrinsic bias of source texts in datasets and the algorithms that researchers regularly use for text analysis projects, such as topic modeling. Undergraduates by permission of instructor. (TBD)

AMST 2650 - Introduction to Public Humanities
This class, a foundational course for the MA in Public Humanities with preference given to American Studies graduate students, will address the theoretical bases of the public humanities, including topics of history and memory, museums and memorials, the roles of expertise and experience, community cultural development, and material culture. Enrollment limited to 20 graduate students.  (D. Neumann)

AMST 2680 - Semester Practicum in Public Humanities
Practicums in public humanities provide practical, hands-on training that is essential for careers in museums, historic preservation, and cultural agencies. Students will work with faculty to find appropriate placements and negotiate a semester's or summer work, in general a specific project. Available only to students in the Public Humanities M.A. program.  (R. Potvin)

AMST 2684 - Creative & Cultural Entrepreneurship in the Commons
This seminar surveys entrepreneurship within the art-industrial complex, emphasizing the roles of artists as innovators, the commons as laboratory, and cultural institutions as incubators. An inquiry-based course, our collective research works from the premise that entrepreneurship is the creation of social, cultural and financial value, which are inextricably linked under the umbrellas of capitalism and philanthropy. Students will investigate the infrastructures, policies, practices upon which the arts/culture ecosystem is built; engage in fieldwork that surveys the diverse entry points to the field; translate what they’ve learned into an actionable, individualized toolkit, empowering them to opt into (or out of) the art market economy with strategy and confidence. With a focus on personal and professional development, this course equips students with skills, tools and vocabularies vital to actualizing the impact they want to have through their creative practice, projects or ventures. (TBD)

AMST 2970C (HIST 2970C) - Rethinking the Civil Rights Movement
This graduate course encourages a rethinking of the complex components, arguments and activities that have characterized what we have come to know as the Civil Rights Movement, concentrating primarily on African American agency, actions and politics, through careful reading of recent scholarship in the field. While knowledge of U.S. history is preferred, this course asks larger thematic questions about protest movements (the role of the state, relationships with and between oppressed groups and organizations, and periodization), that will interest non-Americanists also. Some of the topics covered include: gender, organizing and strategies, the local, global ramifications and interactions, organizational structures and politics, and the recent concept of the Long Civil Rights Movement.  (F. Hamlin)