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Courses in American Studies

American Studies Course Offerings Fall 2019

Seminars Primarily for Juniors and Seniors

AMST 1600H S01 (ENGL 1711N) Monsters in our Midst: The Plantation and the Woods in Trans-American Literature

This course focuses on how literary and visual culture grappled with land as a topographic entity in relation to race, gender, and time. Students read literature about the Caribbean and parts of the U.S., produced from the 19th century to the present. Readings include Marlon James's The Book of Night Women and Jean Rhys's Wide Saragasso Sea.  (Dixa Ramirez)

AMST 1700F S01 American Publics - Americans worry about the quality of their civic life and fear its decline. This junior seminar examines an important concept, the public sphere, in its popular and political dimensions as well as the challenges to the boundaries of American public life. Who is a citizen and thus eligible to participate? The course pays particular attention to concerns about the impact of new media--print, broadcasting, the internet. Assignments will take students into the community to think about social, cultural, and political publics. Not open to first year students or sophomores. Enrollment limited to 20. (Susan Smulyan)

AMST 1901B S01 - 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. (Ralph Rodriguez)

 AMST 1903I S01 Museum Histories - Museums collect and display art and artifacts not only to preserve culture heritage, but also to educate, engage, and entertain. This course examines the history of museums– of art, history, anthropology, natural history, science and technology– to understand their changing goals and their changing place in American society. It also considers the changes within museums, in the work of curation, conservation, education, and social engagement. Students will read museum history and theory, engage with museum archives and other primary sources, and produce a research paper or a digital or public project.  (Steven Lubar)

 AMST 1905O S01 Reading and Righting Histories of Violence - This seminar proposes “histories of violence” as a useful framework to interrogate the varied forms of violence that constitute Western liberal modernity. These forms include systems of state power and imperial practices; subjective violence through raced, gendered, and sexualized hierarchies; and narrative violence that prevents histories and voices from emerging through the erasure of archives and narrative silencing. Course readings consider ongoing local and transnational struggles to reckon with the violent histories of slavery, empire, colonialism, nationalism, and democracy. They offer interdisciplinary models for researching and narrating these histories. Class discussions with consider avenues for reckoning with histories of violence.  (Monica Martinez)

Graduate Level Courses

AMST 2010 S01 Introduction to Interdisciplinary Methods - Introduction to interdisciplinary studies required of all first-year graduate students in American Studies. Graduate students from other departments may enroll with permission of the instructor. (Sandy Zipp)

AMST 2020E S01 Introduction to Interdisciplinary American Studies - This graduate-level course offers an introduction to the discipline of American Studies through a close reading of four important texts representing different methodologies and theories within the discipline. We will also read a series of seminal articles focused on transnationalism, highlighting the significance of border-crossings to the American experience throughout the semester. The goal of the course is to familiarize students with pedagogical approaches within American Studies, through active seminar discussions, fieldtrips within the community, and work with material and visual media as well as secondary texts.  (Caroline Frank)

AMST 2220P S01 Diaspora and Indigeneity - This graduate seminar explores the interrelated concepts of diaspora and indigeneity. Drawing on theoretical frameworks from American Studies, history, anthropology, and law, students will explore the relationship between diasporic and indigenous communities in the United States, Canada, Middle East, Caribbean and Pacific Ocean. In the process, conversations will focus on how struggles for migrant justice can take place while critically engaging with the settler colonial legacies of many nation-states moving towards a politics of collective liberation. (Kevin Escudero)

AMST 2220Q S01 The Homo Sapiens at the End of the World; or, Readings in Race Theory - How was race invented in the Americas? How can a piece of land be raced? Why might we use the term “genre” over “gender”? Which comes first: racial equality or environmental catastrophe? Shall we consider the four elements instead of universal time? In this seminar, we dive into these and other questions through readings on theories of race in the Americas, paying attention to the reverberations of colonialism, U.S. imperialism, slavery, and so on. Visual and performance art, music, and film add texture to the course. Theorists include Sylvia Wynter, Josie Saldaña, Anna Tsing, and Fred Moten. (Dixa Ramirez)

AMST 2520 S01 American Studies:  Professional Issues in American Studies - This course explores the mechanics of a doctorate degree in American Studies. We will explore the constitution of our field through the elaboration of field exam lists and narratives, query its pedagogical application in the design of undergraduate syllabi, and begin to outline and enact our participation in the profession both within and beyond the academy. At the end of this class, students will have constructed a portfolio that will assist their progress towards a degree and provide the tools with which to chart pathways once a degree is in hand. S/NC (Leticia Alvarado)

AMST 2650 S01 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. (Monica Martinez)

AMST 2653 S01 Public Art:  History, Theory, and Practice - The course offers an opportunity for RISD and Brown students to work together to understand the growing interdisciplinary field of public art. We will explore the potential of working in the public realm as artists and/or arts administrators. Topics include: pivotal events and artworks that formed the history of public art from the early 20th century to the present; approaches to site-specificity; ideas of community and audience; current debates around defining the public and public space; temporary vs. permanent work; controversies in public art; memorials, monuments, and anti-monuments; case studies; public art administration models, among others. (TBD)

AMST 2655 S01 Against Invisibility: Asian America/s, Collective Memory and the Public Humanities - Asians have been living in North America since the 1600’s but four centuries later Asian Americans are still virtually invisible in the narratives that define the nation. What spaces are available to resist invisibility? The seminar will focus on ways in which Asian Americans have used vernacular photography to archive collective memory, resist state surveillances, assert subjectivity, and narrate alternate histories. We will learn to read photographs in their shifting contexts produced in the internment or refugee camp, collected in a family album or used to prove immigration status) and think about the politics of photography in Asian American narratives.  (Robert Lee)

AMST 2694 S01 Decolonizing Public Humanities: Intersectional Approaches to Curatorial Work + Community Organizing - This course will decenter experiences and cultural expectations attendant to whiteness, cis-maleness, able-bodiedness, heterosexuality, and middle/upper-classness in the public humanities,and thereby explore the contemporary problems and possibilities of intersectional approaches in the field. What do contemporary paradigms of “diversity,” “public engagement,” and “cultural organizing” have to teach us about effective and ethical public humanities approaches? Do different, multiply marginalized communities of affinity practice entirely different public humanities? How are cultural interventions changing to accommodate the demands of an increasingly segmented public sphere? (TBD)

American Studies Course Offerings Spring 2020

Seminars for First and Second Year Students (Writing Intensive)

AMST 0190O S01 Expressway Worlds: Landscape and Life on the Margins of U.S. Highways  - This course explores the history, legacy, and material presence of U.S. highways from the mid-twentieth to the present. Bridging diverse fields and ways of knowing, from cultural history to road ecology, it endeavors to de-familiarize a ubiquitous feature of life and landscape in the contemporary United States, the federal highway system, and invites students to critically re-encounter the same. We will practice seeing, hearing, and feeling the lively traces of human and multi-species habitation in our midst. And we will consider the effects of interstate roads across time and space; on societies, ecologies, and landscapes.  (Samuel Coren)

AMST 0901Q S01 Archival Interventions: Tracing Knowledge, Power, and Memory through the Archives – This course will examine the ways that power, knowledge, and memory are instantiated through a variety of record keeping practices. Through an exploration of analog and digital storage media, the institutions in which they reside, and an engagement with social justice approaches, feminist theory and queer theory, this course will seek to answer the questions: how are categories formed and what are the social ramifications of these choices? How do records enter certain institutions? Who is represented, in what ways, and who is excluded? This course will include guest lectures and field trips to local archives and libraries. WRIT. (Kristen Iemma)

Seminars Primarily for Juniors and Seniors

AMST 1611A S01 Making America:  Twentieth-Century U.S. Immigrant/Ethnic Literature Examines the literature of first and second generation immigrant/ethnic writers from 1900 to the 1970's. Attempts to place the individual works (primarily novels) in their literary and sociocultural contexts, examining them as conscious works of literature written within and against American and imported literary traditions and as creative contributions to an ongoing national discourse on immigration and ethnicity.  (Richard Meckel)

AMST 1700N S01 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.  (Beverly Haviland)

AMST 1700X S01 Global Macho: Race, Gender, and Action Movies - Carefully sifting through an oft-overlooked but globally popular genre - the muscle-bound action - this class asks: what sort of racial work does an action movie do? What is the role of women in this genre? How should we scrutinize these supposedly empty trifles of the global popular? How should we think critically about movies that feature - often without apology - a deep, dangerous obsession with masculinity, patriarchy, war, and lawlessness, with violence outside of civil society. In short, from Hollywood to Hong Kong to Rio to Paris to Mexico City, what makes the action movie genre tick?  (Matthew Guterl)

AMST 1800 S01 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. (Beverly Haviland)

AMST 1800A S01 (URBN 1870N) - The Cultural and Social Life of the Built Environment - This seminar investigates the relationship between people and place. It considers the ways that people create and experience the human-made landscape, how they understand place through various aesthetic forms, and political conflict over space and place. We look mostly at the history and contemporary development of cities and suburbs in the United States. Students will prepare a final project on a specific aspect of the built environment; they will be encouraged to focus their research on Providence or another local community. Enrollment limited to 20. Priority given to Urban Studies concentrators and seniors; instructor permission required otherwise.  (Samuel Zipp)

AMST 1900P S01 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.  (Ralph Rodriguez)

AMST 1901M S01 (MUSC 1932) American Roots Music– This seminar offers a critical and comparative exploration of American roots music, a category comprising folk, traditional, and popular genres that have been labeled "heritage music" or "ethnic music" in the context of American multiculturalism. Major case studies include African American, Mexican American, and Anglo American traditions/repertoires, with geographical emphases in Appalachia, the city of Chicago, and the state of California. Readings draw on both historical and ethnographic scholarship. Some background coursework in ethnomusicology, cultural anthropology, American Studies, and/or ethnic studies is required. Prerequisite: MUSC 1900 or ETHN 1000 (formerly ETHN 0500) or instructor permission. (Kiri Miller)

AMST 1903Z S01 Shrine, House or Home: Rethinking the House Museum Paradigm - This seminar will examine historic house museums within the context of American culture from the founding of Mount Vernon in 1853 to their present decline in popularity and relevance. Utilizing sources from a variety of disciplines including literature, women's and family history, and museum and preservation theory and practice, students will re-examine the prevailing historic house museum paradigm and develop interpretation plans for house museums in the Providence area. Enrollment limited to 20. If oversubscribed, priority is given to students in the Public Humanities Programs and Department of American Civilizations. No prerequisites.  (Ronald Potvin)

AMST 1904H S01 The Teen Age:  Youth, Society and Culture in Early Cold War America - An interdisciplinary and multimedia exploration of the experiences, culture, and representation of youth in the United States from the end of World War II through the beginning of the Vietnam War. Enrollment limited to 20 sophomores, juniors and seniors.  (Richard Meckel)

AMST 1906A History of Skill - We speak of skilled and unskilled work; but what is skill? In this course we will look for skill captured in embodied knowledge, in the words, images, and videos of instruction manuals, and in the material culture of work. We will consider the context of skills: changing ideas about skill throughout American history and the ways in which race, gender, and ethnicity have shaped the definition of skill and the nature of skilled work. Research based in primary sources, including students’ own skills, will lead to historical or ethnographic essays.  (Steven Lubar)

AMST 1906R S01 Law and Transformative Social Change - What potential does the law hold to bring about transformative social change in today’s society? Relatedly, what strategies and approaches have social movement activists utilized to engage lawyers and the broader legal system? We will answer these questions through an examination of models of activist and public interest lawyering from the Civil Rights, Environment Justice, Immigrant Rights and same sex marriage movements. Readings will draw from sociological, anthropological, legal and historical texts and legal cases with a focus on exploring multiple aspects of a legal decision.  (Kevin Escudero)

Graduate Level Courses

 AMST 2220I S01 Skin Deep:  Reading Race, Reading Form - There is a movement away from symptomatic/paranoid readings of literature. In 2009, Stephen Best/Sharon Marcus pitched this in their call for surface readings, which deals with what is manifest/present in texts, rather than the latent/concealed. I hope to get beyond politically-instrumental readings of literature/to thinking in a sustained fashion about language/form/aesthetics of race. The seminar will divide between reading histories/theories of race (obsession with physical variation as race and technologies of seeing that we use to read race)/working through a range of post-nationalist works of literature/sharpening our understanding of reading as a mean-making event. Limited to Grad Students and seniors.  (Ralph Rodriguez)

AMST 2220J S01 Introduction to Critical Race Theory - This graduate seminar will explore the foundations and central tenets of Critical Race Theory, from its origins in Critical Legal Studies, to current applications, debates, and evolutions, with particular attention to CRT’s intersections with the field of American Studies. We will also bring in CRT “offshoots” such as TribalCrit, LatCrit, AsianCrit, and DisCrit. CRT posits that racism is endemic to society, but that we must also remain committed to social justice and praxis. How do we navigate these tensions, use CRT to provide a toolkit for navigating scholarship, and work toward social change in the realms of race and racism?  (Adrienne Keene)

AMST 2220L S01 Cultural Theory:  Cultural Studies Rubrics in American Studies -  This course will provide an introduction to significant theoretical rubrics deployed in the analysis of cultural texts in the field of American Studies. From the Marxist cultural theorists of the Frankfurt School and British school of cultural studies to scholars of New Materialism we will chart a wide theoretical terrain in order to grapple with the import of the cultural and aesthetic. (Leticia Alvarado)

AMST 2220R S01 Popular Music Studies - This graduate seminar offers a critical exploration of interdisciplinary scholarship on popular music and related cultural formations. Class readings emphasize ethnographic approaches grounded in American Studies, media studies, and ethnomusicology, alongside relevant bodies of critical theory. We will consider production, circulation, and reception practices, and the ongoing erosion of the barriers separating these domains. Case studies foreground popular music scenes in the Americas and the UK—especially Afro-diasporic and Latinx genres and practices—but seminar discussions and student projects will range beyond these areas. Major topics include musical subcultures; transnational circulation; club/dance music; listening practices; and genre-oriented units on hip-hop and norteño/Tejano.  (Kiri Miller)

AMST 2540 S01 Methods in Public Humanities - This course surveys public humanities work, including cultural heritage preservation and interpretation, museum collecting and exhibition, informal education, and cultural development. It also provides an overview of the contexts of that work in nonprofit organizations, including governance, management, and development.  (Susan Smulyan)

AMST 2685 S01 Critical Approaches to Architectural Preservation and Cultural Heritage - This course examines the modern fields of preservation and cultural heritage from a historical and critical point of view to better understand their formation, evolution, current condition and the issues integral to their future. We explore such thorny topics as the “invention” of tradition and the relationship between heritage programs and nationalism, the evolution of the global cultural heritage industry, the story of preservation institutions in the United States and abroad, the rise of cultural heritage crimes in conflict zones, public history and memorials at “sites of conscience,” and the emergence of digital preservation and “experimental preservation.”  (Marisa Brown)