Fall 2018 Courses in American Studies

Issues in American Public Health
The study of public health is an interdisciplinary inquiry involving issues of politics, policy, history, science, law, philosophy, ethics, geography, sociology, environmental studies, and economics, among others. Students will examine the government's role in assuring and promoting health, through the exploration of issues on America's "public health agenda," such as epidemic response, tobacco use, the impact of weight on health, mandatory vaccination, disease prevention, and violence. In doing so, they will consider the impact of race, income, gender, place and environment, education, capitalism and democracy on health outcomes.
Instructors: Leslie E. Gerwin
American Jews and Sexual Freedom
For more than a century before #metoo, the histories of sexual repression and liberation in America were already strangely and persistently intertwined with the history of American Jews. This course surveys crucial texts and moments in U.S. literature, law, and culture, exploring the interventions of Jewish writers, lawyers, theorists, and activists in transforming the ways all Americans think about and express their sexuality. Topics addressed will include the roles played by Jews in literary censorship and debates about obscenity, the defense of reproductive rights, the Sexual Revolution, pornography, and the rights of sexual minorities.
Instructors: Josh Lambert
Imagining New Orleans
The study of New Orleans offers much insight into American identity. The city's heritage is profoundly plural, incorporating elements of French and Spanish culture, the cultures of slaves and free people of color, of Native Americans--all folded after 1803 into possibilities of American experience. We will look at various representations of New Orleans, considering literature, art, architecture, music, and film and incorporating perspectives from within and from outside the city. We will explore what makes New Orleans an American city, and think in turn about what New Orleans tells us about America.
Instructors: John W. Axcelson
Advanced Seminar in American Studies: American Properties
This is an experimental and collaborative seminar that will explore selected sites and episodes in the history of property relations in America. We are as interested in hoarding as in wealth production, blood as well as land, cultural identities as well as corporations. The focus is relentlessly interdisciplinary, bringing together legal cases, ethnographies, novels, poems, films, buildings, maps, and other cultural products. The seminar will offer several opportunities for students to "do" American Studies through the lens of property law and property conflicts.
Instructors: Anne Cheng, Hendrik Arnold Hartog
Advanced Seminar in American Studies: Race and Ethnicity in 20th Century Popular Performance
This course offers an intensive introduction to the particular tools, methods and interpretations employed in developing original historical research and writing about race and ethnicity in twentieth century popular performance (film, television, theater). Through collaborative, in-depth excavations of several genre-straddling cultural works, course participants will rehearse relevant methods and theories (of cultural history, of race and ethnicity, of popular culture/performance) and will undertake an independent research project elaborating the course's guiding premise and principles of practice.
Instructors: Brian Eugenio Herrera

Undergraduate Courses

Fall 2018

Music Traditions in North America
From Native American song to modern hip-hop, the North American continent has a rich history and repertory of musical expressions. This course will delve into the many historical themes, social issues, and musical aspects of the diverse musical traditions of Mexico, the U.S., and Canada. We will focus particularly on comparing colonial traditions, examining the musics of the U.S. South, comparing protest music of the 1960s, and exploring newer contributions to global music trends. While mostly taking a historical approach, we will also examine issues of authenticity, appropriation, migration, race/gender/class, and the music industry.
Instructors: Maria Josefa Velasco
The History of Black Gospel Music
This course will trace the history of black gospel music from its origins in the American South to its modern origins in 1930s Chicago and into the 1990s mainstream. Critically analyzing various compositions and the artists that performed them, we will explore the ways the music has reflected and reproached the extant cultural climate. We will be particularly concerned with the four major historical eras from which black gospel music developed: the slave era; Reconstruction; the Great Migration, and the era of Civil Rights.
Instructors: Wallace DeNino Best
Afro-Diasporic Dialogues: Black Activism in Latin America and the United States
This course investigates how people of African descent in the Americas have forged social, political, and cultural ties across geopolitical and linguistic boundaries. We will interrogate the transnational dialogue between African Americans and Afro-Latin Americans using case studies from Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, and Puerto Rico. We will explore how black activists and artists from the US have partnered with people of color in Latin America and the Caribbean to challenge racism and economic inequality, while also considering why efforts to mobilize Afro-descendants across the Americas have often been undermined by mutual misunderstandings.
Instructors: Reena N. Goldthree
Pleasure, Power and Profit: Race and Sexualities in a Global Era
Pleasure Power and Profit explores the intimate ways that sexualities and race are entwined in contemporary culture, historically, and in our own lives. Why are questions about sexuality and race some of the most controversial, compelling, yet often taboo issues of our time? Exploring films, popular culture, novels, social media, and theory, we engage themes like: race, gender and empire; fetishism, Barbie, vampires and zombies; sex work and pornography; marriage and monogamy; queer sexualities; and strategies for social empowerment such as: Black Lives Matter, the new campus feminism, and global movements against sexual and gender violence.
Instructors: Anne McClintock
Introduction to Digital Humanities
This course will introduce students to debates and approaches in the Digital Humanities from a global perspective. We will consider the foundations of DH while also discussing concerns involving access, maintenance, and care for projects over time in regions with physical restraints such as connectivity restrictions. On seminar days, we will work through theoretical concerns and explore the possibilities and limits of existing tools. On studio days, we work in small teams to gather data from primary sources in RBSC, which we will then use with software and platforms to build skills in computational analysis, data collection, and DH research.
Instructors: Nora C. Benedict
The Asian American Family
This seminar examines the emergence and transformation of the Asian American family as a social form. We will investigate how US labor demands and legal restrictions on immigration and citizenship militated against the formation of Asian American families, and how paper sons, military wives, refugees, adoptees, and LGBT family experiences eluded norms of kinship. We will also study the significance of the intergenerational trope in Asian American literature, and how writers responded to neoliberalism's remaking of the "Asian" family according to the model minority myth.
Instructors: Paul Nadal
Battle Lab: The Battle of Princeton
Revolution! Espionage! Alexander Hamilton! George Washington! Cannon fire on Nassau Hall! This fall, think outside of the classroom and explore the past in your own backyard: Revolutionary-era Princeton and the physical remains of the legendary battle between American and British forces on January 3, 1777. What happened on that day? Who died? Where are their bones? Why are lawyers fighting over the land? In this new, interdisciplinary course, you will undertake to answer these questions and help solve the longstanding puzzle of the Battle of Princeton. In the process, you will explore how events of the past persistently shape the present day.
Instructors: Nathan Todd Arrington, Rachael Ziady DeLue
Empire of the Ark: The Animal Question in Film, Photography and Popular Culture
This course explores the fascination with animals in film, photography and popular culture, engaging critical issues in animal and environmental studies. In the context of global crises of climate change and mass displacement, course themes include the invention of wilderness, national parks, zoos and the prison system; the cult of the pet; vampires, werewolves and liminal creatures; animal communication, emotions and rights; queering nature; race and strategies for environmental justice. How can rethinking animals help us rethink what it means to be human? How can we transform our relations with other species and the planet itself?
Instructors: Anne McClintock
Blackness and Media
Working across a range of sites (film, photography, literature, newsprint, music) this course thinks critically about media, blackness, and social life. In the service of expanding our conceptions of media we will draw together unlikely titles and works from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. How, we will ask, has media been the site where blackness gets communicated, created, negotiated, and re-imagined? How does blackness operate as both a media and medium? And, how do black writers, thinkers, and artists negotiate the formal limits of media, and what might this reveal about black aesthetics?
Instructors: Autumn M. Womack
Witchcraft, Rituals and Colonialism
This course will explore witchcraft and rituality in the Americas through accusations and identity claims. We will look at how witchcraft has been used in colonial and imperial contexts to control, sanction, and extract power from women and marginalized groups in different periods, as well as how people make claims to witchcraft and rituals as a way to thwart domination. Topics include: shamanism in Latin America, the Mexican Inquisition, Afro-Latinx and Caribbean diasporic religious systems, and the contemporary social media ritual activism of "bruja feminisms." Students will be introduced to theories of race, gender, and sexuality.
Instructors: Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús
Public Policy in the U.S. Racial State
This course explores how ideas and discourses about race shape how public policy is debated, adopted, and implemented. Black social movements and geopolitical considerations prompted multiple public policy responses to racial discrimination throughout the twentieth century. Despite these policy responses, discrimination persists, raising theoretical concerns about the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion, political representation, the role of the state (meaning government or law) in promoting social justice, and the role of social movements and civil society in democratizing policymaking and addressing group oppression.
Instructors: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
Theater and Society Now
As an art form, theater operates in the shared space and time of the present moment while also manifesting imagined worlds untethered by the limits of "real" life. In this course, we undertake a critical, creative and historical survey of the ways contemporary theater-making in the United States - as both industry and creative practice - does (and does not) engage the most urgent concerns of contemporary American society.
Instructors: Brian Eugenio Herrera
Civil Society and Public Policy
Civil society is the arena of voluntary organizations (churches, social welfare organizations, sporting clubs) and communal activity. Scholars now tell us that such voluntary and cooperative activities create "social capital" -- a stock of mutual trust that forms the glue that holds society together. The course will be devoted to the study of the history of these concepts, and to the analysis of their application to the United States and other societies. This will be an interdisciplinary effort, embracing history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and other disciplines.
Instructors: Stanley Nider Katz
Education Policy in the United States
Poor students concentrated in urban centers lag academically behind their more advantaged peers, and explanations for this achievement gap are hotly debated. While some have pointed to the quality of education offered in urban public schools as the primary culprit, others have drawn attention to the role of out-of-school factors in creating and exacerbating these gaps. In this course, we will evaluate the possibilities for and barriers to closing achievement gaps. We will think systematically about the effects of school reform on schools, teachers, and the students they serve.
Instructors: Jennifer L. Jennings
Forms of Literature: American Short Stories
This course examines the development of American short fiction over two centuries, revealing the genre's extraordinary variety and complexity.
Instructors: Lee Clark Mitchell
Queer Literatures: Theory, Narrative, and Aesthetics
In this course, we will both read from various trajectories of queer literature and engage what it means to read queerly. We will consider the historical etymology of the term queer and think through its affiliate terms and acronyms: lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans. We will investigate how discourses of power and institutions of normativity have come up against queer bodies, narratives, and politic--and how such encounters are historically situated. As the class reads through texts that range across both region and time, we will pay close attention to the ways in which desire, gender, and sexuality are queerly told.
Instructors: Christina A. Leon
BANNED: The Paradox of Free Speech in Cinema
The First Amendment protection of free expression was only extended to motion pictures in 1952, yet from the beginning of its history film was caught up in the paradox of free speech and civil rights. We will examine the paradoxical effects of local, state, market and self-censorship on filmmaking and cinematic innovation. We will search for the aesthetic criteria that can separate propaganda film from genuine art through close reading of some of the most scandalous films of cinema history.
Instructors: Erika Anita Kiss
Commodity Histories: From Sugar to Cocaine
What is a commodity? What does it do? Can it shape history? This course will introduce students to a recently popular genre of historical writing which concentrates on single commodities like cotton, sugar, bananas, and oil. We will consider how commodity histories offer a unique approach to rethinking the boundaries of history. Our readings will cross conceptual and geographic borders, raising questions about the relationship between the global and the local. Course themes will include: environmental change, imperialism/colonialism, capitalism, slavery, race, identity, consumerism, and the relationship between nation-states and corporations.
Instructors: Bernadette Jeanne Perez
Exhibiting 'Nature's Nation': American Art, Ecology, and Environmental History
This course explores the interface of American art, ecology, and environmental history in the context of a groundbreaking exhibition held at Princeton's art museum in Fall 2018. Using emerging interpretive strategies of ecocriticism, we will approach American art as creative material that has imagined and embodied environmental issues and attitudes concerning nationhood, development, species extinction, pollution, climate change, sustainability, and justice since the 18th century, when the foundations of ecology began to emerge. We will also address conceptual and practical issues surrounding the mounting of a major traveling loan exhibition.
Instructors: Karl E. Kusserow
Princeton Atelier: American Pop: A Masterpiece with a Missing Piece
Broadway Director Trip Cullman and Award-winning playwright and performer Eisa Davis lead an exploration into one of the final works of the late composer Michael Friedman. American Pop examines the history of American popular music from 1846 to 1923, from Stephen Foster composing the first American pop song to Bessie Smith as the first American pop star. The piece presents a complex and engaging inquiry into the economics, social constructs and cultural appropriation that defined early American popular entertainment. The course will include topical research and look at how an unfinished work can live on after the loss of its creator.
Theoretical Approaches in Black Studies
This course stages a critical survey of key theoretical approaches and debates that have shaped the contemporary discourse of black studies. We will read recent works by scholars who take up what is casually referred to as "the study of blackness" from different vantage points such as black feminist theory, postcolonial criticism, afro-pessimism, queer-of-color critique, and black radicalism. The course particularly focuses on the question of criticism as it emerges within this discursive field and demonstrates how topics like the archive, citationality, and style provide alternate ways of thinking theory and the project of black studies.
Instructors: Nijah Cunningham