This course introduces students to the subjects of American studies through discussion of some of the signature ideas, events, and debates in America’s past and present in order to understand America as it exists today. It examines both historical and mythic manifestations of America from local, national, and global perspectives and considers the historical and cognitive processes associated with the delineation of America. The course examines a wide range of material and media from the point of view of multiple fields of study, and it engages the voices of diverse individuals and cultures in telling the story of America then and now.
Fall 2021 Courses in American Studies
America Then and Now
Instructors: Anne Cheng, Rachael Ziady DeLue, Yaacob Dweck
Native American Literature
An analysis of the written and oral literary traditions developed by Native Americans. American Indian and First Nation authors will be read in the context of the global phenomenon of indigeneity and settler colonialism, and in dialogue with each other. Through readings, discussions, and guest speakers, we will consider linguistic, historical, and cultural approaches. This course offers an occasion to reflect on, critique, and contest settler colonialism, or the dispossession of land and waters and the attempt to eliminate Indigenous people.
Instructors: Sarah Rivett
In the Groove: Technology and Music in American History, From Edison to the iPod
When Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, no one, including Edison, knew what to do with the device. Over the next century Americans would engage in an ongoing dialogue with this talking machine, defining and redefining its purpose. This course will track that trajectory, from business tool to scientific instrument to music recorder to musical instrument. By listening to the history of the phonograph, and by examining the desires and experiences of phonograph users, students will perceive more generally the complex relationships that exist between a technology and the people who produce, consume, and transform it.
Instructors: Emily Thompson
Advanced Seminar in American Studies: Art and Politics of Food
This course brings methods and ideas from two fields — American studies and the environmental humanities — to examine the role of the arts in U.S. food movements related to agriculture, culinary experimentation and environmental justice. Course materials will include film, visual and performance art, journalism, political ephemera and culinary artifacts. Course participants will develop both an independent research-based essay and a multimedia collaborative project that build on the seminar’s guiding questions and assigned materials.
Instructors: Allison Carruth
Advanced Seminar in American Studies: The Disney Industrial Complex
This interdisciplinary seminar will examine the history and evolution of the Walt Disney Company not only as a multinational media and entertainment conglomerate but also as a powerful cultural force — from the early films and theme parks to the highly successful streaming service. We’ll consider the ever-expanding Disney multiverse (which now includes Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm, among others) as well as the company’s global reach, while paying special attention to its impacts on, and representations of, American history, society, and culture, particularly as they touch on matters of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, and place.
Instructors: William Albert Gleason
Reckoning: Complicated Histories and Collective Identities
How do we grapple with complicated, violent, and disavowed aspects of our collective histories in contemporary society? This class takes as its central issue how societies chose (or not) to reckon with, redress, and repair their difficult pasts. This course will challenge students to take on the difficult work of grappling with violent and otherwise negative pasts through the cultural media of memorial, monument, museum, and collaborative heritage practice. See "Other Information" below about a possible break trip to a memorial to the victims of racial terrorism in the U.S. South, located in Montgomery, Alabama.
Instructors: Tiffany Cherelle Fryer
Supply-side Aesthetics: American Art in the Age of Reagan
This course investigates the art and the aesthetics of the age of Reagan and Reaganism with an eye toward the present. How did supply-side economics transform the art world and art itself during the 1980s? How did certain period styles propagate Reaganism? Drawing on artworks from the Princeton University Art Museum, art criticism, cultural criticism, political journalism, and an emerging history, we study critically sanctioned as well as controversial artistic movements of the period, including Neo-Expressionism, Graffiti Art, and Commodity Art, asking what this art can teach us about the age, in which an entertainer-turned-politician was elected president.
Instructors: AnnMarie Perl
Princeton Atelier: Women's Work: The Evelyn Brown Project
This course will use the reconstruction of Evelyn Brown, a movement piece by María Irene Fornés, to interrogate questions of female labor and its portrayal on stage. Fornés, arguably the most important Latina dramatist of the 20th century, sourced Evelyn Brown from the diary of an early 20th century New England domestic servant. The class will explore the relation of Evelyn Brown to Fornés larger body of work and lead to deeper questions about staging mundane labor as performance during our time when labor inequality has grown exponentially. Our final project will be a first step to re-staging this little-known work in a professional venue.
Cinema in Times of Pandemic: Research Film Studio
This course is dedicated to the study of critical film curation. The Pandemic disrupted traditional film production, distribution and canonization. Could this disruption be turned into a creative subversion of the strong industrial and commercial aspect of American filmmaking and the Jim Crow system of Hollywood? In cooperation with the Sundance and the Berlin Film Festivals, we will practice critical curation of films made by women and Afro-American directors and interview filmmakers, film festival directors and leaders of the film industry. Work-products of the class (interviews, reviews, synopses) can be published on our course website.
Instructors: Erika Anita Kiss
Conspiracy in America
How do we analyze conspiracy narratives and conspiratorial thinking at a moment when the government spies on its citizens and profitable technology companies have turned surveillance itself into an economic necessity? Under what historical, political, and economic conditions do conspiracies proliferate? In this course we analyze conspiracies, paranoia, rumors, and the contemporary economies of dis/information and post-facts. Course material will be drawn from American history, from the 19th century to the present, and will include manifestos, films, novels, online fora, and theoretical texts in psychoanalysis, narrative theory and politics.
Instructors: Zahid Rafiq Chaudhary
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
Gender Crossings in American Musical Theater
This course offers an intensive survey of gender crossings on the American musical theater stage. The course’s study of American musicals (in terms of form, content and context) will be anchored in a historical exploration of world theatrical traditions of cross-gender performance. The course will examine multiple modes of cross-gender performance, while also considering musicals that stage gender role reversals and those that open questions of gender expression and identity.
Instructors: Brian Eugenio Herrera
An exploration of the graphic memoir focusing on the ways specific works combine visual imagery and language to expand the possibilities of autobiographical narrative. Through our analysis of highly acclaimed graphic memoirs from the American, Franco-Belgian, and Japanese traditions, we examine the visual and verbal constructions of identity with an emphasis on the representation of gender dynamics and cultural conflict.
Instructors: Alfred Bendixen
Asian American History
This course introduces students to the multiple and varied experiences of people of Asian heritage in the United States from the 19th century to the present day. It focuses on three major questions: (1) What brought Asians to the United States? (2) How did Asian Americans come to be viewed as a race? (3) How does Asian American experience transform our understanding of U.S. history? Using newspapers, novels, government reports, and films, this course will cover major topics in Asian American history, including Chinese exclusion, Japanese internment, transnational adoption, and the model minority stereotype.
Instructors: Beth Lew-Williams
U.S. Intellectual History: Development of American Thought
This course examines the history of the United States through its intellectuals and major ideas. Starting with the American Revolution and progressing through to the contemporary intellectual scene, it hopes to introduce students to major debates, themes, and intellectual movements in the history of American ideas. We will read a number of famous thinkers and actors in their own words: Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King Jr., and many others. Students will leave this class with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the ideas and the thinkers who have shaped the nation’s politics and culture.
Instructors: Peter Wirzbicki
Unrest and Renewal in Urban America
This course surveys the history of cities in the United States from colonial settlement to the present. Over centuries, cities have symbolized democratic ideals of “melting pots” and cutting-edge innovation, as well as urban crises of disorder, decline, crime, and poverty. Urban life has concentrated extremes like rich and poor; racial and ethnic divides; philanthropy and greed; skyscrapers and parks; violence and hope; downtown and suburb. The course examines how cities in U.S. history have brokered revolution, transformation and renewal, focusing on class, race, gender, immigration, capitalism, and the built environment.
Instructors: Alison Ellen Isenberg
Arab America: Culture, Activism, and Resistance
This course explores the history of Arabs and Arab Americans in the United States beginning from the 1850s to the present and analyzes the political, cultural, and economic conditions that have influenced Arab American communities. In doing so, the course covers a wide range of topics including: issues of citizenship, racial discrimination and exclusion; racial formation; labor, activism, and resistance; transnational networks; and cultural productions and representations of Arab Americans. Alongside academic publications, we will be reading a variety of sources including legal documents, newsletters, court rulings, poetry, and films.
Instructors: Neama Alamri
Borderlands, Border Lives
The international border looms large over current national and international political debates. While this course will consider borders across the world, it will focus on the U.S.-Mexico border, and then on the Guatemala-Mexico and U.S.-Canada border. This course examines the history of the formation of the U.S. border from the colonial period to the present. Borders represent much more than just political boundaries between nation states. The borderlands represents the people who live between two cultures and two nations. This course will also study those individuals who have lived in areas surrounding borders or crossed them.
Instructors: Rosina Amelia Lozano
Metatheater, Then and Now
In 1963, Lionel Abel invented the term "metatheater" to discuss self-referential, anti-illusionist devices — introduced, as he thought, by some Renaissance playwrights — which had become ubiquitous in the theater of his day. "Very meta!" was soon used to describe almost every play ever written. But some plays are more "meta" than others and the methods and motives of their authors vary considerably. This seminar will spend six weeks focused on Greek, Renaissance, and Modern examples of the genre before turning to contemporary American playwrights who have found new and often jaw-dropping uses for metatheatrics.
Instructors: Michael William Cadden
Urban Studies Research Seminar
This seminar introduces urban studies research methods through a study of New York in conversation with other cities. Focused on communities and landmarks represented in historical accounts, literary works, art and film, we will travel through cityscapes as cultural and mythological spaces — from the past to the present day. We will examine how standards of evidence shape what is knowable about cities and urban life, what “counts” as knowledge in urban studies, and how these different disciplinary perspectives construct and limit knowledge about cities as a result.
Instructors: Aaron P. Shkuda