An introduction to the interdisciplinary field of American studies. Employing history, theater, law, and politics, and focusing on such critical concepts as “community,” “xenophobia,” and “race,” we will consider the structures of knowing and feeling that have formed America since its founding. Throughout the course, we will pay special attention to the ways that culture and difference have shaped, and continue to shape, the signature ideas and debates that have made the nation what it is today. In Fall 2020, we will be particularly interested in the political, social, and cultural questions that inform the current U.S. presidential election.
Fall 2020 Courses in American Studies
America Then and Now
Instructors: Patricia Fernández-Kelly, William Albert Gleason, Ali Adam Valenzuela
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 governments’ 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
Sondheim’s Musicals and the Making of America
In this course, we’ll examine the musicals of Stephen Sondheim from Company (1970) to Road Show (2009) as a lens onto America. How have Sondheim’s musicals conversed with American history and American society since the mid-20th century? How do Sondheim’s musicals represent America and Americans, and how have various productions shaped and re-shaped those representations? We’ll explore how Sondheim and his collaborators used the mainstream, popular, and commercial form of musical theatre to challenge, critique, deconstruct, and possibly reinforce some of America’s most enduring myths.
Instructors: Stacy E. Wolf
Privacy, Publicity, and the Text Message
This seminar will explore how we negotiate the distance between ourselves and others through text messages. Texts sustain an ambient intimacy that is increasingly redefining borders that range from the interpersonal — via anonymous mental health support — to the international — via reporting platforms for immigrant communities. What technical and social expectations of privacy do we operate with when sending a point-to-point message? How do novelists incorporate text messages into works of fiction? What does it mean that Frank Ocean can sing, “you text nothing like you look”?
Instructors: Grant R. Wythoff
FAT: The F-Word and the Public Body
The fat body operates at the conjuncture of political economy, beauty standards, and health. This seminar asks, How does this “f-word” discipline and regulate bodies in /as public? What is the “ideal” American public body and who gets to occupy that position? How are complex personhood, expressivity, health, and citizenship contested cultural and political economic projects? We will examine the changing history, aesthetics, politics, and meanings of fatness using dance, performance, memoirs, and media texts as case studies. Intersectional dimensions of the fat body are central to the course. No previous performance experience necessary.
Instructors: Judith Hamera
Topics in Race and Public Policy: Race and Inequality in American Democracy
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
Race, Gender, Empire
How is empire made? How is it imagined and reimagined, mutating and creating new global relations? What are its social, political and material signatures? In this seminar we will explore how empire’s derivative manifestations and entrenched mechanisms (e.g. race, gender or capitalism) influence our understandings of history and the structuring of our social relationships. Engaging transdisciplinary works we will focus on how empire constructs contradictory logics of belonging in localized contexts through the formation of intimate, biopolitical and ecological relationships between people, territories and collective institutions of governance.
Instructors: Tiffany Cherelle Cain
Model Minority Fictions
Where did the stereotype of Asian Americans as model minorities — overachieving whiz kids, industrious workers, “tiger mothers,” “crazy rich” Asians — come from? What accounts for the model minority myth’s persistence today? How has its representational scheme changed over time? Does model minoritism have a literary (and not only social) history? By reading across fiction, visual culture, and economic history, this seminar traces the changing definitions of Asians in the U.S. from “yellow peril” to model minorities: from the myth’s wartime origins, to the birth of American neoliberalism, and onward to the global rise of Asia in the 21st century.
Instructors: Paul Nadal
Special Topics in Creative Writing: Writing Political Fiction
In traditional workshops content and context come second to craft. Here we will explore writing political fiction, the politics of fiction and writing as political engagement. We’ll read widely, from the most realistic depictions of the American political process and the varieties of immigrant experience to the work of Afrofuturists and feminists. The personal is the political and our frame will range from the global to the domestic. We will write stories that inhabit experiences other than our own. This course will allow students to make interdisciplinary connections between courses on history, politics and identity and creative writing.
Instructors: A.M. Homes
Performance in Extraordinary Times: Documenting and Analyzing the Present
Performance and crisis have always been partners: entangled in epidemics, state violence and resistance, and austerity regimes, as well as the crisis ordinariness of settler colonialism and structural racism. This seminar examines performance in our extraordinary present using autoethnography, ethnography, and interviews. Course readings and viewings offer historical and contemporary case studies. Guests will discuss the paired challenges of anti-racism and the COVID-19 pandemic for performance organizations. Students will collaborate on analyses of dance and performance organizations’ responses to COVID-19 and anti-racist imperatives.
Instructors: Judith Hamera
The Reverence and Violence of Modern Dance
This hybrid studio/seminar course progresses in two tracks: one of embodied movement practices and the other of theoretico-historical critique. The canon of modern dance — arguably an American trajectory — is the source material for our interdisciplinary work. We will mimic and examine landmark choreographies in order to explore foundational tenets of modern art and modernity at large. Ableism and nihilism, sovereignty and sexuality, race and gender, are some of the themes that we will face along the path of analyzing the work of Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Bob Fosse, Merce Cunningham, George Balanchine, and Vaclav Nijinsky.
Instructors: Netta Carnit Yerushalmy
Are You For Sale? Performance Making, Philanthropy and Ethics
In this class we study the relationships between performance-making, philanthropy and ethics. How are performing artists financing their work, and what does this mean in relationship to economic and social justice? How did we arrive to the current conditions of arts funding? What is the connection between wealth and giving and when are those ties inherently questionable? What is at stake in the debate of public versus private support? Does funding follow artists’ concerns or delimit them?
Instructors: Miguel Gutierrez
Introduction to Indigenous Literatures
This course reads Indigenous literatures to reflect on, critique, and contest settler colonialism, or the dispossession of land and waters and the attempt to eliminate Indigenous people. Students engage in projects that impact Indigenous studies initiatives at Princeton by building partnerships with Indigenous communities, locally, nationally, and internationally. Community-engaged projects and readings by Native American and Aboriginal Canadian authors will connect Indigenous histories across time and space invite new ways of thinking about the past, present, and future of the Americas and the world.
Instructors: Sarah Rivett
American Literature: 1930-Present
A study of eleven modern American writers over eighty years that emphasizes the transition from modernism to postmodernism to retro-realism.
Instructors: Lee Clark Mitchell
Forms of Literature: American Short Stories
The short story reveals narrative at its most succinct, stripped bare (or rather contained within indispensable parts). Often viewed as insufficient novels, stories expose more fully the possibilities of narrative itself in revealing the flashes of character, lyricism, comedy, voice, coincidence, even fate that shape all fictional forms. This course examines the development of American short fiction over two centuries, revealing its extraordinary variety and complexity.
Instructors: Lee Clark Mitchell
Queer Literatures: Theory, Narrative, and Aesthetics
This course will read from various trajectories of queer literature and engage “reading queerly” across race, gender, ability, class, and geography. We will consider the etymology of queer and think through its affiliate terms: lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans. How are such narratives encounters with power that are historically situated in relation to the national formations, carceral states, and racial capitalism?
Instructors: Christina A. León, R.L. Goldberg
Major Author(s): Mourning America: Emerson and Douglass
This course focuses on the relations and differences between these two “representative men” of the 19th century. Demonstrating that Douglass’ strategies of writing have relays with Emerson’s points will enable us to bring out the radically political and historical character of Emerson’s writings but also the profoundly literary elements of Douglass’ political writings. Using the writings of these two key figures of the 19th century as a kind of measure, the course will seek to understand the governing cultural and political rhetorics through which America thought about such issues as race, slavery, manifest destiny, westward expansion, and identity.
Instructors: Eduardo Lujan Cadava
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
Feminist Futures: Contemporary S. F. by Women
Feminist Futures explores the way in which recent writers have transformed science fiction into speculative fiction — an innovative literary form capable of introducing and exploring new kinds of feminist, queer, and multi-cultural perspectives. These books confront the limitations imposed on women and imagine transformative possibilities for thinking about gender roles and relationships, the body, forms of power, and political and social structures.
Instructors: Alfred Bendixen
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
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. We will be exploring the historical, political, cultural and economic conditions that have influenced Arab American communities. This course covers a wide range of topics including: issues of citizenship, racial discrimination and exclusion; racial formation; labor, activism and resistance; transnational networks; cultural productions and representations of Arab Americans. We will be exploring a wide range of sources including legal documents, newsletters, court rulings, poetry, novels and films.
Instructors: Neama Alamri
This course begins from the disjoint and relation between the narrated autobiography and the lived life. In reading works by authors including Myriam Gurba, Wendy C. Ortiz, Carmen Maria Machado, Richard Rodriguez, and Junot Diaz, we will explore not only how writers experiment with the project of narrating a life that contends with the structures and strictures of racial matrices, gender binaries, and traumatic abuse — but also how writers test the boundaries of what autobiographies more generally are and are for.
Instructors: Monica Huerta
Secession, the Civil War, and the Constitution
This seminar explores constitutional and legal issues posed by the attempted secession of eleven states of the Federal Union in 1860-1865 and the civil war this attempt triggered. Issues to be examined include the nature of secession movements (both in terms of the constitutional controversy posed in 1860-1861 and modern secession movements), the development of the "war powers" doctrine of the presidency, the suspension by the writ of habeas corpus, the use of military tribunals, and abuses of civil rights on both sides of the Civil War.
Instructors: Allen Carl Guelzo
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