An introduction to the interdisciplinary field of American Studies that takes "America" as a challenging analytical category rather than a given. Employing literature, theatre and performance, history, visual culture, and politics, this course examines the idea of America in its global, national, community contexts and its material and imaginary manifestations. We will explore a series of central concepts such as "citizenship," "family," and "imperialism," teasing out the tensions and paradoxes that historically structure these terms, while focusing on signature ideas, concerns, and debates that have made the nation what it is today.
Fall 2019 Courses in American Studies
America Then and Now
Instructors: Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús, William Albert Gleason, Stacy E. Wolf
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
Multiethnic American Short Stories: Tales We Tell Ourselves
Short stories have been used by writers to make concise, insightful comments about American national identity and individuality. Taken up by African-Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and many others, the genre has been used to convey experiences with immigration and assimilation, discrimination and oppression, generational divides, and interactions across difference. Examination of such stories deepens our understanding of America's multiethnic landscape. In this seminar, we will explore stories written by a diverse group of writers to consider the ties that both link and divide multiethnic America.
Instructors: Tessa Lowinske Desmond
Creative Ecologies: American Environmental Narrative and Art, 1980-2020
This seminar explores how writers and artists--alongside scientists and activists--have shaped American environmental thought from 1980 to today. The seminar asks: How do different media convey the causes and potential solutions to environmental challenges, ranging from biodiversity loss and food insecurity to pollution and climate change? What new art forms are needed to envision sustainable and just futures? Course materials include popular science writing, graphic narrative, speculative fiction, animation art, documentary film, and data visualization along with research from anthropology, ecology, history, literary studies, and philosophy.
American Noir: Crime Fiction and Film
A study of a distinctive new genre that is eminently American, distinctively modernist, and brazenly vulgar. Louche as the subject is, writers were able more directly to engage issues of social inequality (racial, sexual, economic) along with changing notions of gender construction. Such fiction continues today, but its appeal for cinema has been tremendous, and we will focus on the ways adaptation modified popular formulas.
Instructors: Lee Clark Mitchell
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
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
AMS Capstone Seminar: About Faces: Case Studies in the History of Reading Faces
What "information" does your face transmit? This course explores aesthetic, philosophical, and ethical theories about human faces as markers of identity and carriers of cultural information, in terms of race, gender and class. We will turn throughout the course to the collections of the Princeton Art Museum to consider how visual art depicts the processes through which we "read" faces. We will also think about the limits of "faciality" - i.e. at what point is a face not a face - especially alongside questions of technology and performance.
Instructors: Monica Huerta
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
Native American and Indigenous Studies: An Introduction
This course will introduce students to the comparative study of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. We will take a broad hemispheric approach instead of focusing solely on the experiences of any particular native community, allowing students to both acquaint themselves with the diversity of indigenous communities and better understand the multitude of indigenous experiences--or, what it means to be indigenous--across regional contexts. How do processes of imperial expansionism and settler colonialisms shape the conditions within which indigenous Americans now live? How do native peoples relate to settler colonial governing bodies today?
Topics in American Literature: American Fiction and Film: Catholics and Jews
We explore the role of religion and ethnicity in 20th- and 21st-century fiction and film, with emphasis on the contributions of Catholic and Jewish writers and auteurs. Irish, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants began to influence American culture in the late-19th century. Jewish descendants established Hollywood film studios in the interwar years; refugees from Hitler settled in Hollywood after WWII to direct and act. By the middle of the 20th century, Catholic and Jewish writers emerged as important fictional voices, a trend that continued through the end of the century and into the 21st.
Instructors: Maria A. DiBattista, Deborah Epstein Nord
How do novels represent the global? How have new media systems and economic exchange transformed not only the way novels are produced and distributed but also the internal form of the literary works themselves? This course examines how writers register the interconnected nature of modern life and the narrative strategies that they invent to make sense of migration, war, urbanization, and financialization. Students will learn interdisciplinary methods for reading literature's potential for sociological and historical knowledge by considering how the global novel grapples with empire and what political futures it forecloses and opens up.
Instructors: Paul Nadal
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
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
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 immigrant "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; center 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
Race in the American Empire
This seminar takes a comparative, relational, and intersectional approach to the history of race in the American Empire. We will begin with two structuring contexts: European colonialism and transatlantic slavery. Over the semester, we will travel from the Atlantic Coast to Puerto Rico, the Lumbee Nation in North Carolina, Hawaii, and the Philippines. We will end in Ferguson, Missouri; Oak Creek, Wisconsin; and at the U.S. - Mexico border. Course readings draw from a range of fields and engage diverse histories to examine the pervasiveness of race in the United States. Themes include labor, migration, violence, science, law, and resistance.
Instructors: Bernadette Jeanne Perez
History of African American Political Thought
This course explores central themes and ideas in the history of African American political thought: slavery and freedom, solidarity and sovereignty, exclusion and citizenship, domination and democracy, inequality and equality, rights and respect. Readings will be drawn, primarily, from canonical authors, including Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, Martin Delany, Booker T. Washington, Anna Julia Cooper, Ida B. Wells, W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Ralph Ellison, Kwame Ture and Charles Hamilton, and Martin Luther King, Jr. This is an introductory course, which emphasizes both thematic and historical approaches to political theory.
Instructors: Desmond D. Jagmohan
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
Movements for Diversity in American Theater
Theater artists routinely bend, twist and break all kinds of rules to create the imaginary worlds they bring to life on stage. Why, then, has the American theater so struggled to meaningfully address questions of equity, diversity and inclusion? In this course, we undertake a critical, creative and historical overview of agitation and advocacy by theater artist-activists aiming to transform American theatre-making as both industry and creative practice, as we connect those histories with the practices, structures and events determining the ways diversity is (and is not) a guiding principle of contemporary American theater.
Instructors: Brian Eugenio Herrera
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