This course introduces students to the field of American studies through discussion of some of the signature ideas and debates that have shaped America as a nation. It examines material and imaginary manifestations of America from global, national, and local perspectives, and considers the historical and cognitive processes associated with the delineation of America then and now. Objects of study range across multiple media, including texts, images, music, performance, and film. Primary and secondary readings draw from literature, history, political science, theater, law, cultural studies, art history, and the history of science.
How does science fiction challenge “facts” about the biology of race, gender, sexuality and other categories of difference? This seminar explores the ways in which contemporary sci-fi that centers the experiences of marginalized communities reconceptualizes the techniques and technologies of social differentiation. The readings couple a sci-fi text with work by scholars across disciplines who have drawn attention to the reemergence of race as a biological rather than social category in genetics and genomics research.
This course employs the central premise that multiple racial projects contribute to Asian racial formation, and that warfare plays a central role in these co-constitutive enterprises. As such, this course will examine war, its entanglement with capitalism, and social movements in relation to anti-Black racism, settler colonialism, and anti-Asian racism. As an introduction to Asian American studies course, we will use comparative, transnational frameworks to interrogate Asian Americanism. In order to accomplish this, we will develop critical perspectives of the Pacific while exploring the intersections of race and indigeneity.
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.
Kathleen M. Nolan
In this course, students examine the relationship between inequality and schooling in the United States. We explore the educational practices and organizational structures through which social inequality is produced and reproduced inside schools and how social class, race, ethnicity, gender, and other social differences shape educational outcomes. Additionally, we examine students’ responses to inequality and theories of resistance. We mainly consider theoretically grounded, qualitative research related to K-12 education. Several readings discuss the realities of urban schooling; each week we connect the readings to current policy trends.
An examination, first, of the place of slavery and opposition to slavery in the framing and ratification of the Constitution in 1787-88, and, second, of how the constitutional politics surrounding slavery led to the Civil War and Emancipation.
Through original research and creative process, this seminar immerses students in overlapping histories of race, protest, political mobilization and violence in 1960s Trenton and Princeton. Students will contribute to an archive, conduct interviews and make maps, and then use their research to create performance walks on campus and in Trenton. By combining disciplines, the course addresses questions such as: How can we change a place by walking through it with new knowledge? How do the imprints of various, even conflicting histories, impact the built environment? After the semester, students’ final project tours will be offered regularly.
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.
Katherine A. Bussard, Katherine M.H. Reischl
Just as the Internet does today, the picture press of the last century defined global visual knowledge of the world. The pictures gracing the pages of magazines and newspapers were often heavily edited, presented in carefully devised sequences, and printed alongside text. The picture press was as expansive as it was appealing, as informative as it was propagandistic, regularly delivered to newsstands and doorsteps for the everyday consumer of news, goods, celebrity, and politics. Through firsthand visual analysis of the picture presses of both the U.S. and Russia, this course will consider the ongoing meaning and power of images.
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.
This course explores the current fascination with animals in film, photography and popular culture, engaging central issues in animal and environmental studies. Why has looking become our main way of interacting with animals? How does rethinking animals inspire us to rethink being human? How can we transform our relations with other species and the planet? Course themes include: wilderness, national parks and zoos; the cult of the pet; vampires, werewolves and zombies; animal speech, animal emotions and rights; nature, sexuality and race. Exploring planetary crises such as extinction and climate change, and positive strategies for change.
An exploration of the literary works of women writers in the United States with an emphasis on the role gender has played and continues to play in the development of literary movements and genres. Our examination of both canonical and non-canonical writings will focus on the formation of feminist literary conventions in the 19th century and their transformations in the 20th and 21st centuries. Our reading will include romantic tales, ghost stories, realistic stories, novels of immigration, thrillers, works for children, autobiographical myth-making, poetry, and graphic novels.
Lila Corwin Berman
How much power do American Jews have? Instead of trying to answer the question directly, this course will excavate the histories, ideologies, and conflicts embedded in it. We will start with an exploration of what we mean when we talk about politics and power by reading some classic (and, in some cases, antisemitic) theories about the relationship between Jews and state rulers, and Jews and economic modes. As we focus our analysis on American Jews, we will consider how American political, economic, and cultural forms offered Jews opportunities to access various kinds of power and, also, excluded them from other forms.
This course explores the dynamics of religion, gender, and power in American religious history, with case studies of women in a variety of traditions. We consider how theologies, religious practices, and institutional structures shape gender systems; women’s religious leadership; gender and religious constraint and dissent; race and women’s religious experiences; and religion and sexuality. Each student's final digital history project (e.g. podcast, online museum exhibition, Wikipedia page, digital oral history, audio walking tour, digitized primary source) will contribute to a collaborative digital exhibition.
This course examines literature and film by South Asians in North America. Students will gain perspective on the experiences of immigration and diaspora through the themes of identity, memory, solidarity, and resistance. From early Sikh migration to the American West Coast, to Muslim identity in a post 9/11 world, how can South Asian American stories be read as symbolic of the American experience of gender, class, religion, and ethnicity more broadly? Students will hone their skills in reading primary materials, analyzing them within context, writing persuasively, and speaking clearly.
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.
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.
Moving from the colonial era to the present, and from the Caribbean to the Midwest and the Pacific, we will place sugar in the history of European colonialism, trans-Atlantic slavery, capitalism, American Empire, and global immigration restrictions. During this period, the United States built a sugar empire that relied upon differentially racialized laborers, who worked under a variety of coercive labor systems. We will explore how the production and consumption of sugar connected diverse people and places in unequal ways, focusing on themes such as labor, migration, race, gender, citizenship, identity, power, resistance, and the land.
In recent years, global public discourse has stressed the urgency of unfolding environmental crisis. The course will start with the premise that a “crisis” marks a moment when a previous set of relations is markedly upset, and when state institutions aim to manage instability and consolidate power. Our entry point will be apocalyptic texts, which are reflections and exaggerations of existing realities. We will ask: What is crisis? Is crisis actually the norm? Then we’ll focus on environmental justice, examining how environmentalism intersects with race and class. Third, we will examine capitalist crisis and its articulation with war.
Lee Clark Mitchell
A study of the emergence during the high modernist period of two genres that might be considered at once eminently American, distinctively modernist, and brazenly vulgar. The subject matter may be louche, but writers thereby more directly engaged issues of social inequality (racial, sexual, and economic), along with changing images of gender construction. As well they registered the impact of Freudian psychoanalysis on literary form, and in formal terms engaged the belatedness of narrative to event. Such fiction had tremendous appeal for cinema, and we will focus on the ways in which adaptation modified popular formulas.
This course surveys American legal thought and the practices of American lawyers. Along the way, it questions the notion of distinctive “schools,” as well as the distinctive legality and the distinctive Americanness of legal thought. It offers an intellectual history of 20th-century American law, with an emphasis on core controversies and debates.
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.
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 20th 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 policy-making and addressing group oppression.
Peter Mills and Cara Reichel
This course will take the form of an inter-disciplinary, creative investigation of a rarely-discussed chapter of Princeton’s past: the university’s history as it relates to the institution of slavery in America. Composer/lyricist Peter Mills ’95 and director Cara Reichel ’96 (founding members of NYC’s critically-acclaimed Prospect Theater Company) will guide students in a collaboration to create and present original, short music theater pieces based on the research of the Princeton and Slavery Project.
This seminar investigates discourses and politics around the fat body from a performance studies perspective. How does this “f-word” discipline and regulate bodies in /as public? How do dancers reveal these politics with special clarity? How might fat be a liberating counterperformance? We will examine the changing history, aesthetics, politics, and meanings of fatness using dance, performance, and media texts as key case studies. Intersectional dimensions of the fat body are central to the course. Emphasis primarily on the US. Assignments include written work and group performances. No dance experience necessary.
What aspects of your identity does your face carry? Why do we form attachments not only to our own face, but to the faces of those we love? This course explores theories about human faces, in terms of race, gender and class, and in relation to animal faces. We consider the ethical hold of the human face alongside the long history of studies — aesthetic, scientific, philosophical — of faces. We will also consider case studies of faces in specific contexts (e.g. in early film, in racial science, as emoji).
Christina A. León
Latina/os have long been present in the story of the United States. Yet, contemporary media headlines often report an increasing, and often alarmist, “browning” of America. These headlines often rely upon stereotypes of Latina/os — morphing them into a static and falsely unified identity category. We will examine to Latina/o literature and art to note how such headlines leave out many stories. Looking at Latina/o narratives, we will consider the uniqueness of each piece in relation to place, history, and gender. Attention will be paid to how these aesthetic pieces perform modes of resistance.
This course introduces students to black aesthetics as a historically grounded concept that stages questions of the social, cultural, political and philosophical meaning of blackness. We’ll explore various “flashpoints” during the 20th century where black art serves both as a site of contestation and a platform for interrogating topics of race, gender, sexuality, the body, objecthood, slavery and colonialism. We’ll consider how various generations of black artists/intellectuals across the African diaspora turned to the aesthetic realm to imagine new political possibilities and generate different ways of seeing, feeling, sensing, and thinking.
Science is commonly held to be the objective, empirical pursuit of natural facts about the world. In this course, we will consider an array of theoretical, methodological, and substantive challenges that feminism has posed for this account of science, and for the practice of scientific knowledge production. In the course of this survey, we shall engage a number of key questions such as: is science gendered, racialized, ableist or classist? Does the presence or absence of women (and other marginalized individuals) lead to the production of different kinds of scientific knowledge?
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.
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.
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.
Martha A. Sandweiss
Research seminar focused on Princeton University’s historical connections to the institution of slavery. The class will contribute to a website that details this history and assist with the scholarly events related to the public launch of the Princeton and Slavery Project. Class will meet in Mudd Library.
This course examines illness, health, and the body using storytelling as an entry point. Revolutionary experiments and the construction of the “New Soviet Man” in the 1920s connects with disability studies in North-America, exploring how actors negotiate illness and healing, and how storytelling can critique health disparities and their institutionalized roots in patterns of discrimination both in and beyond the U.S. The seminar is highly interactive, featuring guest lecturers from Global Health, the Lewis Center, the Paul F. Glenn Laboratories, and a Theater of the Oppressed group, who will teach a class in their own institutional space.
This course examines the place of Yiddish in America from the late 19th century to the present and considers the dynamics of the language’s significance in modern American Jewish life. Topics include immigrant Yiddish culture — press, political activism, theater, music, literature — at the turn of the 20th century; hybrid Yiddish-English cultural works of the interwar years, American Yiddish responses to the Holocaust; Yiddish in postwar Hasidic and yeshiva communities; and contemporary engagements with Yiddish by performing artists, queer activists, and postmodern intellectuals. All materials in English.
Desmond D. Jagmohan
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.
In this course we examine a variety of new religious movements that tested the boundaries of acceptable religion at various moments in American history. We pay particular attention to government and media constructions of the religious mainstream and margin, to the politics of labels such as “cult” and “sect,” to race, gender, and sexuality within new religions, and to the role of American law in constructing categories and shaping religious expressions. We also consider what draws people to new religions and examine the distinctive beliefs, practices, and social organizations of groups labeled by outsiders as “cults.”
In this seminar we examine the tangled and shifting relationship between religion and race in American history. In doing so, we explore a broad landscape of racial construction, identity, and experience and consider such topics as American interpretations of race in the Bible, religion and racial slavery, race and missions, religion, race, and science, popular culture representations of racialized religion, and religiously-grounded resistance to racial hierarchy.
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.