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.
2018-19 Courses in American Studies
America Then and Now
Instructors: Rachael Ziady DeLue, Bernadette Jeanne Perez, Sarah Rivett
Science Fiction and Fact
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.
Instructors: Tala Khanmalek
Education and Inequality
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, and each week we connect the readings to current policy trends.
Instructors: Kathleen M. Nolan
Race and the American Musical from Minstrelsy to Hamilton
This seminar explores how and why race is a key component of the Broadway musical theatre. From 19th-century minstrel shows, in which African American performers “blacked up” to play black characters previously performed by whites in blackface; to the mid-20th century “golden age” musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein, in which Asian characters were created to support a white liberal agenda; to the blockbuster HAMILTON, which merges musical theatre conventions and hip hop to re-tell the story of America, performances of race and ethnicity structure the American musical’s aesthetic and political work. How did we get from there to here?
Instructors: Stacy E. Wolf
Decolonizing America: A Seminar in Black Worldmaking
This seminar asks its participants to think critically about notions of American dominance, American exceptionalism, and indeed about American power, through the critical lenses of race, gender and decoloniality. We move back and forth across temporalities and social spaces thinking about what kinds of American futures African Americans imagined in the past, and what kinds of futures feel possible in the present. The course uses scholarly readings, science fiction, poetry, film, television, and popular music as a way to understand how Black people in America try to live out a daily disposition toward the decolonial.
Instructors: Brittney C. Cooper
American Legal Thought
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.
Instructors: Hendrik Arnold Hartog
American Agrarians: Ideas of Land, Labor, and Food
For agrarians, farms and fields are prized over boardrooms and shopping malls. Agrarianism values hard work, self-sufficiency, simplicity and connection with nature. For some today, it is a compelling antidote to globalization and consumerism. This course examines American agrarianism past and present and its central role in our national imaginary, tracing the complex and contradictory contours of a social and political philosophy that seeks freedom and yet gave way to enslaving, excluding, and ignoring many based on race, immigration status, and gender. A focus will be on new agrarianism and movements for food, land, and social justice.
Instructors: Tessa Lowinske Desmond
Topics in Race and Public Policy: Radical Subjects - Race and Deportation
This seminar critically explores the historical practice of deportation in the United States both past and present, looking at how our ideas of human rights, freedom, and belonging intersect with racial and national ideologies. We will work through a wide archive of literature, theory, and art, drawing important connections between the political geographies, experiences, and responses of Indigenous Americans, Black dissidents and Mexican deportees. This study of removal will help us to reflect on the contemporary moment of global mass migrations when humans are increasingly managed through preventative policing, detention, and deportation.
Instructors: Olivia Mena
Postblack - Contemporary African American Art
As articulated by Thelma Golden, postblack refers to the work of African American artists who emerged in the 1990s with ambitious, irreverent, and sassy work. Postblack suggests the emergence of a generation of artists removed from the long tradition of black affirmation of the Harlem Renaissance, black empowerment of the Black Arts movement, and identity politics of the 1980s and early 90s. This seminar involves critical and theoretical readings on multiculturalism, race, identity, and contemporary art, and will provide an opportunity for a deep engagement with the work of African American artists of the past decade.
Instructors: Chika O. Okeke-Agulu
Policing and Militarization Today
This class aims to explore transnational issues in policing. Drawing heavily upon anthropological methods and theory, we aim neither to vindicate nor contest the police’s right to use force (whether a particular instance was a violation of law), but instead, to contribute to the understanding of force (its forms, justifications, interpretations). The innovative transnational approach to policing developed during the semester will allow for a cross-cultural comparative analysis that explores larger rubrics of policing in a comprehensive social scientific framework. We hope that you are ready to explore these exciting and urgent issues with us.
Instructors: Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús, Laurence Ralph
Religion and Culture: Muslims in America
The course is an introduction to Muslim cultures in the U.S. We will read texts from anthropology, sociology, history and other fields to develop an understanding of the historical and present diversity of Muslim communities in America. The first half provides a survey of Muslim communities in this country from the 17th century onward. The second half is a thematic approach to various topics: 9/11, women and gender, religious conversion, interfaith relations, youth, mosques as institutions, and Islamophobia. In addition to scholarly materials, we will learn from multimedia sources (films, news, cartoons), visitors, and a visit to local mosque.
Instructors: Aly Kassam-Remtulla
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
Literature, Food, and the American Racial Diet
Food, like books, is the site of our greatest consumption of and most vulnerable encounter with “otherness.” This course explores how “taste” informs the ways in which we ingest or dispel racial otherness. Through novels and cinema in American and American multi-ethnic cultural production, we will study how the meeting of food and word inform categories such as race, nationhood, gender, ecology, and family, and class. Topics include: “Transcendental Primitivism,” “Modernist Orientalism,” “Chocolate Women on the Edge,” “Parenting/Consuming,” “Ecology and the Humanimal,” and more.
Instructors: Anne Cheng
Sex, Violence, Death and Other Entertainments for Kids: Challenging Drama for Youth
This course will examine a wide variety of highly imaginative plays for children and teens, focusing on how they work as plays and the challenges they present to youth and family audiences. For much of the 20th century, theater for young audiences was simplistic, safe and shallow. Now, plays for young audiences are tackling subjects like sex and death head on, and playwrights are creating works with sophisticated styles and structures. These are exciting theatrical works of the highest artistic order.
Instructors: Robert Neil Sandberg
There She Is: Beauty, Pageantry, & Spectacular Femininity in American Life
As it approaches its centennial, the Miss America Pageant (1921- ) stands among the most enduring — and enduringly controversial — popular performance traditions of American life and culture. This course offers an intensive, method-based historical overview of how "Miss America" as both idea and event documents the shifting ways gender, sexuality, race and embodiment been comprehended in the United States, even as it also examines the disparate ways the “beauty pageant” as a performance genre has been adopted and adapted by/for communities excluded by the rules of Miss America.
Instructors: Brian Eugenio Herrera
Science After Feminism
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 another marginalized individuals) lead to the production of different kinds of scientific knowledge?
Instructors: Catherine Clune-Taylor
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 Puritans 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 complement the thought of these great thinkers with attention to the institutions and social contexts in which those ideas developed. Students will leave this class understanding the inner logistics and social contexts of the major intellectual systems that have marked American life.
Instructors: Peter Wirzbicki
Writing about Cities
How do cities remember the past? From street names to Confederate statutes to urban redevelopment, questions of place and public memory are intertwined and frequently contested. In this seminar, “Writing about Cities: Place and Memory,” you’ll learn to read cities as cultural texts by engaging in cultural analysis, archival research, and geographic fieldwork. You’ll also contribute to discussions about place and memory by proposing a new memorial or monument for Princeton’s campus. Field trips within Princeton and to New York City augment our discussions, as do visits from guest speakers.
Instructors: Sean Patrick Fraga
Society, Politics, and Ideas in 1980s America
This seminar will introduce students to the methods and challenges of contemporary history. Drawing on a variety of sources, we will try to understand what made the 1980s a distinct era in American life. We will examine the decade’s key events and trends, including: the election of Ronald Reagan and the rightward shift in American politics; the swift and sudden end of the Cold War; the spread of computers ; the deepening gulf between rich and poor; and the “culture wars” over topics like abortion and pornography. We will try to answer the question: How do we make sense of a past that is hardly even past?
Instructors: William John Schultz
The Politics of Race and Credit in America
The racial wealth gap is today one of the most salient features of the American polity. This course places widening racialized inequalities in a broad historical perspective by connecting them to the politics of money and credit. Ever since colonial times, Americans have passionately, even violently, debated the nature of money. We will follow these debates to study how money and credit have been intimately linked to questions of race from Alexander Hamilton to Martin Luther King Jr. We will connect this historical material to political theoretical debates about race, credit, and money today.
Instructors: Stefan Eich
Transnational feminist approaches to globalization, race, sexuality, diaspora and nationalisms from Latinx, Black, and Asian American perspectives. Through different methodologies and interdisciplinary approaches to feminism, we will explore issues of women’s and LGBTQIA rights, gender equality, globalization, capitalism, and contemporary debates around race and sexuality.
Instructors: Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús
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
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 U.S. 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
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
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
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
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
The Asian American Family
This seminar examines the emergence and transformation of the Asian American family as a social form. We will investigate how U.S. 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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