2019-20 Courses in American Studies

Spring 2020

Access to Health: Right, Privilege, Responsibility
What does it mean to be healthy and who should ensure that individuals and communities achieve health? This course will examine the meaning of public health in America exploring the role of government as a regulator, service-provider, and director of personal behaviors. We will consider the legal, ethical, economic and political foundations of government actions and the challenges of addressing societal ills that account for disparities in health outcomes. Students will investigate and analyze health issues seeking to translate academic inquiry into policy prescriptions that impact human health.
Instructors: Leslie E. Gerwin
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
The Architecture of Race
This seminar explores the varied ways American architecture and design have lent themselves to processes of racialization, from embodied experiences of race within the built environment to racialized representations of architecture. How might the built environment change how we perceive, understand, and experience race? How does architecture not only reflect race but constitute a way of seeing and feeling race? To expand our understanding of architecture’s relationship to race, our approach will be interdisciplinary, including readings from fields such as but not limited to urban studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, and performance studies.
Instructors: Ashlie Andrea Sandoval
The American State
As we have increasingly looked to the federal government to provide and protect policies and rights that benefit its population, how have the branches of government risen to this occasion? Where have they struggled? What obstacles have they faced? What barriers have they created? This course is an investigation of the institutional, political, and legal development of the unique “American state” in the contemporary era.
Instructors: Sarah Lynn Staszak
Ruled by Conviction: Confronting Narratives of White Masculinity
The term cis white man is a subject position that is at the center of political discord in America. Whiteness and masculinity, once the foundation from which all other subject positions were constructed, has come to stand in for what is wrong with America, or the frame of power that we should return to. As Sara Ahmed points out in her essay “A Phenomenology of Whiteness,” the history of the white body is “the body at home.” I add masculinity to her formulation to study the formation of white masculinity politically and culturally in an American context where the corporeality of white masculinity is considered the origin story of American life.
Instructors: P. Carl
Isn’t It Romantic? The Broadway Musical from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Sondheim
Song. Dance. Man. Woman. These are the basic components of the Broadway musical theatre. How have musical theatre artists, composers, lyricists, librettists, directors, choreographers, and designers worked with these building blocks to create this quintessentially American form of art and entertainment? This course will explore conventional and resistant performances of gender and sexuality in the Broadway musical since the 1940s. Why are musicals structured by love and romance?
Instructors: Stacy E. Wolf
Topics in Global Race and Ethnicity: The Post-Colonial Imagination and Africana Thought
What does the “post-colonial” mean? In this course, we will engage the literary and theoretical production of formerly colonized subjects from parts of Africa and the Caribbean, as we seek to determine what the post-colonial imagination might look like. The emphasis will be on close readings of works that emerge from the crucible of the Black Atlantic’s “encounter” with European and American colonialism, as we question how the identities of formerly colonized subjects inform their views of the world.
Instructors: Kevin A. Wolfe
Making History: Museums, Monuments, and Cultural Heritage
This course contends with how shared histories are collectively made and remade in contemporary society. We will interrogate the meaning of history, memory, heritage, and “the past.” What is at stake in how we represent the past? What do we mean when we make a claim on history as “ours”? What role do museums, monuments, and memorials play in the formation and maintenance of collective identities? Can practices like public history and archaeology promote collective healing?
Instructors: Tiffany Cherelle Cain
Getting the Picture: Photojournalism in the U.S. and Russia
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.
Instructors: Katherine Anne Bussard, Katherine M.H. Reischl
Introduction to Dance Across Cultures
Bharatanatyam, butoh, hip hop, and salsa are some of the dances that will have us travel from temples and courtyards to clubs, streets, and stages around the world. Through studio sessions, readings and viewings, field research, and discussions, this seminar will introduce students to dance across cultures with special attention to issues of migration, cultural appropriation, gender and sexuality, and spiritual and religious expression. Students will also learn basic elements of participant observation research. Guest artists will teach different dance forms. No prior dance experience is necessary.
Instructors: Judith Hamera
Special Topics in Dance History, Criticism, and Aesthetics: Mobilizing Bodies/Dancing the State
Dance is an underrecognized political tool despite the use of performance to project national identity and soft power on the global stage. It also offers strategies for choreographing state initiatives and protest. This course investigates dance as both a state and a resistant practice of mobilization and identity constrction. Forms studied include hula, Soviet ballet, modern dance during WWII and the Cold War, and others. Activities include readings, discussions, performance exercises, and viewings of performances. Guest artists will conduct studio sessions in a number of the dance logics. No prior dance experience is necessary.
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
Topics in American Literature: American Jewish Writers: Citizens, Immigrants, and Iconoclasts
American Jewish Writers adopt a variety of personae: rabbis and rascals; native-born citizens and immigrants; traditionalists and iconoclasts. Why these strategies — and how they shaped the body of fiction, poetry and nonfiction prose that we know as “American Jewish Literature”? We’ll consider the historic sweep of American Jewish writing, from the 18th to the 21st century, focusing on four waves of Jewish immigration: from Austro-Hungary and Prussia, Eastern Europe, Nazi Germany, and the USSR. Students will pursue original research using the holdings of the Firestone’s superb Milberg Collection of Jewish American Writers.
Instructors: Esther Helen Schor
Major Author(s): August Wilson: African American Life in the 20th Century
August Wilson completed what many consider the most ambitious project of any American playwright. His cycle of ten plays, one for each decade, chronicles African American life in the 20th century. We will explore all ten plays as individual drama and depictions of history. We will read standard histories to gain background and context.
Instructors: Robert Neil Sandberg
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
Graphic Memoir
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 analyze the visual and verbal constructions of identity with an emphasis on the representation of gender dynamics and cultural conflict.
Instructors: Alfred Bendixen
History of the American West
This course examines the history of the place we now call the American West, from pre-contact to the present. Our primary focus will be on the struggles between and among peoples to control resources and political power, and to shape the ways in which western history is told. We will pay particular attention to the role of visual and popular culture in shaping the national imagination of the region.
Instructors: Martha A. Sandweiss
Life-Writing: Diaries, Memoirs, Autobiographies and History
This seminar will explore how historians can read, interpret and use individual testimonies of different kinds: memoirs, diaries and autobiographies. We will focus on writings of this sort by men and women in Britain and the American Colonies/United States from c.1650 to the First World War. Why did these sorts of texts become increasingly popular on both sides of the Atlantic during that period, and what kinds of challenges and opportunities do they present to historians now?
Instructors: Linda Jane Colley
The History of Incarceration in the U.S.
The prison is a growth industry in the U.S.; it is also a central institution in U.S. political and social life, shaping our experience of race, class, gender, sexuality, citizenship, and political possibility. This course explores the history of incarceration over the course of more than two centuries. It tracks the emergence of the penitentiary in the early national period and investigates mass incarceration of the late 20th century. Topics include the relationship between the penitentiary and slavery; the prisoners’ rights movement; Japanese internment; immigration detention; and the privatization and globalization of prisons.
Instructors: Regina Kunzel
Abraham Lincoln and America, 1809-1865
This course explores the political biography, principles and practices of Abraham Lincoln. The issues to be examined include the international context of liberal democracy in the 19th century, the war powers of the presidency, the contest of Whig and Democratic political ideas, the relation of the executive branch to the legislative and judicial branches, diplomacy, and the presidential cabinet. While tracing Lincoln’s biography from the Illinois frontier to the White House, we will explore how his own life was shaped by, and shaped, questions of enterprise and society, slavery and emancipation, and Civil War and Reconstruction.
Instructors: Allen Carl Guelzo
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
“Cult” Controversies in America
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.”
Instructors: Judith Weisenfeld
21st Century Latinx Drama
This course offers a practice-based overview of theater-making in the 21st century through an intensive study of contemporary Latinx dramatists, companies, and movements in the United States. Through weekly readings, discussions and independent research/writing exercises, the seminar will investigate the cultural, artistic, social and political interventions of 21st-century U.S. Latinx drama.
Instructors: Brian Eugenio Herrera

Fall 2019

America Then and Now
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.
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.
Instructors: Allison Carruth
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?
Instructors: Tiffany Cain
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
Global Novel
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