Fall 2023


James Shapiro

AMST UN3930 - Tues 10:10 – 12pm, Hamilton 317  

This course explores the place of Shakespeare in American literary and political culture from the Revolution to the present. We will explore the ways in which American poets, novelists, presidents, essayists, polemicists, and humorists over the past two hundred years have turned to Shakespeare, time and again, in addressing such divisive issues as race, immigration, gender, and national identity. In this sense, the complex story of Shakespeare in America offers an alternative version of our nation’s past. Readings include works by Washington Irving, John Adams, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Mary Preston, Walt Whitman, Jane Addams, Henry James, Isaac Asimov, Mary McCarthy, and Adrienne Rich. Familiarity with Shakespeare’s major plays is expected. 


Mark Lilla

AMST UN3930 - Tues 12:10 – 2pm

Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America is considered a classic study on the United States. But more fundamentally it is an analysis of the democratic human type (l’homme démocratique) with his or her distinctive passions, fears, aspirations, prejudices, and self-image. In this seminar we will focus on Tocqueville’s psychology and the light it might shed on American culture. 


Casey Blake

AMST UN3930 -Tues 2:10 – 4pm - Hamilton 317  

This course is an intensive seminar on American cultural criticism since the late 19th century, with particular emphasis on debates over modernist currents in the arts from the 1910s through the 1960s. Readings will consist primarily of works by major interpreters of American culture, including John Dewey, Constance Rourke, Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg. Allan Kaprow, Ralph Ellison, Paul Goodman, and Susan Sontag. Each student will writea research paper on a major critic or controversy in 20th century culture.


Roosevelt Montás

AMST UN3930 - Weds 10:10-12p - Hamilton 317  

This seminar will examine foundational texts in American political and cultural history. The inherent tension between “freedom” and “citizenship” will serve as the organizing theme. The course is conceived on the model of Contemporary Civilization (CC) and, as in that course, we will focus exclusively on primary texts, the order of readings will be roughly chronological, and the class will be discussion-driven. We will begin with readings from the Puritan settlement of New England and continue with documents surrounding the Revolution, the early republic, the Civil War, Reconstruction, liberalism, the Civil Rights Movement, and contemporary debates about the nature of American national identity and its place in the world.  In addition to the classroom requirements, students will serve about four hours a week at the Double Discovery Center (DDC) in connection with the Freedom and Citizenship Project, which DDC conducts in partnership with the American Studies Program. 


John McWhorter

AMST UN3930 - Weds 12:10 – 2pm - Hamilton 317  

This course will explore the results of language mixture, as demonstrated on the North American continent as well as beyond. All human languages are hybrids to an extent, but post-Neolithic technological developments have made population movement ever more common, resulting in mixture between peoples and the languages they speak. The result has been a panorama of language mixtures of a kind rare to nonexistent before roughly ten thousand years ago, including what are called creoles, pidgins, koines, vehicular languages, and nonstandard dialects that straddle the boundary between these categories. Such languages are usually felt as new and/or illegitimate, such that they have had various fates in the media and education, and also occasion vigorous controversies even as to their origins. This seminar will explore America’s—and the world’s—newest, and in some ways most interesting, languages. No pre-registration; join waitlist and attend first class.


Hilary Hallett

AMST UN3930 - Weds 2:10-4pm - Hamilton 317  

This seminar explores the history of American gender through the history of the American film industry from the first features in the 1910s through the crumbling of the Hollywood Studio System and Production Code in 1968. During this period, much of the controversy sparked by the industry stemmed from its depictions of new ideals of womanhood, manhood, and sexuality. Moreover, in this era, Hollywood targeted specific audiences and movies were not afforded the protection of free speech. We will use motion pictures and movie stars as primary sources and consider how the changing institutional history of film production connected to the images it sold. Students will write one short paper and a paper proposal in preparation for a short research-based essay on a topic relating to how some aspect of film history reflected a particular problem in gender history. 


Michael Hindus

AMST UN3930 - Thurs, 2:10 – 4pm -  Hamilton 317  

This seminar will explore some of the most important ways in which law and the legal system transformed American society. We will look at the legal status of slavery and of freed people after emancipation, the status of women, both married and single, and how the concept of privacy became enshrined in law.  We will also look at how law transformed the economy in the 19th century and conversely how the explosive growth of the American economy disrupted and transformed American law. Other topics may include how Native Americans had their land taken away and the history of crime and punishment, leading to mass incarceration.  Readings will include secondary works as well as primary sources and legal cases.


Jeremy Dauber & Paul Levitz

AMST UN3930 - Mon, 12:10 – 2:00pm 

The course seeks to combine literary and historical approaches to investigate one of the most rapidly growing, increasingly influential, and, increasingly, critically recognized forms of American popular literature: the graphic novel. A historical overview of the medium’s development, complete with analysis of relevant broader institutional and cultural factors illuminating the development of American media culture more generally, will be complemented by study of a series of recent works illuminating the medium’s explosive maturation. Authors read include Eisner, Crumb, Spiegelman, Bechdel, Thompson, and Hernandez. No preregistration, join waitlist.



George Chauncey

HIST UN2533- M W 11:40-12:55 PM

This course explores the social, cultural, and political history of lesbians, gay men, and other socially constituted sexual and gender minorities, primarily in the twentieth century. Since the production and regulation of queer life has always been intimately linked to the production and policing of “normal” sexuality and gender, we will also pay attention to the shifting boundaries of normative sexuality, especially heterosexuality, as well as other developments in American history that shaped gay life, such as the Second World War, Cold War, urbanization, and the minority rights revolution. Themes include the emergence of homosexuality and heterosexuality as categories of experience and identity; the changing relationship between homosexuality and transgenderism; the development of diverse lesbian and gay subcultures and their representation in popular culture; the sources of antigay hostility; religion and sexual science; generational change and everyday life; AIDS; and gay, antigay, feminist, and queer movements.


Courtney Bender

RELI GU4217- T 10:10-12:00 pm

This seminar focuses on historical, sociological, and first-hand accounts of a diverse set of American non-conformist religious and spiritual groups (including MOVE, the Branch Davidians at Waco, Father Divine's International Peace Mission, the Oneida Perfectionists, and Occupy and others). Diverse in their historical origins, their activities, and their ends, each of the groups sought or seeks to offer radically news ways of living, subverting American gender, sexuality, racial, or economic norms. The title of this seminar highlights the ways that these groups explain their reasons for existing (to themselves or others) not as a choice but as a response to a system or society out of whack, at odds with the plans of the divine, or at odds with nature and survival. Likewise, it considers the numerous ways that these same groups have often found themselves the targets of state surveillance and violence.


Farah Griffin

ENGL UN 3241- R 12:10-2:00 pm

According to literary critic Cheryl A. Wall, African American writers have done their most influential work in the essay form. Using Wall’s scholarship as a starting point, this course explores essays by a distinguished group of writers from Frederick Douglass to Toni Morrison to consider the centrality of this understudied form to African American writing.


Rebecca Kobrin

HIST GU4525- M 2:10-4:00 pm

This seminar explores the intersection of immigration, race, and politics in New York City, both from the perspective of history and in relation to contemporary realities.  In this course we will discuss the ways in which immigration has reshaped the cultural, economic, and political life of New York City both in the past as well as the present.  Readings will focus on the divergent groups who have settled in New York City, paying close attention to issues of gender, class, race, the role of labor markets, the law, and urban development.  At several points during the semester, the class will relocate to various locations in New York City, so that the class can meet those shaping the image of immigrant life in New York [in places such as the Tenement Museum] as well as leaders shaping immigrants’ lived experience of the city today.


Robert Amdur

POLS UN3921 - T 4:10-6:00 pm

Prerequisites: the instructors permission. Pre-registration is not permitted. Seminar in American Politics Seminar. Students who would like to register should join the electronic wait list.


Rachel Adams

English ENGLW4826 - Tu Th 11:40AM-12:55PM 

This course approaches modernism as the varied literary responses to the cultural, technological, and political conditions of modernity in the United States.  The historical period from the turn of the century to the onset of World War II forms a backdrop for consideration of such authors as Getrude Stein, Willa Cather, Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Djuna Barnes.  Assigned readings will cover a range of genres, including novels, poetry, short stories, and contemporary essays. 


Ross Posnock

ENGLW3790 - Th 2:10PM-4:00PM

To say “wealth” is to say “class,” which is also to say “manners” and “snobbery,” and, especially in America, is to say vaulting “ambition.” This course examines how the amassing of wealth --individual & corporate-- creates class tensions and social manners over the course of a century. And we will conduct this examination aware that to make these matters explicit disturbs some basic American habits of mind that prefer fictions of egalitarianism.
As Lionel Trilling observed in 1950: “Americans appear to believe that to touch accurately on the matter of class, to take full note of snobbery, is somehow to demean themselves…We don’t deny that we have classes and snobbery, but we seem to hold it indelicate to take precise cognizance of these phenomena. As if we felt that one cannot touch pitch without being defiled.”   

Among the topics/figures to be studied: the “New Woman” divorcee (Wharton), the social climbing arriviste (Fitzgerald), the pathologies of wealth (Chesnutt, Fitzgerald), the Black elite (Chesnutt, West), corporate capitalism as it colonizes the human body (Powers), wealth and post modernism (Diaz).  


Ross Posnock

English UN3832 W 2:10PM-4:00PM

The nation’s most distinguished homegrown network of thinkers and writers, the New York intellectuals, clustered in its major decades from the late thirties to the late sixties up and down Manhattan, centered mainly in and around Columbia University and the magazine Partisan Review on Astor Place.  Although usually regarded as male dominated—Lionel Trilling, Clement Greenberg and Dwight Macdonald were among the leaders—more recently the three key women of the group have emerged as perhaps the boldest modernist thinkers most relevant for our own time.  Arendt is a major political philosopher, McCarthy a distinguished novelist, memoirist, and critic, and Susan Sontag was the most famous public intellectual in the last quarter of the 20th century. This course will explore how this resolutely unsentimental trio—dubbed by one critic as “tough women” who insisted on the priority of reflection over feeling—were unafraid to court controversy and even outrage: Hannah Arendt’s report on what she called the “banality” of Nazi evil in her report on the trial in Israel of Adolph Eichmann in 1963 remains incendiary;  Mary McCarthy’s satirical wit and unprecedented sexual frankness startled readers of her 1942 story collection The Company She Keeps; Susan Sontag’s debut Against Interpretation (1966) turned against the suffocatingly elitist taste of the New York intellectuals and welcomed what she dubbed the “New Sensibility”—“happenings,” “camp,” experimental film and all manner of avant-garde production. In her later book On Photography (1977) she critiques the disturbing photography of Diane Arbus, whose images we will examine in tandem with Sontag’s book.


Maura L Spiegel

English GU4669 Th 12:10PM-2:00PM

Dominated by outcasts and anti-heroes, movies of the 1970s freshly engaged the conversation about what American society is and should be. A new generation of maverick American auteurs (including Coppola, Altman, Kubrick, Ashby, Lumet, Pakula and Scorcese) saved Hollywood from financial collapse by channeling and giving voice to the frenetic activities of the previous decade—while also speaking directly into the moment. They tackled previously taboo subjects; challenged traditional narrative expectations; revised Classic Hollywood film genres, and engaged race and gender in new ways. Originally considered a "lost generation," the filmmakers of the 1970s are now recognized as having produced a turning point in American filmmaking. Through close-readings of some of the decade's greatest works, and through readings in film, cultural and social theory, this course will examine the role of movies in American discourse. What do movies do for and to us? What does the current viewer "hear" in film from the past that wasn't heard then? Can we speak of different "styles of heroism" in film eras? Do current movies (and HBO series) pursue different strategies for engaging the present? How


Michael Witgen

HISTW1488 - Tu Th 1:10PM-2:25PM

This course is an introduction to the history of the Native peoples of North America.  Instruction will focus on the idea that indigenous people in North America possess a shared history in terms of being forced to respond to European colonization, and the emergence of the modern nation-state.  Native peoples, however, possess their own distinct histories and culture.  In this sense their histories are uniquely multi-faceted rather than the experience of a singular racial group.  Accordingly, this course will offer a wide-ranging survey of cultural encounters between the Native peoples of North America, European empires, colonies, and emergent modern nation-states taking into account the many different indigenous responses to colonization and settler colonialism.  This course will also move beyond the usual stories of Native-White relations that center either on narratives of conquest and assimilation, or stories of cultural persistence.  We will take on these issues, but we will also explore the significance of Native peoples to the historical development of modern North America.  This will necessarily entail an examination of race formation, and a study of the evolution of social structures and categories such as nation, tribe, citizenship, and sovereignty.