Courses Related to American Culture
This course introduces students to the philosophy, ethics, and practice of oral history with specific emphasis on interview and transcription techniques and the use of oral history in interdisciplinary research and analysis. This course will also include instruction on the archival collection, preservation, description, and digitization of oral history interviews.
Introduction to the theoretical approaches of American Studies, as well as the methods and materials used in the interdisciplinary study of American society. Through close reading of a variety of texts (e.g. novels, films, essays), we will analyze the creation, maintenance, and transmission of cultural meaning within American society.
Indigenous women, queers, trans- and Two Spirit people have been at the forefront of activism and resistance to state incursion into Indigenous lands and waters. This was evident most recently at Mauna Kea, a mountain sacred to Kanaka Maoli in Hawaii as women, trans and queer formed the first line of resistance and occupation against the construction of a 1000-meter telescope on the site. This is not unique, their voices, along with indigenous queer and feminist scholars, have been working to address issues as far-ranging as mascots, settler appropriation of indigenous cultures, missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and the violence against indigenous urban youth. This seminar will consider how those indigenous feminist, queer, and Two Spirit scholars have theorized gender, sexuality, race, and colonialism, alongside issues of land, water and sovereignty. We will read works that consider how indigeneity challenges how gender and sexuality are expressed in the context of settler colonialism and racial capitalism.
Cities, institutions, and impassioned individuals are pulling down statues of people implicated in the histories of slavery, colonization and violence. This class explores why monuments are important, how they have been used historically to assert political and social power and different points of view on where to go from here.
Through an examination of painting, sculpture, decorative arts, photography. fashion and visual culture of the United States from 1750 to 1914, the course will explore how American artists responded to and operated within the wider world, while grappling with issues of identity at home. Addressing themes shared in common across national boundaries, the class will consider how American art participated in the revolutions and reforms of the "long" nineteenth century, and how events of the period continue to impact our country today.
This course focuses on the life experiences and impact of poverty in the contemporary United States. We will be exploring the consequences of financial and material deprivation on work, housing, health, parenting, children, as well as the limits and opportunities for inter-generational mobility and how each of these intersect with gender, racial and ethnic identities. We will be learning about the experiences of individual persons as well as how these particular experiences reflect the overarching patterns of social, political and economic trends in the United States. The course will incorporate a diverse set of disciplinary perspectives to shed light on the challenges faced by persons living in poverty. In addition, there will be an emphasis on learning about and critically assessing methodological approaches applied in the literature. No prior knowledge of methods is required and any technical references will be explained in class.
African American Studies
Prerequisites: Students need to register for a section of AFAS UN1010, the required discussion section for this course. From the arrival of enslaved Africans to the recent election of President Barack Obama, black people have been central to the story of the United States, and the Americas, more broadly. African Americans have been both contributors to, and victims of, this “New World” democratic experiment. To capture the complexities of this ongoing saga, this course offers an inter-disciplinary exploration of the development of African-American cultural and political life in the U.S. but also in relationship to the different African diasporic outposts of the Atlantic world. The course will be organized both chronologically and thematically, moving from the “middle passage” to the present so-called “post-racial” moment—drawing on a range of classical texts, primary sources, and more recent secondary literature—to grapple with key questions, concerns, and problems (i.e. agency, resistance, culture, etc.) that have preoccupied scholars of African-American history, culture, and politics.
Center for Study of Race and Ethnicity (CSER)
This course provides an overview of Asian/ Pacific American history from the late 18th Century until the present day. The course follows a thematic format that begins with European and American empires in Asia and the Pacific. The course surveys significant and interrelated topics -- including anti-Asian movements, immigration and exclusion, various forms of resistance, Orientalism, media representations, the model minority myth, the Asian American movement, identity, and racial, ethnic, and generational conflicts -- in Asian/ Pacific American history of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Each of these concepts and topics will resonant, in various expressions and forms, well into the 21st Century and beyond.
This seminar focuses on the critical analysis of Asian representation and participation in Hollywood by taking a look at how mainstream American cinema continues to essentialize the Asian and how Asian American filmmakers have responded to Hollywood Orientalist stereotypes. We will analyze various issues confronting the Asian American, including yellowface, white patriarchy, male and female stereotypes, the “model minority” myth, depictions of “Chinatowns,” panethnicity, the changing political interpretations of the term Asian American throughout American history, gender and sexuality, and cultural hegemonies and privileging within the Asian community.
This class explores the relationships among memory, monuments, place, and political power in the United States West. The course begins with an introduction to the theory of collective memory and then delves into case studies in New Mexico, California, and Texas. We will expand our perspective at the end of the course to compare what we have learned with the recent debates over monuments to the Confederacy. We will consider both physical manifestations of collective memory such as monuments and architecture as well as intangible expressions like performance, oral history and folklore.
This course will examine how the American legal system decided constitutional challenges affecting the empowerment of African, Latino, and Asian American communities from the 19th century to the present. Focus will be on the role that race, citizenship, capitalism/labor, property, and ownership played in the court decision in the context of the historical, social, and political conditions existing at the time. Topics include the denial of citizenship and naturalization to slaves and immigrants, government sanctioned segregation, the struggle for reparations for descendants of slavery, and Japanese Americans during World War II.
Prerequisites: Permission of instructor. (Seminar). Who is a citizen? How has the notion of citizenship changed in American history? Questions of American citizenship - who can claim it and what it entails -- have been fiercely contested since the founding of the United States. Scholars have articulated various ways of conceptualizing citizenship: as a formal legal status; as a collection of state-protected rights; as political activity; and as a form of identity and solidarity. In this seminar, well explore the role that literature and literary criticism have played in both shaping and responding to the narratives and civic myths that determine what it means to be an American citizen.
The course is a survey of canonical texts from the American Literary Canon, with emphasis on how these writers experienced the natural world. Some of them had to deal with extreme cold, others with tropical heat. Some of them encountered abundance, others sparsity and famine. They all encountered new life forms – from marine life to birds, reptiles and animals. They had to cope with frequent earthquakes and hurricanes, and classify newly discovered species of vegetal life. What they saw, however, was read not only through the lenses of natural history, but also theologically and politically. For some, the natural world was rich with signs sent by God for them to interpret, for others it was a political space that they organized according to the a theocratic or plantation logic. The class will therefore also pay special attention to politics, and investigate how the ecological spaces that the colonists encountered shaped their politics and ethics.
“Reduce Your Footprint.” “Ditch The Past.” “Leave No Trace.” Calling for coexistent habitats, environmentalist discourses strive to decenter the human, and focus on the future. This class will not dispute the crucial need to reconsider how humans must interact with the Earth through mutually fortifying and thus lasting relationships. Instead, we will take a historicist approach to descriptions and discussions of people and the environment, to explore how nature writing has negotiated the absence or erasure of humans through its varied and vexed phases from 1492 to the nineteenth century.
States date back to the early republic when a newly emerging nation struggled with the questions: What makes an American American? What makes America America? From colonial times forward, the stage has served as a forum to air differing beliefs as well as medium to construct new beliefs about Nation, self and other. The texts we will read, from colonial times through WWI, explore diverse topics such as politics, Native American rights, slavery, labor unrest, gender roles, and a growing immigrant population.
Modern American Drama and Performance in an era of cultural contestation. What is united about the United States? How are the important claims of cultural difference related to the intercultural claims of shared community? Is there a place for historical continuity in the modernist pursuit of change? How have these issues been addressed in the emergence and development of modern drama and performance in America? Questions such as these will be addressed in the context of theatrical exploration, performance history, and social change. Canonical and experimental playwrights include Rachel Crothers, Susan Glaspell, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Eugene O’Neill, Clifford Odets, Thornton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Lorraine Hansberry, Edward Albee, Suzan-Lori Parks, Sarah Ruhl, and Dominique Morisseau.
This course surveys American literature written before 1800. While we will devote some attention to the literary traditions that preceded British colonization, most of our readings will be of texts written in English between 1620 and 1800. These texts--histories, autobiographies, poems, plays, and novels--illuminate the complexity of this period of American culture. They tell stories of pilgrimage, colonization, and genocide; private piety and public life; manuscript and print publication; the growth of national identity (political, cultural, and literary); Puritanism, Quakerism, and Deism; race and gender; slavery and the beginnings of a movement towards its abolition. We will consider, as we read, the ways that these stories overlap and interconnect, and the ways that they shape texts of different periods and genres.
Texts from the late Republican period through the Civil War explore a range of intersecting literary, political, philosophical, and theological issues, including the literary implications of American independence, the status of Native Americans, the nature of the self, slavery and abolition, gender and woman's sphere, and the Civil War. Writers include Washington Irving, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Frederick Douglass, Margaret Fuller, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Jacobs, and Emily Dickinson.
This interdisciplinary course situates late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American literature within the context of historical and cultural change. Students read works by Whitman, Twain, James, Griggs, Wharton, Faulkner, and Hurston alongside political and cultural materials including Supreme Court decisions, geometric treatises, composite photography and taxidermy.
In the wake of World War II, the so-called American Century rises out of the ashes of fascism, haunted by the specter of bombs blurring the boundary between victory and defeat. An ideological civil war ensues, punctuated by literary resistance to grand narratives and their discontents. Authors include Ellison, O’Connor, Ginsberg, Bishop, Pynchon, Robinson, Merrill, Morrison, Didion, and Wallace.
This course examines the literary response to the social turbulence of the nineteenth century by focusing on representations of love and death. Do love and death—seen by some as universal aspects of the human condition—offer stability in a tumultuous society? After all, the most intimate and deeply felt moments of life seem to offer reprieve from the forces of history. Yet, as we’ll see, the very meanings of love and death change as society changes. The personal sentiments that make us feel human are in fact social. By studying literature, we can examine the extent to which notions of intimacy and mortality register cultural transformation. Meanwhile we’ll get to ask if it is indeed true, as Leslie Fiedler suggests in Love and Death in the American Novel, that American literature “is incapable of dealing with adult sexuality and is pathologically obsessed with death.”
An introduction to race, gender, indigeneity, colonialism and class in American fiction from the 18th to the mid-20th century. Writers include Rowson, Hawthorne, Melville, Stowe, Dunbar, James, Zitkala-Sa, Wharton, Faulkner, and Brooks.
In this course, we will examine short stories as a particularly American form. The short story has been notoriously difficult to define, but one key characteristic of the genre is its presumed compact form alongside its compelling expansiveness. Short stories constantly toggle back and forth between the compressed and the broad. In the United States, the genre of short story has a long history of articulating and imagining an individual or community’s changing and fraught relationship to transnational, national, and local dynamics.
Historiographically speaking this course is a study of the complex processes that evolve social memory and shape various (often deeply contested) historical narratives. Practically speaking, this course is a study of objects (“scraps” and “fragments”) that “fix” history within the matrices of particular technologies (manuscripts, books, photographs, recorded sound and moving image) at a particular moment in time and amid a variety of historical contexts (most of which quickly become invisible to posterity). Our challenge, really the challenge for all researchers, is to reconcile the process by which fixed history is evolved into both memory and narrative.
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.
The city has classically been represented as the site of sexual freedom, but also of sexual immorality and danger. This course explores the interrelated histories of sexuality and the city in the twentieth-century United States (especially New York) by exploring how urban conditions and processes shaped sexual practices, identities, communities, and ethics, and how sexual matters shaped urban processes, politics, and representation.
This course examines 20th-century American political movements of the Left and Right. We will cover Socialism and the Ku Klux Klan in the early twentieth century; the Communist Party and right-wing populists of the 1930s; the civil rights movement, black power, and white resistance, 1950s-1960s; the rise of the New Left and the New Right in the 1960s; the Women's liberation movement and the Christian right of the 1970s; and finally, free-market conservatism, neoliberalism, white nationalism and the Trump era. We will explore the organizational, ideological and social history of these political mobilizations. The class explores grass-roots social movements and their relationship to “mainstream” and electoral politics. We will pay special attention to the ways that ideas and mobilizations that are sometimes deemed extreme have in fact helped to shape the broader political spectrum. Throughout the semester, we will reflect on the present political dilemmas of our country in light of the history that we study.
Themes include Native and colonial cultures and politics, the evolution of American political and economic institutions, relationships between religious and social movements, and connecting ideologies of race and gender with larger processes such as enslavement, dispossession, and industrialization.
Emphasis on foreign policies as they pertain to the Second World War, the atomic bomb, containment, the Cold War, Korea, and Vietnam. Also considers major social and intellectual trends, including the Civil Rights movement, the counterculture, feminism, Watergate, and the recession of the 1970s.
Major themes in African-American History: slave trade, slavery, resistance, segregation, the New Negro, Civil Rights, Black Power, challenges and manifestations of the contemporary Color Line.General Education Requirement: Historical Studies (HIS).
No place or period in American history has ignited more passion or brought into being a richer trove of first-rate scholarship than the South during the years before the Civil War. On the other hand, no place or period in American history has generated more misguided scholarship or more propaganda. In this course, students will sample historical literature and primary sources about the Old South, evaluating the interpretations historians have offered and scrutinizing some of the documents on which historians of the Old South have based their conclusions.
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.
The United States was founded on Indigenous land and in conversation with Indigenous nations who shared possession to most of the territory claimed by the republic. The expansion of the U.S. beyond the original thirteen states happened in dialogue, and often in open conflict with the Native peoples of North America. This course will examine the creation and expansion of the American nation-state from the perspective of Indigenous peoples and Indigenous history. Most histories of the Republic equate the founding of the U.S. with the severance of colonial ties to Great Britain and the proceed to characterize America as a post-colonial society. We will study the U.S. as the first New World colonial power, a settler society whose very existence is deeply intertwined with the Indigenous history of North America.
This course will explore the struggle to control the continent of North America from an Indigenous perspective. After a century of European colonization Native peoples east of the Mississippi River Valley formed a political confederation aimed at preserving Native sovereignty. This Native confederacy emerged as a dominant force during the Seven Years War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812. At times Native political interests aligned with the French and British Empires, but remained in opposition to the expansion of Anglo-American colonial settlements into Indian country. This course is designed to engage literature and epistemology surrounding these New World conflicts as a means of the colonial and post-colonial past in North America. We will explore the emergence of intersecting indigenous and European national identities tied to the social construction of space and race. In this course I will ask you to re-think American history by situating North America as a Native space, a place that was occupied and controlled by indigenous peoples. You will be asked to imagine a North America that was indigenous and adaptive, and not necessarily destined to be absorbed by European settler colonies.
In this course you will be asked to re-think American history. That is, we will approach the history of America as a continental history. This will require that we think of North America as a New World space, a place that was inhabited and occupied by indigenous peoples, and then remade by the arrival and settlement of Europeans. You will be asked to imagine a North America that was indigenous and adaptive, as well as colonial and Euro-American. This approach to the study of North American history is designed to challenge the epistemology and literature of the history of colonization and American expansion, which displaces Native peoples from the central narrative of American history by placing them at the physical margins of colonial and national development. Instead we will explore the intersection and integration of indigenous and Euro-American national identity and national space in North America and trace their co-evolution from first contact through the early nineteenth century.
This course will examine the historical development of crime and the criminal justice system in the United States since the Civil War. The course will give particular focus to the interactions between conceptions of crime, normalcy and deviance, and the broader social and political context of policy making.
This class introduces students to major changes, developments, continuities, and institutions of carceral control in nineteenth and twentieth century United States history. Students will understand how prisons, policing, jails, and related apparatuses developed in the United States and will learn how opposition to carceral expansion has taken shape at different historical moments. We will focus on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and will engage the centrality of patriarchy, capitalist antiblackness, zenophobia, and nationalism to the consolidation of the modern carceral state. The class combines social and cultural history to understand how the United States emerged as the largest carceral behemoth in the world. Students will also develop skills in critical analysis especially primary source analysis.
This course provides an introductory, interdisciplinary discussion of the major issues surrounding this nations Latino population. The focus is on social scientific perspectives utilized by scholars in the field of Latino Studies. Major demographic, social, economic, and political trends are discussed. Key topics covered in the course include: the evolution of Latino identity and ethnicity; the main Latino sub-populations in the United States; the formation of Latino communities in the United States; Latino immigration; issues of race and ethnicity within the Latino population; socioeconomic status and labor force participation of Latinos; Latino social movements; and the participation of Latinos in U.S. civil society.
Lecture and discussion. Dynamics of political institutions and processes, chiefly of the national government. Emphasis on the actual exercise of political power by interest groups, elites, political parties, and public opinion.
This course examines the role of race in American politics and the political behavior of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States. Topics will include, but are not limited to, minority political participation, segregation, gentrification, group identity, implicit bias, political representation, media effects, and the role of race in political campaigns.
This Course is intended to look at key developments of American History through the prism of Supreme Court decisions and their aftermath. In essence, this Course will address three questions: 1. How did the Supreme Court reflect, and affect, historic patterns of U.S. development, and how did it impact the legal and economic framework of the United States? 2. How did the Supreme Court respond to, or worsen, crises in U.S. history? 3. How did the perception of individual and collective rights and liberties, and of the function and role of Governments -- both Federal and State -- evolve over time?
In this course, we will examine the relationship between government and the governed in the United States. To what extent and under what circumstances do elected officials consider public preferences in making policy? To what extent and under what circumstances might we want them to? What kind of power should the public have in American democracy?
Since 2016, scholars and journalists alike have been paying more attention to “Working Class Voters.” While these voters have always been an important bloc within the American political system, recent events underscore the need to understand the political behavior of a broad swath of the voting public. Similarly, American political life is increasingly polarized by place, with Republicans concentrated in rural areas and Democrats in urban ones. Class and place are therefore essential variables for understanding modern American politics.
Prerequisites: POLS W1201 or the equivalent. Not an introductory-level course. Not open to students who have taken the colloquium POLS BC3326. Enrollment limited to 25 students; L-course sign-up through eBear. Barnard syllabus. Explores seminal caselaw to inform contemporary civil rights and civil liberties jurisprudence and policy. Specifically, the readings examine historical and contemporary first amendment values, including freedom of speech and the press, economic liberties, takings law, discrimination based on race, gender, class and sexual preference, affirmative action, the right to privacy, reproductive freedom, the right to die, criminal procedure and adjudication, the rights of the criminally accused post-9/11 and the death penalty. (Cross-listed by the American Studies and Human Rights Programs.)
Who determines American foreign policy? How does the CNN Effect impact choices in American foreign policy? This course seeks to answer those questions by focusing on how domestic politics can influence American foreign policy decisions. The Domestic Reality of American Foreign Policy will examine how formal and informal political actors affect the foreign policy process. The course will briefly review the determinants of American Foreign Policy, such as the role theory, external sources, and psychological and societal sources.
This course is an introduction to American constitutional law. We examine key historical debates surrounding the constitution’s framing, ratification, and subsequent amendments, and study several major court decisions that have elaborated the constitution’s meaning over time. We will explore competing theories of how the constitution should be interpreted, how the constitution distributes and limits the power of different branches of government, and which fundamental political and civil rights the constitution guarantees (see the schedule of readings for specific topics). Students will regularly discuss, debate, and write about these issues.
This urban politics course examines the evolving intergovernmental structure of political power in and relative to American cities. It includes factors that range from globalization to national and state policies and politics, down through the local level where - to misquote former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill - “all politics used to be local.“ It focuses on the context and drivers of local government politics, structures, and decision-making frameworks and on the evolution of cities’ patterns of relationships with state and national governments. Themes include power and decision-making, the leadership and administration of cities, present day problems and strategies to deal with them, the historical origins of urban politics, past federal and state policies toward cities and the contemporary consequences of these patterns.
Through assigned readings and a group research project, students will gain familiarity with a range of historical and social science problems at the intersection of ethnic/racial/sexual formations, technological networks, and health politics since the turn of the twentieth century. Topics to be examined will include, but will not be limited to, black women's health organization and care; HIV/AIDS politics, policy, and community response; benign neglect; urban renewal and gentrification; medical abuses and the legacy of Tuskegee; tuberculosis control; and environmental justice. There are no required qualifications for enrollment, although students will find the material more accessible if they have had previous coursework experience in United States history, pre-health professional (pre-med, pre-nursing, or pre-public health), African-American Studies, Women and Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies, or American Studies.
This course offers a survey of American religions from the 1500s through the mid-1800s. We examine the politics of conversion in different kinds of colonialisms; the different strands of Christianity in early America and their cultural contexts; the emergence of evangelical Protestantism; the effects of religious disestablishment in the early republic; and the relationship between religion and social movements.
This is an undergraduate lecture course introducing students to the study of religion through an engagement with the history of hip hop music. More specifically, this course is organized chronologically to narrate a history of religion in the United States (circa 1970 to the present day) by mapping the ways that a variety of religious ideas and practices have animated rap music’s evolution and expansion during this time period. While there are no required prerequisites for the course, prior coursework in religious studies, African American studies, and/or popular music is helpful.
There are over 800 distinct Native American nations currently within the borders of the United States. This course offers a broad introduction to the diversity of American Indian religious systems and their larger functions in communities and in history. We will explore general themes in the study of Native American religious traditions as well as look at some specific examples of practices, ideas, and beliefs. Of particular importance are the history and effects of colonialism and missionization on Native peoples, their continuing struggles for religious freedom and cultural and linguistic survival, and the ways in which American Indians engage with religion and spirituality, both past and present, to respond to social, cultural, political, and geographical change.
Uses theories of race, ethnicity, and nation to ask questions about boundaries, categories, and distinctions about the American food system. Addresses the following questions: How are race, ethnicity, and national identity shaped by patterns of migration? How do processes like multiculturalism, panethnicity, and blending change the meanings and salience of these terms? How do symbols and systems of authenticity shape meaning-making around ethnoracial and national inequality? What does food have to do with race/ethnicity/nation? How are cultural products, like cuisine, markers of broader systems of inequality? How do these systems of inequality affect access to food, what we eat, the workplace, and racialized bodies? How does food serve as a marker of distinction in terms of race, ethnicity, nation, class, and gender?
This is an undergraduate seminar in social stratification. The course focuses on the current American experience with socioeconomic inequality and mobility. The goals of the course are to understand how inequality is conceptualized and measured in the social sciences, to understand the structure of inequality in the contemporary U.S. to learn the principal theories and evidence for long term trends in inequality, to understand the persistence of poverty and the impact of social policies on American rates of poverty, and to understand the forces that both produce and inhibit intergenerational social mobility in the U.S. Given the nature of the subject matter, a minority of the readings will sometimes involve quantitative social science material. The course does not presume that students have advanced training in statistics, and any readings sections that contain mathematical or statistical content will be explained in class in nontechnical terms as needed. In these instances, our focus will not be on the methods, but rather on the conclusions reached by the author concerning the research question that is addressed in the text.