Spring 2019

Randolph Jonakait             

AMST UN3931, SEC. 1

This course will examine the influence of race and poverty in the American system of confronting the challenge of crime.  Students will explore some history, including the various purposes of having an organized criminal justice system within a community; the principles behind the manner in which crimes are defined; and the utility of punishment.  Our focus will be on the social, political and economic effects of the administration of our criminal justice system, with emphatic examination of the role of conscious and unconscious racism, as well as community biases against the poor. Students will examine the larger implications for a community and culture that are presented by these pernicious features.  We will reflect on the fairness of our past and present American system of confronting crime, and consider the possibilities of future reform.  Readings will include historical texts, analytical reports, some biography, and a few legal materials.  We will also watch documentary films which illuminate the issues and problems. No preregistration, join waitlist and attend first class.

John McWhorter

Wednesday, 12:10-2:00

AMST UN3931, Section 2

The United States, often thought of as a nation where since its origins all foreign languages spoken by immigrants have withered away upon exposure to English, has actually always harbored a complex mixture of languages and dialects. This course will examine the history of language in America, including the robust role of German in colonial times and beyond (once as commonly heard in America as Spanish); creole languages such as Gullah, Louisiana Creole French and Hawaiian “Pidgin” English; Black English, including its history and present; Native American languages and modern efforts to preserve them; and the history of Asian languages in modern America, including Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Hmong. The course also serves, in ancillary fashion, as an introduction to the variety among languages of the world and to a scientific perspective on human language. No preregistration, join waitlist and attend first class.

Michael Hindus

Thursday, 2:10-4:00

AMST UN3931, Section 3

The rule of law is the underpinning of our economy (through the enforcement of contracts and the protection of property) and defines and protects our rights.  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 slaves 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 will include how Native Americans had their land taken away (with a guest lecturer who is an expert on Native American law) and the history of crime and punishment, leading to mass incarceration.  Readings will include secondary works as well as primary sources and legal cases. No preregistration, join waitlist and attend first class.




Tamara Tweel

Thursday 12:10-2:00

AMST UN3931, Section 4

In this seminar, we will examine the history and ethics of American philanthropy. We will explore the early divide between charity and philanthropy and discuss the moral challenges of both keeping money and giving it away. We will look at the great accomplishments of American philanthropy as well as the longstanding critique that charity fails to address structural inequality. This course is designed to help students analyze and evaluate how philanthropic organizations have addressed major public problems. Students will complete a final project that offers an in-depth analysis of a particular social problem, past solutions, and opportunities for productive intervention. No preregistration, join waitlist and attend first class.

Andrew Delbanco and Roger Lehecka

Monday 2:10-4:00

AMST UN3931, Section 5

In this seminar we examine the roles colleges and universities play in American society; the differential access high school students have to college based on family background and income, ethnicity, and other characteristics; the causes and consequences of this differential access; and some attempts to make access more equitable. Readings and class meetings cover the following subjects historically and in the 21st century: the variety of American institutions of higher education; admission and financial aid policies at selective and less selective, private and public, colleges; affirmative action and race-conscious admissions; what “merit” means in college admissions; and the role of the high school in helping students attend college. Students in the seminar are required to spend at least four hours each week as volunteers at the Double Discovery Center (DDC) in addition to completing assigned reading, participating in seminar discussions, and completing written assignments. DDC is an on-campus program that helps New York City high school students who lack many of the resources needed to succeed in college and to be successful in gaining admission and finding financial aid. The seminar integrates students’ first-hand experiences with readings and class discussions. Email Professor Lehecka (rl9) to arrange interview. Priority to those applying by Nov. 1. 

James Shapiro

Monday 10:10-12:00

AMST UN3931, Section 6

The 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. Email Professor Shapiro (js73) with your major, class, and statement of interest by Nov. 9.

Lynne Breslin

Tuesday 12:10-2:00

AMST UN3931, Section 7

Using an interdisciplinary approach, this seminar will explore the formation of identity in two great American cities: New York and San Francisco in the 20th and early 21st century. We will focus on the power of the city to appropriate space to produce distinct social, political, economic and cultural landscapes.  We will ask: How do we understand a city? How is the city experienced? How is the city imagined and how is that image realized in architecture, fiction, film, music and art? In considering the formation of these urban/geographical entities, infrastructures and underlying ideologies, we will examine the mechanisms of the developing collective consciousness and individual reconciliations. New York and San Francisco will be situated in the seeming contradiction of global pressures and local formations.  We will identify those official and informal spaces, the spaces of consumption, production, celebration and memory. We will also analyze both the violation and resistance to accepted spatial practices: examining crime, homelessness, and alternative life styles. This seminar will be structured to include both lectures and working sessions. Students will be given mini assignments for class. Readings will include: urban histories and literature.  Architecture, art, music and film will be assessed. A final paper will be required. No preregistration, join waitlist and attend first class.


Jeremy Dauber, Paul Levitz

Monday and Wednesday 2:40-3:55


The course seeks to combine literary and historical approaches to investigate one of the most rapidly growing and increasingly influential genres of American popular (and, increasingly, critically recognized) literature: the graphic novel. A historical overview of the genre’s development, along 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 works that illuminate artistic approaches taken within the genre to the classic themes of the American experience: politics, ethnicity, sexuality, and America’s place in the broader world, among other themes. Authors read include Eisner, Crumb, Spiegelman, Bechdel, Sacco, Thompson, and Hernandez.


Casey N. Blake and Maura Spiegel

Monday & Wednesday 4:10-5:25


This course is an interdisciplinary exploration of the values and cultural expressions of the people of the United States since the late 19th century.  Students will examine a variety of works in literature, history, cultural and social criticism, music, the visual arts and the built environment with an eye to understanding how Americans of different backgrounds, living at different times and in different locations, have understood and argued about the meaning and significance of American national identity. Lectures and readings will give particular attention to the sites—real and imagined—where Americans have identified the promise and perils of American life, including the West, the Open Road, the City, the Home and Citizenship.  Two lectures each week and a required weekly discussion section. Required of all American Studies majors and concentrators, beginning with the Class of 2020.



Jeremy Dauber

Monday 12:10-2:00

AMST UN3931, Section 8

This seminar will trace the history of the reception and representation of the Holocaust in American life from the immediate postwar era to the present day. Through an analysis of sources including reportage, journalism, graphic literature, novels, films, and new media, we will seek to understand the ways in which one of the most searing and important events of the 20th century has been remembered and forgotten, used and misused, and the role it has played in historical and contemporary political and social questions. 

Roosevelt Montás

Wednesday 10:10-12:00

AMST UN3931, Section 9

This seminar will examine foundational texts in American literary and cultural history and serve as an introduction to American thought and expression from the 17th century to the immediate post-Civil War period. Through close readings of primary texts, the course will aim to deepen our understanding of the emergence and development of a distinctly American voice. Among the prominent themes of the course will be the influence and role of religion in American history, the place of race and slavery in the development of a national identity, immigration in the American experience, the relationship between politics and literature, and the distinctiveness, or lack thereof, of an American identity. No preregistration, join waitlist and attend first class.

Senior Research Projects

Casey Blake

A seminar devoted to the research and writing, under the instructor’s supervision, of a substantial paper on a topic in American studies. Class discussions of issues in research, interpretation, and writing.