Course Offerings


American Studies

Course Offerings for Fall 2014

Seminars for First and Second Year Students (Writing Intensive)

 AMST 0190I-S01 Re-Thinking Political Aesthetics: Beauty, Modernity, and Justice in the Americas

The United States and the Americas have always been spaces of intertwined artistic, political, and religious expression. Yet, in the growing field of political aesthetics, works of European modernism are prized while examples from the Americas are rarely mentioned. This course examines the philosophical texts used to frame the field of political aesthetics, as well as food in the colonial diet of New Spain, painting during the Civil War, photography and the New Negro movement, jazz and the Beat generation, and other case studies of American expression that engage, complicate and re-construct the relationship between art and politics. Enrollment limited to 17 first year students and sophomores. WRIT (Horace Ballard)

AMST 0190J-S01 Four-Color Creatures: Race, Gender, and Monstrosity in American Comic Books and Popular Culture

This course explores the relationship between race, gender, and monstrosity in American popular culture, particularly in comic books and graphic novels. Utilizing the concept of the monster as a metaphor, we examine the intersection of these discourses to interrogate how monstrosity informs our collective understanding of the other and affects the representation of race and gender in contemporary print ephemera and visual culture. To compliment our understanding of these materials, we engage with scholarship in the emerging fields of Monster Studies and Comic Studies to highlight the way that these artifacts embody larger trends within American society. WRIT (Brent Fujioka)

AMST 0191I-S01 Identities on the Move: South Asian Americans In Popular Culture

This course looks at the migration and cultural productions of the South Asian diasporic communities in the U.S. and England. We'll explore how South Asian immigrants navigate questions of citizenship and identity, while maintaining (or disrupting) connections to the South Asian subcontinent. Through an examination of the ways in which gender, nationalism, class, and sexuality are discussed and performed in literature, film and television, we can trouble the idea of a singular way of being South Asian, causing us to question how we read "home" and "abroad." Enrollment limited to 17 first year students and sophomores. WRIT (Pia Sahni)

AMST 0191T-S01 American Identities: Memoir and Autobiography in the Twentieth Century

How do we think about our own place in history? This writing-intensive seminar examines how individual Americans have explored the relationship between their identity and historical events, and introduces the legitimacy of using individual experiences to understand history. Themes include the gendering of domestic and public space, the formation of identity within families, class alignments, societal expectations of gender/sexuality, how American exceptionalism manifests itself at the individual level, and narrative (un)reliability. Our discussions center on autobiographies, memoirs, and films from authors such as Audre Lorde, Harry Crews, Malcolm X, Alison Bechdel, Tobias Wolff, and Nick Flynn.  Enrollment limited to 17 first year students and sophomores. WRIT (Christopher Elias)


Lectures for all levels of students

AMST 1250F-S01 Topics in Material Culture: Houses and Their Furnishings in Early America

Old houses and the objects used to furnish them are interpreted as material evidence of domestic life in colonial and early national America. Through slide lectures and field trips, this class examines Providence's historic buildings, museum collections, and public archives as primary documents in the study of cultural history. WRIT (Robert P. Emlen)

AMST 1510-S01 Museum Collecting and Collections

This course will explore and examine the methods, practices, and theory of collections management in a museum setting including collections development, museum registration methods, cataloging, collections care, and interpretation. Through readings, discussion, workshops, site visits, and exhibitions, students will explore what it means to be physically and intellectually responsible for museum objects. This course places heavy emphasis on experiential learning and will include several project-based assignments. (Ronald Potvin)

AMST 1600A-S01 Global Macho: Race, Gender, and Action Movies

Carefully sifting through an oft-overlooked but globally popular genre - the muscle-bound action - this class asks: what sort of work does an action movie do? What is the role of women in this genre? How should we scrutinize these supposedly empty trifles of the global popular? How should we think critically about movies that feature - often without apology - a deep, dangerous obsession with masculinity, patriarchy, war, and lawlessness, with violence outside of civil society. In short, from Hollywood to Hong Kong to Rio to Paris to Mexico City, what makes the action movie genre tick? DPLL, WRIT (Matthew Guterl)

AMST 1611A-S01 Making America: Twentieth-Century U.S. Immigrant/Ethnic Literature

Examines the literature of first and second generation immigrant/ethnic writers from 1900 to the 1970's. Attempts to place the individual works (primarily novels) in their literary and sociocultural contexts, examining them as conscious works of literature written within and against American and imported literary traditions and as creative contributions to an ongoing national discourse on immigration and ethnicity. DPLL (Richard  Meckel)

AMST 1613B-S01 Environmental History (HIST 1790)

Environmental history examines the changing relationship between human beings and their physical surroundings. We will actively question the boundary between nature and culture, showing how social and natural history mutually inform one another. We will do so by asking three interrelated questions. First, how has the material context in which history unfolded impacted the development of our culture, society, and economy? Second, how and why did people’s ideas and representations of the natural world change over time? Finally, in what ways and to what ends have human beings actively though not always intentionally altered their physical surroundings? (Lukas B. Rieppel)


Seminar Offerings for Fall 2014

Primarily for Juniors and Seniors


AMST 1700J-S01 The Teen Age: Youth, Society and Culture in Early Cold War America

An interdisciplinary and multimedia exploration of the experiences, culture, and representation of youth in the United States from the end of World War II through the beginning of the Vietnam War. Enrollment limited to 20 junior and senior American Studies concentrators. Others by permission of the instructor. WRIT (Richard Meckel)

AMST 1905J American Poetry I: Puritans through the Nineteenth Century (ENGL 1511O)

Survey of the invention and development of American poetic traditions. Readings include Bradstreet, Taylor, Wheatley, Freneau, Bryant, Emerson, Poe, Whitman, Melville, Dickinson, and Frost. (Mutlu Konuk Blasing)

AMST 1901D-S01 Motherhood in Black and White

Focuses on American motherhood with respect to race: under slavery; at the turn of the 20th century; and in contemporary society. Texts include fiction, film, history, feminist and psychoanalytic theory, e.g. "Uncle Tom's Cabin,'' "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl," "Imitation of Life," and "The Reproduction of Mothering." Enrollment limited to 20. DPLL WRIT  (Beverly Haviland)

AMST 1905K-S01 Asian Americans and the Struggle for Social Justice

In 1868, in the largest strike that America had ever seen, ten thousand Chinese workers struck Central Pacific Railroad. One hundred years later, Asian Americans, now stereotyped as the “model minority,” are rendered invisible in current struggles for social justice. Yet as railroad workers, laundrymen, farmworkers, draft resistors, sewing women and nurses, Asian Americans have left us a rich legacy of legal, social and political activism. This course will examine the roles that Asian Americans have played in struggles over immigration and citizenship, civil liberties, and labor. DPLL (Robert Lee)

Graduate Courses

AMST2010-S01 Introduction to Interdisciplinary Methods

Introduction to interdisciplinary studies required of all first-year graduate students in American Studies. Graduate students from other departments may enroll with permission of the instructor. (Samuel Zipp)

AMST2020E-S01 Introduction to Interdisciplinary American Studies

This graduate-level course offers an introduction to the discipline of American Studies through a close reading of four important texts representing different methodologies and theories within the discipline. We will also read a series of seminal articles focused on transnationalism, highlighting the significance of border-crossings to the American experience throughout the semester. The goal of the course is to familiarize students with pedagogical approaches within American Studies, through active seminar discussions, fieldtrips within the community, and work with material and visual media as well as secondary texts. (Caroline Frank)

AMST2220G-S01 Old Media New Artists: Innovation and Contingency in African American Culture

What are the defining characteristics of newness in twentieth-century African American culture? How have black creative artists repurposed their respective disciplines in accordance with and against the shifting proclivities of African American social politics? Through an interdisciplinary focus that considers music, literature, visual arts, and interactive media, this seminar proposes several alternative epistemological frameworks for recognizing the emerging artistry of our time. Enrollment is limited to 20 graduate students. (Radiclani Clytus)

AMST2520-S01  American Studies: Professional Issues in American Studies

Examines the methodological and theoretical underpinnings of current and past American studies scholarship. Enrollment limited to graduate students with preference given to American Studies graduate students. S/NC (Susan Smulyan)

AMST2650-S01  Introduction to Public Humanities

This class, a foundational course for the MA in Public Humanities with preference given to American Studies graduate students, will address the theoretical bases of the public humanities, including topics of history and memory, museums and memorials, the roles of expertise and experience, community cultural development, and material culture. Enrollment limited to 20 graduate students.( Steven D. Lubar)

AMST 2653-S01 Public Art: History, Theory, and Practice

The course offers an opportunity for RISD and Brown students to work together to understand the growing interdisciplinary field of public art. We will explore the potential of working in the public realm as artists and/or arts administrators. Topics include: pivotal events and artworks that formed the history of public art from the early 20th century to the present; approaches to site-specificity; ideas of community and audience; current debates around defining the public and public space; temporary vs. permanent work; controversies in public art; memorials, monuments, and anti-monuments; case studies; public art administration models, among others. It is both a seminar and a studio; students work individually and together on research, presentations, proposals and public projects. Contact the instructor Janet Zweig ( Enrollment limited to 12 seniors and graduate students. Instructor permission required. (Janet Zweig)

AMST 2656-S01 Cultural Policy Planning

Cultural policy is the aggregate of governmental activities in the arts, humanities, and heritage. This seminar explores its history and public/private context and offers practical insights about how to influence cultural policy design, especially methods to achieve public consensus through planning. Students discuss contemporary issues, examine policy planning principles, and learn practical methods through case study to develop policy recommendations. Enrollment limited to 20 seniors and graduate students. (Craig A. Dreeszen)

AMST2670 & 2680-S01  Practicum in Public Humanities

Practicums in public humanities provide practical, hands-on training that is essential for careers in museums, historic preservation, and cultural agencies. Students will work with faculty to find appropriate placements and negotiate a semester's or summer work, in general a specific project. Available only to students in the Public Humanities M.A. program. (Susan Smulyan)

AMST2697-S01 Museum Interpretation Practices

This course examines current interpretive practices and offers students the opportunity to participate in creating gallery interpretation for the museum context. Questions of material and form; models of attention and perception, the relationship between language and vision; the role of description in interpretation; and what constitutes learning through visual experience will be considered. Throughout the semester students will develop their interpretive practice through a series of workshops, exercises, site visits, and critical discussions. Enrollment limited to 15. (Sarah Ganz Blythe)

AMST2699-S01 Digital Storytelling

Digital storytelling takes the traditional craft and attributes of telling stories and merges it with diverse digital media. The digital media becomes integral to how and why stories are told. The course will explore digital storytelling in its many forms, including narrated film shorts, movement capture, locative media, digital timelines, DJing, electronic novels, audio documentaries, narrative computer games, podcasting, and blogging among others. The purpose of the course is to introduce students to a broad set of digital tools that will expand their capability to engage diverse publics in the construction and dissemination of knowledge in the arts and humanities. Enrollment limited to 15. (TBA)


Course Offerings for Spring 2015

Seminars for First and Second Year Students (Writing Intensive)


AMST0191U-S01 Imagining the American Mind

How are theories about our minds and brains represented in American culture? We use literature and film, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, history and sociology to investigate how we imagine our minds, and the consequences of those representations for our ideas about race and gender, for our social lives and responsibilities, for our means to communicate to one another and, even, to know ourselves. Writing in different formats, students bridge the gap between the humanities and the human sciences. Concentrators in biology and neuroscience consider the cultural history of their research while humanities/social science students explore how culture ties to science. WRIT (Sarah Brown)

AMST0191V-S01 American Capitalism and Its Critics

In the wake of the Great Recession, many Americans have become disenchanted with capitalism, wondering whether the market economy harms more than it helps. This course introduces students to writers, artists, and activists from the past who shared that feeling and in plays, essays, films, and photographs protested the rise of capitalism in the United States. We will explore issues of power, poverty, profit, and equality through in-class discussions and four writing assignments. Students interested in history, art, literature, and economics will learn more about class, capitalism, and the history of American politics. WRIT (Daniel Platt)


Lectures for all levels of students

AMST1611Z-S01 The Century of Immigration

Examines in depth the period of immigration that stretched from the 1820s through the 1920s and witnessed the migration of over 36 million Europeans, Asians, Canadians, and Latin Americans to the United States. Explores causal theories of migration and settlement, examines the role of family, religion, work, politics, cultural production, and entertainment in immigrant/ethnic communities, and traces the development and impact of federal immigration policy. (Richard Meckel)

AMST1612D-S01 Cities of Sound: Place and History in American Pop Music

This course investigates the relationship between popular music and cities. We will look at a number of case studies from the history of music in the twentieth century. We will try to tease out the ways that certain places produce or influence certain sounds and the ways that musicians reflect on the places they come from in their music. Accordingly, we will consider both the social and cultural history of particular cities and regions--New Orleans, Memphis, Chicago, New York, Washington DC, and others--and aesthetic and cultural analyses of various forms of music--including blues, jazz, punk, hip-hop, and others. (Samuel Zipp)

AMST1612Q-S01 Women/ Writing/ Power

An introduction to American women's writing and to the development of feminist literary practice and theory. This course will cover a broad historical range from the colonial poets Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley to contemporary writers Toni Morrison, a Nobel Laureate, and Marilynne Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize winner. Attention to the effects of racial, class, and cultural differences will inform this course that will focus on gender and literature. LILE (Beverly Haviland)

AMST1612T-S01 Slackers and Hipsters: Urban Fictions, 1850-Present

Slackers and Hipsters surveys the cult of the cool and disaffected in literature and film over two centuries. Beginning with Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivner," but also sampling works as varied as Chatterjee's English August and Kunkel's Indecision, we'll examine both the aesthetic and political implications of the "slacker" in his/her ironic, apathetic, and peculiarly alienated view of the world. (Radiclani Clytus)


Seminar Offerings for Spring 2015

Primarily for Juniors and Seniors


AMST1905E-S01 American Poetry II: Modernism (ENGL 1711A)

Study of modernist American poetry. Readings include Pound, Eliot, Stevens, Williams, H.D., Moore, Hughes, and others. (Mutlu Blasing)

AMST1900E-S01 Essaying Culture

This course is interested in the essay as form, particularly its encounters with culture. As a verb, essay means "to make an often tentative or experimental effort to perform." We will explore through reading and our own writing the poetic, gnomic, and often desultory moves the essay makes as it seeks to understand its cultural objects. Like the novel, the essay is an omnivorous form. It consists of fragments, poetry, personal reflection, lists, rational argument, and much more as it winds its way to understanding. We will be reading a range of essays, as well as theories of the form. (Ralph Rodriguez)

AMST1903I-S01 Museum Histories

Museums collect and display art and artifacts not only to preserve culture heritage, but also to educate, engage, and entertain. This course examines the history of museums– of art, history, anthropology, natural history, science and technology– to understand their changing goals and their changing place in American society. It also considers the changes within museums, in the work of curation, conservation, education, and social engagement. Students will read museum history and theory, engage with museum archives and other primary sources, and produce a research paper or a digital or public project. (Steven Lubar)

AMST1904N-S01 The Korean War in Color (ENGL 1761V)

We examine US and South Korean representations of the Korean War. We look at how this event was depicted in US films of the 1950s with a focus on how it occasioned a transformation of American understandings of race, both domestically and transnationally. We then look at how this event has been memorialized by contemporary American authors as well as in South Korean literature and film. Authors we read include: Susan Choi, Ha Jin, Chang-rae Lee, Toni Morrison, Jayne Anne Phillips and Hwang Sok-Yong. Enrollment limited to 20. Not open to first-year students. DPLL LILE WRIT (Daniel Kim)

AMST1904V-SO1  Decolonizing Minds: A People’s History of the World

This seminar will explore the knowledge-production and military-financial infrastructures that maintain empires, as well as the means through which people have either resisted or embraced empire. While some attention will be made to the 19th and early 20th century colonial context, the bulk of the course will focus on the Cold War liberal era to the neoliberal regime that continues today. Possible topics include: popular culture and ideology, the Cold War university, area studies, international anti-war networks, transnational labor activism, the anti-colonial radical tradition, and the Arab Spring/Occupy Movements. Weekly readings; evaluation based on participation and analytical essays. Enrollment limited to 20. DVPS (Naoko Shibusawa)

AMST1905I-S01 Touring the Empire: Travel Literature and the Idea of America (ENGL 1561R)

Touring the Empire examines travel literature about America from the Revolutionary era up to the post-bellum period. Our primary concern will be to understand how the writings of tourists and travelers both contributed to and subverted the nineteenth century's myth of American exceptionalism. To this end, we will consider a variety of journals and travelogues, along with the autobiographies of former slaves, visual arts from the New York School, and journalism pertaining to the American south. Students should expect to gain an understanding of the rhetoric surrounding those uniquely American locales and institutions and the particular social formations that they enable. (Radiclani Clytus)

AMST1905L-S01 Transpacific Popular Culture

General Tso’s Chicken is as American as apple pie; half the 8-year olds in the country seem to be taking Taekwondo; and K-Pop is huge in Mexico City. Asian/Pacific cultural productions have become ubiquitous in everyday North America. In this seminar we will use food, martial arts and new media, three spaces of cultural production where Asian Americans have a ubiquitous presence, as lenses through which to examine questions of immigration and labor, cultural authenticity and appropriation, identity formation and place making in a globalized cultural economy. DPLL (Robert Lee)