Exploring the many facets of the American experience challenges our students to take an interdisciplinary approach in examining United States culture, politics, religion, literature and society.

American Studies Course Offerings

AMER / HIST 114  History of the United States 1 (Core: DD)
This course will trace the political, social and cultural development of the U.S. from its pre-Columbian origins through the Civil War. From encounters between early colonists and Native Americans, to midwives tending to colonial women, to 19th-century laborers adjusting to industrial changes, and finally to the slave trade. This course will pay particular attention to the role of race, class and gender in shaping society and politics.

AMER / HIST 115 History of the United States 2 (Core: DD)
This course will trace the political, social and cultural development of the U.S. from Reconstruction to the present. From Jim Crow segregation to labor organizing during the Great Depression to women’s rights movements to the debates over immigration, this course will pay particular attention to the role of race, class, and gender in shaping society and politics.

AMER / POLI 130 United States Politics and Government (Core: IS)
A survey of the U.S. political system at the national, state and local levels including examination of constitutions, social and political ideology, mass political behavior, parties and interest groups, Congress, the presidency, the courts, and the development of national public policy. Focuses on the problems of policy making in a pluralistic democratic system.

AMER / MUSI 184 History of American Popular Music (Core: WT)
The course will cover the history of popular music in the United States from the late 19th century to the present day. Genres that will be discussed include modern styles such as rock, R&B, hip-hop, folk, country, jazz, ragtime, blues and early musical theater. A chronological study of popular styles will expose students to important songwriters and performers and show how their music was influenced by elements like racial prejudice, political events and social structures. Modern technological influences (radio, recording media, television, computers) will also be explored.

AMER / THRS 221 Religion in America (Core: DD)
This course explores the history and character of American religion and the role of religion in American life. As a class we will address such broad questions as: Is there such a thing as American religion? What role has religion played in shaping American culture? How have religion and belief been shaped by the particularities of the American political and geographical context? Students will read and discuss both primary and secondary source material and will have ample opportunity to develop and pursue their own questions about the myriad religious dimensions of American life.

AMER / ENGL 235 Survey of U.S. Literature 1 (Beginning to 1865)
This course introduces students to the major writers, literary movements and cultural and historical context in the U.S. from its origins to the end of the Civil War. Students examine American Indian creation stories, trickster tales, encounter narratives, Puritan prose and poetry, the literature of the Enlightenment and the Revolutionary War, slave narratives and the rise of Romanticism. Writers include Cabeza de Vaca, Bradford, Bradstreet, Rowlandson, Edwards, Wheatley, Rowson, Irving, Equiano, Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Poe, Melville, Whitman, Harding, Davis and Dickinson. Fall semester.

AMER / ENGL 236 Survey of U.S. Literature 2 (1865 to the present)
This course introduces students to the major authors, periods and literary movements in the U.S. from the end of the Civil War to the present. Students read the works of poets, fiction writers and dramatists from the rise of Realism and Naturalism through the Modernist movement in the U.S. to the Postmodern era after World War II. Writers include Dickinson, Clemens, Crane, Jewett, Chopin, Black Elk, Frost, Stevens, Faulkner, O’Neill, O’Connor, Updike, Erdrich, Ginsberg and Plath. Spring semester.

AMER 261 Introduction to American Studies (Core: DD)
As an introduction to the field of American studies, this course assumes an interdisciplinary perspective on the question of what “American” means in the world of ideas using a variety of genres: history, fiction, poetry, film, sociology, journalism, speeches and essays. This course analyzes several myths that pervade American culture, always bearing in mind that while myths tend to exaggerate, they also hold grains of truth. The course examines how the notion of the American Dream, for example, has both fostered and hindered progress for individuals within this nation. Potential authors include Barbara Ehrenreich, Ernest Gaines, F. Scott Fitzgerald, W.E.B. DuBois and Sandra Cisneros. Fall semester.

AMER 289 Special Topics
This is a seminar course offered whenever a mutual interest in a more specialized topic in American studies exists for a member of the faculty and a sufficient number of students. Prerequisite: instructor’s consent.

AMER / PHIL 305 American Philosophy - (Adv. Core: WT)
A study of the major movements and figures in American philosophy and intellectual history. The course will examine the diverse philosophical themes in the American tradition including idealism, 18th-century political theory, transcendentalism and pragmatism. Figures studied include Edwards, Adams, Jefferson, Emerson, Thoreau, James and Dewey. Spring semester.

AMER / ENGL / WMGS 311 Women and Literature
Through exploring literary texts by women, this course analyzes how the construction of “woman,” sex and gender has changed over time and investigates how it intersects with issues of race, class, sexuality and nation. By using feminist literary theory, the course engages the most pressing issues in the field from ideas of women’s literary voice to claims that challenge female authorship altogether. Special topics may include contemporary women writers, gender and 19th century novel, and ethnic women writers. Authors may include Virginia Woolf, Adrienne Rich, Gloria Anzaldua, Margaret Atwood, Bharati Mukherjee, Leslie Feinberg, Edwidge Danticat and Marjane Satrapi. Alternate years.

AMER / POLI 317 American Political Thought
This course examines the development of political thought in the U.S. from the American Revolution to the present day. Particular attention will be paid to issues of political inclusion and exclusion on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, national origin and class. Changing attitudes in the relationship between individual liberty and majority rule will also be a dominant theme of the course as well as the proper role of government in addressing social problems.

AMER / MUSI 318 Evolution of Jazz - Adv. (Core: DD)
The study of jazz from its origins in New Orleans to the present day. The course focuses on important performers and songwriters, types of literature, an appreciation of jazz improvisation as well as how the interaction of race, politics, economics and other elements of society influence music and musicians. Audio and video presentations will be used extensively.

AMER / HIST 322 American Immigration and Ethnic History
This course traces the history of immigration to the United States from the 19th century to the present. In the 19th century waves of immigrants arrived in the U.S., building communities and sparking outrage among “native” Americans. Today, many descendants of these immigrants call for tighter border control. This course will examine immigrant characteristics and motivations as well as legislation that has defined what it means to be “American” and changed patterns of migration. Throughout, we will ask: What does it mean to be an immigrant in this nation? What does it mean to be a “nation of immigrants?” Alternate years.

AMER / ENGL 323 The Harlem Renaissance
This course examines the flowering of culture in the areas of literature, music, dance and art which took place predominantly during the 1920s for black Americans located in Harlem, New York, a movement that has become known as the Harlem Renaissance. The course places this cultural renaissance, or rebirth, within the historical context out of which it grew: the modernizing America in a post-WWI era, the rise of jazz and the blues and the Great Migration among other factors. Some of the writers, intellectuals, visual and performing artists studied may include Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, Nella Larsen, Claude McKay, Alain Locke, Helene Johnson, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey and Duke Ellington.

AMER / HIST 324 Poverty, Charity, and Welfare in American History
This course will examine the poor in modern America from orphans in Chicago’s Home for the Friendless to sharecroppers in the Great Depression to Reagan’s notorious welfare queen of the 1980s. Students will analyze primary and secondary sources to understand why they were poor and how they coped with the insecurity and instability of poverty and to investigate America’s various anti-poverty crusades. Finally, considering the majority of non-white men and women living below the poverty line, we will pay particular attention to race and gender, and ask how Americans have responded to, and at times perpetuated, this disparity. Alternate years.

AMER / HIST / WMGS 327 Women and Gender in United States History
This course will explore women and gender in American history from colonial America to the present. We will examine how gender norms changed throughout history and how individuals interacted with those norms. Students will analyze how women and notions about gender shaped American politics through cultural trends like fashion; through family and daily life; and through social movements like suffrage, temperance and welfare rights. Students will ask: When did gender constrict the choices that individuals face? When did individuals expand and even disassemble gender norms?

AMER / ENGL 329 Literature of Service
This course addresses concepts of American culture through the dual lenses of literary texts and community-based learning. The course explores individuals and communities in crisis or transition as a result of poor health, poverty, immigration, homelessness and gendered, sexual, racial or ethnic discrimination. Throughout the semester paired students regularly volunteer at local community service agencies and expand their knowledge of these concepts by writing reflection journals as well as various forms of researched persuasive critical writing (literary analysis, opinion editorials, grant proposals and newsletters). Authors may include Dorothy Day, Robert Coles, Jane Addams, William Carlos Williams, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Fae Myenne Ng or Li-Young Lee.

AMER / POLI 335 Congress and Legislatures
An examination of the power, structure and functions of legislative bodies at the national and state levels in the U.S. Focuses on the various factors that influence the performance of these bodies. Fall semester, alternate years. Prerequisite: POLI 130.

AMER 389 Special Topics
This is a seminar course offered whenever a mutual interest in a more specialized topic in American Studies exists for a member of the faculty and a sufficient number of students.

AMER 489 Special Topics
This is a seminar course offered whenever a mutual interest in a more specialized topic in American studies exists for a member of the faculty and a sufficient number of students.

AMER 490 Independent Study
Individual study of an approved topic in American studies under the direction of an American studies faculty member. Permits faculty and students to explore together some subject of special or personal interest. Past topics have included Narratives of the U.S. West and AIDS Literature, Art and Culture. Reading, tutorial discussion and written work are required. Prerequisites: instructor’s consent and approval of the associate dean of humanities.  

AMER 499 American Studies Research Project (0 credits)
American studies minors are required to complete an interdisciplinary research project as part of their final American studies elective course outside their major at the 300 level or above (see list of elective courses). Students enroll in AMER 499 concurrently with their final elective course.