View our current and past courses below.

Students taking courses offered through other units that are appropriate to ASCP 81500/Key Questions in American Studies or ASCP 82000/Research Practices in American Studies, may have them counted toward completion of the certificate program by sending the course details (name, title, instructor(s), and course description) to 

Fall 2023

This class will examine American Studies through the lens of institutions. We will begin by exploring what we mean when we say “institution.” We will think together about why this may be a productive frame for assessing and interrogating the world around us. What does it offer? And what might it elide? How do studies of institutions help expose the myriad ways that power functions in culture, society, and politics? How do institutions, themselves, shape these power relations? And how do different approaches to understanding institutions give us different sorts of answers? American Studies scholars have been asking these questions for decades. We will turn to their texts as sites for exploring them. We will put questions about inequality and how it operates at the core of our inquiry. Thus, we will ask how institutions help amplify and/or mitigate the often-crushing hierarchies that have been (and continue to be) based on racial, gender, sexual, national, and other forms of difference. 
The class will be organized thematically. Each week, we will take a specific institution or idea about institutions as our starting point. We will examine how scholars from different American Studies subfields have developed approaches for exploring such an institution. The work we examine uses both creative and conventional scholarly tools to explore questions about life, infrastructure, health, race, ethnicity, indigeneity, gender, sexuality, transnationality, borders, architecture, foreign relations, language, politics, economics, literature, art, music, work, social movements, and more. Finally, we will discuss how these institutions may help offer us strategies for imagining new, and possibly better futures. Students will be asked to write one book review, one genealogy of an institution, and a final paper. 

In the twenty-first century, the public’s engagement with policies and elections has primarily happened through televisual/video representations. For better or for worse, media styles and consumer brands have become stronger sources of political identification than formal party activities as media corporations like Fox News and MSNBC have come to usurp many of the traditional roles that political parties once performed. In this hyper-“mediatized” political culture, the success of a politician or movement often hinges on their ability to produce compelling television and viral moments. And yet too often aesthetic appeals have been treated as a superficial part of political identity. Therefore, this aspect of political communication has received marginal attention from mainstream political scientists. But to ignore aesthetic style is to overlook a critical dimension of our political experience. 

This course combines political theory with cultural theory to explore the relationship between news aesthetics and ideology. In this course, students will examine the indirect ways in which partisan media outlets speak to their audiences and will zero in on the specific presentational techniques these outlets deploy to make political issues socially meaningful and emotionally compelling. Additionally, students will be asked to historically contextualize the hyper-partisan, click-bait-oriented media environment of today within broader histories of tabloid media and partisan journalism. Connecting the past to the present, the course also explores how increasing polarization in the political arena intersects with and is accelerated by the commercially driven algorithms of social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter and asks students to debate whether and to what extent these interlocking forces undermine journalistic standards and democracy itself. 

The course’s organizational structure — moving from Fox News to CNN and MSNBC, and finally to the “alt-right” and “alt-left” sectors of YouTube — is designed to accomplish the following learning objectives: (1) to understand the importance of aesthetics to journalism and political communication; (2) to reveal the stylistic linkages between older “legacy” media and newer “social media”; and (3) to explain how these stylistic affinities are incentivized by a similar commercial-economic logic. Finally, the course asks if there is any connection between particular presentation/performance strategies and particular ideologies and whether such connections are actively forged by political actors and media creators. This course will engage classic texts that have engaged the intersection pop culture, politics, and populism such as Stuart Hall’s Hard Road to Renewal (1988). It will draw from more contemporary work on populist media such as Benjamin Moffit’s The Rise of Global Populism: Performance, Political Style and Representation (2016) and will use articles from the burgeoning literature on alternative online political media as well. The course will be graded by weekly response papers and a final essay. 

Globalization. Outsourcing. Technological displacement. Immigrant labor. These issues are not new to the 21st century but rather have a long and complex history in the United States. How have workers in America responded to such changes and challenges? This discussion-based course will address this large question by exploring the history of labor and working-class life since 1877.  We will examine the different ways that laborers organized themselves and struggled for control over their work and their lives, not only on the shop floor, but also in community organizations, through ethnic associations, and by their particular partisan affiliations. We will consider the nature and evolution of labor and of the working-class cultures from the late nineteenth-century to the early twenty-first century. Attention will be paid to the complex ways that work, gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and political beliefs shaped the lives of laborers, informed the meaning of class, and supported or restricted labor organizing and workers’ ability to claim their own power. 

Alexis de Tocqueville frequently used the term “particulier” to describe American democracy in the 1830s.  Translated into English, that word can mean special, unique, or peculiar.  This course describes the ways in which American democracy became a “peculiar institution.”  Like the other peculiar institution – slavery – democratic beliefs and practices in the United States adapted to the political and social context of the early republic and the antebellum era.  The first half of this course will consider the culture and practice of American democracy and oligarchy from the American Revolution to the Civil War.  The second half of this course will examine nineteenth-century democracy from a transnational perspective, looking at democratic practices in Latin America and Europe, and finally, at U.S. democracy again in the very recent past, focusing on the long trajectory of American democracy, in its fits and starts and its present peril. 

Spring 2023

What is American studies and what does it do? Perhaps as importantly, how might American studies inform your interests and projects? To answer the first question, our course will consider the histories, theories, and practices of American studies as an academic discipline. We will especially contemplate concepts thinking through racial capitalism, enslavement, and empire. We’ll consider a range of texts that represent major fields and topics within American Studies, including Asian American studies, Black marxism, gender and queer theory, Africana studies, native/indigenous studies, and abolition geography (among others). To press our scholarly inquiries into dramatic directions, we’ll contemplate Black cultural expressions by Octavia Butler, Billie Holiday, Paul Robeson, and James Baldwin. We will apply our learning in part by asking how our readings and conversations challenge received political wisdoms in the present. We’ll further mine the contradictions of past crises both for how they anticipate our current moment, and for how their anomalous elements could provoke speculative knowledge that unform assumptions about the U.S. nation(s), its culture(s), and its values. 

Our class projects will be flexible enough to coincide with different student interests, tracks, and projects. Students will read from the “Keywords” project in American Cultural Studies by New York University Press, and write one of their own. They will read some event reviews from American Quarterly, and compose one. They will also digest conference papers and write an abstract based on their interests and projects. Students will leave the class with writing and notes that catalyze their studies and tracks with the questions and methods of American studies, and thus hopefully take a new set of ideas, questions, and concerns to propel their creativity and time in Liberal Studies at the Graduate Center. 

This course leans hard on the “formations” of its title: it examines key cultural and social formations in the greater United States in tandem with notable constellations of cultural studies/American Studies scholarship, so serving as an advanced inquiry into both.  As a modern practice, U.S. cultural study was the offspring of Progressive and then Popular Front political commitments, including such critics as Van Wyck Brooks, Constance Rourke, Ralph Ellison, and F.O. Matthiessen, whom we will look at alongside some of their chosen subjects, very often literary and cultural engagements with Jacksonian capitalist take-off (viz. the “flowering of New England,” “American humor,” “American Renaissance”).  Cold War or myth-and-symbol American Studies offered both a counter to the hegemony of the New Criticism and an array of exceptionalist national fantasies generated out of 19th-century romance.  New Left versions of U.S. cultural studies saw in American atrocities in Southeast Asia a legacy of regeneration through violence that extended back to Puritan New England while opening up archives of study that extended to popular, subaltern, and abjected domains.  We will explore reigning paradigms in U.S. cultural studies by looking at the critics themselves (among many other writers, possibilities include Clyde Woods, Greil Marcus, Lauren Berlant, Amy Kaplan, David Harvey, José Muñoz, and Kandice Chuh); their intellectual genealogies or backstories (Karl Marx and W.E.B. Du Bois, Louis Althusser and Stuart Hall, Ernst Bloch and Sylvia Wynter); and the cultural tendencies and scenes they favored in producing their work (from Hawthorne to punk to sex work to carceral capitalism).  Periodization as a mode of speculation will focus our conversations around such key nodal points as 1848, 1898, 1914, 1945, 1989, 2001, and beyond.  No longer bound to reflexive allegiances to the nation-state, that 18th-century technology of compulsory homogeneity, U.S. cultural studies takes borders—of the nation, of community, of cultural production, of subjectivity (race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, et al.)—as both preeminently porous and continually policed.  To put it simply, we’ll examine cultural and artistic shapes and forms of many kinds (literature, performance, cinema, television, music, and more) in the context of scholarship from several disciplines across several decades that together produce horizons of U.S. cultural study—forms and formations, bases and superstructures.  

Note: Students who need to take this course for 2 or 4 credits should enroll in the English section. 

This Mellon Seminar, led by Claire Bishop and Adrienne Edwards (Engell Speyer Curator and Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Whitney Museum), will focus on the life and work of African-American choreographer Alvin Ailey (1931–1989), who will be the topic of a major exhibition at the Whitney Museum in 2024. Themes might include: Ailey’s hybridization of concert dance, theater, and social dance (Horton, Dunham, Halprin, Fosse); modes of creation and distribution (Hollywood and Broadway); the imaginary of the American South and Caribbean; queer aesthetics; and how to make an exhibition constellating the life and creativity of a choreographer. This will be an opportunity to workshop ideas and new research—not just into his career, but also its legacy in the work of contemporary performers and choreographers. 

Since its earliest configurations, American literary history has framed the middle of the nineteenth century as the zenith of U.S. cultural production. To put it another way, the 1850s have routinely been marked as the pivotal acceleration point for a progressive vision of American development. While this logic was pervasive for much of the field’s early history, twenty-first century Americanist scholarship has decentered the overarching primacy of the “American Renaissance” even as it has reinvigorated study of the long C19. Arguably, contemporary formations of the nineteenth century, as represented in current scholarship and conferences, would almost be unrecognizable to twentieth century scholars. This course will explore the new terrains framed by these emergent counter formations. As such, the course seeks to consider the more complex canons, traditions, generic classifications, routes (instead of roots), geographies (of region, of nation, of globe), scales, and temporalities animating the emergent texts and contexts animating recent C19 Americanist scholarship. Part of this work will be thinking about how the contours of the nineteenth century (once imagined as the American literary century) have been reoriented by early Americanist and C20th/21st Americanist conceptions of a long C19 (pulling its origins earlier on the one hand, and extending it on the other). By considering how the digitization of archival materials has expanded our access to the print public sphere, we will survey the impact of several important digital humanities recovery projects. Working with such open-access projects as the Colored Conventions Project, the Early Caribbean Digital Archive, Chronicling America, and the Viral Texts Project, we will trace how an increased attention to seriality, to periodical cultural, and to archival work has reshaped the field’s objects of study. In part, this class will serve as a laboratory for students to experiment with positioning themselves (and their work) within these new schemas, as well as offering a chance to undertake some exploratory configurations of emergent or alternative C19s. The final selection of our objects of study will be shaped in consultation with participants, but possibilities include thinking past the primacy of the Civil War by grounding our sense of C19 as framed by (for example) the Haitian Revolution, Seneca Falls, the Mexican-American War, the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, or the General Strike of 1877. Possible readings include the speculative fiction of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edgar Allan Poe, and Ignatius Donnelly; theorizations of new forms of belonging by Sojourner Truth, David Walker, María Amparo Ruiz de Burton, Frederick Douglass, John Rollin Ridge, Pauline Hopkins, and Sarah Winnemucca; and queer short fiction by Louise May Alcott, Charles Chesnutt, Herman Melville, Sui Sin Far, and Kate Chopin

Fall 2022

ASCP 81000: Introduction to American Studies: Soundworks/Phonographies, Tuesdays, 6:30pm-8:30pm, 3 credits. Eric Lott.  Fully In-person. Cross-listed with ENGL 87300.

This seminar will offer an introduction to the field and intellectual genealogies of American Studies by way of a range of issues arising from the last couple of decades in sound studies.  The field has long been preoccupied with sound—the work of George Lipsitz, Gayle Wald, Daphne Brooks, Robin Kelley, and current American Studies Association president Shana Redmond come to mind—a preoccupation that has only intensified in the last several years.  If, as Henri Lefebvre wrote, “sovereignty implies ‘space,’” how does sound produce space and intervene in the power relations that define it?  Who has the right at any given moment to legislate and regulate sound, either juridically or critically?  How does it take up the everyday soundscape of its location—clipped speech, screeching industry, the sound of the street, crickets chirping—and give it significant form?  Sound as exclusionary, and as a mode of self-possession: music and music-making take up space—organize and announce new collectivities, confer rights, produce obstructions and transgressions, the latter also known as “noise.”  The cultural history of sound might be written by observing who at any given moment has the right to say “you are hurting my ears.” 

We’ll survey some of the most provocative theoretical work on sound, soundscapes, sound technologies, and music’s relation to space, politics, and the body, including thinkers such as Ralph Ellison, Amiri Baraka, Roland Barthes, Jacques Attali, Ellen Willis, Wayne Koestenbaum, Christopher Small, Jean-Luc Nancy, Alexandra Vazquez, Suzanne Cusick, Emily Lordi, Karen Tongson, Alexander Weheliye, José Esteban Muñoz, and Fred Moten.  Theoretical readings will be paired with apposite musical and sonic examples, from John Philip Sousa to K-pop, sonic warfare to sonic booms.  We may delve into certain classics of pop music scholarship—Greil Marcus’s Mystery Train (1975), Tricia Rose’s Black Noise (1994), Tim Lawrence’s Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor (2016).  We’ll investigate the “writing of sound” by way of phonography and its successive apparatuses from the wax cylinder to the player piano, shellac discs on Victrolas to hi-fi vinyl albums, magnetic tape to compact disc to the digital formats that surround us now.  Part of our project will entail considering the sonic dimensions of literary, photographic, and cinematic forms.  And we’ll examine lived, contested spaces of sound, whole vibrational ontologies—bustling “urban crisis” New York and racially segmented pop capital Los Angeles, cotton belt soul studios and “Chicago School” blues lounges and house dance floors—collective, and therefore spatial, world-making (and –breaking) interventions performed by American musics.

ASCP 81500: Public History and Memory, Mondays, 2:00pm-4:00pm, 3 credits. Anne Valk. Fully In-Person.  Cross-listed with HIST 75500

This course investigates approaches to studying and producing public history and collective memory. Through our readings, class discussions, and assignments, we will examine the activities of public historians and the complex issues they face when preserving, researching, interpreting and presenting history and collective memory. Reading a series of case studies that span over time and place, we will discuss how theory plays out in practice and in various arenas in which historians and publics encounter historical events, sites, objects, and traces. 

ASCP 81500: Police, Prisons, and Repression in the United Stated of America, Wednesdays, 6:30pm-8:30pm, 3 credits. Johanna Fernandez. Fully In-Person.  Cross-listed with HIST 74900.

This course examines the rise and role of jails, prisons, police and repression in the United States beginning with emergent reformulations of punishment in the early years of the republic and the proclamations on imprisonment and involuntary servitude in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The course covers the founding, by the Pennsylvania Quakers, of the first modern US prison in 1790 and analyzes the expansion of prisons during two turning points in American History. First in the late 19th century during the era of Reconstruction and the Second Industrial Revolution and again one hundred years later beginning in the 1970s— in the decades immediately following the civil rights and black power movements, at a time of domestic and global economic restructuring. The course tracks the origins of slave patrols —the earliest police units in the US — charged with capturing and returning escaped enslaved Africans back to southern plantations and the later expansion and professionalization of police after World War I in the context of labor unrest, left radicalization and the rise of the second KKK. We explore the link between imprisonment and political repression as seen in the Salem Witch trials, the trials and hangings of Haymarket labor activists in Chicago in the late 19th Century; the executions of Italian immigrant anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in the 1920s and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in the 1950s; and the failed attempts at execution in the case of Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal in the 1990s. The course ends with an analysis of developments in the last fifty years in the US — the rise of hyper incarceration of poor, Black American and Latinx communities in deindustrializing cities and of migrants in the US-Mexico border. We explore the meaning of police militarization and it’s expansion in the context of the cold war and the explosion of the carceral state as the country’s third largest employer in the 21st century.

ASCP 81500: Politics of Race and Slavery in the Early Republic, Tuesdays, 11:45am-1:45pm, 3 credits. James Oakes. Fully In-Person.  Cross-listed with HIST 75000.

It has become clear that slavery was a contested issue in American politics for a much longer period than previous generations of scholars once suggested.  Where it was common to start the history of the sectional crisis with the Mexican War, historians now speak of a “long emancipation” that involved “eight-eight years” of conflict.  At the same time, the contours of the struggle over slavery have widened.  Where it was once reduced to a dispute over slavery in the territories, it has now become clear that the fugitive slave crisis was equally important in the developing conflict between the North and the South.  That, in turn, raised questions about the rights of free Blacks in the free states and territories.  As a result, the politics of slavery have become inseparable from the politics of race.  “Politics” itself is no longer confined to parties and elections, but embraces the active participation of Blacks and women.  Gender ideology is now understood to be a key component of antislavery thought.  Finally, where historians once contrasted the radical egalitarianism of abolitionists with the moderation of antislavery politicians, more recent scholars have highlighted interconnections between antislavery politics and radical abolitionism.

This seminar will focus on the politics of race and slavery, primarily in the northern states, between the Revolution and the Civil War.  Readings will range from classic accounts that stressed the role of racism in limiting antislavery politics, to more recent studies that have recovered an enduring anti-racist tradition that arose as the analogue to antislavery politics.  A persistent theme is the way antislavery politics repeatedly raised the question of citizenship rights for African Americans and women.​

HIST 75900: Twentieth Century African-American History, Tuesdays, 4:15pm-6:15pm, 3 credits. Tanisha Ford. Hybrid.

This is a readings course designed to introduce students to major themes, questions, and historiographical debates in African American history. Typical weekly readings consist of a book monograph and 1-2 articles. Students will be expected to actively engage with one another about the books’ core arguments, interventions, contributions to the field, use of source material, periodization, and so forth. Spirited, collegial debate is encouraged. Assignments will include weekly response papers, oral presentations, and a 15-17pp historiographical essay or a review essay. The course is organized chronologically as well as thematically and will explore topics such as racial capitalism, criminalization and the rise of the carceral state, social movements, religion, gender and sexuality, and artistic production. Some of the authors whose work we read will join us virtually to share insights about their research methods and interventions. The course will provide a foundation for students who are preparing for exams or who plan to write a thesis or dissertation on United States, African American, or African diaspora history. Attendance at each class session is mandatory. All students will be expected to participate fully and thoughtfully in class discussions.

EES 79903: California since 1945, Mondays, 4:00pm-7:00pm, 3 credits, Ruth Wilson Gilmore.  Permission of Instructor Required.

Beginning with readings on changes in politics, economic, aesthetics, and demographics in Los Angeles and San Francisco in the years just before and after World War II, the course will trace changes in California’s perpetually dynamic geography into the early 2000s. In conjunction with colleagues from art history,  we will pay close attention to the rise and change of various kinds of institutions over time: schools, community centers, jails, political parties, unions, art and social movements, uprisings, displacements and provisional resolutions.

SOC 85913: Labor and Race in the 20th Century U.S., Mondays, 4:15pm-6:15pm, 3 credits. Ruth Milkman.

The rich history of labor activism among Blacks and other workers of color is well documented.  It is also beyond dispute that many white trade unionists embraced racist ideologies and/or excluded workers of color from their labor organizations, especially before 1935.  Even in that period, however, some unions did manage to build working-class unity across racial lines.  Although such cases were exceptional in the early 20th century, they began to multiply in the 1930s as the Congress of Industrial Organizations took shape.  By the end of World War II, union exclusion of workers of color was largely eliminated, although racism persisted in other forms within the labor movement.  The rise of public-sector unionism in the 1960s and 1970s introduced new dynamics thanks to the influence of the civil rights movement.

This course will explore the complex interplay of race and class in the 20th century U.S. labor movement through a series of exemplary historical case studies and selected theoretical texts.  The goal is to address the question:  under what conditions has class solidarity prevailed over white supremacy in the U.S. labor movement?

ART 87300: Remapping the Art of the Americas via Mobility, Thursdays, 11:45am-1:45pm, 3 credits. Katherine Manthorne.  Online.

Globalism has swallowed nationalism. The imperative to think globally that arose in the politico-economic realm has impacted every field in the humanities. This approach is shedding new light on the study of Art of the Americas, especially when we replace the nation state as the unit of study with mechanisms of mobility of people, goods, artwork and ideas. Building on recent scholarship, we explore a selection of the following topics: Atlantic Triangle Trade; Pacific coast routes; Port cities of New Orleans, Callao, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco; impact of the Panama Canal and Pan-American highway; Riverine arteries (Mississippi, Amazon); circulation of artworks, especially works on paper; Artists’ travels and relocations; Diasporas, immigration and nomads; Settling of frontiers and displacements of Native peoples; and Scientific, ethnographic and archaeological exploration. Students engage with weekly readings through discussions and create a personal project via several short, written papers.

Spring 2022

ASCP 81500: Representing the Civil War, Thursdays, 4:15pm-6:15pm, 3 credits. Professor Sarah Chinn.  In-person. 

In the wake of last year’s revitalization of the Black Lives Matter movement and the push to remove statues of Confederate officers and the Confederate battle flag from public places, the US Civil War has been reinserted into public consciousness. In this class we’ll be reading texts that represented the war in real time, to trace the origins of the debates that have so dominated our cultural discourse. Our archive ranges from oratory to memoirs to poetry to fiction written just before and during the war. We will also spend some time looking at texts and films produced retrospectively about the Civil War, from the late 19th through to the late 20th century. Some questions we’ll be asking are how did writers grapple with the enormity of the Civil War? How much did they engage with the politics as opposed to the battlefield experiences? Can we think of Civil War literature as a genre like we do texts from World War I or the war in Vietnam? And to what extent has representation of the Civil War acted as a proxy for dominant discourses about Blackness, slavery, and racial hierarchies in the US? 

ASCP 81500: The American Renaissance, Thursdays, 2:00pm-4:00pm, 3 credits, Professor David Reynolds. Cross listed with ENGL 75100. Online. 

The decades leading up to the Civil War, known as the American Renaissance,  are generally regarded not only as the peak moment in American cultural expression but also as a watershed of themes reaching back to ancient and early-modern periods and looking forward to modernism.  The American Renaissance saw the innovations in philosophy, ecological awareness, and style on the part of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau; the metaphysical depth and cultural breadth represented by the fiction of Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne; the poetic experimentation of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson; the psychological probing and ground-breaking aesthetics of Edgar Allan Poe; and landmark portraits of race and slavery by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Jacobs, and Frederick Douglass. Gender issues were vivified in writings by Margaret Fuller and Sara Parton. Lincoln’s speeches crystalised the nation’s enduring political themes. In addition to reading central works of American literature—among them Moby-Dick, “Bartleby,” Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, The Scarlet Letter, Leaves of Grass, Walden, Poe’s tales, Emerson’s essays, and Dickinson’s poems--we discuss current approaches to cultural history, American Studies, and the study of race and gender.​ 

ASCP 81500: Democracy: America’s Other ‘Peculiar Institution’, Wednesdays, 6:30pm-8:30pm, 3 credits, Professor Andrew Robertson.  Cross listed with HIST 75000.  In-person. 

Alexis de Tocqueville frequently used the term particulier to describe American democracy in the 1830s.  Translated into English, that word can mean special, unique, or peculiar.  This course describes the ways in which American democracy became a “peculiar institution.”  Like slavery, democratic beliefs and practices in the United States adapted to the political and social context of the early republic and the antebellum era.  The first part of this course will consider the culture and practice of American democracy from the American Revolution to the Civil War.  The second part of this course will focus on nineteenth-century democracy from a transnational perspective, looking at democratic practices in Latin America and in Europe.  The last part of this course will consider U.S. democracy in the recent past and present, focusing finally on the long trajectory of American democracy, in its fits and starts and in its present peril. 

Fall 2021

Tuesdays, 4:00pm-6:00pm, 3 credits. Professor Lucia Trimbur. 

Intellectuals and Intelligence: Spies, Secrets, and Surveillance in the University 

While the American university is often imagined as an independent and apolitical establishment, devoid of connections to and demands from other social institutions, academia has, in fact, been a primary site of ideological struggle through collaboration with outside agencies, most notably intelligence. In the discipline of anthropology, the history of ethnographic research, colonial administration, and surveillance is well rehearsed. The same relationships in the humanities and other humanistically-grounded social sciences are less known. Intellectuals and Intelligence attempts to better understand how and when academic disciplines have been contiguous or aligned with intelligence communities.   

First, we look at the origins of American studies in the 1940s and 1950s, examining the ideological work this newly-formed area of study performed during the Cold War. Second, we use methods and theories from American studies to analyze the connections among intelligence bureaus and English, psychology, sociology, area studies, and political science. Topics include explicit engagement such as the Frankfurt School and the OSS, recruitment in the Ivy League, anti-communist propaganda and loyalty oaths, counterinsurgency during liberation movements, torture during the “War on Terror,” and the Human Terrain Program as well as sites of complicity such as cultural exchange, clandestine support for journals and conferences, and federal grant funding.  

Works likely to be addressed include Frances Stonor Saunders's The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, Robin Winks's Cloak and Gown: Scholars in the Secret War 1939-1961, “The CIA Reads Foucault” by Gabriel Rockhill, The Cold War and the University: Towards an Intellectual History of the Postwar Years edited by Noam Chomsky, and Rebecca Lowen’s Creating the Cold War university: The Transformation of Stanford.   

Tuesdays, 2:00pm-4:00pm. 3 credits, Michael Gillespie.  Cross-listed with IDS 81650 

The class will be an interdisciplinary consideration of blackness and the art of black cultural production with attention to framing art as an enactment of black visual and expressive culture. We will focus on the aesthetic, political, historiographic, and cultural instantiations of the idea of race as discourse. The narrative of the class is structured around various epistemological and aesthetic themes/tendencies that inform black visuality and performativity in the arts (e.g. film, television, literature, music, new media, photography, dance, painting, installation art).  Students will be required to complete and present their own projects on black visuality/performance. Course readings may include: Tina Campt’s Listening to Images, Uri McMillan’s Embodied Avatars: Genealogies of Black Feminist Art and Performance, Emily Lordi’s The Meaning of Soul: Black Music and Resilience Since the 1960s, Huey Copeland’s Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America, Amber J. Musser’s Sensual Excess: Queer Femininity and Brown Jouissance, and Michael Boyce Gillespie’s Film Blackness: American Cinema and the Idea of Black Film

Wednesdays, 6:30pm-8:30pm. 3 credits, Karen Miller and Saadia Toor.  Cross-listed with IDS 81670 and MALS 73200

This class will examine American Studies through the lens of social, cultural, political and other kinds of institutions. We will begin by exploring what we mean when we say “institution.” We will think together about why this may be a productive lens for assessing and interrogating the world around us. What does it offer? And what might it elide? How do studies of institutions help expose the myriad ways that power functions in culture, society, and politics? How do institutions, themselves, shape these power relations? And how do different approaches to understanding institutions give us different sorts of answers? American Studies scholars have been asking these questions for decades. We will turn to their texts as sites for exploration. 

The texts that we will explore together will put questions about inequality and how it operates at their core. Thus, we will ask how institutions can help amplify or mitigate the often-crushing hierarchies that have been (and continue to be) based on racial, gender, sexual, national, and other forms of difference. 

The class will be organized thematically, arranged around a series of inquiries drawn from recent scholarship. Each week, we will take a specific institution as our starting point. These institutions may include (but will not be limited to) the family, the state, courts, race, colonialism, hospitals, prisons, schools, the military, libraries, social networks, media, the corporation, capitalism, etc. We will examine how scholars within a range of American Studies subfields have developed different approaches for exploring institutions. They have used both creative and conventional scholarly tools to explore questions about life, infrastructure, health, race, ethnicity, indigeneity, gender, sexuality, transnationality, borders, architecture, foreign relations, language, politics, economics, literature, art, music, work, social movements, and more. Finally, we will discuss how these institutions may help offer us strategies for imagining new, and possibly better futures. 

Spring 2021

Thursdays, 6:30pm-8:30pm, 3 credits. Professor Ruth O’Brien. Cross-listed with P SC 72410 

This course focuses on individual forms of socially constructed identity (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, and humanness or bodies), intersectional forms of identity (e.g., gender and bodies), and collective forms of identity (e.g., citizen, worker or labor, and anarchist collectives or horizontal non- state civil movements, referred to as social movements in American politics). Several social movements will be explored as case studies. First, we will consider the worldwide struggle to end political and social violence against women (including #MeTooism), and if/how it is having global impact. We will examine, for example, the Combahee River Collective -- an organization of Black feminists who attained international reach by coining the term “identity politics” -- and assess the movement’s global impact, as seen for instance in “Women’s Internationalism against Global Patriarchy,” by Dilar Dirik (and PM Press). It explores how identities in American social movements affect power and resistance, as understood by social theorists and contemporary philosophers such as Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, and Judith Butler, who in turn draw upon Gilles Deleuze, Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, Michel Foucault, Antonio Gramsci, Karl Marx, and G. W. F. Hegel, among others. 

Wednesdays, 4:15pm-6:15pm. 3 credits, Elizabeth Macaulay and Jason Montgomery.  Cross-listed with IDS 81630 

Architecture and the built environment are products of their social, political, and economic circumstances. New York City, a perpetually evolving metropolis, has been shaped by successive waves of immigration, shifting economic priorities (from agriculture and manufacturing to finance and technology), and politics. Today, the impact of gentrification, the lack of affordable housing, and climate change is evident in New York City’s built environment. This is not a new story, but one that has been intrinsic to New York City since its founding. Therefore, rather than relying on the written record as the main evidence for exploring New York’s history, this course will introduce students to the built environment and use the urban fabric of New York--its buildings, streets, and places, along with primary source materials about these edifices from libraries and archives--to construct alternative histories of the city. Erected, used, and inhabited by people of all colors, creeds, socio-economic backgrounds and cultures, architecture and the built environment allows us different insights into the development of New York’s history, inviting us to develop alternative stories about the city’s past. The study of architecture and the built environment is inherently interdisciplinary. Students will be introduced to diverse research methods and will be tasked with conducting place-based research on New York City’s built environment during site visits and visits to archives and libraries. The students in the course will have an opportunity to generate new knowledge about New York City, its built environment, and people. 

Tuesdays, 6:30pm-8:30pm. 3 credits, Matt Brim and Katina Rogers.  Cross-listed with IDS 81660 

Higher education can be a powerful engine of equity and social mobility. Yet many of the structures of colleges and universities—including admissions offices, faculty hiring committees, disciplinary formations, institutional rankings, and even classroom pedagogies and practices of collegiality—rely on tacit values of meritocracy and an economy of prestige. For public universities like CUNY this tension can be especially problematic, as structurally-embedded inequities undermine the institution’s democratizing mission and values. In other words, many academic structures actually undermine the values that we associate with possibilities for the most challenging and productive and diverse academic life. In this course, we examine the purposes and principles of universities, especially public universities; consider whether various structures advance or undermine those goals; and imagine new possibilities for educational systems that weave equity into the fabric of all they do. Our privileged methodology for considering the inequities and opportunities of university life will be queer of color and feminist materialist analyses, an interdisciplinary set of methods and methodologies that lend themselves to identifying, historicizing, and resisting institutional norms that produce queer-class-race-gender stratification in the university. Crucially, because these intellectual tools are themselves housed within institutional formations, they will be objects of our investigation as well as methods of analysis. 

Spring 2020

Thursdays, 2:00-4:00pm, Professor Eric Lott  
This course will introduce you to the field of American Studies by looking at the social and cultural construction of race in—and as—performance.  The course seeks to accomplish a number of things at once: to examine the concepts, histories, and methodologies of American Studies; to think about textual “archives” and cultural “repertoires” as fresh ways to capture American Studies’ interdisciplinary imperative; and to construct a thematic focus or lens through which to study cultures of the United States and of the Americas hemispherically conceived.
American Studies as a scholarly approach was inaugurated during the Cold War, and its investment in the culture and society of a powerful U.S. nation-state grounded its inquiries.  After the Cold War’s demise, in a newly “globalized” world, we are in a better position to devise an American Studies that views critically the boundaries of and reflexive allegiances to the nation-state, that 18th-century technology of compulsory homogeneity.  While we will study a range of materials that consciously take up or express some idea of race and how it is “performed,” we will do so with reference to their hemispheric, Atlantic, or indeed global resonances and influences.  The identities, subjectivities, impostures, fealties, revulsions, desires, pleasures, and failures arising from these performances will provide most of the material for our discussions.
Very likely readings, among others: 
Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire (Duke, 2003)
Joseph Roach, Cities of the Dead (Columbia, 1996)
Jose Munoz, Cruising Utopia (NYU, 2009)
Donald Pease and Amy Kaplan, eds., Cultures of US Imperialism (Duke, 1991)
George Fredrickson, White Supremacy (Oxford, 1981)
Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (Grove, 1952)
Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power (Stanford, 1997)
Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (Penguin, 1787)
The Confessions of Nat Turner (Bedford St. Martins, 1831)
Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Bedford St. Martins, 1885)

Fall 2019

Tuesdays, 4:15-6:15pm, Room TBA, 3 credits, Professor Tyler T. Schmidt

Locating itself in critical conversation with Toni Morrison’s formulation of “playing in the dark” which investigates, in part, the roles race plays in creative practice, this course explores queer meanings and makings of the night, with particular attention to the labors of the nocturnal. Our collective definition of nightwork will also consider the epistemological challenges of working/writing in the dark, at the limits of understanding and on the edges of sense. Our encounters with nocturnal spaces, figures, and practices will draw from the following sources and sites: surrealist spectacle and dreamwork in Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood; the afterhours of Shane Vogel’s The Scene of Harlem Cabaret; James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room; Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake; the occult poetics of James Merrill; the eulogies of the New York School poets; the short stories of Tennessee Williams; Samuel Stewart; Samuel Delany’s The Motion of Light in Water; bathhouses and backrooms; Gary Fisher; punk-drag performance; Joshua Chambers-Letson’s After the Party; Juana María Rodríguez on queer nightlife; Fred Moten’s Black and Blur; and José Esteban Muñoz’s Disidentifications (in honor of its 20th birthday).

Thursdays, 2:00-4:00pm, Room TBA, 3 credits, Tarry Hum and Prithi Kanakamedala.  Crosslisted with IDS 81620.

Scholars active in place-based or participatory action research are committed to documenting community narratives and neighborhoods. It is central to our work, rooted in social justice, that these communities are not just represented, but that they have equitable stake in the project. Yet practitioners across the city struggle with core issues of accessibility, reciprocity, self-representation, and equity within the communities they work with. Who do place-based researchers represent, and does our work empower communities to tell their own stories? What histories do we contest and perpetuate with this work? And, who gets to participate? This inter-disciplinary course combines best or effective practices in Public History, Oral History, and Urban Planning to consider a number of projects in New York City that seek to document communities and narratives about the city that are not traditionally represented.

Spring 2019

Tuesday, 4:15-6:15pm, Room TBA, 3 credits, Professor Tyler T. Schmidt

As a way to better understand the conceptual tensions and methods of our own research in American Studies, this course will unearth connections and dissonances between key texts of the field from the 1950s and more recent American Studies projects that revisit the era in order to critique, reposition, or recover overlooked cultural sites that shape (and at times misinform) dominant conceptions of the “Cold War” and the “Fifties.” Our critical reading of Cold War formations of American Studies will begin with a timely re-evaluation of some of the era’s key research and criticism by F. O. Matthiessen, Alfred Kinsey and Gunnar Myrdal, and Raymond Williams. Using insights about American Studies--its ideological limitations and ways of working--gained from these foundational texts, the majority of the class will be spent discussing and evaluating critical race and queer interventions that deepen and complicate our understandings of the 1950s.
We will focus on a variety of cultural sites in order to better understand the era’s changing sexual and racial cultural practices, including the NYC downtown art scene, mid-century prisons, jazz performance, lesbian cinema, the Black avant-garde, confessional poetry, pulp thrillers, civil rights portraits, and feminist activism. Partial list of writers included in this investigation: Imani Perry, Penny Von Eschen, José Muñoz, Deborah Nelson, Regina Kunzel, Jodi Kim, Mary Helen Washington, David K. Johnson,  Robert Corber, and Roderick Ferguson. For their final projects, students will take some of the methods and/or ideas and theories about American cultures highlighted in the course and apply them to a period, cultural site, or archive-based project directly related to their research interests.

Monday, 4:15pm-6:15pm, 3 credits, Professor Annette Saddik. (crosslisted with THEA 86100)
This course will cover the work of key playwrights and theatre movements in the United States in the context of changing social, cultural, and political developments from the 1920s to the present in order to examine shifting representations of American identity in U.S. theatre, or what it means to "be American" on the stage in terms of gender, social class, sexuality, ethnicity, race, and the concept of family.  The course will begin with the work of the Provincetown Players, and explore the role of social class and gender relations in plays such as Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape (1921) and Susan Glaspell's The Verge (1922).  We will go on to discuss how playwrights responded to negotiations of identity during depressed economic times, the growing struggles of the individual under postwar industrial capitalism after World War II, and the oppression of basic freedoms during the McCarthy era.  Finally, we cover the changing dramatic styles that ushered in the 1960s and beyond, as the U.S. theatre embraced an era of diversity and inclusion that destabilized the notion of fixed identity and questioned the nature of reality, responding to the political events that shaped the nation. The course will include the work of Eugene O'Neill, Susan Glaspell, Elmer Rice, Clifford Odets, Tennessee Williams, William Inge, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, María Irene Fornés, Adrienne Kennedy, David Mamet, Sam Shepard, Paula Vogel, John Guare, Tony Kushner, August Wilson, John Patrick Shanley, Naomi Wallace, and Lisa D'amour.  Assignments will include two essays and an oral presentation.  Essay #1 (7-10 pages) will be worth 30 percent; Essay #2 (10-15 pages) will be worth 40 percent; and the in-class presentation of 20-30 minutes will be worth 30 percent.

Wednesday, 11:45am-1:45pm, Room TBA, 3 credits, Professor Jonathan Gray and Professor Joy Sanchez-Taylor
Futures Initiative course – IDS 81640

In 1994 Mark Dery defined Afrofuturism as “speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the contexts of twentieth-century technoculture,” locating its origins in the early work of Samuel Delany (and O. Butler? and Sun Ra?). Our seminar takes Dery’s definition as a point of departure to examine the fiction, films, graphic narratives and music videos produced in the sub-genre of Afrofuturism. Because Afrofuturist expression runs the gamut from literary (science) fiction to popular music, it is incumbent for graduate students interested in African American and Africana literature and culture, American Studies, popular culture studies, and science fiction and fantasy to engage in the necessarily interdisciplinary inquiry that Afrofuturism demands. Indeed, the question of Afro-futurity informs recent creative work (Junot Diaz’s “Monstro,” HBO’s Westworld) and technical innovation (Black Twitter) that would seem to fall outside of an Afrofuturist paradigm. Thus, our exploration of this topic will problematize our understandings of speculative fiction (also known as science fiction or sci-fi), question how the imbrication of technology into our lives transforms human subjectivity, and survey literary theory to arrive at an understanding of how Afrofuturism has developed since the mid-20th century and how it promises to propagate itself into the future.
This course is grounded in student participation. Students in the course will thoroughly investigate primary and secondary sources on Afrofuturism and will play an active role in the course by taking turns as facilitators of class discussions and through the completion of a class project with a digital humanities component.

Thursdays, 11:45am-1:45pm, Room TBA, 3 credits, Professor Michelle Billies and Professor Soniya Munshi
Futures Initiative course – IDS 81650
In this interdisciplinary course, graduate students will engage with critical race scholarship to build from and integrate this scholarship into their own research and pedagogy. Readings will span an expansive array of critical race theories and methods. Scholarly traditions will include transnational and diasporic feminisms; Black geographies and Caribbean philosophies; indigenous studies and critical ethnic studies; critical whiteness studies; queer studies; disability studies; activist scholarship; and, literature addressing pedagogical approaches in these areas. Students will use course readings to craft a writing project useful in their research or teaching. They may deepen an understanding of a particular theorist or body of work; rewrite the philosophical or theoretical underpinning of their research; create a course, syllabi and/or set of teaching plans; collaborate with another student to generate theory or a team-taught course; examine internalized dominance or internalized racism and its relationship to their scholarly work or teaching; or another project they propose. Students will be invited to contribute a reading to the syllabus.
Contemporary challenges in the academy and society at large confirm the crucial need for intellectual engagement with critical theories of race and intersectionality that address systemic, historic racism. This graduate course is a means of proliferating knowledge and critiques of race in and out of the academy while developing strategies for furthering this work in the undergraduate classroom.  The pedagogical approach will foster open discussion of personal relationships to the readings as well as experiences of race and ethnicity.

 Mondays, 4:15pm-6:15pm, Room TBA, 3 credits, Professor Juan Battle and Professor Sigmund Shipp
Futures Initiative course – IDS 81660
This course will provide students with a deeper understanding of contemporary academic and public discourses surrounding race and ethnicity. Grounded in a sociological approach, students will read key social scientific texts on the meaning of race from both historical and contemporary perspectives. This class is different than a traditional race and ethnicity graduate course because it asks students to not only understand academic discussions of race and ethnicity but also work to make these complex arguments accessible to wider audiences. With journalists and publics becoming increasingly interested in nuanced discourse about the influence of race in the Post-Obama era, the class presents a unique opportunity to help emergent scholars hone their voices and analysis.
The contemporary political environment necessitates a language and nuance that helps articulate an increasingly diverse yet still unequal world. Weekly discussions will be facilitated by rotating members of the class. Students in the course will be expected to develop three written products: 1) an op-ed targeted at a major news publication such at the New York Times or a national news publication; 2) an article for Contexts magazine, The Conversation or a similarly public facing publication; and 3) a book review for an academic publication. The course will draw primarily from two texts: Beyond Black and White: A Reader on Contemporary Race Relations edited by Zulema Valdez and Going Public: A Guide for Social Scientists by Arlene Stein and Jessie Daniels. We plan to incorporate guest speakers who specialize in public facing work including a journalist, an editor from public facing publication, and academic with high profile success engaging publics.

Instead of producing the usual long lists of courses that will count towards the certificate, we have set up a new system:

Students taking courses offered through other units that are appropriate to ASCP 81500/Key Questions in American Studies or ASCP 82000/Research Practices in American Studies, may have them counted toward completion of the certificate program by sending the course details (name, title, instructor(s), and course description) to