Introduction

Introduction

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First-Year Seminars

Faculty members, in groups of one or more, teach First-Year Seminars. Every first-year student must take one of these courses during the fall semester. They are open only to Amherst College first-year students.

Fake News

In our information-saturated world, "fake news" may feel like an inescapable reality. But what exactly is fake news, why does it exist, and how do we distinguish it from trustworthy information? In particular, if experts can disagree and data can be fabricated, where do we go when the subject matter is beyond our expertise? Can something that "makes sense" be false? Can a theory that contradicts our personal experiences or beliefs still hold true?

In this course we will take a critical look at how science is reported in the media and how logic, probability, and statistics can be manipulated to fit various narratives. We will focus on identifying sources of (mis)information, constructing fact-based arguments, and establishing ways to distinguish between news, opinions, rumors, advertisement, and propaganda.

Fall semester. Assistant Professor Culiuc.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

"Finding Your Roots": Narratives of Self and Community

In each episode of the PBS show Finding your Roots, celebrities speak with host Henry Louis Gates about their family’s history. Gates’s team of researchers then undertakes archival research and DNA analysis that sometimes leads to surprising discoveries. Rather than fetishize lineage, each episode of Finding your Roots and a similar show called Who Do You Think You Are? walks guests through the process of research and discovery, and offers insight into global histories of migration, society, nation, and empire. In one episode, for example, Martha Stewart discovered that she had Muslim ancestors in central Poland, which became an opportunity to explore the deep roots of Islam in Europe. In another, the comedian Wanda Sykes spoke proudly of her identity as descendant of Black slaves. She was surprised to learn not only that her Black ancestors enjoyed freedom at least as far back as the mid-1700s, but, to her horror, they were slave owners. Gates used this as an opportunity to explore the complex history of Black slavery in America. Another famous comedian, Margaret Cho, spoke with pride about her Korean roots, only to learn that her ancestors who had migrated to San Francisco from Korea were descendants of Chinese migrants. This points to ways migration patterns within Asia contradict ethno-nationalist narratives within the region. The actress Jessica Alba guessed that, as a Latina, she had a complicated heritage, but Gates found that her Mexican past was even more revealing of global empires than Alba had anticipated. While some of Gates’ guests found surprises, others found their family stories confirmed by DNA and archival research. Through research, story-telling and conversations, the celebrity guests, and even Gates himself, learned to see their present and their past as part of larger trends in history.

In this course you will practice various strategies for recovering and narrating your own stories of home and of family (with a broad understanding of what “home” and “family” mean). Next, you will conduct genealogical research, store your findings into structured databases, and read histories of migration, race, and nation formation in various parts of the world. You will have the opportunity to get your DNA analyzed and will choose whether to share your findings. Next, you will select a particular person, moment, place or time that you discovered through your genealogical research. This will become the subject of a historical research project using digital archives. You will finish the course by reflecting upon how the things you and your peers discovered about your diverse pasts shape how you think about the changes and challenging transitions you are currently experiencing as the newest members of the Amherst College community.

To learn about a past iteration of the course, visit https://www.amherst.edu/ amherst-story/magazine/issues/ 2019-spring/college-row/rooted

Not offered in 2021-22. Professor Lopez.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020

Giving

 

The act of giving seems, at first, to be deceptively straight-forward and entirely altruistic.  But, as Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us, “We wish to be self-sustained.  We do not quite forgive a giver.”  In this seminar we will examine the act of giving – between people, between institutions and people, and entirely between institutions – from an interdisciplinary lens to reflect on what it means to give. We will intentionally reveal and challenge our initial assumptions about giving.  Using a variety of texts – religious, literary, first person accounts, and public policy – we will explore the diverse forms philanthropy has taken over time and across cultures; its philosophical underpinnings, its complex interrelationships with religious notions of charity and secular notions of democracy, and its often paradoxical effects on social relations and public policy.

The course will begin and end with the same assignment–a reflective essay in which you develop your personal framework for giving. It is anticipated that the texts and class discussions will influence the evolution of this framework and, hence, the robustness of your final essay.  Along the way, class discussions, readings, and short papers will help you develop as readers, writers, speakers and thinkers. 

Fall semester. Lecturer Mead.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

Language Crossing and Living in Translation

When did you start dreaming in a second language? Which translation of the Bible counts as the Word of God? Was Mary a virgin or a maiden? What happens to the immigrant children who need to the be interpreters in the life of their family? How much more tangled or how much more nimble is the wiring of the bilingual brain? What are we doing to our languages when we immerse in a new academic discipline? We will tackle these and other questions like these as we engage in the following units of study: (1) Babel and language differentiation and diffusion. (2) European translators from early modern humanism and the Reformation. (3) Case studies: Squanto, Malinche and the Navajo Code talkers. (4) Language in contemporary empires and resistance, migrations and globalization. (5) Language issues in gay and lesbian diasporas. (6) Bi- or multi-lingual education. (7) Literary practitioners of living in and out of translation:  Luis de León, Vladimir Nabokov, Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

The seminar will work with the same texts, issues and exercise for about two-thirds of our time together. The other third we will concentrate on projects that emerge from the students’ own linguistic condition. Students will be required to delve into their own family archives looking for ancestors’ letters written in languages they cannot yet read. They will be encouraged to document/fictionalize the stakes of marrying into another language, or to study and report on the language crossings of their particular diaspora.

Despite the apparent advantage of having more than one language to engage in our work, this course has no prerequisites and its does not exclude monolinguals. When we talk about the cultural contributions, the headiness and the struggles of bi- or multi-lingual individuals, it will be invaluable to have interlocutors who think they live only in one language.

Omitted 2021-22. Lecturer B. Sánchez-Eppler.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2019, Fall 2020

Authority, Obedience and The Rule of Law

All political systems must operate according to the "rule of law" if they are to be deemed legitimate. This statement has assumed the quality of a truism: we hear it repeated by the President of the United States, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and the President of the International Criminal Court. At the same time, though, that everyone seems to agree that the "rule of law" is a good thing, no one seems able to say for sure what the "rule of law" is. What, then, do we mean by the "rule of law"? What does it mean to speak of government limited by law? What are these limits, where do they come from, and how are they enforced? What role does the "rule of law" play in legitimating structures of governance? Does the "rule of law" imply any particular relationship between legality and morality? We will hazard answers to these questions through a close reading of works of theorists such as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, H.L.A. Hart and Lon Fuller. In addition, we will examine the arguments of the theorists as they help us think through pressing legal challenges of our age, such as defining the limits of executive power in the "war against terror."

Our seminar will be devoted to the close reading of a select number of texts. We will analyze the structure, meaning and adequacy of the arguments contained in these works through vigorous discussion and frequent writing assignments. Our aim is to gain a rich critical understanding of a concept that lies at the foundation of domestic and international socio-political systems, and to improve our abilities to discuss and write about complex ideas with sophistication, nuance and flair.

Omitted 2021-22.  Professor Douglas.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

The Nuclear Age

On August 6, 1945, a United States bomber dropped the first atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, transforming the world in an instant. This course explores the emergence of nuclear technology and its impact on global politics, society, and culture from roughly the Second World War to the present day. We will begin with the invention of the atomic bomb during World War II, exploring its societal, environmental, and cultural effects in Japan as well as its broader impact on American and European politics and identity. We will then examine the diverse ramifications of the nuclear arms race in the 1950s and 1960s, and again in the 1980s, which both pushed the world towards the brink of destruction and also fostered new forms of international cooperation and grassroots activism. We will also analyze the continuing debates over nuclear technology in the context of energy, natural resources, scientific responsibility, and environmentalism. Drawing on a range of sources, from governmental reports and diaries to cartoons, films, and paintings, the course will highlight the perspectives of a variety of groups and individuals who shaped and were shaped by the nuclear age, including scientists, policymakers, journalists, artists, activists, and victims of atomic blasts. Two class meetings per week.

Not offered in 2021-22. Professors Boucher and Walker.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020

101 Progress?

Is the world a better place today than it was fifty years ago?  Will it be better yet in another fifty years?  We cannot answer such questions without asking what we mean by "better," that is, what counts as progress.  The question of what progress is cannot be answered simply: the term has been used in different ways at differemt times and has also been the subject of much critical examination.  We will explore the meaning of progress by engaging with a variety of thought-provoking and influential works. 

Fall semester. Professors George, Shah, Worsley and Douglas.

 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

102 Growing Up in America

How do race, ethnicity, social class, and gender shape the experience of growing up in America? We will begin by examining the childhood and adolescent experiences of Justice Sonia Sotomayor as she journeyed from a low-income Puerto Rican immigrant community in the Bronx to an Ivy League university. As we read coming-of-age experiences of other individuals, past and present, fictional and real, our focus will be on understanding identity formation, family relationships, education, the American Dream, courtship, sexuality, and the importance of culture and community. Readings will include sociological and psychological theory as tools for analysis. We will also explore the privileges or disadvantages we have faced growing up due to our race, ethnicity, social class, and gender to understand how they have shaped our own life experiences and perceptions.

The course introduces students to interdisciplinary readings and methods of inquiry from history, psychology, sociology, and literature. The course is designed to advance students’ skills at reading critically, developing strong arguments, and articulating ideas orally and in writing, skills that will be crucial for future coursework at the college.

Fall semester. Professor Aries.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

103 Global Cities and Global Slums:  Environment, Racism, and Coloniality

In this seminar, participants will explore the relationship between urban development and global inequalities. The first section focuses on the historical formation of global cities and global slums in the late twentieth century that together rejuvenated coloniality as a relationship of oppression in urban spaces. In the second section, we will discuss how both forms of urban agglomerations perpetuate environmental issues and structural racism. In the last section, we will address the impact of environmental issues and structural racism on the physical and social transformation of US cities. Students will write weekly response papers, online discussion forum posts, a midterm paper, and a final paper. In their midterm and final papers, students will focus on a specific urban setting in the United States to contextualize the course material and discussions.

Fall semester. Visiting Associate Professor Balaban.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

104 New Women in America

This course will examine the emergence of the “New Woman” as a category of social theory, political action, and literary representation at the turning of the twentieth century. Early readings will trace the origins of the New Woman as a response to nineteenth-century notions of “True Womanhood.” Discussions will situate literary representations of women in larger cultural events taking place during the Progressive Era–debates over suffrage as well as their relationship to issues of citizenship, immigration, Jim Crow segregation, urbanization, and nativism. The course will focus on texts written by a diverse group of women that present multiple and, at times, conflicting images of the New Woman. Close attention will be paid to the manner in which these women writers constructed their fictions, particularly to issues of language, style, and form. Readings will include texts by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, Pauline Hopkins, Anzia Yezierska, and Sui Sin Far.

Fall semester. Lecturer Bergoffen.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

105 Ring of Fire: Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Devastation

Roughly 90 percent of today’s earthquakes and 75 percent of active volcanoes reside along the Ring of Fire, a nearly 25,000-mile stretch wrapped around the edges of the Pacific Ocean. The Ring of Fire is ground zero for some of the deadliest earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in human history, recorded in writings, traditions, and legends. These catastrophic events often have global repercussions. Examples include the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and subsequent tsunami that killed over 200,000 people in 14 countries and the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora in 1815, which resulted in climate anomalies and global famines. The focus of the course will be case studies of specific disasters – both within and outside the Ring of Fire – across human history. Through in-class discussion and frequent reading and writing assignments, we will gain an understanding of the geologic processes responsible for these volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, and the vulnerability of human populations to them. While taught from an earth science perspective, this course will be interdisciplinary, using historic and artistic accounts of disasters along with modern scientific research publications to help answer the following questions: What determines the location of volcanoes and earthquakes? Can we predict the next great earthquake or volcanic eruption? How are some communities disproportionately vulnerable to these hazards? How has our collective understanding of earthquakes and volcanoes changed through time?

Throughout the semester we hope to take advantage of local opportunities to enhance our understanding of geologic processes and the intertwined history of human response to change and catastrophe.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

106 Making Place in Kwenitekw, the Connecticut River Valley

How do we know the places we live? How do we participate in their making? How do we come to know places that are unfamiliar, or new to us? How do our languages, cultural frameworks, and embodied experiences, including race, gender, and sexuality, shape how we perceive place? In this seminar, we will think and write deliberatively about the process of making place, both the places we come from, and most important, the place we currently inhabit. Grounded in Indigenous language and land, we will consider the deep histories, oral traditions, and continuing adaptation of the Kwenitekw (Connecticut River) Valley and the place of Amherst College within this space. We will begin with the idea that place is not static or permanent, but rather dynamic and changing. Making place is an activity and we will get out on the land to observe and participate in those processes. We will spend most of our class time outside, turning our attention to the many other-than-human beings that are constantly making place in the environment we depend upon. At the same time, we will also spend time in the built environment and archives of Amherst College, considering how students have challenged, changed and transformed the social, political, and educational space of our campus. 

Fall semester.  Professor Brooks.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

107 Secrets and Lies

Politics seems almost unimaginable without secrecy and lying. From the noble lie of Plato's Republic to the controversy about former President Clinton's "lying" in the Monica Lewinsky case and President Trump’s alleged assault on truth, from the use of secrecy in the war against terrorism to the endless spinning of political campaigns, from controversies about "fake news" to efforts to hide and excuse police miscoduct, from President John Kennedy's behavior during the Cuban missile crisis to cover-ups concerning pedophile priests in the Catholic church, from Freud's efforts to decode the secrets beneath civilized life to contemporary exposés of the private lives of politicians, politics and deception seem to go hand-in-hand. This course investigates how the practices of politics are informed by the keeping and telling of secrets, and the telling and exposing of lies. We will address such questions as: When, if ever, is it right to lie or to breach confidences? When is it right to expose secrets and lies? Is it necessary to be prepared to lie in order to advance the cause of justice? Or, must we do justice justly? When is secrecy really necessary and when is it merely a pretext for Machiavellian manipulation? Are secrecy and deceit more prevalent in some kinds of political systems than in others? Can democracy survive in a “post-truth” era? As we explore those questions we will discuss the place of candor and openness in politics and social life; the relationship between the claims of privacy (e.g., the closeting of sexual desire) and secrecy and deception in public arenas; conspiracy theories as they are applied to politics; and the importance of secrecy in the domains of national security and law enforcement. We will examine the treatment of secrecy and lying in political theory as well as their appearance in literature and popular culture, for example Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Primary Colors, Schindler's List and The Insider.

This is a discussion-based course. Students will be expected to be active participants in the seminar. During the course of the semester we will use our discussions to cultivate reasoning skills as well as student capacities to present arguments in a compelling manner. In addition, there will be frequent writing, and I will provide careful and extended responses to student writing. The course will provide an introduction to liberal studies by helping students learn how to read and comprehend complex texts, respond to them in sophisticated ways, and engage in critical reasoning about venerable and pressing ethical, social and political problems. 

Fall semester. Professor Sarat.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

108 The Crowd

From the Black Lives Matter uprising and democracy movement in Hong Kong to farmer’s protests in India and the 2021 Capitol Hill riots, we see crowds of people whose number, force, and relative anonymity make them a political power to reckon with. In this course we consider the crowd as an agent of politics. When does a group of people become a crowd? When is it called a mob? Who becomes a part of it and who’s afraid of it? Why is the crowd simultaneously celebrated and vilified? What does this ambivalence reveal about the nature of mass democracies globally? During the semester, we will first address these concerns around the crowd in scholarly work and eventually move on to ethnographic considerations of actual crowds that occupy our streets and our screens on a daily basis. The crowd, we will see, is a permanent fixture against which the words and actions of the people are defined. Yet, as an embodiment of popular political will and a figure of lawlessness and disorder, the crowd is here to stay. Together, we will aim to understand the role and the ruse of the crowd in the life of modern democracy.

Fall semester.  Professor Chowdhury.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

109 Drugs in History

This course examines the changing ways that human beings have used psychoactive drugs and societies have controlled that use. After examining drug use in historical and cross-cultural perspectives and studying the physiological and psychological effects of different drugs, we look at the ways in which contemporary societies both encourage and repress drug use. We address the drug war, the disease model of drug addiction, the proliferation of prescription drugs, the images of drug use in popular culture, America’s complicated history of alcohol control, and international drug trafficking and its implications for American foreign policy. Readings include Huxley’s Brave New World, Kramer’s Listening to Prozac, and Reinarman and Schivelbusch, Tastes of Paradise; films include Drugstore Cowboy and Traffic. This course will be writing attentive. Two class meetings per week.

Fall semester. Professor Couvares.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

110 Encounters with Nature

What is our place in nature? How do we feel about natural spaces we encountered growing up
and how do we view the environment of Amherst College and its setting in New England? How did people in the past think about nature and how did they change their environments as a consequence? Did different races experience and alter nature in different ways? How have the ideas and experiences of the past affected us today? And how do we imagine the future of the natural world? Has the current pandemic permanently changed how we think about nature?

This course will explore how our ideas of nature have changed over time. We will give particular attention to the ways we have recreated particular kinds of natural spaces and how we have depicted nature in images. We begin with walks in the nearby wildlife sanctuary, discussions of our past encounters with nature, a study of the Amherst Campus, and, while the weather is still warm, a hike or two. During these excursions we will discuss what we see, take visual notes on the landscape through drawing (no expertise necessary), and discuss and write about how our experience with the land might differ from how people experienced it in the past. We then will explore New England further, discuss ideas about wilderness in the United States, and look closely at American landscape painting. Where do our deeply held assumptions come from? To find out, we will look at poetry, philosophy, Western painting traditions, and scientific illustration. We also will think about why people collect and draw natural specimens, and how they mapped their environments from the Renaissance through the Aztec empire to the current day.

The course will provide an introduction to liberal studies by helping students learn how to read and comprehend complex texts and images, respond to them in sophisticated ways, and engage in critical reasoning. We expect students to be active participants in class discussions. Students will write brief abstracts every week about the readings and every other week or so perform close readings of texts, art, maps, and even gardens and landscapes.

Fall semester. Professor Courtright. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

111 Investigating Objects

Our lives are filled with objects. What are our relationships to them, and what is their significance in our culture? In this discussion-based course we will be exploring what objects are, how we define and value them, and what their existence is apart from us. Reading texts from a variety of disciplines including philosophy, literature, art history, and anthropology, we will be investigating a range of perspectives on objects and their significance. In addition to reading about them, we will examine actual objects. Discussions and writing assignments will develop approaches to enrich and inform these encounters through research, visual examination and critical analysis. 

This course will also involve making things. Through a series of studio projects (drawing and sculpture) we will explore how things are made and gain a richer understanding of their physical, visual and tactile qualities. Writing assignments in connection with these projects will help to foster an appreciation of the connections between the visual and the verbal. Some of the objects we will be investigating are: vessels, electronic devices, books, furniture, miniatures, musical instruments and modern sculpture.

No studio art experience is necessary.

Fall Semester. Visiting Lecturer Douglas Culhane.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

112 Beginnings

 

This course offers a sustained encounter with premodern worldviews, lifeways, and models of being human--that is to say, with the vast majority of human experience in recorded history. In this course we will consider a wide variety of premodern literatures and cultures, focusing on a broad range of works from western antiquity through medieval and early modern history in Mediterranean, South Asian, Eurasian, and Islamic societies.

Part of the explicit aim of our endeavors is to destabilize the centrality of western patterns of historical and intellectual development by offering robust alternatives to it. We will explore various kinds of beginnings, such as arts and technologies, languages, ideas, material cultures, literatures, cities, and civilizations. For fall 2020, the course theme is “Worlds and World-Making.” We will study cosmologies and cosmogonies, both scientific and mythic; and we will explore theories that explain the beginnings of human beings and key inventions and innovations across multiple histories and traditions.

The course has two weekly meetings: one plenary session (lecture) and one small-group discussion section. The two components are aimed at different yet essential skills: the art of attention to lectures and effective spoken and written communication in small-group meetings. The course is taught by a cluster of faculty from across disciplines and thereby offers an interdisciplinary introduction to liberal arts studies and to the essential tools for exploring the cultural, material and literary legacies of our diverse fields of study.

Readings for this class will be available online and through the Moodle website. Tuesday's meetings will include all sections together with the faculty, with one faculty member lecturing in their area of expertise. There may be occasional, required asynchronous (online) lectures before Tuesday's meetings. Thursday's meetings consist of small discussion sections (15 students) with your designated faculty member, who will remain constant throughout the semester. These meetings are focused on discussion of the weekly material. While we anticipate returning to in-class offerings, you should be prepared for some synchronous online sessions if necessary.

Fall semester. Assistant Professor Hunter-Parker, Associate Professor van den Berg, Assistant Professor Rice and Assistant Professor Infante.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

113 Christianity and Evolution

This course explores the relationship between Christianity and the theory of evolution, which phrase refers to a family of scientific theories generally associated with the work of Charles Darwin.  The primary mode of approach to this relationship will be historical, but throughout the course voices from a variety of academic disciplines will be heard.  Geographically, the focus of the course will be on Europe (largely the UK) and North America.  Over the course of the semester we will explore issues in the relationship between Christianity and the natural sciences in the generation before Darwin;  the contents of Darwin’s theory of natural selection and its ramifications for understanding the origins of the human species;  a variety of Christian responses to the theory in the late nineteenth century;  the rise of a concerted movement in opposition to evolution in North America in the early twentieth century;  and developments subsequent to this movement within those sectors of Christianity that participated in it.

Fall semester. Professor Dole. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2021

114 Inequality in the "New World"

This course explores the consequences of the European encounter of 1492, and after, with indigenous peoples of what came to be called the Americas, including systemic genocide committed against indigenous peoples, the emergence of chattel slavery, the functions of ideologies that have contributed to white supremacism, and the roles that doctrines of racial difference have played in producing social and economic inequalities. 

Fall semster. Professor Dumm.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

115 Goya and His World

We will luxuriate in Goya’s magisterial works, from his rococo Tapestry Cartoons to his harrowing Pinturas negras. We will study treasures at the Mead Museum—a complete set of the Caprichos, the Disasters of War, the Tauromaquia and the Disparates. To understand Goya’s apparently inscrutable images and his obsession with evil, we will pore over his letters, study his themes such as witchcraft and bullfighting, immerse ourselves in his fraught historical moment, and revel in his culture at large—from music to dance to literature—all inflected with a fragile Enlightenment, all still in the Inquisition’s grasp.

In addition to vibrant discussions, there will be weekly written assignments to deepen students' understanding of the material, as well as to develop the beauty of their writing, the acuity of their sight, their synthetic and analytical powers. There will be frequent one-on-one meetings with me, and constantly changing mini-groups, as we learn and explore together.

Reading knowledge of Spanish would be helpful, but is not necessary. Fall semester. Professor Staller.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

116 The Anatomy of Pictures

This course is about the centrality of images produced by mechanical means in the rituals, practices, and representations of everyday life—what we now understand as visual culture. With a focus on the last 50 years, we will explore why it is important to understand the image as utterly diverse in its functions. We will dissect examples from contemporary photography, new media, screen culture, and cultural theory that critically challenge visual culture. Our conversations will cover topics from new models of spectatorship and how to become visually literate to controversies surrounding trigger warnings and the risk of “remaining forever trapped inside the image” (cf. Jacques Rancière’s “The Intolerable Image”). Readings will include the voices of artists, critics, historians, cultural theorists, and philosophers such as Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, Richard Dyer, Jessica Evans, Michel Foucault, Anne Friedberg, Stuart Hall, bell hooks, Kobena Mercer, Adrian Piper, Claudia Rankine, and Hito Steyerl.

Fall semester. Visiting Lecturer Falk.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

117 Animals and the Law

How and under what circumstances are non-human animals considered persons before the law? Using perspectives from anthropology, Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS), science and technology studies (STS), and legal studies, this course explores the shifting status of non-human animals in Anglo-American legal tradition. While our main focus will be the understanding and treatment of non-human animals in the contemporary United States, we will also examine these issues from historical and cross-cultural perspectives. Of particular interest is how scientific knowledge comes to bear on these kinds of legal questions. All students interested in the moral, political and legal status of animals are welcome.

Fall semester.  Visiting Professor Hamilton.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

118 Race and Gender in Biomedicine

This course explores conceptualizations and representations of race and gender in health and medicine.  We begin by looking at the histories of race, sex, and sexuality in Western science, especially in terms of how they have been articulated through multiple contexts involving infectious diseases. How does scientific thought and practice intersect with larger political and economic movements including colonization and imperialism?  We will then move into a discussion of the uses of race and sex in contemporary biomedicine focusing on the following questions: How is inequality “written on the body”? How are categories of risk and susceptibility racialized and biologized? How are racism and sexism “underlying conditions” that powerfully shape whether or not people contract infectious diseases and who lives and who dies? This course will have a special focus on global health disparities.

Fall semester.  Visiting Professor Hamilton

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

119 Transformative Ideas

 

This course explores a series of ideas from the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries that have substantially changed the way people think about humanity in the Western world. Each idea is closely associated with an author. While from year to year the ideas will change, for 2021 we will closely read and write about, Karl Marx and Frederic Engels The Communist Manifesto, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The American Scholar” and “Self-Reliance”, Friedrich Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals, W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, Sigmund Freud’s The Ego and the Id, Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, and Judith Butler’s Precarious Life. Students are also asked to purchase a copy of Strunk and White, The Elements of Style.

Fall semester. Professor Dumm.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

120 Looking at the World Through Jazz-Colored Lenses

When you think of Jazz, what comes to mind? Perhaps a romantic, elegant, candle-lit dinner? A goatee-sporting fashion plate? Individual freedom to create? Something old that your parents listen to? Jazz emerged in New Orleans in the early twentieth century and quickly spread throughout the world, becoming, at certain points in its history, wildly popular, and at others, decidedly esoteric. Jazz has been called, variously: savage, modern, instinctive, sophisticated, revolutionary, a rare national treasure, a secret sonic weapon, noise, America's classical music, and the most powerful evolutionary force in modern music. It has been instrumental in political movements (for instance, the export of jazz ensembles to the Soviet Union during the Cold War); in campaigns both to sanction human rights (Jazz in the Civil Rights Movement), and suppress them (its concerted and systematic effort to exclude women); and it has been used at once to amplify capitalism (the market-savvy Smooth Jazz industry) and to critique it (the efflorescence of independent musician collectives, such as the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). Using audio recordings, newspaper articles, television programs, and other archival materials, along with recent and past scholarship, we will examine the sounds, key figures, and practices that make up this music to consider what this enduring yet elusive style has to tell us about ourselves.

Fall semester. Professor Harper.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

121 Asia in the European Mind: Modern European Discourse on History and Identity

From the late-eighteenth century onward European intellectuals frequently drew on images of Asia to illustrate what it meant to be modern, enlightened, and historically progressive. By critically tracing this intellectual genealogy we will together confront durable but controversial conceptions of human subjectivity, freedom, and historical progress, conceptions which we may find ourselves to be complicit in today. We will start with key figures in the intellectual tradition of modern Europe, including Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), Georg W. F. Hegel (1770–1831), Karl Marx (1818–1883), and Max Weber (1864–1920), but move on to consider how their thought echoes in Asian conversations about modernity. We will conclude with contemporary thinkers and their attempts to grapple with the tension between universal conceptions of human history and relativistic approaches.  

Offered Fall 2021. Professor Maxey.

 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

122 Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Latin American Arts

In this seminar, we will explore the decolonial tradition in Latin American visual and literary arts over the past 500 years, a tradition that questions and contests the articulation of race, gender, and ethnicity as natural categories.  Together, we will conduct close readings of a number of exemplary texts within this tradition (poems, narratives, films, sculpture, performance), taking care to contextualize them in space and time.  Class conversations will follow the principles of the listening circle, an Indigenous practice that facilitates respectful conversations and meaningful interaction.  As part of the seminar, we will also engage in campus-wide conversations around race at three points during the semester (beginning, middle, and end), and work with the College’s Archive on a small project to be collaboratively determined.  Finally, throughout the semester, we will help each other improve our written and oral presentation skills through low-stakes assignments and activities, while getting to know one another as unique individuals and as members of interconnected communities. 

Fall semester. Professor Schroeder Rodriguez. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

123 Thinking Body, Dancing Mind

What is body intelligence? In what ways is the body's ability to perceive and know the world equal to that of the mind? What can we learn from the body’s unique experience of the world? Utilizing dance and the performing arts as a framework for our investigations, we will explore embodied exercises to develop kinesthetic awareness and presence, attune ourselves to our bodies’ sensations and feelings, and practice observing the world through the lens of physical experience. Additionally, we will cultivate a discipline of articulating our bodies’ perceptions through discussion and writing. We will study works and techniques of seminal choreographers and dance practitioners, such as Pina Bausch and Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, who emphasize the integration of body and mind through the lived experience. This course will also provide an introduction to the liberal arts by helping students engage with and critically reflect on a broad range of media, including theoretical works, live performance, film, sound, music, and visual art. Regular short writing will also be required. 

Fall semester. Professor Riegel. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

124 Telling Stories

We all like a good story. But why? And what is a good story? Neurobiologists have documented the chemical changes that occur in our brains when we listen to a well told story. Hannah Arendt argues that who we are is best determined by the stories others tell about us, not the stories we tell about ourselves. TED talks have over-determined that all ideas worth sharing must be explained in 18 minutes, no more or less, with compelling graphics, of course. Stories are a feature of cultures around the world, and elements of both universality and diversity can be found in storytelling norms. The explosion of oral history work has done much to add the stories of “regular” people to historical narratives about events deemed worth remembering. It is possible that a story well told can compel listeners to behave more altruistically.

In this course we will think about stories, write stories, tell stories and listen to stories. We will acknowledge the comfort that cherished stories provide and de-familiarize those stories at the same time. We will read across a wide range of disciplinary perspectives on storytelling, including biology, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, and cultural studies, acknowledging our limits as readers when we lack substantial disciplinary foundations but also embracing the ways we can be thoughtful about ideas that are partially beyond our reach. We will expand our thoughts about what a story is and use the lens of story to examine things we would never have imagined were stories. In this course students will develop their skills as a reader and a writer and a speaker, but also, of course, as a listener.

Fall semester. Lecturer Mead.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

125 Space and Place

This course is an interdisciplinary exploration of physical space and the sense of belonging and rootedness we call place. The organizing principle of the course is the expanding circle; we will begin with the individual, then move to the home and family, the city, the nation, and end with the globe as a whole. We will cover a range of topics along the way, including memory, imagination, nationalism, borders, war, exile, imperialism, and globalization. Works range across philosophy, history, anthropology, film, fiction, and environmentalism, among others. We will approach this material from within a liberal arts framework, which will give students exposure to a wide variety of perspectives in the humanities and social sciences.

This is a discussion-based course designed to develop student competency in critical thinking and argumentation. Assignments include oral presentations, reading evaluations, short responses, and formal essays of varying lengths, including a research paper. Writing workshops will help students develop their writing skills, with emphasis on crafting thesis/support essays. Trips outside the classroom will introduce students to the wide range of resources at the College.

Fall semester. Professor Van Compernolle.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2021

126 Utopias

This course is an examination of utopian plans in literature, architecture, art, aesthetics, and political philosophy. We will consider the role of time and history in utopian schemes—how different projections about life in the future are based on fierce criticisms of the present, and often rely on invented or nostalgic views of social organizations in times past. The class will cover a selection of literary and theoretical utopias, beginning with Sir Thomas More, and ending with Octavia Butler, along with a range of visionary artists and designers—from Campanella's “City of the Sun” in the Renaissance to Le Corbusier’s “City of Three Million” in the twentieth century. How design affects the relationship of the individual to the community will be explored, incorporating questions of race, gender, and class. We will also examine the tensions between utopian theory and practice, by looking at the successes and failures of actual attempts at living in utopian communities. The course will conclude with a discussion of the contemporary sensations of dystopia and chaos, and of climate change and sustainable design, as we consider whether utopian thinking is applicable to the twenty-first century. Students will learn how to analyze real and imagined societies in novels, treatises, pictures, buildings, and plans. Projects include short essays, a midterm presentation, a group design project (no prior experience required), and a final paper of the student’s choosing—on any utopian image, film, text, performance, or work of imaginary architecture or planning.

Fall Semester. Visiting Professor Koehler.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

127 The Tragic Condition

Recent events over the past year and a half in the United States and across the globe, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the Black Lives Matter protest movement, have revealed how tragic human life can be. But what do people really mean when they call something “tragic”? This course explores the tragic condition by reading the most lasting works of Ancient Greek tragedy by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides alongside modern retellings of these tragedies by authors from diverse communities around the world. We will learn about the enigmatic origins of tragedy in archaic Greece and also about the performance of tragedy in ancient Athens by studying the conventions of music, dance, and the mask. Most important, we will reflect on enduring relevance of Greek tragedy today by reading several works by authors and playwrights from diverse communities around the world who have taken the powerful myths, stories, and characters from Greek tragedy and adapted them to the Black, Chicano, Transgender, African, Latin American, Muslim, and Japanese experience. All readings will be in English translation. No previous knowledge is required.

Fall Semester. Professor Hutchins. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

About Amherst College

About Amherst College

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First-Year Seminars

Faculty members, in groups of one or more, teach First-Year Seminars. Every first-year student must take one of these courses during the fall semester. They are open only to Amherst College first-year students.

Fake News

In our information-saturated world, "fake news" may feel like an inescapable reality. But what exactly is fake news, why does it exist, and how do we distinguish it from trustworthy information? In particular, if experts can disagree and data can be fabricated, where do we go when the subject matter is beyond our expertise? Can something that "makes sense" be false? Can a theory that contradicts our personal experiences or beliefs still hold true?

In this course we will take a critical look at how science is reported in the media and how logic, probability, and statistics can be manipulated to fit various narratives. We will focus on identifying sources of (mis)information, constructing fact-based arguments, and establishing ways to distinguish between news, opinions, rumors, advertisement, and propaganda.

Fall semester. Assistant Professor Culiuc.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

"Finding Your Roots": Narratives of Self and Community

In each episode of the PBS show Finding your Roots, celebrities speak with host Henry Louis Gates about their family’s history. Gates’s team of researchers then undertakes archival research and DNA analysis that sometimes leads to surprising discoveries. Rather than fetishize lineage, each episode of Finding your Roots and a similar show called Who Do You Think You Are? walks guests through the process of research and discovery, and offers insight into global histories of migration, society, nation, and empire. In one episode, for example, Martha Stewart discovered that she had Muslim ancestors in central Poland, which became an opportunity to explore the deep roots of Islam in Europe. In another, the comedian Wanda Sykes spoke proudly of her identity as descendant of Black slaves. She was surprised to learn not only that her Black ancestors enjoyed freedom at least as far back as the mid-1700s, but, to her horror, they were slave owners. Gates used this as an opportunity to explore the complex history of Black slavery in America. Another famous comedian, Margaret Cho, spoke with pride about her Korean roots, only to learn that her ancestors who had migrated to San Francisco from Korea were descendants of Chinese migrants. This points to ways migration patterns within Asia contradict ethno-nationalist narratives within the region. The actress Jessica Alba guessed that, as a Latina, she had a complicated heritage, but Gates found that her Mexican past was even more revealing of global empires than Alba had anticipated. While some of Gates’ guests found surprises, others found their family stories confirmed by DNA and archival research. Through research, story-telling and conversations, the celebrity guests, and even Gates himself, learned to see their present and their past as part of larger trends in history.

In this course you will practice various strategies for recovering and narrating your own stories of home and of family (with a broad understanding of what “home” and “family” mean). Next, you will conduct genealogical research, store your findings into structured databases, and read histories of migration, race, and nation formation in various parts of the world. You will have the opportunity to get your DNA analyzed and will choose whether to share your findings. Next, you will select a particular person, moment, place or time that you discovered through your genealogical research. This will become the subject of a historical research project using digital archives. You will finish the course by reflecting upon how the things you and your peers discovered about your diverse pasts shape how you think about the changes and challenging transitions you are currently experiencing as the newest members of the Amherst College community.

To learn about a past iteration of the course, visit https://www.amherst.edu/ amherst-story/magazine/issues/ 2019-spring/college-row/rooted

Not offered in 2021-22. Professor Lopez.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020

Giving

 

The act of giving seems, at first, to be deceptively straight-forward and entirely altruistic.  But, as Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us, “We wish to be self-sustained.  We do not quite forgive a giver.”  In this seminar we will examine the act of giving – between people, between institutions and people, and entirely between institutions – from an interdisciplinary lens to reflect on what it means to give. We will intentionally reveal and challenge our initial assumptions about giving.  Using a variety of texts – religious, literary, first person accounts, and public policy – we will explore the diverse forms philanthropy has taken over time and across cultures; its philosophical underpinnings, its complex interrelationships with religious notions of charity and secular notions of democracy, and its often paradoxical effects on social relations and public policy.

The course will begin and end with the same assignment–a reflective essay in which you develop your personal framework for giving. It is anticipated that the texts and class discussions will influence the evolution of this framework and, hence, the robustness of your final essay.  Along the way, class discussions, readings, and short papers will help you develop as readers, writers, speakers and thinkers. 

Fall semester. Lecturer Mead.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

Language Crossing and Living in Translation

When did you start dreaming in a second language? Which translation of the Bible counts as the Word of God? Was Mary a virgin or a maiden? What happens to the immigrant children who need to the be interpreters in the life of their family? How much more tangled or how much more nimble is the wiring of the bilingual brain? What are we doing to our languages when we immerse in a new academic discipline? We will tackle these and other questions like these as we engage in the following units of study: (1) Babel and language differentiation and diffusion. (2) European translators from early modern humanism and the Reformation. (3) Case studies: Squanto, Malinche and the Navajo Code talkers. (4) Language in contemporary empires and resistance, migrations and globalization. (5) Language issues in gay and lesbian diasporas. (6) Bi- or multi-lingual education. (7) Literary practitioners of living in and out of translation:  Luis de León, Vladimir Nabokov, Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

The seminar will work with the same texts, issues and exercise for about two-thirds of our time together. The other third we will concentrate on projects that emerge from the students’ own linguistic condition. Students will be required to delve into their own family archives looking for ancestors’ letters written in languages they cannot yet read. They will be encouraged to document/fictionalize the stakes of marrying into another language, or to study and report on the language crossings of their particular diaspora.

Despite the apparent advantage of having more than one language to engage in our work, this course has no prerequisites and its does not exclude monolinguals. When we talk about the cultural contributions, the headiness and the struggles of bi- or multi-lingual individuals, it will be invaluable to have interlocutors who think they live only in one language.

Omitted 2021-22. Lecturer B. Sánchez-Eppler.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2019, Fall 2020

Authority, Obedience and The Rule of Law

All political systems must operate according to the "rule of law" if they are to be deemed legitimate. This statement has assumed the quality of a truism: we hear it repeated by the President of the United States, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and the President of the International Criminal Court. At the same time, though, that everyone seems to agree that the "rule of law" is a good thing, no one seems able to say for sure what the "rule of law" is. What, then, do we mean by the "rule of law"? What does it mean to speak of government limited by law? What are these limits, where do they come from, and how are they enforced? What role does the "rule of law" play in legitimating structures of governance? Does the "rule of law" imply any particular relationship between legality and morality? We will hazard answers to these questions through a close reading of works of theorists such as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, H.L.A. Hart and Lon Fuller. In addition, we will examine the arguments of the theorists as they help us think through pressing legal challenges of our age, such as defining the limits of executive power in the "war against terror."

Our seminar will be devoted to the close reading of a select number of texts. We will analyze the structure, meaning and adequacy of the arguments contained in these works through vigorous discussion and frequent writing assignments. Our aim is to gain a rich critical understanding of a concept that lies at the foundation of domestic and international socio-political systems, and to improve our abilities to discuss and write about complex ideas with sophistication, nuance and flair.

Omitted 2021-22.  Professor Douglas.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

The Nuclear Age

On August 6, 1945, a United States bomber dropped the first atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, transforming the world in an instant. This course explores the emergence of nuclear technology and its impact on global politics, society, and culture from roughly the Second World War to the present day. We will begin with the invention of the atomic bomb during World War II, exploring its societal, environmental, and cultural effects in Japan as well as its broader impact on American and European politics and identity. We will then examine the diverse ramifications of the nuclear arms race in the 1950s and 1960s, and again in the 1980s, which both pushed the world towards the brink of destruction and also fostered new forms of international cooperation and grassroots activism. We will also analyze the continuing debates over nuclear technology in the context of energy, natural resources, scientific responsibility, and environmentalism. Drawing on a range of sources, from governmental reports and diaries to cartoons, films, and paintings, the course will highlight the perspectives of a variety of groups and individuals who shaped and were shaped by the nuclear age, including scientists, policymakers, journalists, artists, activists, and victims of atomic blasts. Two class meetings per week.

Not offered in 2021-22. Professors Boucher and Walker.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020

101 Progress?

Is the world a better place today than it was fifty years ago?  Will it be better yet in another fifty years?  We cannot answer such questions without asking what we mean by "better," that is, what counts as progress.  The question of what progress is cannot be answered simply: the term has been used in different ways at differemt times and has also been the subject of much critical examination.  We will explore the meaning of progress by engaging with a variety of thought-provoking and influential works. 

Fall semester. Professors George, Shah, Worsley and Douglas.

 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

102 Growing Up in America

How do race, ethnicity, social class, and gender shape the experience of growing up in America? We will begin by examining the childhood and adolescent experiences of Justice Sonia Sotomayor as she journeyed from a low-income Puerto Rican immigrant community in the Bronx to an Ivy League university. As we read coming-of-age experiences of other individuals, past and present, fictional and real, our focus will be on understanding identity formation, family relationships, education, the American Dream, courtship, sexuality, and the importance of culture and community. Readings will include sociological and psychological theory as tools for analysis. We will also explore the privileges or disadvantages we have faced growing up due to our race, ethnicity, social class, and gender to understand how they have shaped our own life experiences and perceptions.

The course introduces students to interdisciplinary readings and methods of inquiry from history, psychology, sociology, and literature. The course is designed to advance students’ skills at reading critically, developing strong arguments, and articulating ideas orally and in writing, skills that will be crucial for future coursework at the college.

Fall semester. Professor Aries.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

103 Global Cities and Global Slums:  Environment, Racism, and Coloniality

In this seminar, participants will explore the relationship between urban development and global inequalities. The first section focuses on the historical formation of global cities and global slums in the late twentieth century that together rejuvenated coloniality as a relationship of oppression in urban spaces. In the second section, we will discuss how both forms of urban agglomerations perpetuate environmental issues and structural racism. In the last section, we will address the impact of environmental issues and structural racism on the physical and social transformation of US cities. Students will write weekly response papers, online discussion forum posts, a midterm paper, and a final paper. In their midterm and final papers, students will focus on a specific urban setting in the United States to contextualize the course material and discussions.

Fall semester. Visiting Associate Professor Balaban.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

104 New Women in America

This course will examine the emergence of the “New Woman” as a category of social theory, political action, and literary representation at the turning of the twentieth century. Early readings will trace the origins of the New Woman as a response to nineteenth-century notions of “True Womanhood.” Discussions will situate literary representations of women in larger cultural events taking place during the Progressive Era–debates over suffrage as well as their relationship to issues of citizenship, immigration, Jim Crow segregation, urbanization, and nativism. The course will focus on texts written by a diverse group of women that present multiple and, at times, conflicting images of the New Woman. Close attention will be paid to the manner in which these women writers constructed their fictions, particularly to issues of language, style, and form. Readings will include texts by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, Pauline Hopkins, Anzia Yezierska, and Sui Sin Far.

Fall semester. Lecturer Bergoffen.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

105 Ring of Fire: Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Devastation

Roughly 90 percent of today’s earthquakes and 75 percent of active volcanoes reside along the Ring of Fire, a nearly 25,000-mile stretch wrapped around the edges of the Pacific Ocean. The Ring of Fire is ground zero for some of the deadliest earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in human history, recorded in writings, traditions, and legends. These catastrophic events often have global repercussions. Examples include the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and subsequent tsunami that killed over 200,000 people in 14 countries and the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora in 1815, which resulted in climate anomalies and global famines. The focus of the course will be case studies of specific disasters – both within and outside the Ring of Fire – across human history. Through in-class discussion and frequent reading and writing assignments, we will gain an understanding of the geologic processes responsible for these volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, and the vulnerability of human populations to them. While taught from an earth science perspective, this course will be interdisciplinary, using historic and artistic accounts of disasters along with modern scientific research publications to help answer the following questions: What determines the location of volcanoes and earthquakes? Can we predict the next great earthquake or volcanic eruption? How are some communities disproportionately vulnerable to these hazards? How has our collective understanding of earthquakes and volcanoes changed through time?

Throughout the semester we hope to take advantage of local opportunities to enhance our understanding of geologic processes and the intertwined history of human response to change and catastrophe.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

106 Making Place in Kwenitekw, the Connecticut River Valley

How do we know the places we live? How do we participate in their making? How do we come to know places that are unfamiliar, or new to us? How do our languages, cultural frameworks, and embodied experiences, including race, gender, and sexuality, shape how we perceive place? In this seminar, we will think and write deliberatively about the process of making place, both the places we come from, and most important, the place we currently inhabit. Grounded in Indigenous language and land, we will consider the deep histories, oral traditions, and continuing adaptation of the Kwenitekw (Connecticut River) Valley and the place of Amherst College within this space. We will begin with the idea that place is not static or permanent, but rather dynamic and changing. Making place is an activity and we will get out on the land to observe and participate in those processes. We will spend most of our class time outside, turning our attention to the many other-than-human beings that are constantly making place in the environment we depend upon. At the same time, we will also spend time in the built environment and archives of Amherst College, considering how students have challenged, changed and transformed the social, political, and educational space of our campus. 

Fall semester.  Professor Brooks.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

107 Secrets and Lies

Politics seems almost unimaginable without secrecy and lying. From the noble lie of Plato's Republic to the controversy about former President Clinton's "lying" in the Monica Lewinsky case and President Trump’s alleged assault on truth, from the use of secrecy in the war against terrorism to the endless spinning of political campaigns, from controversies about "fake news" to efforts to hide and excuse police miscoduct, from President John Kennedy's behavior during the Cuban missile crisis to cover-ups concerning pedophile priests in the Catholic church, from Freud's efforts to decode the secrets beneath civilized life to contemporary exposés of the private lives of politicians, politics and deception seem to go hand-in-hand. This course investigates how the practices of politics are informed by the keeping and telling of secrets, and the telling and exposing of lies. We will address such questions as: When, if ever, is it right to lie or to breach confidences? When is it right to expose secrets and lies? Is it necessary to be prepared to lie in order to advance the cause of justice? Or, must we do justice justly? When is secrecy really necessary and when is it merely a pretext for Machiavellian manipulation? Are secrecy and deceit more prevalent in some kinds of political systems than in others? Can democracy survive in a “post-truth” era? As we explore those questions we will discuss the place of candor and openness in politics and social life; the relationship between the claims of privacy (e.g., the closeting of sexual desire) and secrecy and deception in public arenas; conspiracy theories as they are applied to politics; and the importance of secrecy in the domains of national security and law enforcement. We will examine the treatment of secrecy and lying in political theory as well as their appearance in literature and popular culture, for example Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Primary Colors, Schindler's List and The Insider.

This is a discussion-based course. Students will be expected to be active participants in the seminar. During the course of the semester we will use our discussions to cultivate reasoning skills as well as student capacities to present arguments in a compelling manner. In addition, there will be frequent writing, and I will provide careful and extended responses to student writing. The course will provide an introduction to liberal studies by helping students learn how to read and comprehend complex texts, respond to them in sophisticated ways, and engage in critical reasoning about venerable and pressing ethical, social and political problems. 

Fall semester. Professor Sarat.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

108 The Crowd

From the Black Lives Matter uprising and democracy movement in Hong Kong to farmer’s protests in India and the 2021 Capitol Hill riots, we see crowds of people whose number, force, and relative anonymity make them a political power to reckon with. In this course we consider the crowd as an agent of politics. When does a group of people become a crowd? When is it called a mob? Who becomes a part of it and who’s afraid of it? Why is the crowd simultaneously celebrated and vilified? What does this ambivalence reveal about the nature of mass democracies globally? During the semester, we will first address these concerns around the crowd in scholarly work and eventually move on to ethnographic considerations of actual crowds that occupy our streets and our screens on a daily basis. The crowd, we will see, is a permanent fixture against which the words and actions of the people are defined. Yet, as an embodiment of popular political will and a figure of lawlessness and disorder, the crowd is here to stay. Together, we will aim to understand the role and the ruse of the crowd in the life of modern democracy.

Fall semester.  Professor Chowdhury.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

109 Drugs in History

This course examines the changing ways that human beings have used psychoactive drugs and societies have controlled that use. After examining drug use in historical and cross-cultural perspectives and studying the physiological and psychological effects of different drugs, we look at the ways in which contemporary societies both encourage and repress drug use. We address the drug war, the disease model of drug addiction, the proliferation of prescription drugs, the images of drug use in popular culture, America’s complicated history of alcohol control, and international drug trafficking and its implications for American foreign policy. Readings include Huxley’s Brave New World, Kramer’s Listening to Prozac, and Reinarman and Schivelbusch, Tastes of Paradise; films include Drugstore Cowboy and Traffic. This course will be writing attentive. Two class meetings per week.

Fall semester. Professor Couvares.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

110 Encounters with Nature

What is our place in nature? How do we feel about natural spaces we encountered growing up
and how do we view the environment of Amherst College and its setting in New England? How did people in the past think about nature and how did they change their environments as a consequence? Did different races experience and alter nature in different ways? How have the ideas and experiences of the past affected us today? And how do we imagine the future of the natural world? Has the current pandemic permanently changed how we think about nature?

This course will explore how our ideas of nature have changed over time. We will give particular attention to the ways we have recreated particular kinds of natural spaces and how we have depicted nature in images. We begin with walks in the nearby wildlife sanctuary, discussions of our past encounters with nature, a study of the Amherst Campus, and, while the weather is still warm, a hike or two. During these excursions we will discuss what we see, take visual notes on the landscape through drawing (no expertise necessary), and discuss and write about how our experience with the land might differ from how people experienced it in the past. We then will explore New England further, discuss ideas about wilderness in the United States, and look closely at American landscape painting. Where do our deeply held assumptions come from? To find out, we will look at poetry, philosophy, Western painting traditions, and scientific illustration. We also will think about why people collect and draw natural specimens, and how they mapped their environments from the Renaissance through the Aztec empire to the current day.

The course will provide an introduction to liberal studies by helping students learn how to read and comprehend complex texts and images, respond to them in sophisticated ways, and engage in critical reasoning. We expect students to be active participants in class discussions. Students will write brief abstracts every week about the readings and every other week or so perform close readings of texts, art, maps, and even gardens and landscapes.

Fall semester. Professor Courtright. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

111 Investigating Objects

Our lives are filled with objects. What are our relationships to them, and what is their significance in our culture? In this discussion-based course we will be exploring what objects are, how we define and value them, and what their existence is apart from us. Reading texts from a variety of disciplines including philosophy, literature, art history, and anthropology, we will be investigating a range of perspectives on objects and their significance. In addition to reading about them, we will examine actual objects. Discussions and writing assignments will develop approaches to enrich and inform these encounters through research, visual examination and critical analysis. 

This course will also involve making things. Through a series of studio projects (drawing and sculpture) we will explore how things are made and gain a richer understanding of their physical, visual and tactile qualities. Writing assignments in connection with these projects will help to foster an appreciation of the connections between the visual and the verbal. Some of the objects we will be investigating are: vessels, electronic devices, books, furniture, miniatures, musical instruments and modern sculpture.

No studio art experience is necessary.

Fall Semester. Visiting Lecturer Douglas Culhane.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

112 Beginnings

 

This course offers a sustained encounter with premodern worldviews, lifeways, and models of being human--that is to say, with the vast majority of human experience in recorded history. In this course we will consider a wide variety of premodern literatures and cultures, focusing on a broad range of works from western antiquity through medieval and early modern history in Mediterranean, South Asian, Eurasian, and Islamic societies.

Part of the explicit aim of our endeavors is to destabilize the centrality of western patterns of historical and intellectual development by offering robust alternatives to it. We will explore various kinds of beginnings, such as arts and technologies, languages, ideas, material cultures, literatures, cities, and civilizations. For fall 2020, the course theme is “Worlds and World-Making.” We will study cosmologies and cosmogonies, both scientific and mythic; and we will explore theories that explain the beginnings of human beings and key inventions and innovations across multiple histories and traditions.

The course has two weekly meetings: one plenary session (lecture) and one small-group discussion section. The two components are aimed at different yet essential skills: the art of attention to lectures and effective spoken and written communication in small-group meetings. The course is taught by a cluster of faculty from across disciplines and thereby offers an interdisciplinary introduction to liberal arts studies and to the essential tools for exploring the cultural, material and literary legacies of our diverse fields of study.

Readings for this class will be available online and through the Moodle website. Tuesday's meetings will include all sections together with the faculty, with one faculty member lecturing in their area of expertise. There may be occasional, required asynchronous (online) lectures before Tuesday's meetings. Thursday's meetings consist of small discussion sections (15 students) with your designated faculty member, who will remain constant throughout the semester. These meetings are focused on discussion of the weekly material. While we anticipate returning to in-class offerings, you should be prepared for some synchronous online sessions if necessary.

Fall semester. Assistant Professor Hunter-Parker, Associate Professor van den Berg, Assistant Professor Rice and Assistant Professor Infante.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

113 Christianity and Evolution

This course explores the relationship between Christianity and the theory of evolution, which phrase refers to a family of scientific theories generally associated with the work of Charles Darwin.  The primary mode of approach to this relationship will be historical, but throughout the course voices from a variety of academic disciplines will be heard.  Geographically, the focus of the course will be on Europe (largely the UK) and North America.  Over the course of the semester we will explore issues in the relationship between Christianity and the natural sciences in the generation before Darwin;  the contents of Darwin’s theory of natural selection and its ramifications for understanding the origins of the human species;  a variety of Christian responses to the theory in the late nineteenth century;  the rise of a concerted movement in opposition to evolution in North America in the early twentieth century;  and developments subsequent to this movement within those sectors of Christianity that participated in it.

Fall semester. Professor Dole. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2021

114 Inequality in the "New World"

This course explores the consequences of the European encounter of 1492, and after, with indigenous peoples of what came to be called the Americas, including systemic genocide committed against indigenous peoples, the emergence of chattel slavery, the functions of ideologies that have contributed to white supremacism, and the roles that doctrines of racial difference have played in producing social and economic inequalities. 

Fall semster. Professor Dumm.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

115 Goya and His World

We will luxuriate in Goya’s magisterial works, from his rococo Tapestry Cartoons to his harrowing Pinturas negras. We will study treasures at the Mead Museum—a complete set of the Caprichos, the Disasters of War, the Tauromaquia and the Disparates. To understand Goya’s apparently inscrutable images and his obsession with evil, we will pore over his letters, study his themes such as witchcraft and bullfighting, immerse ourselves in his fraught historical moment, and revel in his culture at large—from music to dance to literature—all inflected with a fragile Enlightenment, all still in the Inquisition’s grasp.

In addition to vibrant discussions, there will be weekly written assignments to deepen students' understanding of the material, as well as to develop the beauty of their writing, the acuity of their sight, their synthetic and analytical powers. There will be frequent one-on-one meetings with me, and constantly changing mini-groups, as we learn and explore together.

Reading knowledge of Spanish would be helpful, but is not necessary. Fall semester. Professor Staller.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

116 The Anatomy of Pictures

This course is about the centrality of images produced by mechanical means in the rituals, practices, and representations of everyday life—what we now understand as visual culture. With a focus on the last 50 years, we will explore why it is important to understand the image as utterly diverse in its functions. We will dissect examples from contemporary photography, new media, screen culture, and cultural theory that critically challenge visual culture. Our conversations will cover topics from new models of spectatorship and how to become visually literate to controversies surrounding trigger warnings and the risk of “remaining forever trapped inside the image” (cf. Jacques Rancière’s “The Intolerable Image”). Readings will include the voices of artists, critics, historians, cultural theorists, and philosophers such as Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, Richard Dyer, Jessica Evans, Michel Foucault, Anne Friedberg, Stuart Hall, bell hooks, Kobena Mercer, Adrian Piper, Claudia Rankine, and Hito Steyerl.

Fall semester. Visiting Lecturer Falk.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

117 Animals and the Law

How and under what circumstances are non-human animals considered persons before the law? Using perspectives from anthropology, Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS), science and technology studies (STS), and legal studies, this course explores the shifting status of non-human animals in Anglo-American legal tradition. While our main focus will be the understanding and treatment of non-human animals in the contemporary United States, we will also examine these issues from historical and cross-cultural perspectives. Of particular interest is how scientific knowledge comes to bear on these kinds of legal questions. All students interested in the moral, political and legal status of animals are welcome.

Fall semester.  Visiting Professor Hamilton.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

118 Race and Gender in Biomedicine

This course explores conceptualizations and representations of race and gender in health and medicine.  We begin by looking at the histories of race, sex, and sexuality in Western science, especially in terms of how they have been articulated through multiple contexts involving infectious diseases. How does scientific thought and practice intersect with larger political and economic movements including colonization and imperialism?  We will then move into a discussion of the uses of race and sex in contemporary biomedicine focusing on the following questions: How is inequality “written on the body”? How are categories of risk and susceptibility racialized and biologized? How are racism and sexism “underlying conditions” that powerfully shape whether or not people contract infectious diseases and who lives and who dies? This course will have a special focus on global health disparities.

Fall semester.  Visiting Professor Hamilton

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

119 Transformative Ideas

 

This course explores a series of ideas from the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries that have substantially changed the way people think about humanity in the Western world. Each idea is closely associated with an author. While from year to year the ideas will change, for 2021 we will closely read and write about, Karl Marx and Frederic Engels The Communist Manifesto, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The American Scholar” and “Self-Reliance”, Friedrich Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals, W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, Sigmund Freud’s The Ego and the Id, Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, and Judith Butler’s Precarious Life. Students are also asked to purchase a copy of Strunk and White, The Elements of Style.

Fall semester. Professor Dumm.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

120 Looking at the World Through Jazz-Colored Lenses

When you think of Jazz, what comes to mind? Perhaps a romantic, elegant, candle-lit dinner? A goatee-sporting fashion plate? Individual freedom to create? Something old that your parents listen to? Jazz emerged in New Orleans in the early twentieth century and quickly spread throughout the world, becoming, at certain points in its history, wildly popular, and at others, decidedly esoteric. Jazz has been called, variously: savage, modern, instinctive, sophisticated, revolutionary, a rare national treasure, a secret sonic weapon, noise, America's classical music, and the most powerful evolutionary force in modern music. It has been instrumental in political movements (for instance, the export of jazz ensembles to the Soviet Union during the Cold War); in campaigns both to sanction human rights (Jazz in the Civil Rights Movement), and suppress them (its concerted and systematic effort to exclude women); and it has been used at once to amplify capitalism (the market-savvy Smooth Jazz industry) and to critique it (the efflorescence of independent musician collectives, such as the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). Using audio recordings, newspaper articles, television programs, and other archival materials, along with recent and past scholarship, we will examine the sounds, key figures, and practices that make up this music to consider what this enduring yet elusive style has to tell us about ourselves.

Fall semester. Professor Harper.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

121 Asia in the European Mind: Modern European Discourse on History and Identity

From the late-eighteenth century onward European intellectuals frequently drew on images of Asia to illustrate what it meant to be modern, enlightened, and historically progressive. By critically tracing this intellectual genealogy we will together confront durable but controversial conceptions of human subjectivity, freedom, and historical progress, conceptions which we may find ourselves to be complicit in today. We will start with key figures in the intellectual tradition of modern Europe, including Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), Georg W. F. Hegel (1770–1831), Karl Marx (1818–1883), and Max Weber (1864–1920), but move on to consider how their thought echoes in Asian conversations about modernity. We will conclude with contemporary thinkers and their attempts to grapple with the tension between universal conceptions of human history and relativistic approaches.  

Offered Fall 2021. Professor Maxey.

 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

122 Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Latin American Arts

In this seminar, we will explore the decolonial tradition in Latin American visual and literary arts over the past 500 years, a tradition that questions and contests the articulation of race, gender, and ethnicity as natural categories.  Together, we will conduct close readings of a number of exemplary texts within this tradition (poems, narratives, films, sculpture, performance), taking care to contextualize them in space and time.  Class conversations will follow the principles of the listening circle, an Indigenous practice that facilitates respectful conversations and meaningful interaction.  As part of the seminar, we will also engage in campus-wide conversations around race at three points during the semester (beginning, middle, and end), and work with the College’s Archive on a small project to be collaboratively determined.  Finally, throughout the semester, we will help each other improve our written and oral presentation skills through low-stakes assignments and activities, while getting to know one another as unique individuals and as members of interconnected communities. 

Fall semester. Professor Schroeder Rodriguez. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

123 Thinking Body, Dancing Mind

What is body intelligence? In what ways is the body's ability to perceive and know the world equal to that of the mind? What can we learn from the body’s unique experience of the world? Utilizing dance and the performing arts as a framework for our investigations, we will explore embodied exercises to develop kinesthetic awareness and presence, attune ourselves to our bodies’ sensations and feelings, and practice observing the world through the lens of physical experience. Additionally, we will cultivate a discipline of articulating our bodies’ perceptions through discussion and writing. We will study works and techniques of seminal choreographers and dance practitioners, such as Pina Bausch and Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, who emphasize the integration of body and mind through the lived experience. This course will also provide an introduction to the liberal arts by helping students engage with and critically reflect on a broad range of media, including theoretical works, live performance, film, sound, music, and visual art. Regular short writing will also be required. 

Fall semester. Professor Riegel. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

124 Telling Stories

We all like a good story. But why? And what is a good story? Neurobiologists have documented the chemical changes that occur in our brains when we listen to a well told story. Hannah Arendt argues that who we are is best determined by the stories others tell about us, not the stories we tell about ourselves. TED talks have over-determined that all ideas worth sharing must be explained in 18 minutes, no more or less, with compelling graphics, of course. Stories are a feature of cultures around the world, and elements of both universality and diversity can be found in storytelling norms. The explosion of oral history work has done much to add the stories of “regular” people to historical narratives about events deemed worth remembering. It is possible that a story well told can compel listeners to behave more altruistically.

In this course we will think about stories, write stories, tell stories and listen to stories. We will acknowledge the comfort that cherished stories provide and de-familiarize those stories at the same time. We will read across a wide range of disciplinary perspectives on storytelling, including biology, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, and cultural studies, acknowledging our limits as readers when we lack substantial disciplinary foundations but also embracing the ways we can be thoughtful about ideas that are partially beyond our reach. We will expand our thoughts about what a story is and use the lens of story to examine things we would never have imagined were stories. In this course students will develop their skills as a reader and a writer and a speaker, but also, of course, as a listener.

Fall semester. Lecturer Mead.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

125 Space and Place

This course is an interdisciplinary exploration of physical space and the sense of belonging and rootedness we call place. The organizing principle of the course is the expanding circle; we will begin with the individual, then move to the home and family, the city, the nation, and end with the globe as a whole. We will cover a range of topics along the way, including memory, imagination, nationalism, borders, war, exile, imperialism, and globalization. Works range across philosophy, history, anthropology, film, fiction, and environmentalism, among others. We will approach this material from within a liberal arts framework, which will give students exposure to a wide variety of perspectives in the humanities and social sciences.

This is a discussion-based course designed to develop student competency in critical thinking and argumentation. Assignments include oral presentations, reading evaluations, short responses, and formal essays of varying lengths, including a research paper. Writing workshops will help students develop their writing skills, with emphasis on crafting thesis/support essays. Trips outside the classroom will introduce students to the wide range of resources at the College.

Fall semester. Professor Van Compernolle.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2021

126 Utopias

This course is an examination of utopian plans in literature, architecture, art, aesthetics, and political philosophy. We will consider the role of time and history in utopian schemes—how different projections about life in the future are based on fierce criticisms of the present, and often rely on invented or nostalgic views of social organizations in times past. The class will cover a selection of literary and theoretical utopias, beginning with Sir Thomas More, and ending with Octavia Butler, along with a range of visionary artists and designers—from Campanella's “City of the Sun” in the Renaissance to Le Corbusier’s “City of Three Million” in the twentieth century. How design affects the relationship of the individual to the community will be explored, incorporating questions of race, gender, and class. We will also examine the tensions between utopian theory and practice, by looking at the successes and failures of actual attempts at living in utopian communities. The course will conclude with a discussion of the contemporary sensations of dystopia and chaos, and of climate change and sustainable design, as we consider whether utopian thinking is applicable to the twenty-first century. Students will learn how to analyze real and imagined societies in novels, treatises, pictures, buildings, and plans. Projects include short essays, a midterm presentation, a group design project (no prior experience required), and a final paper of the student’s choosing—on any utopian image, film, text, performance, or work of imaginary architecture or planning.

Fall Semester. Visiting Professor Koehler.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

127 The Tragic Condition

Recent events over the past year and a half in the United States and across the globe, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the Black Lives Matter protest movement, have revealed how tragic human life can be. But what do people really mean when they call something “tragic”? This course explores the tragic condition by reading the most lasting works of Ancient Greek tragedy by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides alongside modern retellings of these tragedies by authors from diverse communities around the world. We will learn about the enigmatic origins of tragedy in archaic Greece and also about the performance of tragedy in ancient Athens by studying the conventions of music, dance, and the mask. Most important, we will reflect on enduring relevance of Greek tragedy today by reading several works by authors and playwrights from diverse communities around the world who have taken the powerful myths, stories, and characters from Greek tragedy and adapted them to the Black, Chicano, Transgender, African, Latin American, Muslim, and Japanese experience. All readings will be in English translation. No previous knowledge is required.

Fall Semester. Professor Hutchins. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

Admission & Financial Aid

Admission & Financial Aid

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First-Year Seminars

Faculty members, in groups of one or more, teach First-Year Seminars. Every first-year student must take one of these courses during the fall semester. They are open only to Amherst College first-year students.

Fake News

In our information-saturated world, "fake news" may feel like an inescapable reality. But what exactly is fake news, why does it exist, and how do we distinguish it from trustworthy information? In particular, if experts can disagree and data can be fabricated, where do we go when the subject matter is beyond our expertise? Can something that "makes sense" be false? Can a theory that contradicts our personal experiences or beliefs still hold true?

In this course we will take a critical look at how science is reported in the media and how logic, probability, and statistics can be manipulated to fit various narratives. We will focus on identifying sources of (mis)information, constructing fact-based arguments, and establishing ways to distinguish between news, opinions, rumors, advertisement, and propaganda.

Fall semester. Assistant Professor Culiuc.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

"Finding Your Roots": Narratives of Self and Community

In each episode of the PBS show Finding your Roots, celebrities speak with host Henry Louis Gates about their family’s history. Gates’s team of researchers then undertakes archival research and DNA analysis that sometimes leads to surprising discoveries. Rather than fetishize lineage, each episode of Finding your Roots and a similar show called Who Do You Think You Are? walks guests through the process of research and discovery, and offers insight into global histories of migration, society, nation, and empire. In one episode, for example, Martha Stewart discovered that she had Muslim ancestors in central Poland, which became an opportunity to explore the deep roots of Islam in Europe. In another, the comedian Wanda Sykes spoke proudly of her identity as descendant of Black slaves. She was surprised to learn not only that her Black ancestors enjoyed freedom at least as far back as the mid-1700s, but, to her horror, they were slave owners. Gates used this as an opportunity to explore the complex history of Black slavery in America. Another famous comedian, Margaret Cho, spoke with pride about her Korean roots, only to learn that her ancestors who had migrated to San Francisco from Korea were descendants of Chinese migrants. This points to ways migration patterns within Asia contradict ethno-nationalist narratives within the region. The actress Jessica Alba guessed that, as a Latina, she had a complicated heritage, but Gates found that her Mexican past was even more revealing of global empires than Alba had anticipated. While some of Gates’ guests found surprises, others found their family stories confirmed by DNA and archival research. Through research, story-telling and conversations, the celebrity guests, and even Gates himself, learned to see their present and their past as part of larger trends in history.

In this course you will practice various strategies for recovering and narrating your own stories of home and of family (with a broad understanding of what “home” and “family” mean). Next, you will conduct genealogical research, store your findings into structured databases, and read histories of migration, race, and nation formation in various parts of the world. You will have the opportunity to get your DNA analyzed and will choose whether to share your findings. Next, you will select a particular person, moment, place or time that you discovered through your genealogical research. This will become the subject of a historical research project using digital archives. You will finish the course by reflecting upon how the things you and your peers discovered about your diverse pasts shape how you think about the changes and challenging transitions you are currently experiencing as the newest members of the Amherst College community.

To learn about a past iteration of the course, visit https://www.amherst.edu/ amherst-story/magazine/issues/ 2019-spring/college-row/rooted

Not offered in 2021-22. Professor Lopez.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020

Giving

 

The act of giving seems, at first, to be deceptively straight-forward and entirely altruistic.  But, as Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us, “We wish to be self-sustained.  We do not quite forgive a giver.”  In this seminar we will examine the act of giving – between people, between institutions and people, and entirely between institutions – from an interdisciplinary lens to reflect on what it means to give. We will intentionally reveal and challenge our initial assumptions about giving.  Using a variety of texts – religious, literary, first person accounts, and public policy – we will explore the diverse forms philanthropy has taken over time and across cultures; its philosophical underpinnings, its complex interrelationships with religious notions of charity and secular notions of democracy, and its often paradoxical effects on social relations and public policy.

The course will begin and end with the same assignment–a reflective essay in which you develop your personal framework for giving. It is anticipated that the texts and class discussions will influence the evolution of this framework and, hence, the robustness of your final essay.  Along the way, class discussions, readings, and short papers will help you develop as readers, writers, speakers and thinkers. 

Fall semester. Lecturer Mead.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

Language Crossing and Living in Translation

When did you start dreaming in a second language? Which translation of the Bible counts as the Word of God? Was Mary a virgin or a maiden? What happens to the immigrant children who need to the be interpreters in the life of their family? How much more tangled or how much more nimble is the wiring of the bilingual brain? What are we doing to our languages when we immerse in a new academic discipline? We will tackle these and other questions like these as we engage in the following units of study: (1) Babel and language differentiation and diffusion. (2) European translators from early modern humanism and the Reformation. (3) Case studies: Squanto, Malinche and the Navajo Code talkers. (4) Language in contemporary empires and resistance, migrations and globalization. (5) Language issues in gay and lesbian diasporas. (6) Bi- or multi-lingual education. (7) Literary practitioners of living in and out of translation:  Luis de León, Vladimir Nabokov, Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

The seminar will work with the same texts, issues and exercise for about two-thirds of our time together. The other third we will concentrate on projects that emerge from the students’ own linguistic condition. Students will be required to delve into their own family archives looking for ancestors’ letters written in languages they cannot yet read. They will be encouraged to document/fictionalize the stakes of marrying into another language, or to study and report on the language crossings of their particular diaspora.

Despite the apparent advantage of having more than one language to engage in our work, this course has no prerequisites and its does not exclude monolinguals. When we talk about the cultural contributions, the headiness and the struggles of bi- or multi-lingual individuals, it will be invaluable to have interlocutors who think they live only in one language.

Omitted 2021-22. Lecturer B. Sánchez-Eppler.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2019, Fall 2020

Authority, Obedience and The Rule of Law

All political systems must operate according to the "rule of law" if they are to be deemed legitimate. This statement has assumed the quality of a truism: we hear it repeated by the President of the United States, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and the President of the International Criminal Court. At the same time, though, that everyone seems to agree that the "rule of law" is a good thing, no one seems able to say for sure what the "rule of law" is. What, then, do we mean by the "rule of law"? What does it mean to speak of government limited by law? What are these limits, where do they come from, and how are they enforced? What role does the "rule of law" play in legitimating structures of governance? Does the "rule of law" imply any particular relationship between legality and morality? We will hazard answers to these questions through a close reading of works of theorists such as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, H.L.A. Hart and Lon Fuller. In addition, we will examine the arguments of the theorists as they help us think through pressing legal challenges of our age, such as defining the limits of executive power in the "war against terror."

Our seminar will be devoted to the close reading of a select number of texts. We will analyze the structure, meaning and adequacy of the arguments contained in these works through vigorous discussion and frequent writing assignments. Our aim is to gain a rich critical understanding of a concept that lies at the foundation of domestic and international socio-political systems, and to improve our abilities to discuss and write about complex ideas with sophistication, nuance and flair.

Omitted 2021-22.  Professor Douglas.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

The Nuclear Age

On August 6, 1945, a United States bomber dropped the first atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, transforming the world in an instant. This course explores the emergence of nuclear technology and its impact on global politics, society, and culture from roughly the Second World War to the present day. We will begin with the invention of the atomic bomb during World War II, exploring its societal, environmental, and cultural effects in Japan as well as its broader impact on American and European politics and identity. We will then examine the diverse ramifications of the nuclear arms race in the 1950s and 1960s, and again in the 1980s, which both pushed the world towards the brink of destruction and also fostered new forms of international cooperation and grassroots activism. We will also analyze the continuing debates over nuclear technology in the context of energy, natural resources, scientific responsibility, and environmentalism. Drawing on a range of sources, from governmental reports and diaries to cartoons, films, and paintings, the course will highlight the perspectives of a variety of groups and individuals who shaped and were shaped by the nuclear age, including scientists, policymakers, journalists, artists, activists, and victims of atomic blasts. Two class meetings per week.

Not offered in 2021-22. Professors Boucher and Walker.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020

101 Progress?

Is the world a better place today than it was fifty years ago?  Will it be better yet in another fifty years?  We cannot answer such questions without asking what we mean by "better," that is, what counts as progress.  The question of what progress is cannot be answered simply: the term has been used in different ways at differemt times and has also been the subject of much critical examination.  We will explore the meaning of progress by engaging with a variety of thought-provoking and influential works. 

Fall semester. Professors George, Shah, Worsley and Douglas.

 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

102 Growing Up in America

How do race, ethnicity, social class, and gender shape the experience of growing up in America? We will begin by examining the childhood and adolescent experiences of Justice Sonia Sotomayor as she journeyed from a low-income Puerto Rican immigrant community in the Bronx to an Ivy League university. As we read coming-of-age experiences of other individuals, past and present, fictional and real, our focus will be on understanding identity formation, family relationships, education, the American Dream, courtship, sexuality, and the importance of culture and community. Readings will include sociological and psychological theory as tools for analysis. We will also explore the privileges or disadvantages we have faced growing up due to our race, ethnicity, social class, and gender to understand how they have shaped our own life experiences and perceptions.

The course introduces students to interdisciplinary readings and methods of inquiry from history, psychology, sociology, and literature. The course is designed to advance students’ skills at reading critically, developing strong arguments, and articulating ideas orally and in writing, skills that will be crucial for future coursework at the college.

Fall semester. Professor Aries.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

103 Global Cities and Global Slums:  Environment, Racism, and Coloniality

In this seminar, participants will explore the relationship between urban development and global inequalities. The first section focuses on the historical formation of global cities and global slums in the late twentieth century that together rejuvenated coloniality as a relationship of oppression in urban spaces. In the second section, we will discuss how both forms of urban agglomerations perpetuate environmental issues and structural racism. In the last section, we will address the impact of environmental issues and structural racism on the physical and social transformation of US cities. Students will write weekly response papers, online discussion forum posts, a midterm paper, and a final paper. In their midterm and final papers, students will focus on a specific urban setting in the United States to contextualize the course material and discussions.

Fall semester. Visiting Associate Professor Balaban.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

104 New Women in America

This course will examine the emergence of the “New Woman” as a category of social theory, political action, and literary representation at the turning of the twentieth century. Early readings will trace the origins of the New Woman as a response to nineteenth-century notions of “True Womanhood.” Discussions will situate literary representations of women in larger cultural events taking place during the Progressive Era–debates over suffrage as well as their relationship to issues of citizenship, immigration, Jim Crow segregation, urbanization, and nativism. The course will focus on texts written by a diverse group of women that present multiple and, at times, conflicting images of the New Woman. Close attention will be paid to the manner in which these women writers constructed their fictions, particularly to issues of language, style, and form. Readings will include texts by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, Pauline Hopkins, Anzia Yezierska, and Sui Sin Far.

Fall semester. Lecturer Bergoffen.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

105 Ring of Fire: Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Devastation

Roughly 90 percent of today’s earthquakes and 75 percent of active volcanoes reside along the Ring of Fire, a nearly 25,000-mile stretch wrapped around the edges of the Pacific Ocean. The Ring of Fire is ground zero for some of the deadliest earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in human history, recorded in writings, traditions, and legends. These catastrophic events often have global repercussions. Examples include the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and subsequent tsunami that killed over 200,000 people in 14 countries and the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora in 1815, which resulted in climate anomalies and global famines. The focus of the course will be case studies of specific disasters – both within and outside the Ring of Fire – across human history. Through in-class discussion and frequent reading and writing assignments, we will gain an understanding of the geologic processes responsible for these volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, and the vulnerability of human populations to them. While taught from an earth science perspective, this course will be interdisciplinary, using historic and artistic accounts of disasters along with modern scientific research publications to help answer the following questions: What determines the location of volcanoes and earthquakes? Can we predict the next great earthquake or volcanic eruption? How are some communities disproportionately vulnerable to these hazards? How has our collective understanding of earthquakes and volcanoes changed through time?

Throughout the semester we hope to take advantage of local opportunities to enhance our understanding of geologic processes and the intertwined history of human response to change and catastrophe.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

106 Making Place in Kwenitekw, the Connecticut River Valley

How do we know the places we live? How do we participate in their making? How do we come to know places that are unfamiliar, or new to us? How do our languages, cultural frameworks, and embodied experiences, including race, gender, and sexuality, shape how we perceive place? In this seminar, we will think and write deliberatively about the process of making place, both the places we come from, and most important, the place we currently inhabit. Grounded in Indigenous language and land, we will consider the deep histories, oral traditions, and continuing adaptation of the Kwenitekw (Connecticut River) Valley and the place of Amherst College within this space. We will begin with the idea that place is not static or permanent, but rather dynamic and changing. Making place is an activity and we will get out on the land to observe and participate in those processes. We will spend most of our class time outside, turning our attention to the many other-than-human beings that are constantly making place in the environment we depend upon. At the same time, we will also spend time in the built environment and archives of Amherst College, considering how students have challenged, changed and transformed the social, political, and educational space of our campus. 

Fall semester.  Professor Brooks.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

107 Secrets and Lies

Politics seems almost unimaginable without secrecy and lying. From the noble lie of Plato's Republic to the controversy about former President Clinton's "lying" in the Monica Lewinsky case and President Trump’s alleged assault on truth, from the use of secrecy in the war against terrorism to the endless spinning of political campaigns, from controversies about "fake news" to efforts to hide and excuse police miscoduct, from President John Kennedy's behavior during the Cuban missile crisis to cover-ups concerning pedophile priests in the Catholic church, from Freud's efforts to decode the secrets beneath civilized life to contemporary exposés of the private lives of politicians, politics and deception seem to go hand-in-hand. This course investigates how the practices of politics are informed by the keeping and telling of secrets, and the telling and exposing of lies. We will address such questions as: When, if ever, is it right to lie or to breach confidences? When is it right to expose secrets and lies? Is it necessary to be prepared to lie in order to advance the cause of justice? Or, must we do justice justly? When is secrecy really necessary and when is it merely a pretext for Machiavellian manipulation? Are secrecy and deceit more prevalent in some kinds of political systems than in others? Can democracy survive in a “post-truth” era? As we explore those questions we will discuss the place of candor and openness in politics and social life; the relationship between the claims of privacy (e.g., the closeting of sexual desire) and secrecy and deception in public arenas; conspiracy theories as they are applied to politics; and the importance of secrecy in the domains of national security and law enforcement. We will examine the treatment of secrecy and lying in political theory as well as their appearance in literature and popular culture, for example Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Primary Colors, Schindler's List and The Insider.

This is a discussion-based course. Students will be expected to be active participants in the seminar. During the course of the semester we will use our discussions to cultivate reasoning skills as well as student capacities to present arguments in a compelling manner. In addition, there will be frequent writing, and I will provide careful and extended responses to student writing. The course will provide an introduction to liberal studies by helping students learn how to read and comprehend complex texts, respond to them in sophisticated ways, and engage in critical reasoning about venerable and pressing ethical, social and political problems. 

Fall semester. Professor Sarat.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

108 The Crowd

From the Black Lives Matter uprising and democracy movement in Hong Kong to farmer’s protests in India and the 2021 Capitol Hill riots, we see crowds of people whose number, force, and relative anonymity make them a political power to reckon with. In this course we consider the crowd as an agent of politics. When does a group of people become a crowd? When is it called a mob? Who becomes a part of it and who’s afraid of it? Why is the crowd simultaneously celebrated and vilified? What does this ambivalence reveal about the nature of mass democracies globally? During the semester, we will first address these concerns around the crowd in scholarly work and eventually move on to ethnographic considerations of actual crowds that occupy our streets and our screens on a daily basis. The crowd, we will see, is a permanent fixture against which the words and actions of the people are defined. Yet, as an embodiment of popular political will and a figure of lawlessness and disorder, the crowd is here to stay. Together, we will aim to understand the role and the ruse of the crowd in the life of modern democracy.

Fall semester.  Professor Chowdhury.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

109 Drugs in History

This course examines the changing ways that human beings have used psychoactive drugs and societies have controlled that use. After examining drug use in historical and cross-cultural perspectives and studying the physiological and psychological effects of different drugs, we look at the ways in which contemporary societies both encourage and repress drug use. We address the drug war, the disease model of drug addiction, the proliferation of prescription drugs, the images of drug use in popular culture, America’s complicated history of alcohol control, and international drug trafficking and its implications for American foreign policy. Readings include Huxley’s Brave New World, Kramer’s Listening to Prozac, and Reinarman and Schivelbusch, Tastes of Paradise; films include Drugstore Cowboy and Traffic. This course will be writing attentive. Two class meetings per week.

Fall semester. Professor Couvares.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

110 Encounters with Nature

What is our place in nature? How do we feel about natural spaces we encountered growing up
and how do we view the environment of Amherst College and its setting in New England? How did people in the past think about nature and how did they change their environments as a consequence? Did different races experience and alter nature in different ways? How have the ideas and experiences of the past affected us today? And how do we imagine the future of the natural world? Has the current pandemic permanently changed how we think about nature?

This course will explore how our ideas of nature have changed over time. We will give particular attention to the ways we have recreated particular kinds of natural spaces and how we have depicted nature in images. We begin with walks in the nearby wildlife sanctuary, discussions of our past encounters with nature, a study of the Amherst Campus, and, while the weather is still warm, a hike or two. During these excursions we will discuss what we see, take visual notes on the landscape through drawing (no expertise necessary), and discuss and write about how our experience with the land might differ from how people experienced it in the past. We then will explore New England further, discuss ideas about wilderness in the United States, and look closely at American landscape painting. Where do our deeply held assumptions come from? To find out, we will look at poetry, philosophy, Western painting traditions, and scientific illustration. We also will think about why people collect and draw natural specimens, and how they mapped their environments from the Renaissance through the Aztec empire to the current day.

The course will provide an introduction to liberal studies by helping students learn how to read and comprehend complex texts and images, respond to them in sophisticated ways, and engage in critical reasoning. We expect students to be active participants in class discussions. Students will write brief abstracts every week about the readings and every other week or so perform close readings of texts, art, maps, and even gardens and landscapes.

Fall semester. Professor Courtright. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

111 Investigating Objects

Our lives are filled with objects. What are our relationships to them, and what is their significance in our culture? In this discussion-based course we will be exploring what objects are, how we define and value them, and what their existence is apart from us. Reading texts from a variety of disciplines including philosophy, literature, art history, and anthropology, we will be investigating a range of perspectives on objects and their significance. In addition to reading about them, we will examine actual objects. Discussions and writing assignments will develop approaches to enrich and inform these encounters through research, visual examination and critical analysis. 

This course will also involve making things. Through a series of studio projects (drawing and sculpture) we will explore how things are made and gain a richer understanding of their physical, visual and tactile qualities. Writing assignments in connection with these projects will help to foster an appreciation of the connections between the visual and the verbal. Some of the objects we will be investigating are: vessels, electronic devices, books, furniture, miniatures, musical instruments and modern sculpture.

No studio art experience is necessary.

Fall Semester. Visiting Lecturer Douglas Culhane.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

112 Beginnings

 

This course offers a sustained encounter with premodern worldviews, lifeways, and models of being human--that is to say, with the vast majority of human experience in recorded history. In this course we will consider a wide variety of premodern literatures and cultures, focusing on a broad range of works from western antiquity through medieval and early modern history in Mediterranean, South Asian, Eurasian, and Islamic societies.

Part of the explicit aim of our endeavors is to destabilize the centrality of western patterns of historical and intellectual development by offering robust alternatives to it. We will explore various kinds of beginnings, such as arts and technologies, languages, ideas, material cultures, literatures, cities, and civilizations. For fall 2020, the course theme is “Worlds and World-Making.” We will study cosmologies and cosmogonies, both scientific and mythic; and we will explore theories that explain the beginnings of human beings and key inventions and innovations across multiple histories and traditions.

The course has two weekly meetings: one plenary session (lecture) and one small-group discussion section. The two components are aimed at different yet essential skills: the art of attention to lectures and effective spoken and written communication in small-group meetings. The course is taught by a cluster of faculty from across disciplines and thereby offers an interdisciplinary introduction to liberal arts studies and to the essential tools for exploring the cultural, material and literary legacies of our diverse fields of study.

Readings for this class will be available online and through the Moodle website. Tuesday's meetings will include all sections together with the faculty, with one faculty member lecturing in their area of expertise. There may be occasional, required asynchronous (online) lectures before Tuesday's meetings. Thursday's meetings consist of small discussion sections (15 students) with your designated faculty member, who will remain constant throughout the semester. These meetings are focused on discussion of the weekly material. While we anticipate returning to in-class offerings, you should be prepared for some synchronous online sessions if necessary.

Fall semester. Assistant Professor Hunter-Parker, Associate Professor van den Berg, Assistant Professor Rice and Assistant Professor Infante.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

113 Christianity and Evolution

This course explores the relationship between Christianity and the theory of evolution, which phrase refers to a family of scientific theories generally associated with the work of Charles Darwin.  The primary mode of approach to this relationship will be historical, but throughout the course voices from a variety of academic disciplines will be heard.  Geographically, the focus of the course will be on Europe (largely the UK) and North America.  Over the course of the semester we will explore issues in the relationship between Christianity and the natural sciences in the generation before Darwin;  the contents of Darwin’s theory of natural selection and its ramifications for understanding the origins of the human species;  a variety of Christian responses to the theory in the late nineteenth century;  the rise of a concerted movement in opposition to evolution in North America in the early twentieth century;  and developments subsequent to this movement within those sectors of Christianity that participated in it.

Fall semester. Professor Dole. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2021

114 Inequality in the "New World"

This course explores the consequences of the European encounter of 1492, and after, with indigenous peoples of what came to be called the Americas, including systemic genocide committed against indigenous peoples, the emergence of chattel slavery, the functions of ideologies that have contributed to white supremacism, and the roles that doctrines of racial difference have played in producing social and economic inequalities. 

Fall semster. Professor Dumm.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

115 Goya and His World

We will luxuriate in Goya’s magisterial works, from his rococo Tapestry Cartoons to his harrowing Pinturas negras. We will study treasures at the Mead Museum—a complete set of the Caprichos, the Disasters of War, the Tauromaquia and the Disparates. To understand Goya’s apparently inscrutable images and his obsession with evil, we will pore over his letters, study his themes such as witchcraft and bullfighting, immerse ourselves in his fraught historical moment, and revel in his culture at large—from music to dance to literature—all inflected with a fragile Enlightenment, all still in the Inquisition’s grasp.

In addition to vibrant discussions, there will be weekly written assignments to deepen students' understanding of the material, as well as to develop the beauty of their writing, the acuity of their sight, their synthetic and analytical powers. There will be frequent one-on-one meetings with me, and constantly changing mini-groups, as we learn and explore together.

Reading knowledge of Spanish would be helpful, but is not necessary. Fall semester. Professor Staller.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

116 The Anatomy of Pictures

This course is about the centrality of images produced by mechanical means in the rituals, practices, and representations of everyday life—what we now understand as visual culture. With a focus on the last 50 years, we will explore why it is important to understand the image as utterly diverse in its functions. We will dissect examples from contemporary photography, new media, screen culture, and cultural theory that critically challenge visual culture. Our conversations will cover topics from new models of spectatorship and how to become visually literate to controversies surrounding trigger warnings and the risk of “remaining forever trapped inside the image” (cf. Jacques Rancière’s “The Intolerable Image”). Readings will include the voices of artists, critics, historians, cultural theorists, and philosophers such as Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, Richard Dyer, Jessica Evans, Michel Foucault, Anne Friedberg, Stuart Hall, bell hooks, Kobena Mercer, Adrian Piper, Claudia Rankine, and Hito Steyerl.

Fall semester. Visiting Lecturer Falk.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

117 Animals and the Law

How and under what circumstances are non-human animals considered persons before the law? Using perspectives from anthropology, Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS), science and technology studies (STS), and legal studies, this course explores the shifting status of non-human animals in Anglo-American legal tradition. While our main focus will be the understanding and treatment of non-human animals in the contemporary United States, we will also examine these issues from historical and cross-cultural perspectives. Of particular interest is how scientific knowledge comes to bear on these kinds of legal questions. All students interested in the moral, political and legal status of animals are welcome.

Fall semester.  Visiting Professor Hamilton.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

118 Race and Gender in Biomedicine

This course explores conceptualizations and representations of race and gender in health and medicine.  We begin by looking at the histories of race, sex, and sexuality in Western science, especially in terms of how they have been articulated through multiple contexts involving infectious diseases. How does scientific thought and practice intersect with larger political and economic movements including colonization and imperialism?  We will then move into a discussion of the uses of race and sex in contemporary biomedicine focusing on the following questions: How is inequality “written on the body”? How are categories of risk and susceptibility racialized and biologized? How are racism and sexism “underlying conditions” that powerfully shape whether or not people contract infectious diseases and who lives and who dies? This course will have a special focus on global health disparities.

Fall semester.  Visiting Professor Hamilton

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

119 Transformative Ideas

 

This course explores a series of ideas from the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries that have substantially changed the way people think about humanity in the Western world. Each idea is closely associated with an author. While from year to year the ideas will change, for 2021 we will closely read and write about, Karl Marx and Frederic Engels The Communist Manifesto, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The American Scholar” and “Self-Reliance”, Friedrich Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals, W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, Sigmund Freud’s The Ego and the Id, Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, and Judith Butler’s Precarious Life. Students are also asked to purchase a copy of Strunk and White, The Elements of Style.

Fall semester. Professor Dumm.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

120 Looking at the World Through Jazz-Colored Lenses

When you think of Jazz, what comes to mind? Perhaps a romantic, elegant, candle-lit dinner? A goatee-sporting fashion plate? Individual freedom to create? Something old that your parents listen to? Jazz emerged in New Orleans in the early twentieth century and quickly spread throughout the world, becoming, at certain points in its history, wildly popular, and at others, decidedly esoteric. Jazz has been called, variously: savage, modern, instinctive, sophisticated, revolutionary, a rare national treasure, a secret sonic weapon, noise, America's classical music, and the most powerful evolutionary force in modern music. It has been instrumental in political movements (for instance, the export of jazz ensembles to the Soviet Union during the Cold War); in campaigns both to sanction human rights (Jazz in the Civil Rights Movement), and suppress them (its concerted and systematic effort to exclude women); and it has been used at once to amplify capitalism (the market-savvy Smooth Jazz industry) and to critique it (the efflorescence of independent musician collectives, such as the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). Using audio recordings, newspaper articles, television programs, and other archival materials, along with recent and past scholarship, we will examine the sounds, key figures, and practices that make up this music to consider what this enduring yet elusive style has to tell us about ourselves.

Fall semester. Professor Harper.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

121 Asia in the European Mind: Modern European Discourse on History and Identity

From the late-eighteenth century onward European intellectuals frequently drew on images of Asia to illustrate what it meant to be modern, enlightened, and historically progressive. By critically tracing this intellectual genealogy we will together confront durable but controversial conceptions of human subjectivity, freedom, and historical progress, conceptions which we may find ourselves to be complicit in today. We will start with key figures in the intellectual tradition of modern Europe, including Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), Georg W. F. Hegel (1770–1831), Karl Marx (1818–1883), and Max Weber (1864–1920), but move on to consider how their thought echoes in Asian conversations about modernity. We will conclude with contemporary thinkers and their attempts to grapple with the tension between universal conceptions of human history and relativistic approaches.  

Offered Fall 2021. Professor Maxey.

 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

122 Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Latin American Arts

In this seminar, we will explore the decolonial tradition in Latin American visual and literary arts over the past 500 years, a tradition that questions and contests the articulation of race, gender, and ethnicity as natural categories.  Together, we will conduct close readings of a number of exemplary texts within this tradition (poems, narratives, films, sculpture, performance), taking care to contextualize them in space and time.  Class conversations will follow the principles of the listening circle, an Indigenous practice that facilitates respectful conversations and meaningful interaction.  As part of the seminar, we will also engage in campus-wide conversations around race at three points during the semester (beginning, middle, and end), and work with the College’s Archive on a small project to be collaboratively determined.  Finally, throughout the semester, we will help each other improve our written and oral presentation skills through low-stakes assignments and activities, while getting to know one another as unique individuals and as members of interconnected communities. 

Fall semester. Professor Schroeder Rodriguez. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

123 Thinking Body, Dancing Mind

What is body intelligence? In what ways is the body's ability to perceive and know the world equal to that of the mind? What can we learn from the body’s unique experience of the world? Utilizing dance and the performing arts as a framework for our investigations, we will explore embodied exercises to develop kinesthetic awareness and presence, attune ourselves to our bodies’ sensations and feelings, and practice observing the world through the lens of physical experience. Additionally, we will cultivate a discipline of articulating our bodies’ perceptions through discussion and writing. We will study works and techniques of seminal choreographers and dance practitioners, such as Pina Bausch and Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, who emphasize the integration of body and mind through the lived experience. This course will also provide an introduction to the liberal arts by helping students engage with and critically reflect on a broad range of media, including theoretical works, live performance, film, sound, music, and visual art. Regular short writing will also be required. 

Fall semester. Professor Riegel. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

124 Telling Stories

We all like a good story. But why? And what is a good story? Neurobiologists have documented the chemical changes that occur in our brains when we listen to a well told story. Hannah Arendt argues that who we are is best determined by the stories others tell about us, not the stories we tell about ourselves. TED talks have over-determined that all ideas worth sharing must be explained in 18 minutes, no more or less, with compelling graphics, of course. Stories are a feature of cultures around the world, and elements of both universality and diversity can be found in storytelling norms. The explosion of oral history work has done much to add the stories of “regular” people to historical narratives about events deemed worth remembering. It is possible that a story well told can compel listeners to behave more altruistically.

In this course we will think about stories, write stories, tell stories and listen to stories. We will acknowledge the comfort that cherished stories provide and de-familiarize those stories at the same time. We will read across a wide range of disciplinary perspectives on storytelling, including biology, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, and cultural studies, acknowledging our limits as readers when we lack substantial disciplinary foundations but also embracing the ways we can be thoughtful about ideas that are partially beyond our reach. We will expand our thoughts about what a story is and use the lens of story to examine things we would never have imagined were stories. In this course students will develop their skills as a reader and a writer and a speaker, but also, of course, as a listener.

Fall semester. Lecturer Mead.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

125 Space and Place

This course is an interdisciplinary exploration of physical space and the sense of belonging and rootedness we call place. The organizing principle of the course is the expanding circle; we will begin with the individual, then move to the home and family, the city, the nation, and end with the globe as a whole. We will cover a range of topics along the way, including memory, imagination, nationalism, borders, war, exile, imperialism, and globalization. Works range across philosophy, history, anthropology, film, fiction, and environmentalism, among others. We will approach this material from within a liberal arts framework, which will give students exposure to a wide variety of perspectives in the humanities and social sciences.

This is a discussion-based course designed to develop student competency in critical thinking and argumentation. Assignments include oral presentations, reading evaluations, short responses, and formal essays of varying lengths, including a research paper. Writing workshops will help students develop their writing skills, with emphasis on crafting thesis/support essays. Trips outside the classroom will introduce students to the wide range of resources at the College.

Fall semester. Professor Van Compernolle.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2021

126 Utopias

This course is an examination of utopian plans in literature, architecture, art, aesthetics, and political philosophy. We will consider the role of time and history in utopian schemes—how different projections about life in the future are based on fierce criticisms of the present, and often rely on invented or nostalgic views of social organizations in times past. The class will cover a selection of literary and theoretical utopias, beginning with Sir Thomas More, and ending with Octavia Butler, along with a range of visionary artists and designers—from Campanella's “City of the Sun” in the Renaissance to Le Corbusier’s “City of Three Million” in the twentieth century. How design affects the relationship of the individual to the community will be explored, incorporating questions of race, gender, and class. We will also examine the tensions between utopian theory and practice, by looking at the successes and failures of actual attempts at living in utopian communities. The course will conclude with a discussion of the contemporary sensations of dystopia and chaos, and of climate change and sustainable design, as we consider whether utopian thinking is applicable to the twenty-first century. Students will learn how to analyze real and imagined societies in novels, treatises, pictures, buildings, and plans. Projects include short essays, a midterm presentation, a group design project (no prior experience required), and a final paper of the student’s choosing—on any utopian image, film, text, performance, or work of imaginary architecture or planning.

Fall Semester. Visiting Professor Koehler.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

127 The Tragic Condition

Recent events over the past year and a half in the United States and across the globe, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the Black Lives Matter protest movement, have revealed how tragic human life can be. But what do people really mean when they call something “tragic”? This course explores the tragic condition by reading the most lasting works of Ancient Greek tragedy by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides alongside modern retellings of these tragedies by authors from diverse communities around the world. We will learn about the enigmatic origins of tragedy in archaic Greece and also about the performance of tragedy in ancient Athens by studying the conventions of music, dance, and the mask. Most important, we will reflect on enduring relevance of Greek tragedy today by reading several works by authors and playwrights from diverse communities around the world who have taken the powerful myths, stories, and characters from Greek tragedy and adapted them to the Black, Chicano, Transgender, African, Latin American, Muslim, and Japanese experience. All readings will be in English translation. No previous knowledge is required.

Fall Semester. Professor Hutchins. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

Regulations & Requirements

Regulations & Requirements

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First-Year Seminars

Faculty members, in groups of one or more, teach First-Year Seminars. Every first-year student must take one of these courses during the fall semester. They are open only to Amherst College first-year students.

Fake News

In our information-saturated world, "fake news" may feel like an inescapable reality. But what exactly is fake news, why does it exist, and how do we distinguish it from trustworthy information? In particular, if experts can disagree and data can be fabricated, where do we go when the subject matter is beyond our expertise? Can something that "makes sense" be false? Can a theory that contradicts our personal experiences or beliefs still hold true?

In this course we will take a critical look at how science is reported in the media and how logic, probability, and statistics can be manipulated to fit various narratives. We will focus on identifying sources of (mis)information, constructing fact-based arguments, and establishing ways to distinguish between news, opinions, rumors, advertisement, and propaganda.

Fall semester. Assistant Professor Culiuc.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

"Finding Your Roots": Narratives of Self and Community

In each episode of the PBS show Finding your Roots, celebrities speak with host Henry Louis Gates about their family’s history. Gates’s team of researchers then undertakes archival research and DNA analysis that sometimes leads to surprising discoveries. Rather than fetishize lineage, each episode of Finding your Roots and a similar show called Who Do You Think You Are? walks guests through the process of research and discovery, and offers insight into global histories of migration, society, nation, and empire. In one episode, for example, Martha Stewart discovered that she had Muslim ancestors in central Poland, which became an opportunity to explore the deep roots of Islam in Europe. In another, the comedian Wanda Sykes spoke proudly of her identity as descendant of Black slaves. She was surprised to learn not only that her Black ancestors enjoyed freedom at least as far back as the mid-1700s, but, to her horror, they were slave owners. Gates used this as an opportunity to explore the complex history of Black slavery in America. Another famous comedian, Margaret Cho, spoke with pride about her Korean roots, only to learn that her ancestors who had migrated to San Francisco from Korea were descendants of Chinese migrants. This points to ways migration patterns within Asia contradict ethno-nationalist narratives within the region. The actress Jessica Alba guessed that, as a Latina, she had a complicated heritage, but Gates found that her Mexican past was even more revealing of global empires than Alba had anticipated. While some of Gates’ guests found surprises, others found their family stories confirmed by DNA and archival research. Through research, story-telling and conversations, the celebrity guests, and even Gates himself, learned to see their present and their past as part of larger trends in history.

In this course you will practice various strategies for recovering and narrating your own stories of home and of family (with a broad understanding of what “home” and “family” mean). Next, you will conduct genealogical research, store your findings into structured databases, and read histories of migration, race, and nation formation in various parts of the world. You will have the opportunity to get your DNA analyzed and will choose whether to share your findings. Next, you will select a particular person, moment, place or time that you discovered through your genealogical research. This will become the subject of a historical research project using digital archives. You will finish the course by reflecting upon how the things you and your peers discovered about your diverse pasts shape how you think about the changes and challenging transitions you are currently experiencing as the newest members of the Amherst College community.

To learn about a past iteration of the course, visit https://www.amherst.edu/ amherst-story/magazine/issues/ 2019-spring/college-row/rooted

Not offered in 2021-22. Professor Lopez.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020

Giving

 

The act of giving seems, at first, to be deceptively straight-forward and entirely altruistic.  But, as Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us, “We wish to be self-sustained.  We do not quite forgive a giver.”  In this seminar we will examine the act of giving – between people, between institutions and people, and entirely between institutions – from an interdisciplinary lens to reflect on what it means to give. We will intentionally reveal and challenge our initial assumptions about giving.  Using a variety of texts – religious, literary, first person accounts, and public policy – we will explore the diverse forms philanthropy has taken over time and across cultures; its philosophical underpinnings, its complex interrelationships with religious notions of charity and secular notions of democracy, and its often paradoxical effects on social relations and public policy.

The course will begin and end with the same assignment–a reflective essay in which you develop your personal framework for giving. It is anticipated that the texts and class discussions will influence the evolution of this framework and, hence, the robustness of your final essay.  Along the way, class discussions, readings, and short papers will help you develop as readers, writers, speakers and thinkers. 

Fall semester. Lecturer Mead.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

Language Crossing and Living in Translation

When did you start dreaming in a second language? Which translation of the Bible counts as the Word of God? Was Mary a virgin or a maiden? What happens to the immigrant children who need to the be interpreters in the life of their family? How much more tangled or how much more nimble is the wiring of the bilingual brain? What are we doing to our languages when we immerse in a new academic discipline? We will tackle these and other questions like these as we engage in the following units of study: (1) Babel and language differentiation and diffusion. (2) European translators from early modern humanism and the Reformation. (3) Case studies: Squanto, Malinche and the Navajo Code talkers. (4) Language in contemporary empires and resistance, migrations and globalization. (5) Language issues in gay and lesbian diasporas. (6) Bi- or multi-lingual education. (7) Literary practitioners of living in and out of translation:  Luis de León, Vladimir Nabokov, Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

The seminar will work with the same texts, issues and exercise for about two-thirds of our time together. The other third we will concentrate on projects that emerge from the students’ own linguistic condition. Students will be required to delve into their own family archives looking for ancestors’ letters written in languages they cannot yet read. They will be encouraged to document/fictionalize the stakes of marrying into another language, or to study and report on the language crossings of their particular diaspora.

Despite the apparent advantage of having more than one language to engage in our work, this course has no prerequisites and its does not exclude monolinguals. When we talk about the cultural contributions, the headiness and the struggles of bi- or multi-lingual individuals, it will be invaluable to have interlocutors who think they live only in one language.

Omitted 2021-22. Lecturer B. Sánchez-Eppler.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2019, Fall 2020

Authority, Obedience and The Rule of Law

All political systems must operate according to the "rule of law" if they are to be deemed legitimate. This statement has assumed the quality of a truism: we hear it repeated by the President of the United States, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and the President of the International Criminal Court. At the same time, though, that everyone seems to agree that the "rule of law" is a good thing, no one seems able to say for sure what the "rule of law" is. What, then, do we mean by the "rule of law"? What does it mean to speak of government limited by law? What are these limits, where do they come from, and how are they enforced? What role does the "rule of law" play in legitimating structures of governance? Does the "rule of law" imply any particular relationship between legality and morality? We will hazard answers to these questions through a close reading of works of theorists such as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, H.L.A. Hart and Lon Fuller. In addition, we will examine the arguments of the theorists as they help us think through pressing legal challenges of our age, such as defining the limits of executive power in the "war against terror."

Our seminar will be devoted to the close reading of a select number of texts. We will analyze the structure, meaning and adequacy of the arguments contained in these works through vigorous discussion and frequent writing assignments. Our aim is to gain a rich critical understanding of a concept that lies at the foundation of domestic and international socio-political systems, and to improve our abilities to discuss and write about complex ideas with sophistication, nuance and flair.

Omitted 2021-22.  Professor Douglas.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

The Nuclear Age

On August 6, 1945, a United States bomber dropped the first atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, transforming the world in an instant. This course explores the emergence of nuclear technology and its impact on global politics, society, and culture from roughly the Second World War to the present day. We will begin with the invention of the atomic bomb during World War II, exploring its societal, environmental, and cultural effects in Japan as well as its broader impact on American and European politics and identity. We will then examine the diverse ramifications of the nuclear arms race in the 1950s and 1960s, and again in the 1980s, which both pushed the world towards the brink of destruction and also fostered new forms of international cooperation and grassroots activism. We will also analyze the continuing debates over nuclear technology in the context of energy, natural resources, scientific responsibility, and environmentalism. Drawing on a range of sources, from governmental reports and diaries to cartoons, films, and paintings, the course will highlight the perspectives of a variety of groups and individuals who shaped and were shaped by the nuclear age, including scientists, policymakers, journalists, artists, activists, and victims of atomic blasts. Two class meetings per week.

Not offered in 2021-22. Professors Boucher and Walker.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020

101 Progress?

Is the world a better place today than it was fifty years ago?  Will it be better yet in another fifty years?  We cannot answer such questions without asking what we mean by "better," that is, what counts as progress.  The question of what progress is cannot be answered simply: the term has been used in different ways at differemt times and has also been the subject of much critical examination.  We will explore the meaning of progress by engaging with a variety of thought-provoking and influential works. 

Fall semester. Professors George, Shah, Worsley and Douglas.

 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

102 Growing Up in America

How do race, ethnicity, social class, and gender shape the experience of growing up in America? We will begin by examining the childhood and adolescent experiences of Justice Sonia Sotomayor as she journeyed from a low-income Puerto Rican immigrant community in the Bronx to an Ivy League university. As we read coming-of-age experiences of other individuals, past and present, fictional and real, our focus will be on understanding identity formation, family relationships, education, the American Dream, courtship, sexuality, and the importance of culture and community. Readings will include sociological and psychological theory as tools for analysis. We will also explore the privileges or disadvantages we have faced growing up due to our race, ethnicity, social class, and gender to understand how they have shaped our own life experiences and perceptions.

The course introduces students to interdisciplinary readings and methods of inquiry from history, psychology, sociology, and literature. The course is designed to advance students’ skills at reading critically, developing strong arguments, and articulating ideas orally and in writing, skills that will be crucial for future coursework at the college.

Fall semester. Professor Aries.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

103 Global Cities and Global Slums:  Environment, Racism, and Coloniality

In this seminar, participants will explore the relationship between urban development and global inequalities. The first section focuses on the historical formation of global cities and global slums in the late twentieth century that together rejuvenated coloniality as a relationship of oppression in urban spaces. In the second section, we will discuss how both forms of urban agglomerations perpetuate environmental issues and structural racism. In the last section, we will address the impact of environmental issues and structural racism on the physical and social transformation of US cities. Students will write weekly response papers, online discussion forum posts, a midterm paper, and a final paper. In their midterm and final papers, students will focus on a specific urban setting in the United States to contextualize the course material and discussions.

Fall semester. Visiting Associate Professor Balaban.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

104 New Women in America

This course will examine the emergence of the “New Woman” as a category of social theory, political action, and literary representation at the turning of the twentieth century. Early readings will trace the origins of the New Woman as a response to nineteenth-century notions of “True Womanhood.” Discussions will situate literary representations of women in larger cultural events taking place during the Progressive Era–debates over suffrage as well as their relationship to issues of citizenship, immigration, Jim Crow segregation, urbanization, and nativism. The course will focus on texts written by a diverse group of women that present multiple and, at times, conflicting images of the New Woman. Close attention will be paid to the manner in which these women writers constructed their fictions, particularly to issues of language, style, and form. Readings will include texts by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, Pauline Hopkins, Anzia Yezierska, and Sui Sin Far.

Fall semester. Lecturer Bergoffen.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

105 Ring of Fire: Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Devastation

Roughly 90 percent of today’s earthquakes and 75 percent of active volcanoes reside along the Ring of Fire, a nearly 25,000-mile stretch wrapped around the edges of the Pacific Ocean. The Ring of Fire is ground zero for some of the deadliest earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in human history, recorded in writings, traditions, and legends. These catastrophic events often have global repercussions. Examples include the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and subsequent tsunami that killed over 200,000 people in 14 countries and the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora in 1815, which resulted in climate anomalies and global famines. The focus of the course will be case studies of specific disasters – both within and outside the Ring of Fire – across human history. Through in-class discussion and frequent reading and writing assignments, we will gain an understanding of the geologic processes responsible for these volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, and the vulnerability of human populations to them. While taught from an earth science perspective, this course will be interdisciplinary, using historic and artistic accounts of disasters along with modern scientific research publications to help answer the following questions: What determines the location of volcanoes and earthquakes? Can we predict the next great earthquake or volcanic eruption? How are some communities disproportionately vulnerable to these hazards? How has our collective understanding of earthquakes and volcanoes changed through time?

Throughout the semester we hope to take advantage of local opportunities to enhance our understanding of geologic processes and the intertwined history of human response to change and catastrophe.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

106 Making Place in Kwenitekw, the Connecticut River Valley

How do we know the places we live? How do we participate in their making? How do we come to know places that are unfamiliar, or new to us? How do our languages, cultural frameworks, and embodied experiences, including race, gender, and sexuality, shape how we perceive place? In this seminar, we will think and write deliberatively about the process of making place, both the places we come from, and most important, the place we currently inhabit. Grounded in Indigenous language and land, we will consider the deep histories, oral traditions, and continuing adaptation of the Kwenitekw (Connecticut River) Valley and the place of Amherst College within this space. We will begin with the idea that place is not static or permanent, but rather dynamic and changing. Making place is an activity and we will get out on the land to observe and participate in those processes. We will spend most of our class time outside, turning our attention to the many other-than-human beings that are constantly making place in the environment we depend upon. At the same time, we will also spend time in the built environment and archives of Amherst College, considering how students have challenged, changed and transformed the social, political, and educational space of our campus. 

Fall semester.  Professor Brooks.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

107 Secrets and Lies

Politics seems almost unimaginable without secrecy and lying. From the noble lie of Plato's Republic to the controversy about former President Clinton's "lying" in the Monica Lewinsky case and President Trump’s alleged assault on truth, from the use of secrecy in the war against terrorism to the endless spinning of political campaigns, from controversies about "fake news" to efforts to hide and excuse police miscoduct, from President John Kennedy's behavior during the Cuban missile crisis to cover-ups concerning pedophile priests in the Catholic church, from Freud's efforts to decode the secrets beneath civilized life to contemporary exposés of the private lives of politicians, politics and deception seem to go hand-in-hand. This course investigates how the practices of politics are informed by the keeping and telling of secrets, and the telling and exposing of lies. We will address such questions as: When, if ever, is it right to lie or to breach confidences? When is it right to expose secrets and lies? Is it necessary to be prepared to lie in order to advance the cause of justice? Or, must we do justice justly? When is secrecy really necessary and when is it merely a pretext for Machiavellian manipulation? Are secrecy and deceit more prevalent in some kinds of political systems than in others? Can democracy survive in a “post-truth” era? As we explore those questions we will discuss the place of candor and openness in politics and social life; the relationship between the claims of privacy (e.g., the closeting of sexual desire) and secrecy and deception in public arenas; conspiracy theories as they are applied to politics; and the importance of secrecy in the domains of national security and law enforcement. We will examine the treatment of secrecy and lying in political theory as well as their appearance in literature and popular culture, for example Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Primary Colors, Schindler's List and The Insider.

This is a discussion-based course. Students will be expected to be active participants in the seminar. During the course of the semester we will use our discussions to cultivate reasoning skills as well as student capacities to present arguments in a compelling manner. In addition, there will be frequent writing, and I will provide careful and extended responses to student writing. The course will provide an introduction to liberal studies by helping students learn how to read and comprehend complex texts, respond to them in sophisticated ways, and engage in critical reasoning about venerable and pressing ethical, social and political problems. 

Fall semester. Professor Sarat.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

108 The Crowd

From the Black Lives Matter uprising and democracy movement in Hong Kong to farmer’s protests in India and the 2021 Capitol Hill riots, we see crowds of people whose number, force, and relative anonymity make them a political power to reckon with. In this course we consider the crowd as an agent of politics. When does a group of people become a crowd? When is it called a mob? Who becomes a part of it and who’s afraid of it? Why is the crowd simultaneously celebrated and vilified? What does this ambivalence reveal about the nature of mass democracies globally? During the semester, we will first address these concerns around the crowd in scholarly work and eventually move on to ethnographic considerations of actual crowds that occupy our streets and our screens on a daily basis. The crowd, we will see, is a permanent fixture against which the words and actions of the people are defined. Yet, as an embodiment of popular political will and a figure of lawlessness and disorder, the crowd is here to stay. Together, we will aim to understand the role and the ruse of the crowd in the life of modern democracy.

Fall semester.  Professor Chowdhury.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

109 Drugs in History

This course examines the changing ways that human beings have used psychoactive drugs and societies have controlled that use. After examining drug use in historical and cross-cultural perspectives and studying the physiological and psychological effects of different drugs, we look at the ways in which contemporary societies both encourage and repress drug use. We address the drug war, the disease model of drug addiction, the proliferation of prescription drugs, the images of drug use in popular culture, America’s complicated history of alcohol control, and international drug trafficking and its implications for American foreign policy. Readings include Huxley’s Brave New World, Kramer’s Listening to Prozac, and Reinarman and Schivelbusch, Tastes of Paradise; films include Drugstore Cowboy and Traffic. This course will be writing attentive. Two class meetings per week.

Fall semester. Professor Couvares.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

110 Encounters with Nature

What is our place in nature? How do we feel about natural spaces we encountered growing up
and how do we view the environment of Amherst College and its setting in New England? How did people in the past think about nature and how did they change their environments as a consequence? Did different races experience and alter nature in different ways? How have the ideas and experiences of the past affected us today? And how do we imagine the future of the natural world? Has the current pandemic permanently changed how we think about nature?

This course will explore how our ideas of nature have changed over time. We will give particular attention to the ways we have recreated particular kinds of natural spaces and how we have depicted nature in images. We begin with walks in the nearby wildlife sanctuary, discussions of our past encounters with nature, a study of the Amherst Campus, and, while the weather is still warm, a hike or two. During these excursions we will discuss what we see, take visual notes on the landscape through drawing (no expertise necessary), and discuss and write about how our experience with the land might differ from how people experienced it in the past. We then will explore New England further, discuss ideas about wilderness in the United States, and look closely at American landscape painting. Where do our deeply held assumptions come from? To find out, we will look at poetry, philosophy, Western painting traditions, and scientific illustration. We also will think about why people collect and draw natural specimens, and how they mapped their environments from the Renaissance through the Aztec empire to the current day.

The course will provide an introduction to liberal studies by helping students learn how to read and comprehend complex texts and images, respond to them in sophisticated ways, and engage in critical reasoning. We expect students to be active participants in class discussions. Students will write brief abstracts every week about the readings and every other week or so perform close readings of texts, art, maps, and even gardens and landscapes.

Fall semester. Professor Courtright. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

111 Investigating Objects

Our lives are filled with objects. What are our relationships to them, and what is their significance in our culture? In this discussion-based course we will be exploring what objects are, how we define and value them, and what their existence is apart from us. Reading texts from a variety of disciplines including philosophy, literature, art history, and anthropology, we will be investigating a range of perspectives on objects and their significance. In addition to reading about them, we will examine actual objects. Discussions and writing assignments will develop approaches to enrich and inform these encounters through research, visual examination and critical analysis. 

This course will also involve making things. Through a series of studio projects (drawing and sculpture) we will explore how things are made and gain a richer understanding of their physical, visual and tactile qualities. Writing assignments in connection with these projects will help to foster an appreciation of the connections between the visual and the verbal. Some of the objects we will be investigating are: vessels, electronic devices, books, furniture, miniatures, musical instruments and modern sculpture.

No studio art experience is necessary.

Fall Semester. Visiting Lecturer Douglas Culhane.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

112 Beginnings

 

This course offers a sustained encounter with premodern worldviews, lifeways, and models of being human--that is to say, with the vast majority of human experience in recorded history. In this course we will consider a wide variety of premodern literatures and cultures, focusing on a broad range of works from western antiquity through medieval and early modern history in Mediterranean, South Asian, Eurasian, and Islamic societies.

Part of the explicit aim of our endeavors is to destabilize the centrality of western patterns of historical and intellectual development by offering robust alternatives to it. We will explore various kinds of beginnings, such as arts and technologies, languages, ideas, material cultures, literatures, cities, and civilizations. For fall 2020, the course theme is “Worlds and World-Making.” We will study cosmologies and cosmogonies, both scientific and mythic; and we will explore theories that explain the beginnings of human beings and key inventions and innovations across multiple histories and traditions.

The course has two weekly meetings: one plenary session (lecture) and one small-group discussion section. The two components are aimed at different yet essential skills: the art of attention to lectures and effective spoken and written communication in small-group meetings. The course is taught by a cluster of faculty from across disciplines and thereby offers an interdisciplinary introduction to liberal arts studies and to the essential tools for exploring the cultural, material and literary legacies of our diverse fields of study.

Readings for this class will be available online and through the Moodle website. Tuesday's meetings will include all sections together with the faculty, with one faculty member lecturing in their area of expertise. There may be occasional, required asynchronous (online) lectures before Tuesday's meetings. Thursday's meetings consist of small discussion sections (15 students) with your designated faculty member, who will remain constant throughout the semester. These meetings are focused on discussion of the weekly material. While we anticipate returning to in-class offerings, you should be prepared for some synchronous online sessions if necessary.

Fall semester. Assistant Professor Hunter-Parker, Associate Professor van den Berg, Assistant Professor Rice and Assistant Professor Infante.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

113 Christianity and Evolution

This course explores the relationship between Christianity and the theory of evolution, which phrase refers to a family of scientific theories generally associated with the work of Charles Darwin.  The primary mode of approach to this relationship will be historical, but throughout the course voices from a variety of academic disciplines will be heard.  Geographically, the focus of the course will be on Europe (largely the UK) and North America.  Over the course of the semester we will explore issues in the relationship between Christianity and the natural sciences in the generation before Darwin;  the contents of Darwin’s theory of natural selection and its ramifications for understanding the origins of the human species;  a variety of Christian responses to the theory in the late nineteenth century;  the rise of a concerted movement in opposition to evolution in North America in the early twentieth century;  and developments subsequent to this movement within those sectors of Christianity that participated in it.

Fall semester. Professor Dole. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2021

114 Inequality in the "New World"

This course explores the consequences of the European encounter of 1492, and after, with indigenous peoples of what came to be called the Americas, including systemic genocide committed against indigenous peoples, the emergence of chattel slavery, the functions of ideologies that have contributed to white supremacism, and the roles that doctrines of racial difference have played in producing social and economic inequalities. 

Fall semster. Professor Dumm.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

115 Goya and His World

We will luxuriate in Goya’s magisterial works, from his rococo Tapestry Cartoons to his harrowing Pinturas negras. We will study treasures at the Mead Museum—a complete set of the Caprichos, the Disasters of War, the Tauromaquia and the Disparates. To understand Goya’s apparently inscrutable images and his obsession with evil, we will pore over his letters, study his themes such as witchcraft and bullfighting, immerse ourselves in his fraught historical moment, and revel in his culture at large—from music to dance to literature—all inflected with a fragile Enlightenment, all still in the Inquisition’s grasp.

In addition to vibrant discussions, there will be weekly written assignments to deepen students' understanding of the material, as well as to develop the beauty of their writing, the acuity of their sight, their synthetic and analytical powers. There will be frequent one-on-one meetings with me, and constantly changing mini-groups, as we learn and explore together.

Reading knowledge of Spanish would be helpful, but is not necessary. Fall semester. Professor Staller.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

116 The Anatomy of Pictures

This course is about the centrality of images produced by mechanical means in the rituals, practices, and representations of everyday life—what we now understand as visual culture. With a focus on the last 50 years, we will explore why it is important to understand the image as utterly diverse in its functions. We will dissect examples from contemporary photography, new media, screen culture, and cultural theory that critically challenge visual culture. Our conversations will cover topics from new models of spectatorship and how to become visually literate to controversies surrounding trigger warnings and the risk of “remaining forever trapped inside the image” (cf. Jacques Rancière’s “The Intolerable Image”). Readings will include the voices of artists, critics, historians, cultural theorists, and philosophers such as Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, Richard Dyer, Jessica Evans, Michel Foucault, Anne Friedberg, Stuart Hall, bell hooks, Kobena Mercer, Adrian Piper, Claudia Rankine, and Hito Steyerl.

Fall semester. Visiting Lecturer Falk.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

117 Animals and the Law

How and under what circumstances are non-human animals considered persons before the law? Using perspectives from anthropology, Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS), science and technology studies (STS), and legal studies, this course explores the shifting status of non-human animals in Anglo-American legal tradition. While our main focus will be the understanding and treatment of non-human animals in the contemporary United States, we will also examine these issues from historical and cross-cultural perspectives. Of particular interest is how scientific knowledge comes to bear on these kinds of legal questions. All students interested in the moral, political and legal status of animals are welcome.

Fall semester.  Visiting Professor Hamilton.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

118 Race and Gender in Biomedicine

This course explores conceptualizations and representations of race and gender in health and medicine.  We begin by looking at the histories of race, sex, and sexuality in Western science, especially in terms of how they have been articulated through multiple contexts involving infectious diseases. How does scientific thought and practice intersect with larger political and economic movements including colonization and imperialism?  We will then move into a discussion of the uses of race and sex in contemporary biomedicine focusing on the following questions: How is inequality “written on the body”? How are categories of risk and susceptibility racialized and biologized? How are racism and sexism “underlying conditions” that powerfully shape whether or not people contract infectious diseases and who lives and who dies? This course will have a special focus on global health disparities.

Fall semester.  Visiting Professor Hamilton

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

119 Transformative Ideas

 

This course explores a series of ideas from the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries that have substantially changed the way people think about humanity in the Western world. Each idea is closely associated with an author. While from year to year the ideas will change, for 2021 we will closely read and write about, Karl Marx and Frederic Engels The Communist Manifesto, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The American Scholar” and “Self-Reliance”, Friedrich Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals, W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, Sigmund Freud’s The Ego and the Id, Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, and Judith Butler’s Precarious Life. Students are also asked to purchase a copy of Strunk and White, The Elements of Style.

Fall semester. Professor Dumm.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

120 Looking at the World Through Jazz-Colored Lenses

When you think of Jazz, what comes to mind? Perhaps a romantic, elegant, candle-lit dinner? A goatee-sporting fashion plate? Individual freedom to create? Something old that your parents listen to? Jazz emerged in New Orleans in the early twentieth century and quickly spread throughout the world, becoming, at certain points in its history, wildly popular, and at others, decidedly esoteric. Jazz has been called, variously: savage, modern, instinctive, sophisticated, revolutionary, a rare national treasure, a secret sonic weapon, noise, America's classical music, and the most powerful evolutionary force in modern music. It has been instrumental in political movements (for instance, the export of jazz ensembles to the Soviet Union during the Cold War); in campaigns both to sanction human rights (Jazz in the Civil Rights Movement), and suppress them (its concerted and systematic effort to exclude women); and it has been used at once to amplify capitalism (the market-savvy Smooth Jazz industry) and to critique it (the efflorescence of independent musician collectives, such as the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). Using audio recordings, newspaper articles, television programs, and other archival materials, along with recent and past scholarship, we will examine the sounds, key figures, and practices that make up this music to consider what this enduring yet elusive style has to tell us about ourselves.

Fall semester. Professor Harper.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

121 Asia in the European Mind: Modern European Discourse on History and Identity

From the late-eighteenth century onward European intellectuals frequently drew on images of Asia to illustrate what it meant to be modern, enlightened, and historically progressive. By critically tracing this intellectual genealogy we will together confront durable but controversial conceptions of human subjectivity, freedom, and historical progress, conceptions which we may find ourselves to be complicit in today. We will start with key figures in the intellectual tradition of modern Europe, including Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), Georg W. F. Hegel (1770–1831), Karl Marx (1818–1883), and Max Weber (1864–1920), but move on to consider how their thought echoes in Asian conversations about modernity. We will conclude with contemporary thinkers and their attempts to grapple with the tension between universal conceptions of human history and relativistic approaches.  

Offered Fall 2021. Professor Maxey.

 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

122 Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Latin American Arts

In this seminar, we will explore the decolonial tradition in Latin American visual and literary arts over the past 500 years, a tradition that questions and contests the articulation of race, gender, and ethnicity as natural categories.  Together, we will conduct close readings of a number of exemplary texts within this tradition (poems, narratives, films, sculpture, performance), taking care to contextualize them in space and time.  Class conversations will follow the principles of the listening circle, an Indigenous practice that facilitates respectful conversations and meaningful interaction.  As part of the seminar, we will also engage in campus-wide conversations around race at three points during the semester (beginning, middle, and end), and work with the College’s Archive on a small project to be collaboratively determined.  Finally, throughout the semester, we will help each other improve our written and oral presentation skills through low-stakes assignments and activities, while getting to know one another as unique individuals and as members of interconnected communities. 

Fall semester. Professor Schroeder Rodriguez. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

123 Thinking Body, Dancing Mind

What is body intelligence? In what ways is the body's ability to perceive and know the world equal to that of the mind? What can we learn from the body’s unique experience of the world? Utilizing dance and the performing arts as a framework for our investigations, we will explore embodied exercises to develop kinesthetic awareness and presence, attune ourselves to our bodies’ sensations and feelings, and practice observing the world through the lens of physical experience. Additionally, we will cultivate a discipline of articulating our bodies’ perceptions through discussion and writing. We will study works and techniques of seminal choreographers and dance practitioners, such as Pina Bausch and Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, who emphasize the integration of body and mind through the lived experience. This course will also provide an introduction to the liberal arts by helping students engage with and critically reflect on a broad range of media, including theoretical works, live performance, film, sound, music, and visual art. Regular short writing will also be required. 

Fall semester. Professor Riegel. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

124 Telling Stories

We all like a good story. But why? And what is a good story? Neurobiologists have documented the chemical changes that occur in our brains when we listen to a well told story. Hannah Arendt argues that who we are is best determined by the stories others tell about us, not the stories we tell about ourselves. TED talks have over-determined that all ideas worth sharing must be explained in 18 minutes, no more or less, with compelling graphics, of course. Stories are a feature of cultures around the world, and elements of both universality and diversity can be found in storytelling norms. The explosion of oral history work has done much to add the stories of “regular” people to historical narratives about events deemed worth remembering. It is possible that a story well told can compel listeners to behave more altruistically.

In this course we will think about stories, write stories, tell stories and listen to stories. We will acknowledge the comfort that cherished stories provide and de-familiarize those stories at the same time. We will read across a wide range of disciplinary perspectives on storytelling, including biology, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, and cultural studies, acknowledging our limits as readers when we lack substantial disciplinary foundations but also embracing the ways we can be thoughtful about ideas that are partially beyond our reach. We will expand our thoughts about what a story is and use the lens of story to examine things we would never have imagined were stories. In this course students will develop their skills as a reader and a writer and a speaker, but also, of course, as a listener.

Fall semester. Lecturer Mead.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

125 Space and Place

This course is an interdisciplinary exploration of physical space and the sense of belonging and rootedness we call place. The organizing principle of the course is the expanding circle; we will begin with the individual, then move to the home and family, the city, the nation, and end with the globe as a whole. We will cover a range of topics along the way, including memory, imagination, nationalism, borders, war, exile, imperialism, and globalization. Works range across philosophy, history, anthropology, film, fiction, and environmentalism, among others. We will approach this material from within a liberal arts framework, which will give students exposure to a wide variety of perspectives in the humanities and social sciences.

This is a discussion-based course designed to develop student competency in critical thinking and argumentation. Assignments include oral presentations, reading evaluations, short responses, and formal essays of varying lengths, including a research paper. Writing workshops will help students develop their writing skills, with emphasis on crafting thesis/support essays. Trips outside the classroom will introduce students to the wide range of resources at the College.

Fall semester. Professor Van Compernolle.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2021

126 Utopias

This course is an examination of utopian plans in literature, architecture, art, aesthetics, and political philosophy. We will consider the role of time and history in utopian schemes—how different projections about life in the future are based on fierce criticisms of the present, and often rely on invented or nostalgic views of social organizations in times past. The class will cover a selection of literary and theoretical utopias, beginning with Sir Thomas More, and ending with Octavia Butler, along with a range of visionary artists and designers—from Campanella's “City of the Sun” in the Renaissance to Le Corbusier’s “City of Three Million” in the twentieth century. How design affects the relationship of the individual to the community will be explored, incorporating questions of race, gender, and class. We will also examine the tensions between utopian theory and practice, by looking at the successes and failures of actual attempts at living in utopian communities. The course will conclude with a discussion of the contemporary sensations of dystopia and chaos, and of climate change and sustainable design, as we consider whether utopian thinking is applicable to the twenty-first century. Students will learn how to analyze real and imagined societies in novels, treatises, pictures, buildings, and plans. Projects include short essays, a midterm presentation, a group design project (no prior experience required), and a final paper of the student’s choosing—on any utopian image, film, text, performance, or work of imaginary architecture or planning.

Fall Semester. Visiting Professor Koehler.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

127 The Tragic Condition

Recent events over the past year and a half in the United States and across the globe, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the Black Lives Matter protest movement, have revealed how tragic human life can be. But what do people really mean when they call something “tragic”? This course explores the tragic condition by reading the most lasting works of Ancient Greek tragedy by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides alongside modern retellings of these tragedies by authors from diverse communities around the world. We will learn about the enigmatic origins of tragedy in archaic Greece and also about the performance of tragedy in ancient Athens by studying the conventions of music, dance, and the mask. Most important, we will reflect on enduring relevance of Greek tragedy today by reading several works by authors and playwrights from diverse communities around the world who have taken the powerful myths, stories, and characters from Greek tragedy and adapted them to the Black, Chicano, Transgender, African, Latin American, Muslim, and Japanese experience. All readings will be in English translation. No previous knowledge is required.

Fall Semester. Professor Hutchins. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses

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First-Year Seminars

Faculty members, in groups of one or more, teach First-Year Seminars. Every first-year student must take one of these courses during the fall semester. They are open only to Amherst College first-year students.

Fake News

In our information-saturated world, "fake news" may feel like an inescapable reality. But what exactly is fake news, why does it exist, and how do we distinguish it from trustworthy information? In particular, if experts can disagree and data can be fabricated, where do we go when the subject matter is beyond our expertise? Can something that "makes sense" be false? Can a theory that contradicts our personal experiences or beliefs still hold true?

In this course we will take a critical look at how science is reported in the media and how logic, probability, and statistics can be manipulated to fit various narratives. We will focus on identifying sources of (mis)information, constructing fact-based arguments, and establishing ways to distinguish between news, opinions, rumors, advertisement, and propaganda.

Fall semester. Assistant Professor Culiuc.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

"Finding Your Roots": Narratives of Self and Community

In each episode of the PBS show Finding your Roots, celebrities speak with host Henry Louis Gates about their family’s history. Gates’s team of researchers then undertakes archival research and DNA analysis that sometimes leads to surprising discoveries. Rather than fetishize lineage, each episode of Finding your Roots and a similar show called Who Do You Think You Are? walks guests through the process of research and discovery, and offers insight into global histories of migration, society, nation, and empire. In one episode, for example, Martha Stewart discovered that she had Muslim ancestors in central Poland, which became an opportunity to explore the deep roots of Islam in Europe. In another, the comedian Wanda Sykes spoke proudly of her identity as descendant of Black slaves. She was surprised to learn not only that her Black ancestors enjoyed freedom at least as far back as the mid-1700s, but, to her horror, they were slave owners. Gates used this as an opportunity to explore the complex history of Black slavery in America. Another famous comedian, Margaret Cho, spoke with pride about her Korean roots, only to learn that her ancestors who had migrated to San Francisco from Korea were descendants of Chinese migrants. This points to ways migration patterns within Asia contradict ethno-nationalist narratives within the region. The actress Jessica Alba guessed that, as a Latina, she had a complicated heritage, but Gates found that her Mexican past was even more revealing of global empires than Alba had anticipated. While some of Gates’ guests found surprises, others found their family stories confirmed by DNA and archival research. Through research, story-telling and conversations, the celebrity guests, and even Gates himself, learned to see their present and their past as part of larger trends in history.

In this course you will practice various strategies for recovering and narrating your own stories of home and of family (with a broad understanding of what “home” and “family” mean). Next, you will conduct genealogical research, store your findings into structured databases, and read histories of migration, race, and nation formation in various parts of the world. You will have the opportunity to get your DNA analyzed and will choose whether to share your findings. Next, you will select a particular person, moment, place or time that you discovered through your genealogical research. This will become the subject of a historical research project using digital archives. You will finish the course by reflecting upon how the things you and your peers discovered about your diverse pasts shape how you think about the changes and challenging transitions you are currently experiencing as the newest members of the Amherst College community.

To learn about a past iteration of the course, visit https://www.amherst.edu/ amherst-story/magazine/issues/ 2019-spring/college-row/rooted

Not offered in 2021-22. Professor Lopez.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020

Giving

 

The act of giving seems, at first, to be deceptively straight-forward and entirely altruistic.  But, as Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us, “We wish to be self-sustained.  We do not quite forgive a giver.”  In this seminar we will examine the act of giving – between people, between institutions and people, and entirely between institutions – from an interdisciplinary lens to reflect on what it means to give. We will intentionally reveal and challenge our initial assumptions about giving.  Using a variety of texts – religious, literary, first person accounts, and public policy – we will explore the diverse forms philanthropy has taken over time and across cultures; its philosophical underpinnings, its complex interrelationships with religious notions of charity and secular notions of democracy, and its often paradoxical effects on social relations and public policy.

The course will begin and end with the same assignment–a reflective essay in which you develop your personal framework for giving. It is anticipated that the texts and class discussions will influence the evolution of this framework and, hence, the robustness of your final essay.  Along the way, class discussions, readings, and short papers will help you develop as readers, writers, speakers and thinkers. 

Fall semester. Lecturer Mead.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

Language Crossing and Living in Translation

When did you start dreaming in a second language? Which translation of the Bible counts as the Word of God? Was Mary a virgin or a maiden? What happens to the immigrant children who need to the be interpreters in the life of their family? How much more tangled or how much more nimble is the wiring of the bilingual brain? What are we doing to our languages when we immerse in a new academic discipline? We will tackle these and other questions like these as we engage in the following units of study: (1) Babel and language differentiation and diffusion. (2) European translators from early modern humanism and the Reformation. (3) Case studies: Squanto, Malinche and the Navajo Code talkers. (4) Language in contemporary empires and resistance, migrations and globalization. (5) Language issues in gay and lesbian diasporas. (6) Bi- or multi-lingual education. (7) Literary practitioners of living in and out of translation:  Luis de León, Vladimir Nabokov, Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

The seminar will work with the same texts, issues and exercise for about two-thirds of our time together. The other third we will concentrate on projects that emerge from the students’ own linguistic condition. Students will be required to delve into their own family archives looking for ancestors’ letters written in languages they cannot yet read. They will be encouraged to document/fictionalize the stakes of marrying into another language, or to study and report on the language crossings of their particular diaspora.

Despite the apparent advantage of having more than one language to engage in our work, this course has no prerequisites and its does not exclude monolinguals. When we talk about the cultural contributions, the headiness and the struggles of bi- or multi-lingual individuals, it will be invaluable to have interlocutors who think they live only in one language.

Omitted 2021-22. Lecturer B. Sánchez-Eppler.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2019, Fall 2020

Authority, Obedience and The Rule of Law

All political systems must operate according to the "rule of law" if they are to be deemed legitimate. This statement has assumed the quality of a truism: we hear it repeated by the President of the United States, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and the President of the International Criminal Court. At the same time, though, that everyone seems to agree that the "rule of law" is a good thing, no one seems able to say for sure what the "rule of law" is. What, then, do we mean by the "rule of law"? What does it mean to speak of government limited by law? What are these limits, where do they come from, and how are they enforced? What role does the "rule of law" play in legitimating structures of governance? Does the "rule of law" imply any particular relationship between legality and morality? We will hazard answers to these questions through a close reading of works of theorists such as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, H.L.A. Hart and Lon Fuller. In addition, we will examine the arguments of the theorists as they help us think through pressing legal challenges of our age, such as defining the limits of executive power in the "war against terror."

Our seminar will be devoted to the close reading of a select number of texts. We will analyze the structure, meaning and adequacy of the arguments contained in these works through vigorous discussion and frequent writing assignments. Our aim is to gain a rich critical understanding of a concept that lies at the foundation of domestic and international socio-political systems, and to improve our abilities to discuss and write about complex ideas with sophistication, nuance and flair.

Omitted 2021-22.  Professor Douglas.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

The Nuclear Age

On August 6, 1945, a United States bomber dropped the first atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, transforming the world in an instant. This course explores the emergence of nuclear technology and its impact on global politics, society, and culture from roughly the Second World War to the present day. We will begin with the invention of the atomic bomb during World War II, exploring its societal, environmental, and cultural effects in Japan as well as its broader impact on American and European politics and identity. We will then examine the diverse ramifications of the nuclear arms race in the 1950s and 1960s, and again in the 1980s, which both pushed the world towards the brink of destruction and also fostered new forms of international cooperation and grassroots activism. We will also analyze the continuing debates over nuclear technology in the context of energy, natural resources, scientific responsibility, and environmentalism. Drawing on a range of sources, from governmental reports and diaries to cartoons, films, and paintings, the course will highlight the perspectives of a variety of groups and individuals who shaped and were shaped by the nuclear age, including scientists, policymakers, journalists, artists, activists, and victims of atomic blasts. Two class meetings per week.

Not offered in 2021-22. Professors Boucher and Walker.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020

101 Progress?

Is the world a better place today than it was fifty years ago?  Will it be better yet in another fifty years?  We cannot answer such questions without asking what we mean by "better," that is, what counts as progress.  The question of what progress is cannot be answered simply: the term has been used in different ways at differemt times and has also been the subject of much critical examination.  We will explore the meaning of progress by engaging with a variety of thought-provoking and influential works. 

Fall semester. Professors George, Shah, Worsley and Douglas.

 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

102 Growing Up in America

How do race, ethnicity, social class, and gender shape the experience of growing up in America? We will begin by examining the childhood and adolescent experiences of Justice Sonia Sotomayor as she journeyed from a low-income Puerto Rican immigrant community in the Bronx to an Ivy League university. As we read coming-of-age experiences of other individuals, past and present, fictional and real, our focus will be on understanding identity formation, family relationships, education, the American Dream, courtship, sexuality, and the importance of culture and community. Readings will include sociological and psychological theory as tools for analysis. We will also explore the privileges or disadvantages we have faced growing up due to our race, ethnicity, social class, and gender to understand how they have shaped our own life experiences and perceptions.

The course introduces students to interdisciplinary readings and methods of inquiry from history, psychology, sociology, and literature. The course is designed to advance students’ skills at reading critically, developing strong arguments, and articulating ideas orally and in writing, skills that will be crucial for future coursework at the college.

Fall semester. Professor Aries.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

103 Global Cities and Global Slums:  Environment, Racism, and Coloniality

In this seminar, participants will explore the relationship between urban development and global inequalities. The first section focuses on the historical formation of global cities and global slums in the late twentieth century that together rejuvenated coloniality as a relationship of oppression in urban spaces. In the second section, we will discuss how both forms of urban agglomerations perpetuate environmental issues and structural racism. In the last section, we will address the impact of environmental issues and structural racism on the physical and social transformation of US cities. Students will write weekly response papers, online discussion forum posts, a midterm paper, and a final paper. In their midterm and final papers, students will focus on a specific urban setting in the United States to contextualize the course material and discussions.

Fall semester. Visiting Associate Professor Balaban.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

104 New Women in America

This course will examine the emergence of the “New Woman” as a category of social theory, political action, and literary representation at the turning of the twentieth century. Early readings will trace the origins of the New Woman as a response to nineteenth-century notions of “True Womanhood.” Discussions will situate literary representations of women in larger cultural events taking place during the Progressive Era–debates over suffrage as well as their relationship to issues of citizenship, immigration, Jim Crow segregation, urbanization, and nativism. The course will focus on texts written by a diverse group of women that present multiple and, at times, conflicting images of the New Woman. Close attention will be paid to the manner in which these women writers constructed their fictions, particularly to issues of language, style, and form. Readings will include texts by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, Pauline Hopkins, Anzia Yezierska, and Sui Sin Far.

Fall semester. Lecturer Bergoffen.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

105 Ring of Fire: Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Devastation

Roughly 90 percent of today’s earthquakes and 75 percent of active volcanoes reside along the Ring of Fire, a nearly 25,000-mile stretch wrapped around the edges of the Pacific Ocean. The Ring of Fire is ground zero for some of the deadliest earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in human history, recorded in writings, traditions, and legends. These catastrophic events often have global repercussions. Examples include the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and subsequent tsunami that killed over 200,000 people in 14 countries and the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora in 1815, which resulted in climate anomalies and global famines. The focus of the course will be case studies of specific disasters – both within and outside the Ring of Fire – across human history. Through in-class discussion and frequent reading and writing assignments, we will gain an understanding of the geologic processes responsible for these volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, and the vulnerability of human populations to them. While taught from an earth science perspective, this course will be interdisciplinary, using historic and artistic accounts of disasters along with modern scientific research publications to help answer the following questions: What determines the location of volcanoes and earthquakes? Can we predict the next great earthquake or volcanic eruption? How are some communities disproportionately vulnerable to these hazards? How has our collective understanding of earthquakes and volcanoes changed through time?

Throughout the semester we hope to take advantage of local opportunities to enhance our understanding of geologic processes and the intertwined history of human response to change and catastrophe.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

106 Making Place in Kwenitekw, the Connecticut River Valley

How do we know the places we live? How do we participate in their making? How do we come to know places that are unfamiliar, or new to us? How do our languages, cultural frameworks, and embodied experiences, including race, gender, and sexuality, shape how we perceive place? In this seminar, we will think and write deliberatively about the process of making place, both the places we come from, and most important, the place we currently inhabit. Grounded in Indigenous language and land, we will consider the deep histories, oral traditions, and continuing adaptation of the Kwenitekw (Connecticut River) Valley and the place of Amherst College within this space. We will begin with the idea that place is not static or permanent, but rather dynamic and changing. Making place is an activity and we will get out on the land to observe and participate in those processes. We will spend most of our class time outside, turning our attention to the many other-than-human beings that are constantly making place in the environment we depend upon. At the same time, we will also spend time in the built environment and archives of Amherst College, considering how students have challenged, changed and transformed the social, political, and educational space of our campus. 

Fall semester.  Professor Brooks.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

107 Secrets and Lies

Politics seems almost unimaginable without secrecy and lying. From the noble lie of Plato's Republic to the controversy about former President Clinton's "lying" in the Monica Lewinsky case and President Trump’s alleged assault on truth, from the use of secrecy in the war against terrorism to the endless spinning of political campaigns, from controversies about "fake news" to efforts to hide and excuse police miscoduct, from President John Kennedy's behavior during the Cuban missile crisis to cover-ups concerning pedophile priests in the Catholic church, from Freud's efforts to decode the secrets beneath civilized life to contemporary exposés of the private lives of politicians, politics and deception seem to go hand-in-hand. This course investigates how the practices of politics are informed by the keeping and telling of secrets, and the telling and exposing of lies. We will address such questions as: When, if ever, is it right to lie or to breach confidences? When is it right to expose secrets and lies? Is it necessary to be prepared to lie in order to advance the cause of justice? Or, must we do justice justly? When is secrecy really necessary and when is it merely a pretext for Machiavellian manipulation? Are secrecy and deceit more prevalent in some kinds of political systems than in others? Can democracy survive in a “post-truth” era? As we explore those questions we will discuss the place of candor and openness in politics and social life; the relationship between the claims of privacy (e.g., the closeting of sexual desire) and secrecy and deception in public arenas; conspiracy theories as they are applied to politics; and the importance of secrecy in the domains of national security and law enforcement. We will examine the treatment of secrecy and lying in political theory as well as their appearance in literature and popular culture, for example Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Primary Colors, Schindler's List and The Insider.

This is a discussion-based course. Students will be expected to be active participants in the seminar. During the course of the semester we will use our discussions to cultivate reasoning skills as well as student capacities to present arguments in a compelling manner. In addition, there will be frequent writing, and I will provide careful and extended responses to student writing. The course will provide an introduction to liberal studies by helping students learn how to read and comprehend complex texts, respond to them in sophisticated ways, and engage in critical reasoning about venerable and pressing ethical, social and political problems. 

Fall semester. Professor Sarat.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

108 The Crowd

From the Black Lives Matter uprising and democracy movement in Hong Kong to farmer’s protests in India and the 2021 Capitol Hill riots, we see crowds of people whose number, force, and relative anonymity make them a political power to reckon with. In this course we consider the crowd as an agent of politics. When does a group of people become a crowd? When is it called a mob? Who becomes a part of it and who’s afraid of it? Why is the crowd simultaneously celebrated and vilified? What does this ambivalence reveal about the nature of mass democracies globally? During the semester, we will first address these concerns around the crowd in scholarly work and eventually move on to ethnographic considerations of actual crowds that occupy our streets and our screens on a daily basis. The crowd, we will see, is a permanent fixture against which the words and actions of the people are defined. Yet, as an embodiment of popular political will and a figure of lawlessness and disorder, the crowd is here to stay. Together, we will aim to understand the role and the ruse of the crowd in the life of modern democracy.

Fall semester.  Professor Chowdhury.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

109 Drugs in History

This course examines the changing ways that human beings have used psychoactive drugs and societies have controlled that use. After examining drug use in historical and cross-cultural perspectives and studying the physiological and psychological effects of different drugs, we look at the ways in which contemporary societies both encourage and repress drug use. We address the drug war, the disease model of drug addiction, the proliferation of prescription drugs, the images of drug use in popular culture, America’s complicated history of alcohol control, and international drug trafficking and its implications for American foreign policy. Readings include Huxley’s Brave New World, Kramer’s Listening to Prozac, and Reinarman and Schivelbusch, Tastes of Paradise; films include Drugstore Cowboy and Traffic. This course will be writing attentive. Two class meetings per week.

Fall semester. Professor Couvares.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

110 Encounters with Nature

What is our place in nature? How do we feel about natural spaces we encountered growing up
and how do we view the environment of Amherst College and its setting in New England? How did people in the past think about nature and how did they change their environments as a consequence? Did different races experience and alter nature in different ways? How have the ideas and experiences of the past affected us today? And how do we imagine the future of the natural world? Has the current pandemic permanently changed how we think about nature?

This course will explore how our ideas of nature have changed over time. We will give particular attention to the ways we have recreated particular kinds of natural spaces and how we have depicted nature in images. We begin with walks in the nearby wildlife sanctuary, discussions of our past encounters with nature, a study of the Amherst Campus, and, while the weather is still warm, a hike or two. During these excursions we will discuss what we see, take visual notes on the landscape through drawing (no expertise necessary), and discuss and write about how our experience with the land might differ from how people experienced it in the past. We then will explore New England further, discuss ideas about wilderness in the United States, and look closely at American landscape painting. Where do our deeply held assumptions come from? To find out, we will look at poetry, philosophy, Western painting traditions, and scientific illustration. We also will think about why people collect and draw natural specimens, and how they mapped their environments from the Renaissance through the Aztec empire to the current day.

The course will provide an introduction to liberal studies by helping students learn how to read and comprehend complex texts and images, respond to them in sophisticated ways, and engage in critical reasoning. We expect students to be active participants in class discussions. Students will write brief abstracts every week about the readings and every other week or so perform close readings of texts, art, maps, and even gardens and landscapes.

Fall semester. Professor Courtright. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

111 Investigating Objects

Our lives are filled with objects. What are our relationships to them, and what is their significance in our culture? In this discussion-based course we will be exploring what objects are, how we define and value them, and what their existence is apart from us. Reading texts from a variety of disciplines including philosophy, literature, art history, and anthropology, we will be investigating a range of perspectives on objects and their significance. In addition to reading about them, we will examine actual objects. Discussions and writing assignments will develop approaches to enrich and inform these encounters through research, visual examination and critical analysis. 

This course will also involve making things. Through a series of studio projects (drawing and sculpture) we will explore how things are made and gain a richer understanding of their physical, visual and tactile qualities. Writing assignments in connection with these projects will help to foster an appreciation of the connections between the visual and the verbal. Some of the objects we will be investigating are: vessels, electronic devices, books, furniture, miniatures, musical instruments and modern sculpture.

No studio art experience is necessary.

Fall Semester. Visiting Lecturer Douglas Culhane.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

112 Beginnings

 

This course offers a sustained encounter with premodern worldviews, lifeways, and models of being human--that is to say, with the vast majority of human experience in recorded history. In this course we will consider a wide variety of premodern literatures and cultures, focusing on a broad range of works from western antiquity through medieval and early modern history in Mediterranean, South Asian, Eurasian, and Islamic societies.

Part of the explicit aim of our endeavors is to destabilize the centrality of western patterns of historical and intellectual development by offering robust alternatives to it. We will explore various kinds of beginnings, such as arts and technologies, languages, ideas, material cultures, literatures, cities, and civilizations. For fall 2020, the course theme is “Worlds and World-Making.” We will study cosmologies and cosmogonies, both scientific and mythic; and we will explore theories that explain the beginnings of human beings and key inventions and innovations across multiple histories and traditions.

The course has two weekly meetings: one plenary session (lecture) and one small-group discussion section. The two components are aimed at different yet essential skills: the art of attention to lectures and effective spoken and written communication in small-group meetings. The course is taught by a cluster of faculty from across disciplines and thereby offers an interdisciplinary introduction to liberal arts studies and to the essential tools for exploring the cultural, material and literary legacies of our diverse fields of study.

Readings for this class will be available online and through the Moodle website. Tuesday's meetings will include all sections together with the faculty, with one faculty member lecturing in their area of expertise. There may be occasional, required asynchronous (online) lectures before Tuesday's meetings. Thursday's meetings consist of small discussion sections (15 students) with your designated faculty member, who will remain constant throughout the semester. These meetings are focused on discussion of the weekly material. While we anticipate returning to in-class offerings, you should be prepared for some synchronous online sessions if necessary.

Fall semester. Assistant Professor Hunter-Parker, Associate Professor van den Berg, Assistant Professor Rice and Assistant Professor Infante.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

113 Christianity and Evolution

This course explores the relationship between Christianity and the theory of evolution, which phrase refers to a family of scientific theories generally associated with the work of Charles Darwin.  The primary mode of approach to this relationship will be historical, but throughout the course voices from a variety of academic disciplines will be heard.  Geographically, the focus of the course will be on Europe (largely the UK) and North America.  Over the course of the semester we will explore issues in the relationship between Christianity and the natural sciences in the generation before Darwin;  the contents of Darwin’s theory of natural selection and its ramifications for understanding the origins of the human species;  a variety of Christian responses to the theory in the late nineteenth century;  the rise of a concerted movement in opposition to evolution in North America in the early twentieth century;  and developments subsequent to this movement within those sectors of Christianity that participated in it.

Fall semester. Professor Dole. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2021

114 Inequality in the "New World"

This course explores the consequences of the European encounter of 1492, and after, with indigenous peoples of what came to be called the Americas, including systemic genocide committed against indigenous peoples, the emergence of chattel slavery, the functions of ideologies that have contributed to white supremacism, and the roles that doctrines of racial difference have played in producing social and economic inequalities. 

Fall semster. Professor Dumm.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

115 Goya and His World

We will luxuriate in Goya’s magisterial works, from his rococo Tapestry Cartoons to his harrowing Pinturas negras. We will study treasures at the Mead Museum—a complete set of the Caprichos, the Disasters of War, the Tauromaquia and the Disparates. To understand Goya’s apparently inscrutable images and his obsession with evil, we will pore over his letters, study his themes such as witchcraft and bullfighting, immerse ourselves in his fraught historical moment, and revel in his culture at large—from music to dance to literature—all inflected with a fragile Enlightenment, all still in the Inquisition’s grasp.

In addition to vibrant discussions, there will be weekly written assignments to deepen students' understanding of the material, as well as to develop the beauty of their writing, the acuity of their sight, their synthetic and analytical powers. There will be frequent one-on-one meetings with me, and constantly changing mini-groups, as we learn and explore together.

Reading knowledge of Spanish would be helpful, but is not necessary. Fall semester. Professor Staller.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

116 The Anatomy of Pictures

This course is about the centrality of images produced by mechanical means in the rituals, practices, and representations of everyday life—what we now understand as visual culture. With a focus on the last 50 years, we will explore why it is important to understand the image as utterly diverse in its functions. We will dissect examples from contemporary photography, new media, screen culture, and cultural theory that critically challenge visual culture. Our conversations will cover topics from new models of spectatorship and how to become visually literate to controversies surrounding trigger warnings and the risk of “remaining forever trapped inside the image” (cf. Jacques Rancière’s “The Intolerable Image”). Readings will include the voices of artists, critics, historians, cultural theorists, and philosophers such as Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, Richard Dyer, Jessica Evans, Michel Foucault, Anne Friedberg, Stuart Hall, bell hooks, Kobena Mercer, Adrian Piper, Claudia Rankine, and Hito Steyerl.

Fall semester. Visiting Lecturer Falk.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

117 Animals and the Law

How and under what circumstances are non-human animals considered persons before the law? Using perspectives from anthropology, Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS), science and technology studies (STS), and legal studies, this course explores the shifting status of non-human animals in Anglo-American legal tradition. While our main focus will be the understanding and treatment of non-human animals in the contemporary United States, we will also examine these issues from historical and cross-cultural perspectives. Of particular interest is how scientific knowledge comes to bear on these kinds of legal questions. All students interested in the moral, political and legal status of animals are welcome.

Fall semester.  Visiting Professor Hamilton.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

118 Race and Gender in Biomedicine

This course explores conceptualizations and representations of race and gender in health and medicine.  We begin by looking at the histories of race, sex, and sexuality in Western science, especially in terms of how they have been articulated through multiple contexts involving infectious diseases. How does scientific thought and practice intersect with larger political and economic movements including colonization and imperialism?  We will then move into a discussion of the uses of race and sex in contemporary biomedicine focusing on the following questions: How is inequality “written on the body”? How are categories of risk and susceptibility racialized and biologized? How are racism and sexism “underlying conditions” that powerfully shape whether or not people contract infectious diseases and who lives and who dies? This course will have a special focus on global health disparities.

Fall semester.  Visiting Professor Hamilton

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

119 Transformative Ideas

 

This course explores a series of ideas from the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries that have substantially changed the way people think about humanity in the Western world. Each idea is closely associated with an author. While from year to year the ideas will change, for 2021 we will closely read and write about, Karl Marx and Frederic Engels The Communist Manifesto, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The American Scholar” and “Self-Reliance”, Friedrich Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals, W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, Sigmund Freud’s The Ego and the Id, Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, and Judith Butler’s Precarious Life. Students are also asked to purchase a copy of Strunk and White, The Elements of Style.

Fall semester. Professor Dumm.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

120 Looking at the World Through Jazz-Colored Lenses

When you think of Jazz, what comes to mind? Perhaps a romantic, elegant, candle-lit dinner? A goatee-sporting fashion plate? Individual freedom to create? Something old that your parents listen to? Jazz emerged in New Orleans in the early twentieth century and quickly spread throughout the world, becoming, at certain points in its history, wildly popular, and at others, decidedly esoteric. Jazz has been called, variously: savage, modern, instinctive, sophisticated, revolutionary, a rare national treasure, a secret sonic weapon, noise, America's classical music, and the most powerful evolutionary force in modern music. It has been instrumental in political movements (for instance, the export of jazz ensembles to the Soviet Union during the Cold War); in campaigns both to sanction human rights (Jazz in the Civil Rights Movement), and suppress them (its concerted and systematic effort to exclude women); and it has been used at once to amplify capitalism (the market-savvy Smooth Jazz industry) and to critique it (the efflorescence of independent musician collectives, such as the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). Using audio recordings, newspaper articles, television programs, and other archival materials, along with recent and past scholarship, we will examine the sounds, key figures, and practices that make up this music to consider what this enduring yet elusive style has to tell us about ourselves.

Fall semester. Professor Harper.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

121 Asia in the European Mind: Modern European Discourse on History and Identity

From the late-eighteenth century onward European intellectuals frequently drew on images of Asia to illustrate what it meant to be modern, enlightened, and historically progressive. By critically tracing this intellectual genealogy we will together confront durable but controversial conceptions of human subjectivity, freedom, and historical progress, conceptions which we may find ourselves to be complicit in today. We will start with key figures in the intellectual tradition of modern Europe, including Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), Georg W. F. Hegel (1770–1831), Karl Marx (1818–1883), and Max Weber (1864–1920), but move on to consider how their thought echoes in Asian conversations about modernity. We will conclude with contemporary thinkers and their attempts to grapple with the tension between universal conceptions of human history and relativistic approaches.  

Offered Fall 2021. Professor Maxey.

 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

122 Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Latin American Arts

In this seminar, we will explore the decolonial tradition in Latin American visual and literary arts over the past 500 years, a tradition that questions and contests the articulation of race, gender, and ethnicity as natural categories.  Together, we will conduct close readings of a number of exemplary texts within this tradition (poems, narratives, films, sculpture, performance), taking care to contextualize them in space and time.  Class conversations will follow the principles of the listening circle, an Indigenous practice that facilitates respectful conversations and meaningful interaction.  As part of the seminar, we will also engage in campus-wide conversations around race at three points during the semester (beginning, middle, and end), and work with the College’s Archive on a small project to be collaboratively determined.  Finally, throughout the semester, we will help each other improve our written and oral presentation skills through low-stakes assignments and activities, while getting to know one another as unique individuals and as members of interconnected communities. 

Fall semester. Professor Schroeder Rodriguez. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

123 Thinking Body, Dancing Mind

What is body intelligence? In what ways is the body's ability to perceive and know the world equal to that of the mind? What can we learn from the body’s unique experience of the world? Utilizing dance and the performing arts as a framework for our investigations, we will explore embodied exercises to develop kinesthetic awareness and presence, attune ourselves to our bodies’ sensations and feelings, and practice observing the world through the lens of physical experience. Additionally, we will cultivate a discipline of articulating our bodies’ perceptions through discussion and writing. We will study works and techniques of seminal choreographers and dance practitioners, such as Pina Bausch and Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, who emphasize the integration of body and mind through the lived experience. This course will also provide an introduction to the liberal arts by helping students engage with and critically reflect on a broad range of media, including theoretical works, live performance, film, sound, music, and visual art. Regular short writing will also be required. 

Fall semester. Professor Riegel. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

124 Telling Stories

We all like a good story. But why? And what is a good story? Neurobiologists have documented the chemical changes that occur in our brains when we listen to a well told story. Hannah Arendt argues that who we are is best determined by the stories others tell about us, not the stories we tell about ourselves. TED talks have over-determined that all ideas worth sharing must be explained in 18 minutes, no more or less, with compelling graphics, of course. Stories are a feature of cultures around the world, and elements of both universality and diversity can be found in storytelling norms. The explosion of oral history work has done much to add the stories of “regular” people to historical narratives about events deemed worth remembering. It is possible that a story well told can compel listeners to behave more altruistically.

In this course we will think about stories, write stories, tell stories and listen to stories. We will acknowledge the comfort that cherished stories provide and de-familiarize those stories at the same time. We will read across a wide range of disciplinary perspectives on storytelling, including biology, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, and cultural studies, acknowledging our limits as readers when we lack substantial disciplinary foundations but also embracing the ways we can be thoughtful about ideas that are partially beyond our reach. We will expand our thoughts about what a story is and use the lens of story to examine things we would never have imagined were stories. In this course students will develop their skills as a reader and a writer and a speaker, but also, of course, as a listener.

Fall semester. Lecturer Mead.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

125 Space and Place

This course is an interdisciplinary exploration of physical space and the sense of belonging and rootedness we call place. The organizing principle of the course is the expanding circle; we will begin with the individual, then move to the home and family, the city, the nation, and end with the globe as a whole. We will cover a range of topics along the way, including memory, imagination, nationalism, borders, war, exile, imperialism, and globalization. Works range across philosophy, history, anthropology, film, fiction, and environmentalism, among others. We will approach this material from within a liberal arts framework, which will give students exposure to a wide variety of perspectives in the humanities and social sciences.

This is a discussion-based course designed to develop student competency in critical thinking and argumentation. Assignments include oral presentations, reading evaluations, short responses, and formal essays of varying lengths, including a research paper. Writing workshops will help students develop their writing skills, with emphasis on crafting thesis/support essays. Trips outside the classroom will introduce students to the wide range of resources at the College.

Fall semester. Professor Van Compernolle.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2021

126 Utopias

This course is an examination of utopian plans in literature, architecture, art, aesthetics, and political philosophy. We will consider the role of time and history in utopian schemes—how different projections about life in the future are based on fierce criticisms of the present, and often rely on invented or nostalgic views of social organizations in times past. The class will cover a selection of literary and theoretical utopias, beginning with Sir Thomas More, and ending with Octavia Butler, along with a range of visionary artists and designers—from Campanella's “City of the Sun” in the Renaissance to Le Corbusier’s “City of Three Million” in the twentieth century. How design affects the relationship of the individual to the community will be explored, incorporating questions of race, gender, and class. We will also examine the tensions between utopian theory and practice, by looking at the successes and failures of actual attempts at living in utopian communities. The course will conclude with a discussion of the contemporary sensations of dystopia and chaos, and of climate change and sustainable design, as we consider whether utopian thinking is applicable to the twenty-first century. Students will learn how to analyze real and imagined societies in novels, treatises, pictures, buildings, and plans. Projects include short essays, a midterm presentation, a group design project (no prior experience required), and a final paper of the student’s choosing—on any utopian image, film, text, performance, or work of imaginary architecture or planning.

Fall Semester. Visiting Professor Koehler.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

127 The Tragic Condition

Recent events over the past year and a half in the United States and across the globe, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the Black Lives Matter protest movement, have revealed how tragic human life can be. But what do people really mean when they call something “tragic”? This course explores the tragic condition by reading the most lasting works of Ancient Greek tragedy by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides alongside modern retellings of these tragedies by authors from diverse communities around the world. We will learn about the enigmatic origins of tragedy in archaic Greece and also about the performance of tragedy in ancient Athens by studying the conventions of music, dance, and the mask. Most important, we will reflect on enduring relevance of Greek tragedy today by reading several works by authors and playwrights from diverse communities around the world who have taken the powerful myths, stories, and characters from Greek tragedy and adapted them to the Black, Chicano, Transgender, African, Latin American, Muslim, and Japanese experience. All readings will be in English translation. No previous knowledge is required.

Fall Semester. Professor Hutchins. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

Five College Programs & Certificates

Five College Programs & Certificates

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First-Year Seminars

Faculty members, in groups of one or more, teach First-Year Seminars. Every first-year student must take one of these courses during the fall semester. They are open only to Amherst College first-year students.

Fake News

In our information-saturated world, "fake news" may feel like an inescapable reality. But what exactly is fake news, why does it exist, and how do we distinguish it from trustworthy information? In particular, if experts can disagree and data can be fabricated, where do we go when the subject matter is beyond our expertise? Can something that "makes sense" be false? Can a theory that contradicts our personal experiences or beliefs still hold true?

In this course we will take a critical look at how science is reported in the media and how logic, probability, and statistics can be manipulated to fit various narratives. We will focus on identifying sources of (mis)information, constructing fact-based arguments, and establishing ways to distinguish between news, opinions, rumors, advertisement, and propaganda.

Fall semester. Assistant Professor Culiuc.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

"Finding Your Roots": Narratives of Self and Community

In each episode of the PBS show Finding your Roots, celebrities speak with host Henry Louis Gates about their family’s history. Gates’s team of researchers then undertakes archival research and DNA analysis that sometimes leads to surprising discoveries. Rather than fetishize lineage, each episode of Finding your Roots and a similar show called Who Do You Think You Are? walks guests through the process of research and discovery, and offers insight into global histories of migration, society, nation, and empire. In one episode, for example, Martha Stewart discovered that she had Muslim ancestors in central Poland, which became an opportunity to explore the deep roots of Islam in Europe. In another, the comedian Wanda Sykes spoke proudly of her identity as descendant of Black slaves. She was surprised to learn not only that her Black ancestors enjoyed freedom at least as far back as the mid-1700s, but, to her horror, they were slave owners. Gates used this as an opportunity to explore the complex history of Black slavery in America. Another famous comedian, Margaret Cho, spoke with pride about her Korean roots, only to learn that her ancestors who had migrated to San Francisco from Korea were descendants of Chinese migrants. This points to ways migration patterns within Asia contradict ethno-nationalist narratives within the region. The actress Jessica Alba guessed that, as a Latina, she had a complicated heritage, but Gates found that her Mexican past was even more revealing of global empires than Alba had anticipated. While some of Gates’ guests found surprises, others found their family stories confirmed by DNA and archival research. Through research, story-telling and conversations, the celebrity guests, and even Gates himself, learned to see their present and their past as part of larger trends in history.

In this course you will practice various strategies for recovering and narrating your own stories of home and of family (with a broad understanding of what “home” and “family” mean). Next, you will conduct genealogical research, store your findings into structured databases, and read histories of migration, race, and nation formation in various parts of the world. You will have the opportunity to get your DNA analyzed and will choose whether to share your findings. Next, you will select a particular person, moment, place or time that you discovered through your genealogical research. This will become the subject of a historical research project using digital archives. You will finish the course by reflecting upon how the things you and your peers discovered about your diverse pasts shape how you think about the changes and challenging transitions you are currently experiencing as the newest members of the Amherst College community.

To learn about a past iteration of the course, visit https://www.amherst.edu/ amherst-story/magazine/issues/ 2019-spring/college-row/rooted

Not offered in 2021-22. Professor Lopez.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020

Giving

 

The act of giving seems, at first, to be deceptively straight-forward and entirely altruistic.  But, as Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us, “We wish to be self-sustained.  We do not quite forgive a giver.”  In this seminar we will examine the act of giving – between people, between institutions and people, and entirely between institutions – from an interdisciplinary lens to reflect on what it means to give. We will intentionally reveal and challenge our initial assumptions about giving.  Using a variety of texts – religious, literary, first person accounts, and public policy – we will explore the diverse forms philanthropy has taken over time and across cultures; its philosophical underpinnings, its complex interrelationships with religious notions of charity and secular notions of democracy, and its often paradoxical effects on social relations and public policy.

The course will begin and end with the same assignment–a reflective essay in which you develop your personal framework for giving. It is anticipated that the texts and class discussions will influence the evolution of this framework and, hence, the robustness of your final essay.  Along the way, class discussions, readings, and short papers will help you develop as readers, writers, speakers and thinkers. 

Fall semester. Lecturer Mead.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

Language Crossing and Living in Translation

When did you start dreaming in a second language? Which translation of the Bible counts as the Word of God? Was Mary a virgin or a maiden? What happens to the immigrant children who need to the be interpreters in the life of their family? How much more tangled or how much more nimble is the wiring of the bilingual brain? What are we doing to our languages when we immerse in a new academic discipline? We will tackle these and other questions like these as we engage in the following units of study: (1) Babel and language differentiation and diffusion. (2) European translators from early modern humanism and the Reformation. (3) Case studies: Squanto, Malinche and the Navajo Code talkers. (4) Language in contemporary empires and resistance, migrations and globalization. (5) Language issues in gay and lesbian diasporas. (6) Bi- or multi-lingual education. (7) Literary practitioners of living in and out of translation:  Luis de León, Vladimir Nabokov, Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

The seminar will work with the same texts, issues and exercise for about two-thirds of our time together. The other third we will concentrate on projects that emerge from the students’ own linguistic condition. Students will be required to delve into their own family archives looking for ancestors’ letters written in languages they cannot yet read. They will be encouraged to document/fictionalize the stakes of marrying into another language, or to study and report on the language crossings of their particular diaspora.

Despite the apparent advantage of having more than one language to engage in our work, this course has no prerequisites and its does not exclude monolinguals. When we talk about the cultural contributions, the headiness and the struggles of bi- or multi-lingual individuals, it will be invaluable to have interlocutors who think they live only in one language.

Omitted 2021-22. Lecturer B. Sánchez-Eppler.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2019, Fall 2020

Authority, Obedience and The Rule of Law

All political systems must operate according to the "rule of law" if they are to be deemed legitimate. This statement has assumed the quality of a truism: we hear it repeated by the President of the United States, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and the President of the International Criminal Court. At the same time, though, that everyone seems to agree that the "rule of law" is a good thing, no one seems able to say for sure what the "rule of law" is. What, then, do we mean by the "rule of law"? What does it mean to speak of government limited by law? What are these limits, where do they come from, and how are they enforced? What role does the "rule of law" play in legitimating structures of governance? Does the "rule of law" imply any particular relationship between legality and morality? We will hazard answers to these questions through a close reading of works of theorists such as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, H.L.A. Hart and Lon Fuller. In addition, we will examine the arguments of the theorists as they help us think through pressing legal challenges of our age, such as defining the limits of executive power in the "war against terror."

Our seminar will be devoted to the close reading of a select number of texts. We will analyze the structure, meaning and adequacy of the arguments contained in these works through vigorous discussion and frequent writing assignments. Our aim is to gain a rich critical understanding of a concept that lies at the foundation of domestic and international socio-political systems, and to improve our abilities to discuss and write about complex ideas with sophistication, nuance and flair.

Omitted 2021-22.  Professor Douglas.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

The Nuclear Age

On August 6, 1945, a United States bomber dropped the first atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, transforming the world in an instant. This course explores the emergence of nuclear technology and its impact on global politics, society, and culture from roughly the Second World War to the present day. We will begin with the invention of the atomic bomb during World War II, exploring its societal, environmental, and cultural effects in Japan as well as its broader impact on American and European politics and identity. We will then examine the diverse ramifications of the nuclear arms race in the 1950s and 1960s, and again in the 1980s, which both pushed the world towards the brink of destruction and also fostered new forms of international cooperation and grassroots activism. We will also analyze the continuing debates over nuclear technology in the context of energy, natural resources, scientific responsibility, and environmentalism. Drawing on a range of sources, from governmental reports and diaries to cartoons, films, and paintings, the course will highlight the perspectives of a variety of groups and individuals who shaped and were shaped by the nuclear age, including scientists, policymakers, journalists, artists, activists, and victims of atomic blasts. Two class meetings per week.

Not offered in 2021-22. Professors Boucher and Walker.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020

101 Progress?

Is the world a better place today than it was fifty years ago?  Will it be better yet in another fifty years?  We cannot answer such questions without asking what we mean by "better," that is, what counts as progress.  The question of what progress is cannot be answered simply: the term has been used in different ways at differemt times and has also been the subject of much critical examination.  We will explore the meaning of progress by engaging with a variety of thought-provoking and influential works. 

Fall semester. Professors George, Shah, Worsley and Douglas.

 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

102 Growing Up in America

How do race, ethnicity, social class, and gender shape the experience of growing up in America? We will begin by examining the childhood and adolescent experiences of Justice Sonia Sotomayor as she journeyed from a low-income Puerto Rican immigrant community in the Bronx to an Ivy League university. As we read coming-of-age experiences of other individuals, past and present, fictional and real, our focus will be on understanding identity formation, family relationships, education, the American Dream, courtship, sexuality, and the importance of culture and community. Readings will include sociological and psychological theory as tools for analysis. We will also explore the privileges or disadvantages we have faced growing up due to our race, ethnicity, social class, and gender to understand how they have shaped our own life experiences and perceptions.

The course introduces students to interdisciplinary readings and methods of inquiry from history, psychology, sociology, and literature. The course is designed to advance students’ skills at reading critically, developing strong arguments, and articulating ideas orally and in writing, skills that will be crucial for future coursework at the college.

Fall semester. Professor Aries.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

103 Global Cities and Global Slums:  Environment, Racism, and Coloniality

In this seminar, participants will explore the relationship between urban development and global inequalities. The first section focuses on the historical formation of global cities and global slums in the late twentieth century that together rejuvenated coloniality as a relationship of oppression in urban spaces. In the second section, we will discuss how both forms of urban agglomerations perpetuate environmental issues and structural racism. In the last section, we will address the impact of environmental issues and structural racism on the physical and social transformation of US cities. Students will write weekly response papers, online discussion forum posts, a midterm paper, and a final paper. In their midterm and final papers, students will focus on a specific urban setting in the United States to contextualize the course material and discussions.

Fall semester. Visiting Associate Professor Balaban.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

104 New Women in America

This course will examine the emergence of the “New Woman” as a category of social theory, political action, and literary representation at the turning of the twentieth century. Early readings will trace the origins of the New Woman as a response to nineteenth-century notions of “True Womanhood.” Discussions will situate literary representations of women in larger cultural events taking place during the Progressive Era–debates over suffrage as well as their relationship to issues of citizenship, immigration, Jim Crow segregation, urbanization, and nativism. The course will focus on texts written by a diverse group of women that present multiple and, at times, conflicting images of the New Woman. Close attention will be paid to the manner in which these women writers constructed their fictions, particularly to issues of language, style, and form. Readings will include texts by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, Pauline Hopkins, Anzia Yezierska, and Sui Sin Far.

Fall semester. Lecturer Bergoffen.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

105 Ring of Fire: Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Devastation

Roughly 90 percent of today’s earthquakes and 75 percent of active volcanoes reside along the Ring of Fire, a nearly 25,000-mile stretch wrapped around the edges of the Pacific Ocean. The Ring of Fire is ground zero for some of the deadliest earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in human history, recorded in writings, traditions, and legends. These catastrophic events often have global repercussions. Examples include the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and subsequent tsunami that killed over 200,000 people in 14 countries and the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora in 1815, which resulted in climate anomalies and global famines. The focus of the course will be case studies of specific disasters – both within and outside the Ring of Fire – across human history. Through in-class discussion and frequent reading and writing assignments, we will gain an understanding of the geologic processes responsible for these volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, and the vulnerability of human populations to them. While taught from an earth science perspective, this course will be interdisciplinary, using historic and artistic accounts of disasters along with modern scientific research publications to help answer the following questions: What determines the location of volcanoes and earthquakes? Can we predict the next great earthquake or volcanic eruption? How are some communities disproportionately vulnerable to these hazards? How has our collective understanding of earthquakes and volcanoes changed through time?

Throughout the semester we hope to take advantage of local opportunities to enhance our understanding of geologic processes and the intertwined history of human response to change and catastrophe.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

106 Making Place in Kwenitekw, the Connecticut River Valley

How do we know the places we live? How do we participate in their making? How do we come to know places that are unfamiliar, or new to us? How do our languages, cultural frameworks, and embodied experiences, including race, gender, and sexuality, shape how we perceive place? In this seminar, we will think and write deliberatively about the process of making place, both the places we come from, and most important, the place we currently inhabit. Grounded in Indigenous language and land, we will consider the deep histories, oral traditions, and continuing adaptation of the Kwenitekw (Connecticut River) Valley and the place of Amherst College within this space. We will begin with the idea that place is not static or permanent, but rather dynamic and changing. Making place is an activity and we will get out on the land to observe and participate in those processes. We will spend most of our class time outside, turning our attention to the many other-than-human beings that are constantly making place in the environment we depend upon. At the same time, we will also spend time in the built environment and archives of Amherst College, considering how students have challenged, changed and transformed the social, political, and educational space of our campus. 

Fall semester.  Professor Brooks.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

107 Secrets and Lies

Politics seems almost unimaginable without secrecy and lying. From the noble lie of Plato's Republic to the controversy about former President Clinton's "lying" in the Monica Lewinsky case and President Trump’s alleged assault on truth, from the use of secrecy in the war against terrorism to the endless spinning of political campaigns, from controversies about "fake news" to efforts to hide and excuse police miscoduct, from President John Kennedy's behavior during the Cuban missile crisis to cover-ups concerning pedophile priests in the Catholic church, from Freud's efforts to decode the secrets beneath civilized life to contemporary exposés of the private lives of politicians, politics and deception seem to go hand-in-hand. This course investigates how the practices of politics are informed by the keeping and telling of secrets, and the telling and exposing of lies. We will address such questions as: When, if ever, is it right to lie or to breach confidences? When is it right to expose secrets and lies? Is it necessary to be prepared to lie in order to advance the cause of justice? Or, must we do justice justly? When is secrecy really necessary and when is it merely a pretext for Machiavellian manipulation? Are secrecy and deceit more prevalent in some kinds of political systems than in others? Can democracy survive in a “post-truth” era? As we explore those questions we will discuss the place of candor and openness in politics and social life; the relationship between the claims of privacy (e.g., the closeting of sexual desire) and secrecy and deception in public arenas; conspiracy theories as they are applied to politics; and the importance of secrecy in the domains of national security and law enforcement. We will examine the treatment of secrecy and lying in political theory as well as their appearance in literature and popular culture, for example Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Primary Colors, Schindler's List and The Insider.

This is a discussion-based course. Students will be expected to be active participants in the seminar. During the course of the semester we will use our discussions to cultivate reasoning skills as well as student capacities to present arguments in a compelling manner. In addition, there will be frequent writing, and I will provide careful and extended responses to student writing. The course will provide an introduction to liberal studies by helping students learn how to read and comprehend complex texts, respond to them in sophisticated ways, and engage in critical reasoning about venerable and pressing ethical, social and political problems. 

Fall semester. Professor Sarat.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

108 The Crowd

From the Black Lives Matter uprising and democracy movement in Hong Kong to farmer’s protests in India and the 2021 Capitol Hill riots, we see crowds of people whose number, force, and relative anonymity make them a political power to reckon with. In this course we consider the crowd as an agent of politics. When does a group of people become a crowd? When is it called a mob? Who becomes a part of it and who’s afraid of it? Why is the crowd simultaneously celebrated and vilified? What does this ambivalence reveal about the nature of mass democracies globally? During the semester, we will first address these concerns around the crowd in scholarly work and eventually move on to ethnographic considerations of actual crowds that occupy our streets and our screens on a daily basis. The crowd, we will see, is a permanent fixture against which the words and actions of the people are defined. Yet, as an embodiment of popular political will and a figure of lawlessness and disorder, the crowd is here to stay. Together, we will aim to understand the role and the ruse of the crowd in the life of modern democracy.

Fall semester.  Professor Chowdhury.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

109 Drugs in History

This course examines the changing ways that human beings have used psychoactive drugs and societies have controlled that use. After examining drug use in historical and cross-cultural perspectives and studying the physiological and psychological effects of different drugs, we look at the ways in which contemporary societies both encourage and repress drug use. We address the drug war, the disease model of drug addiction, the proliferation of prescription drugs, the images of drug use in popular culture, America’s complicated history of alcohol control, and international drug trafficking and its implications for American foreign policy. Readings include Huxley’s Brave New World, Kramer’s Listening to Prozac, and Reinarman and Schivelbusch, Tastes of Paradise; films include Drugstore Cowboy and Traffic. This course will be writing attentive. Two class meetings per week.

Fall semester. Professor Couvares.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

110 Encounters with Nature

What is our place in nature? How do we feel about natural spaces we encountered growing up
and how do we view the environment of Amherst College and its setting in New England? How did people in the past think about nature and how did they change their environments as a consequence? Did different races experience and alter nature in different ways? How have the ideas and experiences of the past affected us today? And how do we imagine the future of the natural world? Has the current pandemic permanently changed how we think about nature?

This course will explore how our ideas of nature have changed over time. We will give particular attention to the ways we have recreated particular kinds of natural spaces and how we have depicted nature in images. We begin with walks in the nearby wildlife sanctuary, discussions of our past encounters with nature, a study of the Amherst Campus, and, while the weather is still warm, a hike or two. During these excursions we will discuss what we see, take visual notes on the landscape through drawing (no expertise necessary), and discuss and write about how our experience with the land might differ from how people experienced it in the past. We then will explore New England further, discuss ideas about wilderness in the United States, and look closely at American landscape painting. Where do our deeply held assumptions come from? To find out, we will look at poetry, philosophy, Western painting traditions, and scientific illustration. We also will think about why people collect and draw natural specimens, and how they mapped their environments from the Renaissance through the Aztec empire to the current day.

The course will provide an introduction to liberal studies by helping students learn how to read and comprehend complex texts and images, respond to them in sophisticated ways, and engage in critical reasoning. We expect students to be active participants in class discussions. Students will write brief abstracts every week about the readings and every other week or so perform close readings of texts, art, maps, and even gardens and landscapes.

Fall semester. Professor Courtright. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

111 Investigating Objects

Our lives are filled with objects. What are our relationships to them, and what is their significance in our culture? In this discussion-based course we will be exploring what objects are, how we define and value them, and what their existence is apart from us. Reading texts from a variety of disciplines including philosophy, literature, art history, and anthropology, we will be investigating a range of perspectives on objects and their significance. In addition to reading about them, we will examine actual objects. Discussions and writing assignments will develop approaches to enrich and inform these encounters through research, visual examination and critical analysis. 

This course will also involve making things. Through a series of studio projects (drawing and sculpture) we will explore how things are made and gain a richer understanding of their physical, visual and tactile qualities. Writing assignments in connection with these projects will help to foster an appreciation of the connections between the visual and the verbal. Some of the objects we will be investigating are: vessels, electronic devices, books, furniture, miniatures, musical instruments and modern sculpture.

No studio art experience is necessary.

Fall Semester. Visiting Lecturer Douglas Culhane.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

112 Beginnings

 

This course offers a sustained encounter with premodern worldviews, lifeways, and models of being human--that is to say, with the vast majority of human experience in recorded history. In this course we will consider a wide variety of premodern literatures and cultures, focusing on a broad range of works from western antiquity through medieval and early modern history in Mediterranean, South Asian, Eurasian, and Islamic societies.

Part of the explicit aim of our endeavors is to destabilize the centrality of western patterns of historical and intellectual development by offering robust alternatives to it. We will explore various kinds of beginnings, such as arts and technologies, languages, ideas, material cultures, literatures, cities, and civilizations. For fall 2020, the course theme is “Worlds and World-Making.” We will study cosmologies and cosmogonies, both scientific and mythic; and we will explore theories that explain the beginnings of human beings and key inventions and innovations across multiple histories and traditions.

The course has two weekly meetings: one plenary session (lecture) and one small-group discussion section. The two components are aimed at different yet essential skills: the art of attention to lectures and effective spoken and written communication in small-group meetings. The course is taught by a cluster of faculty from across disciplines and thereby offers an interdisciplinary introduction to liberal arts studies and to the essential tools for exploring the cultural, material and literary legacies of our diverse fields of study.

Readings for this class will be available online and through the Moodle website. Tuesday's meetings will include all sections together with the faculty, with one faculty member lecturing in their area of expertise. There may be occasional, required asynchronous (online) lectures before Tuesday's meetings. Thursday's meetings consist of small discussion sections (15 students) with your designated faculty member, who will remain constant throughout the semester. These meetings are focused on discussion of the weekly material. While we anticipate returning to in-class offerings, you should be prepared for some synchronous online sessions if necessary.

Fall semester. Assistant Professor Hunter-Parker, Associate Professor van den Berg, Assistant Professor Rice and Assistant Professor Infante.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

113 Christianity and Evolution

This course explores the relationship between Christianity and the theory of evolution, which phrase refers to a family of scientific theories generally associated with the work of Charles Darwin.  The primary mode of approach to this relationship will be historical, but throughout the course voices from a variety of academic disciplines will be heard.  Geographically, the focus of the course will be on Europe (largely the UK) and North America.  Over the course of the semester we will explore issues in the relationship between Christianity and the natural sciences in the generation before Darwin;  the contents of Darwin’s theory of natural selection and its ramifications for understanding the origins of the human species;  a variety of Christian responses to the theory in the late nineteenth century;  the rise of a concerted movement in opposition to evolution in North America in the early twentieth century;  and developments subsequent to this movement within those sectors of Christianity that participated in it.

Fall semester. Professor Dole. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2021

114 Inequality in the "New World"

This course explores the consequences of the European encounter of 1492, and after, with indigenous peoples of what came to be called the Americas, including systemic genocide committed against indigenous peoples, the emergence of chattel slavery, the functions of ideologies that have contributed to white supremacism, and the roles that doctrines of racial difference have played in producing social and economic inequalities. 

Fall semster. Professor Dumm.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

115 Goya and His World

We will luxuriate in Goya’s magisterial works, from his rococo Tapestry Cartoons to his harrowing Pinturas negras. We will study treasures at the Mead Museum—a complete set of the Caprichos, the Disasters of War, the Tauromaquia and the Disparates. To understand Goya’s apparently inscrutable images and his obsession with evil, we will pore over his letters, study his themes such as witchcraft and bullfighting, immerse ourselves in his fraught historical moment, and revel in his culture at large—from music to dance to literature—all inflected with a fragile Enlightenment, all still in the Inquisition’s grasp.

In addition to vibrant discussions, there will be weekly written assignments to deepen students' understanding of the material, as well as to develop the beauty of their writing, the acuity of their sight, their synthetic and analytical powers. There will be frequent one-on-one meetings with me, and constantly changing mini-groups, as we learn and explore together.

Reading knowledge of Spanish would be helpful, but is not necessary. Fall semester. Professor Staller.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

116 The Anatomy of Pictures

This course is about the centrality of images produced by mechanical means in the rituals, practices, and representations of everyday life—what we now understand as visual culture. With a focus on the last 50 years, we will explore why it is important to understand the image as utterly diverse in its functions. We will dissect examples from contemporary photography, new media, screen culture, and cultural theory that critically challenge visual culture. Our conversations will cover topics from new models of spectatorship and how to become visually literate to controversies surrounding trigger warnings and the risk of “remaining forever trapped inside the image” (cf. Jacques Rancière’s “The Intolerable Image”). Readings will include the voices of artists, critics, historians, cultural theorists, and philosophers such as Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, Richard Dyer, Jessica Evans, Michel Foucault, Anne Friedberg, Stuart Hall, bell hooks, Kobena Mercer, Adrian Piper, Claudia Rankine, and Hito Steyerl.

Fall semester. Visiting Lecturer Falk.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

117 Animals and the Law

How and under what circumstances are non-human animals considered persons before the law? Using perspectives from anthropology, Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS), science and technology studies (STS), and legal studies, this course explores the shifting status of non-human animals in Anglo-American legal tradition. While our main focus will be the understanding and treatment of non-human animals in the contemporary United States, we will also examine these issues from historical and cross-cultural perspectives. Of particular interest is how scientific knowledge comes to bear on these kinds of legal questions. All students interested in the moral, political and legal status of animals are welcome.

Fall semester.  Visiting Professor Hamilton.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

118 Race and Gender in Biomedicine

This course explores conceptualizations and representations of race and gender in health and medicine.  We begin by looking at the histories of race, sex, and sexuality in Western science, especially in terms of how they have been articulated through multiple contexts involving infectious diseases. How does scientific thought and practice intersect with larger political and economic movements including colonization and imperialism?  We will then move into a discussion of the uses of race and sex in contemporary biomedicine focusing on the following questions: How is inequality “written on the body”? How are categories of risk and susceptibility racialized and biologized? How are racism and sexism “underlying conditions” that powerfully shape whether or not people contract infectious diseases and who lives and who dies? This course will have a special focus on global health disparities.

Fall semester.  Visiting Professor Hamilton

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

119 Transformative Ideas

 

This course explores a series of ideas from the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries that have substantially changed the way people think about humanity in the Western world. Each idea is closely associated with an author. While from year to year the ideas will change, for 2021 we will closely read and write about, Karl Marx and Frederic Engels The Communist Manifesto, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The American Scholar” and “Self-Reliance”, Friedrich Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals, W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, Sigmund Freud’s The Ego and the Id, Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, and Judith Butler’s Precarious Life. Students are also asked to purchase a copy of Strunk and White, The Elements of Style.

Fall semester. Professor Dumm.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

120 Looking at the World Through Jazz-Colored Lenses

When you think of Jazz, what comes to mind? Perhaps a romantic, elegant, candle-lit dinner? A goatee-sporting fashion plate? Individual freedom to create? Something old that your parents listen to? Jazz emerged in New Orleans in the early twentieth century and quickly spread throughout the world, becoming, at certain points in its history, wildly popular, and at others, decidedly esoteric. Jazz has been called, variously: savage, modern, instinctive, sophisticated, revolutionary, a rare national treasure, a secret sonic weapon, noise, America's classical music, and the most powerful evolutionary force in modern music. It has been instrumental in political movements (for instance, the export of jazz ensembles to the Soviet Union during the Cold War); in campaigns both to sanction human rights (Jazz in the Civil Rights Movement), and suppress them (its concerted and systematic effort to exclude women); and it has been used at once to amplify capitalism (the market-savvy Smooth Jazz industry) and to critique it (the efflorescence of independent musician collectives, such as the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). Using audio recordings, newspaper articles, television programs, and other archival materials, along with recent and past scholarship, we will examine the sounds, key figures, and practices that make up this music to consider what this enduring yet elusive style has to tell us about ourselves.

Fall semester. Professor Harper.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

121 Asia in the European Mind: Modern European Discourse on History and Identity

From the late-eighteenth century onward European intellectuals frequently drew on images of Asia to illustrate what it meant to be modern, enlightened, and historically progressive. By critically tracing this intellectual genealogy we will together confront durable but controversial conceptions of human subjectivity, freedom, and historical progress, conceptions which we may find ourselves to be complicit in today. We will start with key figures in the intellectual tradition of modern Europe, including Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), Georg W. F. Hegel (1770–1831), Karl Marx (1818–1883), and Max Weber (1864–1920), but move on to consider how their thought echoes in Asian conversations about modernity. We will conclude with contemporary thinkers and their attempts to grapple with the tension between universal conceptions of human history and relativistic approaches.  

Offered Fall 2021. Professor Maxey.

 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

122 Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Latin American Arts

In this seminar, we will explore the decolonial tradition in Latin American visual and literary arts over the past 500 years, a tradition that questions and contests the articulation of race, gender, and ethnicity as natural categories.  Together, we will conduct close readings of a number of exemplary texts within this tradition (poems, narratives, films, sculpture, performance), taking care to contextualize them in space and time.  Class conversations will follow the principles of the listening circle, an Indigenous practice that facilitates respectful conversations and meaningful interaction.  As part of the seminar, we will also engage in campus-wide conversations around race at three points during the semester (beginning, middle, and end), and work with the College’s Archive on a small project to be collaboratively determined.  Finally, throughout the semester, we will help each other improve our written and oral presentation skills through low-stakes assignments and activities, while getting to know one another as unique individuals and as members of interconnected communities. 

Fall semester. Professor Schroeder Rodriguez. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

123 Thinking Body, Dancing Mind

What is body intelligence? In what ways is the body's ability to perceive and know the world equal to that of the mind? What can we learn from the body’s unique experience of the world? Utilizing dance and the performing arts as a framework for our investigations, we will explore embodied exercises to develop kinesthetic awareness and presence, attune ourselves to our bodies’ sensations and feelings, and practice observing the world through the lens of physical experience. Additionally, we will cultivate a discipline of articulating our bodies’ perceptions through discussion and writing. We will study works and techniques of seminal choreographers and dance practitioners, such as Pina Bausch and Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, who emphasize the integration of body and mind through the lived experience. This course will also provide an introduction to the liberal arts by helping students engage with and critically reflect on a broad range of media, including theoretical works, live performance, film, sound, music, and visual art. Regular short writing will also be required. 

Fall semester. Professor Riegel. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

124 Telling Stories

We all like a good story. But why? And what is a good story? Neurobiologists have documented the chemical changes that occur in our brains when we listen to a well told story. Hannah Arendt argues that who we are is best determined by the stories others tell about us, not the stories we tell about ourselves. TED talks have over-determined that all ideas worth sharing must be explained in 18 minutes, no more or less, with compelling graphics, of course. Stories are a feature of cultures around the world, and elements of both universality and diversity can be found in storytelling norms. The explosion of oral history work has done much to add the stories of “regular” people to historical narratives about events deemed worth remembering. It is possible that a story well told can compel listeners to behave more altruistically.

In this course we will think about stories, write stories, tell stories and listen to stories. We will acknowledge the comfort that cherished stories provide and de-familiarize those stories at the same time. We will read across a wide range of disciplinary perspectives on storytelling, including biology, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, and cultural studies, acknowledging our limits as readers when we lack substantial disciplinary foundations but also embracing the ways we can be thoughtful about ideas that are partially beyond our reach. We will expand our thoughts about what a story is and use the lens of story to examine things we would never have imagined were stories. In this course students will develop their skills as a reader and a writer and a speaker, but also, of course, as a listener.

Fall semester. Lecturer Mead.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

125 Space and Place

This course is an interdisciplinary exploration of physical space and the sense of belonging and rootedness we call place. The organizing principle of the course is the expanding circle; we will begin with the individual, then move to the home and family, the city, the nation, and end with the globe as a whole. We will cover a range of topics along the way, including memory, imagination, nationalism, borders, war, exile, imperialism, and globalization. Works range across philosophy, history, anthropology, film, fiction, and environmentalism, among others. We will approach this material from within a liberal arts framework, which will give students exposure to a wide variety of perspectives in the humanities and social sciences.

This is a discussion-based course designed to develop student competency in critical thinking and argumentation. Assignments include oral presentations, reading evaluations, short responses, and formal essays of varying lengths, including a research paper. Writing workshops will help students develop their writing skills, with emphasis on crafting thesis/support essays. Trips outside the classroom will introduce students to the wide range of resources at the College.

Fall semester. Professor Van Compernolle.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2021

126 Utopias

This course is an examination of utopian plans in literature, architecture, art, aesthetics, and political philosophy. We will consider the role of time and history in utopian schemes—how different projections about life in the future are based on fierce criticisms of the present, and often rely on invented or nostalgic views of social organizations in times past. The class will cover a selection of literary and theoretical utopias, beginning with Sir Thomas More, and ending with Octavia Butler, along with a range of visionary artists and designers—from Campanella's “City of the Sun” in the Renaissance to Le Corbusier’s “City of Three Million” in the twentieth century. How design affects the relationship of the individual to the community will be explored, incorporating questions of race, gender, and class. We will also examine the tensions between utopian theory and practice, by looking at the successes and failures of actual attempts at living in utopian communities. The course will conclude with a discussion of the contemporary sensations of dystopia and chaos, and of climate change and sustainable design, as we consider whether utopian thinking is applicable to the twenty-first century. Students will learn how to analyze real and imagined societies in novels, treatises, pictures, buildings, and plans. Projects include short essays, a midterm presentation, a group design project (no prior experience required), and a final paper of the student’s choosing—on any utopian image, film, text, performance, or work of imaginary architecture or planning.

Fall Semester. Visiting Professor Koehler.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

127 The Tragic Condition

Recent events over the past year and a half in the United States and across the globe, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the Black Lives Matter protest movement, have revealed how tragic human life can be. But what do people really mean when they call something “tragic”? This course explores the tragic condition by reading the most lasting works of Ancient Greek tragedy by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides alongside modern retellings of these tragedies by authors from diverse communities around the world. We will learn about the enigmatic origins of tragedy in archaic Greece and also about the performance of tragedy in ancient Athens by studying the conventions of music, dance, and the mask. Most important, we will reflect on enduring relevance of Greek tragedy today by reading several works by authors and playwrights from diverse communities around the world who have taken the powerful myths, stories, and characters from Greek tragedy and adapted them to the Black, Chicano, Transgender, African, Latin American, Muslim, and Japanese experience. All readings will be in English translation. No previous knowledge is required.

Fall Semester. Professor Hutchins. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

Honors & Fellowships

Honors & Fellowships

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First-Year Seminars

Faculty members, in groups of one or more, teach First-Year Seminars. Every first-year student must take one of these courses during the fall semester. They are open only to Amherst College first-year students.

Fake News

In our information-saturated world, "fake news" may feel like an inescapable reality. But what exactly is fake news, why does it exist, and how do we distinguish it from trustworthy information? In particular, if experts can disagree and data can be fabricated, where do we go when the subject matter is beyond our expertise? Can something that "makes sense" be false? Can a theory that contradicts our personal experiences or beliefs still hold true?

In this course we will take a critical look at how science is reported in the media and how logic, probability, and statistics can be manipulated to fit various narratives. We will focus on identifying sources of (mis)information, constructing fact-based arguments, and establishing ways to distinguish between news, opinions, rumors, advertisement, and propaganda.

Fall semester. Assistant Professor Culiuc.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

"Finding Your Roots": Narratives of Self and Community

In each episode of the PBS show Finding your Roots, celebrities speak with host Henry Louis Gates about their family’s history. Gates’s team of researchers then undertakes archival research and DNA analysis that sometimes leads to surprising discoveries. Rather than fetishize lineage, each episode of Finding your Roots and a similar show called Who Do You Think You Are? walks guests through the process of research and discovery, and offers insight into global histories of migration, society, nation, and empire. In one episode, for example, Martha Stewart discovered that she had Muslim ancestors in central Poland, which became an opportunity to explore the deep roots of Islam in Europe. In another, the comedian Wanda Sykes spoke proudly of her identity as descendant of Black slaves. She was surprised to learn not only that her Black ancestors enjoyed freedom at least as far back as the mid-1700s, but, to her horror, they were slave owners. Gates used this as an opportunity to explore the complex history of Black slavery in America. Another famous comedian, Margaret Cho, spoke with pride about her Korean roots, only to learn that her ancestors who had migrated to San Francisco from Korea were descendants of Chinese migrants. This points to ways migration patterns within Asia contradict ethno-nationalist narratives within the region. The actress Jessica Alba guessed that, as a Latina, she had a complicated heritage, but Gates found that her Mexican past was even more revealing of global empires than Alba had anticipated. While some of Gates’ guests found surprises, others found their family stories confirmed by DNA and archival research. Through research, story-telling and conversations, the celebrity guests, and even Gates himself, learned to see their present and their past as part of larger trends in history.

In this course you will practice various strategies for recovering and narrating your own stories of home and of family (with a broad understanding of what “home” and “family” mean). Next, you will conduct genealogical research, store your findings into structured databases, and read histories of migration, race, and nation formation in various parts of the world. You will have the opportunity to get your DNA analyzed and will choose whether to share your findings. Next, you will select a particular person, moment, place or time that you discovered through your genealogical research. This will become the subject of a historical research project using digital archives. You will finish the course by reflecting upon how the things you and your peers discovered about your diverse pasts shape how you think about the changes and challenging transitions you are currently experiencing as the newest members of the Amherst College community.

To learn about a past iteration of the course, visit https://www.amherst.edu/ amherst-story/magazine/issues/ 2019-spring/college-row/rooted

Not offered in 2021-22. Professor Lopez.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020

Giving

 

The act of giving seems, at first, to be deceptively straight-forward and entirely altruistic.  But, as Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us, “We wish to be self-sustained.  We do not quite forgive a giver.”  In this seminar we will examine the act of giving – between people, between institutions and people, and entirely between institutions – from an interdisciplinary lens to reflect on what it means to give. We will intentionally reveal and challenge our initial assumptions about giving.  Using a variety of texts – religious, literary, first person accounts, and public policy – we will explore the diverse forms philanthropy has taken over time and across cultures; its philosophical underpinnings, its complex interrelationships with religious notions of charity and secular notions of democracy, and its often paradoxical effects on social relations and public policy.

The course will begin and end with the same assignment–a reflective essay in which you develop your personal framework for giving. It is anticipated that the texts and class discussions will influence the evolution of this framework and, hence, the robustness of your final essay.  Along the way, class discussions, readings, and short papers will help you develop as readers, writers, speakers and thinkers. 

Fall semester. Lecturer Mead.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

Language Crossing and Living in Translation

When did you start dreaming in a second language? Which translation of the Bible counts as the Word of God? Was Mary a virgin or a maiden? What happens to the immigrant children who need to the be interpreters in the life of their family? How much more tangled or how much more nimble is the wiring of the bilingual brain? What are we doing to our languages when we immerse in a new academic discipline? We will tackle these and other questions like these as we engage in the following units of study: (1) Babel and language differentiation and diffusion. (2) European translators from early modern humanism and the Reformation. (3) Case studies: Squanto, Malinche and the Navajo Code talkers. (4) Language in contemporary empires and resistance, migrations and globalization. (5) Language issues in gay and lesbian diasporas. (6) Bi- or multi-lingual education. (7) Literary practitioners of living in and out of translation:  Luis de León, Vladimir Nabokov, Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

The seminar will work with the same texts, issues and exercise for about two-thirds of our time together. The other third we will concentrate on projects that emerge from the students’ own linguistic condition. Students will be required to delve into their own family archives looking for ancestors’ letters written in languages they cannot yet read. They will be encouraged to document/fictionalize the stakes of marrying into another language, or to study and report on the language crossings of their particular diaspora.

Despite the apparent advantage of having more than one language to engage in our work, this course has no prerequisites and its does not exclude monolinguals. When we talk about the cultural contributions, the headiness and the struggles of bi- or multi-lingual individuals, it will be invaluable to have interlocutors who think they live only in one language.

Omitted 2021-22. Lecturer B. Sánchez-Eppler.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2019, Fall 2020

Authority, Obedience and The Rule of Law

All political systems must operate according to the "rule of law" if they are to be deemed legitimate. This statement has assumed the quality of a truism: we hear it repeated by the President of the United States, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and the President of the International Criminal Court. At the same time, though, that everyone seems to agree that the "rule of law" is a good thing, no one seems able to say for sure what the "rule of law" is. What, then, do we mean by the "rule of law"? What does it mean to speak of government limited by law? What are these limits, where do they come from, and how are they enforced? What role does the "rule of law" play in legitimating structures of governance? Does the "rule of law" imply any particular relationship between legality and morality? We will hazard answers to these questions through a close reading of works of theorists such as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, H.L.A. Hart and Lon Fuller. In addition, we will examine the arguments of the theorists as they help us think through pressing legal challenges of our age, such as defining the limits of executive power in the "war against terror."

Our seminar will be devoted to the close reading of a select number of texts. We will analyze the structure, meaning and adequacy of the arguments contained in these works through vigorous discussion and frequent writing assignments. Our aim is to gain a rich critical understanding of a concept that lies at the foundation of domestic and international socio-political systems, and to improve our abilities to discuss and write about complex ideas with sophistication, nuance and flair.

Omitted 2021-22.  Professor Douglas.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

The Nuclear Age

On August 6, 1945, a United States bomber dropped the first atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, transforming the world in an instant. This course explores the emergence of nuclear technology and its impact on global politics, society, and culture from roughly the Second World War to the present day. We will begin with the invention of the atomic bomb during World War II, exploring its societal, environmental, and cultural effects in Japan as well as its broader impact on American and European politics and identity. We will then examine the diverse ramifications of the nuclear arms race in the 1950s and 1960s, and again in the 1980s, which both pushed the world towards the brink of destruction and also fostered new forms of international cooperation and grassroots activism. We will also analyze the continuing debates over nuclear technology in the context of energy, natural resources, scientific responsibility, and environmentalism. Drawing on a range of sources, from governmental reports and diaries to cartoons, films, and paintings, the course will highlight the perspectives of a variety of groups and individuals who shaped and were shaped by the nuclear age, including scientists, policymakers, journalists, artists, activists, and victims of atomic blasts. Two class meetings per week.

Not offered in 2021-22. Professors Boucher and Walker.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020

101 Progress?

Is the world a better place today than it was fifty years ago?  Will it be better yet in another fifty years?  We cannot answer such questions without asking what we mean by "better," that is, what counts as progress.  The question of what progress is cannot be answered simply: the term has been used in different ways at differemt times and has also been the subject of much critical examination.  We will explore the meaning of progress by engaging with a variety of thought-provoking and influential works. 

Fall semester. Professors George, Shah, Worsley and Douglas.

 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

102 Growing Up in America

How do race, ethnicity, social class, and gender shape the experience of growing up in America? We will begin by examining the childhood and adolescent experiences of Justice Sonia Sotomayor as she journeyed from a low-income Puerto Rican immigrant community in the Bronx to an Ivy League university. As we read coming-of-age experiences of other individuals, past and present, fictional and real, our focus will be on understanding identity formation, family relationships, education, the American Dream, courtship, sexuality, and the importance of culture and community. Readings will include sociological and psychological theory as tools for analysis. We will also explore the privileges or disadvantages we have faced growing up due to our race, ethnicity, social class, and gender to understand how they have shaped our own life experiences and perceptions.

The course introduces students to interdisciplinary readings and methods of inquiry from history, psychology, sociology, and literature. The course is designed to advance students’ skills at reading critically, developing strong arguments, and articulating ideas orally and in writing, skills that will be crucial for future coursework at the college.

Fall semester. Professor Aries.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

103 Global Cities and Global Slums:  Environment, Racism, and Coloniality

In this seminar, participants will explore the relationship between urban development and global inequalities. The first section focuses on the historical formation of global cities and global slums in the late twentieth century that together rejuvenated coloniality as a relationship of oppression in urban spaces. In the second section, we will discuss how both forms of urban agglomerations perpetuate environmental issues and structural racism. In the last section, we will address the impact of environmental issues and structural racism on the physical and social transformation of US cities. Students will write weekly response papers, online discussion forum posts, a midterm paper, and a final paper. In their midterm and final papers, students will focus on a specific urban setting in the United States to contextualize the course material and discussions.

Fall semester. Visiting Associate Professor Balaban.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

104 New Women in America

This course will examine the emergence of the “New Woman” as a category of social theory, political action, and literary representation at the turning of the twentieth century. Early readings will trace the origins of the New Woman as a response to nineteenth-century notions of “True Womanhood.” Discussions will situate literary representations of women in larger cultural events taking place during the Progressive Era–debates over suffrage as well as their relationship to issues of citizenship, immigration, Jim Crow segregation, urbanization, and nativism. The course will focus on texts written by a diverse group of women that present multiple and, at times, conflicting images of the New Woman. Close attention will be paid to the manner in which these women writers constructed their fictions, particularly to issues of language, style, and form. Readings will include texts by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, Pauline Hopkins, Anzia Yezierska, and Sui Sin Far.

Fall semester. Lecturer Bergoffen.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

105 Ring of Fire: Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Devastation

Roughly 90 percent of today’s earthquakes and 75 percent of active volcanoes reside along the Ring of Fire, a nearly 25,000-mile stretch wrapped around the edges of the Pacific Ocean. The Ring of Fire is ground zero for some of the deadliest earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in human history, recorded in writings, traditions, and legends. These catastrophic events often have global repercussions. Examples include the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and subsequent tsunami that killed over 200,000 people in 14 countries and the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora in 1815, which resulted in climate anomalies and global famines. The focus of the course will be case studies of specific disasters – both within and outside the Ring of Fire – across human history. Through in-class discussion and frequent reading and writing assignments, we will gain an understanding of the geologic processes responsible for these volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, and the vulnerability of human populations to them. While taught from an earth science perspective, this course will be interdisciplinary, using historic and artistic accounts of disasters along with modern scientific research publications to help answer the following questions: What determines the location of volcanoes and earthquakes? Can we predict the next great earthquake or volcanic eruption? How are some communities disproportionately vulnerable to these hazards? How has our collective understanding of earthquakes and volcanoes changed through time?

Throughout the semester we hope to take advantage of local opportunities to enhance our understanding of geologic processes and the intertwined history of human response to change and catastrophe.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

106 Making Place in Kwenitekw, the Connecticut River Valley

How do we know the places we live? How do we participate in their making? How do we come to know places that are unfamiliar, or new to us? How do our languages, cultural frameworks, and embodied experiences, including race, gender, and sexuality, shape how we perceive place? In this seminar, we will think and write deliberatively about the process of making place, both the places we come from, and most important, the place we currently inhabit. Grounded in Indigenous language and land, we will consider the deep histories, oral traditions, and continuing adaptation of the Kwenitekw (Connecticut River) Valley and the place of Amherst College within this space. We will begin with the idea that place is not static or permanent, but rather dynamic and changing. Making place is an activity and we will get out on the land to observe and participate in those processes. We will spend most of our class time outside, turning our attention to the many other-than-human beings that are constantly making place in the environment we depend upon. At the same time, we will also spend time in the built environment and archives of Amherst College, considering how students have challenged, changed and transformed the social, political, and educational space of our campus. 

Fall semester.  Professor Brooks.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

107 Secrets and Lies

Politics seems almost unimaginable without secrecy and lying. From the noble lie of Plato's Republic to the controversy about former President Clinton's "lying" in the Monica Lewinsky case and President Trump’s alleged assault on truth, from the use of secrecy in the war against terrorism to the endless spinning of political campaigns, from controversies about "fake news" to efforts to hide and excuse police miscoduct, from President John Kennedy's behavior during the Cuban missile crisis to cover-ups concerning pedophile priests in the Catholic church, from Freud's efforts to decode the secrets beneath civilized life to contemporary exposés of the private lives of politicians, politics and deception seem to go hand-in-hand. This course investigates how the practices of politics are informed by the keeping and telling of secrets, and the telling and exposing of lies. We will address such questions as: When, if ever, is it right to lie or to breach confidences? When is it right to expose secrets and lies? Is it necessary to be prepared to lie in order to advance the cause of justice? Or, must we do justice justly? When is secrecy really necessary and when is it merely a pretext for Machiavellian manipulation? Are secrecy and deceit more prevalent in some kinds of political systems than in others? Can democracy survive in a “post-truth” era? As we explore those questions we will discuss the place of candor and openness in politics and social life; the relationship between the claims of privacy (e.g., the closeting of sexual desire) and secrecy and deception in public arenas; conspiracy theories as they are applied to politics; and the importance of secrecy in the domains of national security and law enforcement. We will examine the treatment of secrecy and lying in political theory as well as their appearance in literature and popular culture, for example Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Primary Colors, Schindler's List and The Insider.

This is a discussion-based course. Students will be expected to be active participants in the seminar. During the course of the semester we will use our discussions to cultivate reasoning skills as well as student capacities to present arguments in a compelling manner. In addition, there will be frequent writing, and I will provide careful and extended responses to student writing. The course will provide an introduction to liberal studies by helping students learn how to read and comprehend complex texts, respond to them in sophisticated ways, and engage in critical reasoning about venerable and pressing ethical, social and political problems. 

Fall semester. Professor Sarat.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

108 The Crowd

From the Black Lives Matter uprising and democracy movement in Hong Kong to farmer’s protests in India and the 2021 Capitol Hill riots, we see crowds of people whose number, force, and relative anonymity make them a political power to reckon with. In this course we consider the crowd as an agent of politics. When does a group of people become a crowd? When is it called a mob? Who becomes a part of it and who’s afraid of it? Why is the crowd simultaneously celebrated and vilified? What does this ambivalence reveal about the nature of mass democracies globally? During the semester, we will first address these concerns around the crowd in scholarly work and eventually move on to ethnographic considerations of actual crowds that occupy our streets and our screens on a daily basis. The crowd, we will see, is a permanent fixture against which the words and actions of the people are defined. Yet, as an embodiment of popular political will and a figure of lawlessness and disorder, the crowd is here to stay. Together, we will aim to understand the role and the ruse of the crowd in the life of modern democracy.

Fall semester.  Professor Chowdhury.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

109 Drugs in History

This course examines the changing ways that human beings have used psychoactive drugs and societies have controlled that use. After examining drug use in historical and cross-cultural perspectives and studying the physiological and psychological effects of different drugs, we look at the ways in which contemporary societies both encourage and repress drug use. We address the drug war, the disease model of drug addiction, the proliferation of prescription drugs, the images of drug use in popular culture, America’s complicated history of alcohol control, and international drug trafficking and its implications for American foreign policy. Readings include Huxley’s Brave New World, Kramer’s Listening to Prozac, and Reinarman and Schivelbusch, Tastes of Paradise; films include Drugstore Cowboy and Traffic. This course will be writing attentive. Two class meetings per week.

Fall semester. Professor Couvares.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

110 Encounters with Nature

What is our place in nature? How do we feel about natural spaces we encountered growing up
and how do we view the environment of Amherst College and its setting in New England? How did people in the past think about nature and how did they change their environments as a consequence? Did different races experience and alter nature in different ways? How have the ideas and experiences of the past affected us today? And how do we imagine the future of the natural world? Has the current pandemic permanently changed how we think about nature?

This course will explore how our ideas of nature have changed over time. We will give particular attention to the ways we have recreated particular kinds of natural spaces and how we have depicted nature in images. We begin with walks in the nearby wildlife sanctuary, discussions of our past encounters with nature, a study of the Amherst Campus, and, while the weather is still warm, a hike or two. During these excursions we will discuss what we see, take visual notes on the landscape through drawing (no expertise necessary), and discuss and write about how our experience with the land might differ from how people experienced it in the past. We then will explore New England further, discuss ideas about wilderness in the United States, and look closely at American landscape painting. Where do our deeply held assumptions come from? To find out, we will look at poetry, philosophy, Western painting traditions, and scientific illustration. We also will think about why people collect and draw natural specimens, and how they mapped their environments from the Renaissance through the Aztec empire to the current day.

The course will provide an introduction to liberal studies by helping students learn how to read and comprehend complex texts and images, respond to them in sophisticated ways, and engage in critical reasoning. We expect students to be active participants in class discussions. Students will write brief abstracts every week about the readings and every other week or so perform close readings of texts, art, maps, and even gardens and landscapes.

Fall semester. Professor Courtright. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

111 Investigating Objects

Our lives are filled with objects. What are our relationships to them, and what is their significance in our culture? In this discussion-based course we will be exploring what objects are, how we define and value them, and what their existence is apart from us. Reading texts from a variety of disciplines including philosophy, literature, art history, and anthropology, we will be investigating a range of perspectives on objects and their significance. In addition to reading about them, we will examine actual objects. Discussions and writing assignments will develop approaches to enrich and inform these encounters through research, visual examination and critical analysis. 

This course will also involve making things. Through a series of studio projects (drawing and sculpture) we will explore how things are made and gain a richer understanding of their physical, visual and tactile qualities. Writing assignments in connection with these projects will help to foster an appreciation of the connections between the visual and the verbal. Some of the objects we will be investigating are: vessels, electronic devices, books, furniture, miniatures, musical instruments and modern sculpture.

No studio art experience is necessary.

Fall Semester. Visiting Lecturer Douglas Culhane.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

112 Beginnings

 

This course offers a sustained encounter with premodern worldviews, lifeways, and models of being human--that is to say, with the vast majority of human experience in recorded history. In this course we will consider a wide variety of premodern literatures and cultures, focusing on a broad range of works from western antiquity through medieval and early modern history in Mediterranean, South Asian, Eurasian, and Islamic societies.

Part of the explicit aim of our endeavors is to destabilize the centrality of western patterns of historical and intellectual development by offering robust alternatives to it. We will explore various kinds of beginnings, such as arts and technologies, languages, ideas, material cultures, literatures, cities, and civilizations. For fall 2020, the course theme is “Worlds and World-Making.” We will study cosmologies and cosmogonies, both scientific and mythic; and we will explore theories that explain the beginnings of human beings and key inventions and innovations across multiple histories and traditions.

The course has two weekly meetings: one plenary session (lecture) and one small-group discussion section. The two components are aimed at different yet essential skills: the art of attention to lectures and effective spoken and written communication in small-group meetings. The course is taught by a cluster of faculty from across disciplines and thereby offers an interdisciplinary introduction to liberal arts studies and to the essential tools for exploring the cultural, material and literary legacies of our diverse fields of study.

Readings for this class will be available online and through the Moodle website. Tuesday's meetings will include all sections together with the faculty, with one faculty member lecturing in their area of expertise. There may be occasional, required asynchronous (online) lectures before Tuesday's meetings. Thursday's meetings consist of small discussion sections (15 students) with your designated faculty member, who will remain constant throughout the semester. These meetings are focused on discussion of the weekly material. While we anticipate returning to in-class offerings, you should be prepared for some synchronous online sessions if necessary.

Fall semester. Assistant Professor Hunter-Parker, Associate Professor van den Berg, Assistant Professor Rice and Assistant Professor Infante.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

113 Christianity and Evolution

This course explores the relationship between Christianity and the theory of evolution, which phrase refers to a family of scientific theories generally associated with the work of Charles Darwin.  The primary mode of approach to this relationship will be historical, but throughout the course voices from a variety of academic disciplines will be heard.  Geographically, the focus of the course will be on Europe (largely the UK) and North America.  Over the course of the semester we will explore issues in the relationship between Christianity and the natural sciences in the generation before Darwin;  the contents of Darwin’s theory of natural selection and its ramifications for understanding the origins of the human species;  a variety of Christian responses to the theory in the late nineteenth century;  the rise of a concerted movement in opposition to evolution in North America in the early twentieth century;  and developments subsequent to this movement within those sectors of Christianity that participated in it.

Fall semester. Professor Dole. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2021

114 Inequality in the "New World"

This course explores the consequences of the European encounter of 1492, and after, with indigenous peoples of what came to be called the Americas, including systemic genocide committed against indigenous peoples, the emergence of chattel slavery, the functions of ideologies that have contributed to white supremacism, and the roles that doctrines of racial difference have played in producing social and economic inequalities. 

Fall semster. Professor Dumm.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

115 Goya and His World

We will luxuriate in Goya’s magisterial works, from his rococo Tapestry Cartoons to his harrowing Pinturas negras. We will study treasures at the Mead Museum—a complete set of the Caprichos, the Disasters of War, the Tauromaquia and the Disparates. To understand Goya’s apparently inscrutable images and his obsession with evil, we will pore over his letters, study his themes such as witchcraft and bullfighting, immerse ourselves in his fraught historical moment, and revel in his culture at large—from music to dance to literature—all inflected with a fragile Enlightenment, all still in the Inquisition’s grasp.

In addition to vibrant discussions, there will be weekly written assignments to deepen students' understanding of the material, as well as to develop the beauty of their writing, the acuity of their sight, their synthetic and analytical powers. There will be frequent one-on-one meetings with me, and constantly changing mini-groups, as we learn and explore together.

Reading knowledge of Spanish would be helpful, but is not necessary. Fall semester. Professor Staller.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

116 The Anatomy of Pictures

This course is about the centrality of images produced by mechanical means in the rituals, practices, and representations of everyday life—what we now understand as visual culture. With a focus on the last 50 years, we will explore why it is important to understand the image as utterly diverse in its functions. We will dissect examples from contemporary photography, new media, screen culture, and cultural theory that critically challenge visual culture. Our conversations will cover topics from new models of spectatorship and how to become visually literate to controversies surrounding trigger warnings and the risk of “remaining forever trapped inside the image” (cf. Jacques Rancière’s “The Intolerable Image”). Readings will include the voices of artists, critics, historians, cultural theorists, and philosophers such as Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, Richard Dyer, Jessica Evans, Michel Foucault, Anne Friedberg, Stuart Hall, bell hooks, Kobena Mercer, Adrian Piper, Claudia Rankine, and Hito Steyerl.

Fall semester. Visiting Lecturer Falk.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

117 Animals and the Law

How and under what circumstances are non-human animals considered persons before the law? Using perspectives from anthropology, Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS), science and technology studies (STS), and legal studies, this course explores the shifting status of non-human animals in Anglo-American legal tradition. While our main focus will be the understanding and treatment of non-human animals in the contemporary United States, we will also examine these issues from historical and cross-cultural perspectives. Of particular interest is how scientific knowledge comes to bear on these kinds of legal questions. All students interested in the moral, political and legal status of animals are welcome.

Fall semester.  Visiting Professor Hamilton.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

118 Race and Gender in Biomedicine

This course explores conceptualizations and representations of race and gender in health and medicine.  We begin by looking at the histories of race, sex, and sexuality in Western science, especially in terms of how they have been articulated through multiple contexts involving infectious diseases. How does scientific thought and practice intersect with larger political and economic movements including colonization and imperialism?  We will then move into a discussion of the uses of race and sex in contemporary biomedicine focusing on the following questions: How is inequality “written on the body”? How are categories of risk and susceptibility racialized and biologized? How are racism and sexism “underlying conditions” that powerfully shape whether or not people contract infectious diseases and who lives and who dies? This course will have a special focus on global health disparities.

Fall semester.  Visiting Professor Hamilton

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

119 Transformative Ideas

 

This course explores a series of ideas from the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries that have substantially changed the way people think about humanity in the Western world. Each idea is closely associated with an author. While from year to year the ideas will change, for 2021 we will closely read and write about, Karl Marx and Frederic Engels The Communist Manifesto, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The American Scholar” and “Self-Reliance”, Friedrich Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals, W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, Sigmund Freud’s The Ego and the Id, Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, and Judith Butler’s Precarious Life. Students are also asked to purchase a copy of Strunk and White, The Elements of Style.

Fall semester. Professor Dumm.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

120 Looking at the World Through Jazz-Colored Lenses

When you think of Jazz, what comes to mind? Perhaps a romantic, elegant, candle-lit dinner? A goatee-sporting fashion plate? Individual freedom to create? Something old that your parents listen to? Jazz emerged in New Orleans in the early twentieth century and quickly spread throughout the world, becoming, at certain points in its history, wildly popular, and at others, decidedly esoteric. Jazz has been called, variously: savage, modern, instinctive, sophisticated, revolutionary, a rare national treasure, a secret sonic weapon, noise, America's classical music, and the most powerful evolutionary force in modern music. It has been instrumental in political movements (for instance, the export of jazz ensembles to the Soviet Union during the Cold War); in campaigns both to sanction human rights (Jazz in the Civil Rights Movement), and suppress them (its concerted and systematic effort to exclude women); and it has been used at once to amplify capitalism (the market-savvy Smooth Jazz industry) and to critique it (the efflorescence of independent musician collectives, such as the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). Using audio recordings, newspaper articles, television programs, and other archival materials, along with recent and past scholarship, we will examine the sounds, key figures, and practices that make up this music to consider what this enduring yet elusive style has to tell us about ourselves.

Fall semester. Professor Harper.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

121 Asia in the European Mind: Modern European Discourse on History and Identity

From the late-eighteenth century onward European intellectuals frequently drew on images of Asia to illustrate what it meant to be modern, enlightened, and historically progressive. By critically tracing this intellectual genealogy we will together confront durable but controversial conceptions of human subjectivity, freedom, and historical progress, conceptions which we may find ourselves to be complicit in today. We will start with key figures in the intellectual tradition of modern Europe, including Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), Georg W. F. Hegel (1770–1831), Karl Marx (1818–1883), and Max Weber (1864–1920), but move on to consider how their thought echoes in Asian conversations about modernity. We will conclude with contemporary thinkers and their attempts to grapple with the tension between universal conceptions of human history and relativistic approaches.  

Offered Fall 2021. Professor Maxey.

 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

122 Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Latin American Arts

In this seminar, we will explore the decolonial tradition in Latin American visual and literary arts over the past 500 years, a tradition that questions and contests the articulation of race, gender, and ethnicity as natural categories.  Together, we will conduct close readings of a number of exemplary texts within this tradition (poems, narratives, films, sculpture, performance), taking care to contextualize them in space and time.  Class conversations will follow the principles of the listening circle, an Indigenous practice that facilitates respectful conversations and meaningful interaction.  As part of the seminar, we will also engage in campus-wide conversations around race at three points during the semester (beginning, middle, and end), and work with the College’s Archive on a small project to be collaboratively determined.  Finally, throughout the semester, we will help each other improve our written and oral presentation skills through low-stakes assignments and activities, while getting to know one another as unique individuals and as members of interconnected communities. 

Fall semester. Professor Schroeder Rodriguez. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

123 Thinking Body, Dancing Mind

What is body intelligence? In what ways is the body's ability to perceive and know the world equal to that of the mind? What can we learn from the body’s unique experience of the world? Utilizing dance and the performing arts as a framework for our investigations, we will explore embodied exercises to develop kinesthetic awareness and presence, attune ourselves to our bodies’ sensations and feelings, and practice observing the world through the lens of physical experience. Additionally, we will cultivate a discipline of articulating our bodies’ perceptions through discussion and writing. We will study works and techniques of seminal choreographers and dance practitioners, such as Pina Bausch and Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, who emphasize the integration of body and mind through the lived experience. This course will also provide an introduction to the liberal arts by helping students engage with and critically reflect on a broad range of media, including theoretical works, live performance, film, sound, music, and visual art. Regular short writing will also be required. 

Fall semester. Professor Riegel. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

124 Telling Stories

We all like a good story. But why? And what is a good story? Neurobiologists have documented the chemical changes that occur in our brains when we listen to a well told story. Hannah Arendt argues that who we are is best determined by the stories others tell about us, not the stories we tell about ourselves. TED talks have over-determined that all ideas worth sharing must be explained in 18 minutes, no more or less, with compelling graphics, of course. Stories are a feature of cultures around the world, and elements of both universality and diversity can be found in storytelling norms. The explosion of oral history work has done much to add the stories of “regular” people to historical narratives about events deemed worth remembering. It is possible that a story well told can compel listeners to behave more altruistically.

In this course we will think about stories, write stories, tell stories and listen to stories. We will acknowledge the comfort that cherished stories provide and de-familiarize those stories at the same time. We will read across a wide range of disciplinary perspectives on storytelling, including biology, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, and cultural studies, acknowledging our limits as readers when we lack substantial disciplinary foundations but also embracing the ways we can be thoughtful about ideas that are partially beyond our reach. We will expand our thoughts about what a story is and use the lens of story to examine things we would never have imagined were stories. In this course students will develop their skills as a reader and a writer and a speaker, but also, of course, as a listener.

Fall semester. Lecturer Mead.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

125 Space and Place

This course is an interdisciplinary exploration of physical space and the sense of belonging and rootedness we call place. The organizing principle of the course is the expanding circle; we will begin with the individual, then move to the home and family, the city, the nation, and end with the globe as a whole. We will cover a range of topics along the way, including memory, imagination, nationalism, borders, war, exile, imperialism, and globalization. Works range across philosophy, history, anthropology, film, fiction, and environmentalism, among others. We will approach this material from within a liberal arts framework, which will give students exposure to a wide variety of perspectives in the humanities and social sciences.

This is a discussion-based course designed to develop student competency in critical thinking and argumentation. Assignments include oral presentations, reading evaluations, short responses, and formal essays of varying lengths, including a research paper. Writing workshops will help students develop their writing skills, with emphasis on crafting thesis/support essays. Trips outside the classroom will introduce students to the wide range of resources at the College.

Fall semester. Professor Van Compernolle.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2021

126 Utopias

This course is an examination of utopian plans in literature, architecture, art, aesthetics, and political philosophy. We will consider the role of time and history in utopian schemes—how different projections about life in the future are based on fierce criticisms of the present, and often rely on invented or nostalgic views of social organizations in times past. The class will cover a selection of literary and theoretical utopias, beginning with Sir Thomas More, and ending with Octavia Butler, along with a range of visionary artists and designers—from Campanella's “City of the Sun” in the Renaissance to Le Corbusier’s “City of Three Million” in the twentieth century. How design affects the relationship of the individual to the community will be explored, incorporating questions of race, gender, and class. We will also examine the tensions between utopian theory and practice, by looking at the successes and failures of actual attempts at living in utopian communities. The course will conclude with a discussion of the contemporary sensations of dystopia and chaos, and of climate change and sustainable design, as we consider whether utopian thinking is applicable to the twenty-first century. Students will learn how to analyze real and imagined societies in novels, treatises, pictures, buildings, and plans. Projects include short essays, a midterm presentation, a group design project (no prior experience required), and a final paper of the student’s choosing—on any utopian image, film, text, performance, or work of imaginary architecture or planning.

Fall Semester. Visiting Professor Koehler.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

127 The Tragic Condition

Recent events over the past year and a half in the United States and across the globe, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the Black Lives Matter protest movement, have revealed how tragic human life can be. But what do people really mean when they call something “tragic”? This course explores the tragic condition by reading the most lasting works of Ancient Greek tragedy by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides alongside modern retellings of these tragedies by authors from diverse communities around the world. We will learn about the enigmatic origins of tragedy in archaic Greece and also about the performance of tragedy in ancient Athens by studying the conventions of music, dance, and the mask. Most important, we will reflect on enduring relevance of Greek tragedy today by reading several works by authors and playwrights from diverse communities around the world who have taken the powerful myths, stories, and characters from Greek tragedy and adapted them to the Black, Chicano, Transgender, African, Latin American, Muslim, and Japanese experience. All readings will be in English translation. No previous knowledge is required.

Fall Semester. Professor Hutchins. 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021