The American Studies Association is looking to launch of a quarterly pedagogy feature to spotlight American studies departments and programs, and ASA caucuses and committees. Below is our first feature, which we hope to expand upon in the coming months. 


Fall 2016 Feature: Amherst College

For this feature, faculty in the department of American Studies at Amherst contributed materials that exemplify the range of coursework offered to their students—from topical, introductory courses to senior research seminars.  Collectively, these courses impress upon students the need for multiple disciplinary perspectives and methodologies in the consideration of U.S. history and culture. And they seek to convey practical strategies for executing these inquiries, often making especial use of actual historical archives at Amherst and beyond to immerse their students in the work of American studies research and inquiry.  

Course Schedules and Assignments

AMST 240: Rethinking Pocahontas: An Introduction to Native American Studies
Designed and Taught by Professor Kiara M. Vigil

Download Syllabus, Schedule, & Assignments — “From Longfellow’s Hiawatha and D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature to Disney’s Pocahontas and James Cameron’s Avatar, representations of the indigenous as 'Other' have greatly shaped cultural production in America as vehicles for defining the nation and the self. This interdisciplinary course introduces students to the broad field of Native American studies, engaging a range of texts from law to policy to history and literature as well as music and aesthetics.”

AMST 372: Race and Public History
Designed and Taught by Professor Franklin S. Odo

Download Syllabus & Schedule — “This seminar focuses on two major events in nineteenth century United States history: the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the U.S.-supported overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893. We examine attitudes and actions leading to these momentous events, their impact on the target populations and the nation, as well as subsequent efforts to obtain apologies from the U.S. government. Amazingly, these efforts succeeded in 2011-12 and 1993, respectively. Congress has issued apologies only five times in its entire history—the three others were for slavery, treatment of Native Americans, and the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. Throughout, we analyze the memory-making involved, largely through the lens of federal public history venues, especially the Smithsonian, National Park Service, Library of Congress, and the National Archives but also other museums, memorials, documentaries, historic landmarks, and websites.”

AMST 468: Research Methods in American Culture
Designed and Taught by Professor Robert T. Hayashi

Download Syllabus & Schedule — “This course is an introduction to interdisciplinary research, a nuts-and-bolts class to prepare American studies students, in particular, for independent research in the major. However, any student interested in developing research skills, especially in the humanities and social sciences, is encouraged to enroll. We study a range of materials—visual, literary, print, digital, audio—that investigate a central theme, place in American culture. We also read and discuss works that present the history, methods, and debates within American studies to ground students in the tradition of American studies praxis.”

AMST 468: Research Methods in American Culture
Designed and Taught by Professor Kiara M. Vigil

Download Syllabus, Schedule, & Assignments — “This course aims to provide a 'how to' of American studies from an integrative, multiracial, and socio-cultural perspective. It also takes on the (impossible) task of surveying the development of American studies as an interdisciplinary field, while paying attention to the theoretical concerns and bodies of work that have influenced American studies scholars over the last half century, including but not limited to: Marxism, post-structuralism, feminism, cultural studies, race, class, gender, and sexuality studies, whiteness studies, regional studies, indigenous studies, ethnic studies, as well as material, visual and popular cultural studies. Taking American culture as a site for testing classic and contemporary theories about how cultures work, this advanced research and writing seminar introduces students to resources and techniques for interdisciplinary research. Students will be exposed to and experiment with a wide range of current theoretical and methodological approaches. In the process, they will gain a working competence in debates and approaches from American studies.”

SPOTLIGHT: The Local in the Global

The American Studies Program at Amherst takes a unique approach to their introduction to the major. In this class, designed by Professor Frank Couvares and Professor Karen Sánchez-Eppler, students are engaged in a wide-ranging academic exploration of their immediate surroundings: the Connecticut River Valley in Massachusetts. Engaging multiple types of texts, employing multiple types of analysis, and often asking students to leave the classroom to immerse themselves in the actual locales and environments of the region, the assignments for this course are notable for how they open up so many different possibilities (social, historical, representational) for making sense of the local in the context of the global. We asked Professors Couvares and Sánchez-Eppler to explain their thoughts behind the design and implementation of their introductory course.

What are the learning goals of this class?  What do you hope students will gain?

“The first goal is to show students just what 'interdisciplinary' means and why multiple disciplinary methods and perspectives are necessary to understand anything so complex as a culture or society. A second goal is give them a chance to learn the rudiments of different research methods and interpretive strategies, from close reading of literary texts and landscapes, to archival research and document transcription. A third goal is to show them how exactly the local is implicated in the global, and how the global helps to contextualize the local.”

How does this class work as an "introduction" to the American Studies Major?  How does the "local" or "regional" focus help to introduce students to American studies methods?

“By teaching this course with the focus on our particular locale, we are able to make use of many nearby resources, thus helping students to explore and understand this place in their world and in their lives. Being able to move through the landscape in Deerfield, as well as read about the 1704 raid; to visit the Porter Phelps Huntington house and work with the family archive, as well as to read about the commercialization of agriculture in the 19th century; to stand in Emily Dickinson’s room as well as read her poems; to see Holyoke’s 19th century factory buildings and talk with contemporary residents of this now largely Puerto Rican city, as well as read about industrialization and de-industrialization: all these activities emphasize the materiality of history and social policy, the ways that place and space carry meaning.”

AMST111: “Global Valley”
Designed and Taught by Professor Frank Couvares and Professor Karen Sánchez-Eppler

“It is often said that one can’t understand the global except through a study of the local; and that one can’t understand the local except in the context of the global. This course takes those ideas seriously. Drawing on a wide range of primary materials and visits to the sites of many of the topics we study, this course introduces you to American studies through an exploration of the Connecticut River Valley that stresses both the fascination of detailed local history and the economic, political, social, and cultural networks that tie this place to the world.”

Download Syllabus & Schedule
Download Assignment Sequence