Join the Program
Students from all departments are welcome to enroll. Students may enroll in the American studies certificate program at any time, including their first year. There are no prerequisites, and courses taken prior to enrollment may count towards the certificate requirements. Students may take the gateway course AMS 101 at any time during their studies, including after enrollment in the certificate program. To enroll in the certificate program, students should complete the online enrollment form. Certificate students should meet with the associate director or program coordinator before the end of their first year of enrollment, to review their plans for fulfilling the certificate requirements.
Students may earn a certificate in American studies by successfully completing the following requirements, consisting of five courses:
- AMS 101: America Then and Now
- Three courses in American studies (AMS), either originating in the program or cross-listed, and preferably representing disciplinary breadth in the social sciences, arts, and humanities. No more than one course taken in fulfillment of a student’s concentration may be counted toward the certificate.
- An advanced seminar in American studies, preferably taken in the senior year.
Students who fulfill all the requirements of the program will receive a certificate in American studies upon graduation.
Spring 2023 Courses
This course studies how the environment has related to the construction of race and racism. By focusing on case studies around the globe, we will learn about the racial politics of waste, food consumption, energy, and climate change in diverse social and cultural contexts. Since the course moves chronologically through different historical periods, students will learn how dominant ideas about race and the environment have evolved over time. They will also examine how capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism have recreated environmental racism as a structure and a technology of power.
In this course, we'll examine the musicals of Stephen Sondheim from COMPANY (1970) to ROAD SHOW (2009) as a lens onto America. How have Sondheim's musicals conversed with American history and American society since the mid-20th century? How do Sondheim's musicals represent America and Americans, and how have various productions shaped and re-shaped those representations? We'll explore how Sondheim and his collaborators used the mainstream, popular, and commercial form of musical theatre to challenge, critique, deconstruct, and possibly reinforce some of America's most enduring myths.
Why did three American genres become classics in the same twenty-year period, 1936-1956? Part of the answer lies in global disruptions that unsettled codes of behavior. Part lies in film innovations that altered cinema itself. But more than this intersection of social and formal transformations, the decisive answer lies in a handful of directors who reconfigured gendered relations in three generic forms. The surprising correspondences that emerge among these classic films, if also the obvious divergences even within single genres, that will focus our discussion.
The fat body operates at the conjuncture of political economy, beauty standards, and health. This seminar asks, How does this "f-word" discipline and regulate bodies in /as public? What is the "ideal" American public body and who gets to occupy that position? How are complex personhood, expressivity, health, and citizenship contested cultural and political economic projects? We will examine the changing history, aesthetics, politics, and meanings of fatness using dance, performance, memoirs, and media texts as case studies. Intersectional dimensions of the fat body are central to the course. No previous performance experience necessary.
The aim of this course is to provide you with the tools to think about elites within democratic societies. The course is divided into four modular units: (1) The Decline of Aristocracy, (2) Creating an American Elite, (3) Elites and Power, and (4) A New Elite. For each of these units we will spend one week reading a theoretical approach to understanding the theme, one week on an empirical case to put this theory in context, and one week reading a novel that works with the themes of the theory and research we have read.
In-depth look into current US issues, with emphasis on democracy and the question 'What is America?'-socially, culturally, politically. Seminar immerses students into nonfiction literature, particularly as it illuminates the idea of "America" and the state of "Americans". Together we explore seminal non-fiction writing about America, the better to hone students' ability to think and write critically about the public sphere, and to write intelligently about their lives. Seminar examines how major writers, and students, best integrate research, socio-political analysis, literary skill, to craft publicly valuable, self-revelatory writing.
Creation stories from Turtle Island foreground an integral connection between land and story. "Sky Woman Falling" contains key ecological and environmental knowledge. This course explores the relationship between land and story, emphasizing seeds as sources of sovereignty and repositories of knowledge across generations. We focus on Native New Jersey while understanding the history of this land in the context of global indigeneity and settler colonialism. Course literature engages seeds, land, and the environment from a perspective that crosses the disciplines of American studies, literature, history, ecology, and environmental studies.
For over two centuries, Lower East Side tenements have housed immigrant and migrant families. Since 1988, the Tenement Museum has researched and told the stories of Jewish, German, Irish, Italian, Puerto Rican, Black and Chinese families, connecting individual family stories to larger historical questions. This course offers the unique opportunity to dive deeply into the research and methodology. What sources can we use to tell the story of "ordinary people," and how do those sources change over time? How do contemporary questions of American identity connect to the stories that we tell?
This course investigates how people of African descent in the Americas have forged social, political, and cultural ties across geopolitical and linguistic boundaries. We will interrogate the transnational dialogue between African Americans and Afro-Latin Americans using case studies from Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. We will explore how Black activists have partnered to challenge racism and economic inequality, while also considering why efforts to mobilize Afro-descendants across the Americas have often been undermined by mutual misunderstandings.
This course explores how ideas and discourses about race shape how public policy is debated, adopted, and implemented. Black social movements and geopolitical considerations prompted multiple public policy responses to racial discrimination throughout the twentieth century. Despite these policy responses, discrimination persists, raising theoretical concerns about the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion, political representation, the role of the state (meaning government or law) in promoting social justice, and the role of social movements and civil society in democratizing policymaking and addressing group oppression.
This class aims to explore transnational issues in policing. Drawing heavily upon anthropological methods and theory, we aim neither to vindicate nor contest the police's right to use force (whether a particular instance was a violation of law), but instead, to contribute to the understanding of force (its forms, justifications, interpretations). The innovative transnational approach to policing developed during the semester will allow for a cross-cultural comparative analysis that explores larger rubrics of policing in a comprehensive social scientific framework. We hope that you are ready to explore these exciting and urgent issues with us.
How do we grapple with the lasting, unintended impacts of science, engineering and medicine in "the nation's service and the service of humanity"? What lessons can we learn from the past to conduct morally sound research and generate culturally inclusive knowledge? We explore perspectives from indigenous studies to approach the intersection of Princeton's history, nuclear science, settler colonialism and environmental racism to collectively imagine a more holistic and inclusive approach to studying science, technology and the environment. Students will conduct original research that draws from and contributes to the Nuclear Princeton project.
Asian Americans have experienced a long history of contestation regarding gender and sexuality. To examine this saga, we will begin with Black and Asian feminist critiques of normative gender and sexuality. We will then turn to sociocultural history, analyzing legal cases policing intimacy, and the construction of the gendered and sexualized Asian woman in late 19th C. San Francisco. We will then examine histories of normative forms of sexuality, politics and social worlds of queer and trans communities, gendered labor, representation and the post-911 era.
This course offers a survey of the varieties of animation across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries as well as their critical reception. Animation is a ubiquitous form, present across media and in advertising. Many viewers take its components and effects for granted. But the archive of animation fundamentally complicates any easy assumptions about "realism" in the twentieth century; animation, moreover, challenges assumptions about bodies and their functions, exaggerating their features and functions, promoting alternatives to more mundane notions of life and liveliness, and relatedly, to ideas of time, contingency, and experience.
Looking to the many abyssal histories of the Caribbean, this course will explore major issues that have shaped Caribbean Literature: colonialism, indigeneity, iterations of enslavement, creolization, migration, diaspora, revolution, tropicality, and climate crisis. During our readings, we will be attentive to the Caribbean as a space of first colonial contact, as a place where the plantation system reigned, and as the site of the first successful slave revolt. These past legacies haunt contemporary conditions across the Caribbean in ways that necessitate attention to gender, race, and environment.
How does political upheaval - especially in the form of revolution - shape memoir? This course focuses on the work of writers, particularly those of Middle Eastern origin who live in the Americas (Mexico, the United States, and Cuba) to explore this question. It pairs their memoirs with other examples of their writing (letters, eulogies, and essays) and artistic production to study issues of post-coloniality, gender, race, and nationalism.
This course will focus on two "representative men" of the nineteenth century. It will propose that Emerson and Douglass are two of America's greatest defenders, precisely because they are its greatest mourners. While they point to America's unfulfilled promise of universal representation, they seek to realize it in their own acts of writing. This course attends to these writers' relations to the period's broader discourses surrounding race, ecology, empire, and nation-building. Alongside Emerson and Douglass, we will read short texts by naturalists, politicians, and activists such as J.B. Lamarck, James Madison, and Ida B. Wells.
Introduces students to cross-disciplinary concepts that shape how complex environmental challenges are defined, studied, and addressed. These concepts include biodiversity, climate change, ecosystem, environmental racism, pollution, sustainability, and wilderness. Examines a wide range of case studies - from the U.S. National Park Service and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit and Extinction Rebellion.
This course is designed to introduce students to the historical processes and issues that have shaped the lives if Indigenous Americans over the past five centuries. We will explore the ways that the diverse peoples who lived in the Americas constructed different kinds of societies and how their goals and political decisions shaped the lives of all those who would come to inhabit the North American continent. The course requires students to read and analyze historical documents and contemporary literature, and includes a visit to the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City.
This course examines the history of gender and sexuality across the 20th century, with emphasis on both regulation and resistance. Topics include early homosexual subcultures; the commercialization of sex; reproduction and its limitation; sex, gender, and war; cold war sexual containment; the feminist movement; conservative backlash; AIDS politics; same-sex marriage; Hillary; and many others.
From "Chinese opium" to Oxycontin, and from cocaine and "crack" to BiDil, drug controversies reflect enduring debates about the role of medicine, the law, the policing of ethnic identity, and racial difference. This course explores the history of controversial substances (prescription medicines, over-the-counter products, black market substances, psychoactive drugs), and how, from cigarettes to alcohol and opium, they become vehicles for heated debates over immigration, identity, cultural and biological difference, criminal character, the line between legality and illegality, and the boundaries of the normal and the pathological.
This class will look at the works of Latin American and Latinx women playwrights who have created works that are either adaptations of mythical Greek heroines or reinterpretations of the historical Latin American and Caribbean record. These works challenge our visions of history: they use the power of the canon to make us think about the weight of tradition, and use that weight to shatter our preconceptions of gender, race, and identity. The course will include dialogues/workshops with contemporary artists and scholars, and will include performance, creative writing, and digital work as part of our class assignments and/or final project.
The 14th Amendment is the centerpiece of constitutional debates about equality. This class explores the development and ongoing debates over the 14th Amendment, including the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses. We also give attention to some additional statutes, notably Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The readings will largely be rooted in decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, with a focus on race, sex, sexuality, religion, and disability. What constitutes discrimination and 'anti-discrimination'? What ought to be the goal for understanding equality, diversity, and acceptance?
African Americans in the United States have encountered myriad barriers to their quest for inclusion. Drawing on a mix of history and social science, we will come to understand why certain segments of America oppose the full inclusion of African Americans. We will also discuss the political strategies undertaken by the Black community to combat social, political, and economic injustices. The first half of the course will focus on historical antecedents such as the civil rights movement and the Black Power movement. The second half of the course will focus on the nature of contemporary racial attitudes in the 21st century.
Have you ever wanted to change the world? So have lots of other people. In this course, we'll explore how American Christians have participated in social movements since the early 20th century, and we'll see how religion fits into their mobilization strategies. We'll focus on four case studies: the Catholic Worker movement; Black church women during the Civil Rights movement; the early Christian Right; and advocacy around HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ+ rights. This course centers ethnographic research methods in the study of religion, and students will learn skills such as data coding, participant observation, and qualitative interviewing.
This seminar focuses on the structural and institutional foundations of racial discrimination in the United States. It emphasizes the contributions of sociologists, some of whom will participate as invited guests. The course gives a historical overview followed by an investigation of key legislative actions and economic factors inhibiting racial equality. Subsequent topics include migration and immigration; urban development; and residential segregation. The end of the course reviews resistance movements and policies aimed at addressing systemic racism, including restorative justice and reparations.
As the United States has increasingly looked to its federal government to provide policies and protect rights that benefit its population, how have the branches of government risen to the occasion? Where have they struggled? What obstacles have they faced? What complexities have arisen over time? This course is an investigation of the institutional, political, and legal development of the unique "American state" in the contemporary era.
For the last 60 years, the United States has been engaged in a near-constant effort to reform American schools. In this course, we will make sense of competing explanations of educational performance and evaluate the possibilities for and barriers to improving American public schools and for reducing educational disparities by family socioeconomic status, race, and gender. In doing so, we will grapple with the challenges that researchers and practitioners face in evaluating educational policies.
The Affordable Care Act, enacted in 2010, was the defining (and polarizing) initiative of the Obama era, with provisions to expand health insurance coverage, control health care costs, and improve the health care delivery system. This course will focus on the history of health reform, as well as implementation challenges since the law's enactment. We will examine the federal regulatory process, the many legal challenges to the law, the role that states have played in implementation, and Congressional repeal efforts. We will also investigate the role of federalism in health care policy and the future of health care reform.
This course considers theories and practices of reinterpreting landscape through the lenses of indigeneity, transnational feminism, and decoloniality. We will explore alternative ways of knowing and relating to places--thinking across space and time, built structures and material absences, borders and networks of relation--with a focus on the Americas. Discussions will engage spatial perspectives in geography, anthropology, and decolonial thought along with creative writing and multimedia work. Students will apply critical spatial practices by designing a digital project using textual, sonic, and visual modes to remap a selected site.