Course Listings

Below are the descriptions for current and upcoming undergraduate and graduate courses in American Studies and U.S. Latina/o Studies. More information is available at Testudo, including available seats for each class.

Sample syllabi can be accessed by clicking on the course codes. Please note that many are sample syllabi and are likely to differ from actual syllabi used in current courses. Be careful to note the semester listed, though even current syllabi are still subject to change before the semester begins.

Fall 2014 Course Descriptions

AMST101 – Introduction American Studies

CORE Humanities (HO) Course.  CORE Diversity (D) Course.

GenEd: Distributive Studies – Humanities; Diversity – Understanding Plural Societies.

Credit only granted for: AMST101 or AMST201. Formerly: AMST201.

What do you do in American Studies? Seems like a simple enough answer: “you study America.” This course evaluates the deceptive simplicity of such an objective by considering the diverse people and cultures that constitute America. This course is not a survey-course in American history or literature; instead, the purpose of this class is to introduce you to the interdisciplinary field of American Studies. How can we ask questions about American culture and society? To find out, we will explore the various methodologies and questions of the field through the consideration of canonical and contemporary work in the field. We will examine how we fit into a greater context by considering the role of difference, identity, and globalization in the American experience.

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AMST202 – Cultures of Everyday Life in America

Examine the structures and patterns of everyday life in the U.S., utilizing methods such as ethnography, oral history, survey research, and textual, visual, and material cultural analysis.

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AMST203 – Popular Culture in America

CORE Humanities (HO) Course.

GenEd: Diversity – Understanding Plural Societies.

What is popular culture, how does it function, and why does it matter? Conventionally, “high culture” has been clearly distinguished from and privileged over “low culture.” High culture has enjoyed connotations of elite, at times even esoteric, importance and low culture has endured effective dismissal as something of vulgar irrelevance. But if we regard culture generally as essentially the ways in which we cultivate collective meanings about our lives and our place(s) in the world, what then might be the role of popular culture? What might be the scope and limits of a set of cultural forms that are considered to be, in their “popularity,“ commonly accessible? What possible contributions, for better and for worse, can popular forms offer to the cultivation of collective meanings in diverse American cultural contexts? Specifically, how does popular culture address the crucial notions of subjectivity and agency, notions that typically shape the parameters of meaningful life and — conversely — functional, if not actual, death? This semester, we will keep such questions in mind as we engage a variety of popular culture forms, including (but not limited to) music, film, television, and sports, with specific attention to how these forms relate to the everyday practices and beliefs of a contemporary American context. Because as participants we are, all of us, necessarily and inextricably implicated in any discussion of American popular culture, such as exploration will invoke our personal investments in the discussion. This approach will outline our terrain and provide the tools with which we can work through our questions thoughtfully, responsively, and responsibly. Through our diligent, collaborative, critical, and self-reflexive efforts, our class together will develop resources we can use to interrogate how popular culture matters to the most critical of meaning formations, the understanding of life and death.

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AMST205 – Material Aspects of American Life

CORE History or Theory of Arts (HA) Course.

GenEd: Distributive Studies – Humanities; Diversity – Understanding Plural Societies.

This course introduces students to material culture, to theories, questions, and methods of studying objects and things that surround us in everyday life. How do we use material things? What do they mean to us? We shall also explore how material goods and objects shape cultural ways, identities, and landscapes in contemporary America and how they intersect with such categories as race, class, gender, and sexuality, as well as discourses on memory and history.

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AMST207 – Contemporary American Cultures

CORE Behavioral and Social Science (SB) Course. CORE Diversity (D) Course

World views, values, and social systems of contemporary American cultures explored through readings on selected groups such as middle-class suburbanites, old order Amish, and urban tramps.

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AMST260 – American Culture in the Information Age

What does it mean to live in an “information age?” We live in a world where data bombards us at every turn; quite literally, the ability to process information has become a defining characteristic of humanity. Access to information (or the lack thereof) has become one of the foundational aspects of contemporary American culture, redefining our relationship to space (outer, inner, and local), sexuality, community, and the body. This course asks the student to consider not only what they know, but how they know it – how is knowledge created when knowledge is everywhere? How we know what we know reflects our intersectional identities How does access to this wealth of information, these new ways of knowing shaping our lives and our understandings of self?

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AMST328A – Perspectives on Identity and Culture; Latina/o Sexualities: Borders, Migration, and Citizenship

How does sexuality travel across borders? How do sexuality and migration intersect? This course will delve into the multiple possibilities hidden in the intersections of migration and sexuality and illuminate before silenced histories and voices that are found in those intersections.  Class discussions will explore current events and debates occurring in mainstream culture and everyday life that center on immigration and/or sexuality.  Additionally, this course aims to provide a useful framework of contemporary and interdisciplinary immigration and sexuality literature that will help students develop and interrogate critical questions.

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AMST328V – Perspectives on Identity and Culture; Growing Up Asian American: The Asian Immigrant Family and the Second Generation

An interdisciplinary course examines the experiences of children of Asian immigrants in the U.S., focusing on intergenerational dynamics in the Asian immigrant family, their intersections with race, gender, class, sexuality, and religion, and how these shape second-generation Asian American life. Topics include identity and personhood, the model minority myth and education, work and leisure, language and communication, filiality and disownment, mental health, and suicide.

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AMST340 – Introduction to History, Theories and Methods in American Studies

Introduction to the process of interdisciplinary research, including research literatures, questions, first-hand sources and library and analytic methods in American Studies. Each student will craft a prospectus for original research.

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AMST386 – Experiential Learning

Individual Instruction

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ASMT388 – Honors Thesis

Individual Instruction

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AMST398 – Independent Studies

Individual Instruction

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AMST418A – Cultural Themes in America; African-American Visual and Material Culture

Moving from the shores of Africa to the birth of African American culture to the study of African diasporic cultural influences, this class will explore the active role of visual and material culture in the shaping and defining of identity. Our goal is to develop visual literacy as we discover the historical uses of the arts in service of the struggles for freedom and equality. Visual art, material culture, politics, popular culture, music, literature, philosophy, theater, film, poetry, and anthropology will shape the inquiry through which we examine both the diasporic dimensions of African American aesthetics and its economic exploitation in the service of global capitalism. Understanding the multi-layered impact of African American history and cultural influences on a personal, societal, and global scale will be the mission of this class.

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AMST418H – Cultural Themes in America; Cultural Themes in America-Honors

Individual Instruction

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AMST418K – Cultural Themes in America; Film and the American Landscape

Explores how representations of space in American film impact our understandings of the ways community, identity, and place intersect.

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AMST418O – Cultural Themes in America; Laugh Until It Hurts: African American Humor and Its Social Contexts

This course considers formal, historical, and sociopolitical aspects of African American humor and ponders its uses within practices of self-making, community-building, cultural critique, protest, venting, and healing. The curriculum includes black vernacular practices, such as toasting, signifying, and the dozens; black folklore, including such legends as the Signifying Monkey and Br’er Rabbit; the comedic writing of such authors and playwrights as Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, George C. Wolfe, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Paul Beatty; and the performances of such comedians as Bert Williams, Moms Mabley, Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg, Dave Chappelle, and Issa Rae.

Among the critical questions we will address are the following: What are the social and psychic bases of humor? What makes an event, narrative, or person “funny”? What critical interventions (political and artistic) can humor perform that pathos cannot? Is there anything so somber that one cannot conscionably “make fun” of it? Although humor is often steeped in irreverence, what are the ethical dimensions and implications of comedy? How have African Americans put humor to critical use in America? How do these black cultural producers deploy particular techniques of comedy and toward what aims?

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AMST450 – Seminar in American Studies

Prerequisite: AMST201 and two additional AMST courses. Sophomore standing. For AMST majors only. Introduction to the process of interdisciplinary research, including research literatures, questions, first-hand sources and library and analytic methods in American Studies. Each student will craft a prospectus for original research.

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AMST498B – Special Topics in American Studies; Fashion and Consumer Culture in the U.S.

Prerequisite: USLT202 or USLT201. Restriction: Junior standing or higher. Repeatable to 9 credits if content differs.

Using multiple theoretical and historical lenses, this course examines past and present issues surrounding Latinas/os and popular culture in the United States and beyond.  A diverse ethnoracial constituency with a long history in the United States, Latinas/os also represent the fastest growing demographic in contemporary U.S. American society.  This course is timely, then, in attempting to historicize and explore the political and ideological ramifications of cultural products both by and about U.S. Latinas/os.  Using theories drawn from cultural studies, visual culture studies, critical race theory, borderlands theory, and feminism, this class will examine multiple texts from a variety of timeframes.  As we do so, we will explore such issues as representational exclusion and inclusion from the “imagined community” of U.S. identity, transnational identifications, ethnoracial stereotyping and resistance to such, and intersections of Latina/o identities with aspects of class, race, sexuality, and gender.  This will entail investigations of diverse cultural arenas and media, among them Hollywood cinema, television, popular music, and theatrical performance.

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AMST498G – Special Topics in American Studies; Latinas/os on the Silver Screen

Since the early days of moving images, the cinema has held a uniquely prominent and influential position in U.S. culture.  In pursuit of commercial reward, Hollywood studios and independent filmmakers create in their cinema not only (sometimes not even!) entertainment, but also ideas about politics and culture, which disseminate from the “silver screen” to mass audiences in the Americas and across the globe.  Embedded in a culture in which race was and is always an issue, the U.S. film industry remains a crucial arena in which representations of ethnoracial identity and its relationship to national identity are produced, interpreted, debated, and reconceived.  Beginning with the era of silent film and concluding with contemporary films, this course explores the ambiguous and shifting history of U.S. Latinas/os both behind and in front of the camera.  Combining media theory and film history, we will consider the film industry’s relationship to Latinidad, examining issues such as the shift from silent film to sound, the impact made on Latino/a images by the Second World War and the “good neighbor” era, and Latinas/os in the Cold War Red Scare.  In these periods, representational power remained chiefly in the hands of white Hollywood producers, and Latinos/as (most often Mexican Americans) were subject to a series of demeaning representational strategies.  As we move into the second half of the course, we will turn attention to self-representation by Latina/o filmmakers and empathetic images created by whites in and after the 1970s. How have Latinas/os been depicted in Hollywood history?  How have inter-American foreign relations shaped the US Latino/a image?  How have Latina/o filmmakers confronted issues such as racism and sexism in the United States?  Students will explore these issues throughout the semester, and in doing so gain insight into both Latina/o racial formations and the practice of film criticism.

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AMST498J – Special Topics in American Studies; Asian American Politics

Also offered as AAST498T. Credit granted for AAST498T or AMST498J. Students will gain a greater understanding of 1)the role of Asian Americans in US politics, 2) the political attitudes and behaviors of Asian Americans and 3) help students to conduct research on Asian American politics. Though the class will concentrate on Asian Americans, issues related to Asian American politics will be examined within the larger context of Americas multicultural political landscape.

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AMST498L – Special Topics in American Studies; Native Americans and U.S. Cinema

Beginning with the silent era and continuing to the present, the class will examine representations both by and about Native Americans, exploring how film has defined and redefined Native American identity in U.S. history and culture.  The course includes films directed by Native Americans and with Native American actors.

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AMST601 – Introductory Theories and History in American Studies

AMST 601 is the initial course of a two-course sequence introducing graduate students to some of the literature — from the field, the discipline, and beyond — that has shaped and reshaped Americans’ Studies over time.  In this course, we focus on the theories and paradigms, or conceptual frameworks, evident in scholarly work through the mid-1990s.  By concentrating on the historiography of Americans’ Studies and on the theoretical directions and assumptions of scholars, this course should help you to understand the making of theories in American Studies and, of course, the making of American Studies before the turn of the century.  Reading and thinking about this “early” scholarship should also prepare you for the contemporary theories and literature that are the focus of AMST 603 (Current Approaches to American Studies).

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AMST628A – Seminar in American Studies; Fashion and Consumer Culture in the United States

This seminar will introduce major theoretical works in the study of consumer behavior, from Veblen’s “Theory of the Leisure Class” to emerging fashion theory. Along the way, we will examine a variety of phenomena through these theoretical lenses. Possible topics include religion and consumption, children as consumers, media representations of the fashion industry, consumer activism, dress codes, class and consumption and how individuals use clothing to express identities and group membership. Resources will include artifacts from the University of Maryland Historic Costume and Textile Collection. All students will develop a research project resulting in a final paper; graduate students will also lead one class session on a topic of their choice.

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AMST629D – Directed Readings in American Studies

Visual and material culture has been defined from numerous perspectives most notably anthropology, archeology, art history, cultural theory, and history. Since the 1970s in particular, scholars in these and other disciplines have used material culture sources of evidence to explore the everyday lives of ordinary citizens who did not leave written records of their experiences. This proseminar combines several large interdisciplinary fields to introduce students to material culture studies and to consider how objects have been used to reinforce, propagate, and resist cultural hierarchies based on race, class, gender, sexuality, and national identity. We will consider these actions with a strong, but not exclusive, emphasis on consumption. Using a wide range of methodologies, fieldwork techniques, and theoretical approaches we will largely examine the material culture genres and subfields of cultural landscapes, food, decorative arts, public history, and photography.

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AMST798 – Non-Thesis Research

Individual Instruction Course

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AMST799 – Master’s Thesis Research

Individual Instruction Course

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AMST856 – Museum Research Seminar

A research seminar focusing on the practice and presentation of cultura and historical scholarship in museums and historical sites. Students will complete an original research project on the challenges and opportunities of public exhibition and interpretation of cultural and historical research.

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AMST898 – Pre-Candidacy Research

Individual Instruction Course

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AMST899 – Doctoral Dissertation Research

Individual Instruction Course

 

Winter 2015 Course Descriptions

AMST101 – Introduction American Studies

CORE Humanities (HO) Course.  CORE Diversity (D) Course.

GenEd: Distributive Studies – Humanities; Diversity – Understanding Plural Societies.

Credit only granted for: AMST101 or AMST201. Formerly: AMST201.

What do you do in American Studies? Seems like a simple enough answer: “you study America.” This course evaluates the deceptive simplicity of such an objective by considering the diverse people and cultures that constitute America. This course is not a survey-course in American history or literature; instead, the purpose of this class is to introduce you to the interdisciplinary field of American Studies. How can we ask questions about American culture and society? To find out, we will explore the various methodologies and questions of the field through the consideration of canonical and contemporary work in the field. We will examine how we fit into a greater context by considering the role of difference, identity, and globalization in the American experience.

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AMST202 – Cultures of Everyday Life in America

WB11 ONLINE Jennie Chaplin

CORE Social or Political History (SH) Course

GenEd: Distributive Studies – History and Social Sciences

Examine the structures and patterns of everyday life in the U.S., utilizing methods such as ethnography, oral history, survey research, and textual, visual, and material cultural analysis.

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AMST203 – Popular Culture in America

CORE Humanities (HO) Course.

GenEd: Diversity – Understanding Plural Societies.

What is popular culture, how does it function, and why does it matter? Conventionally, “high culture” has been clearly distinguished from and privileged over “low culture.” High culture has enjoyed connotations of elite, at times even esoteric, importance and low culture has endured effective dismissal as something of vulgar irrelevance. But if we regard culture generally as essentially the ways in which we cultivate collective meanings about our lives and our place(s) in the world, what then might be the role of popular culture? What might be the scope and limits of a set of cultural forms that are considered to be, in their “popularity,“ commonly accessible? What possible contributions, for better and for worse, can popular forms offer to the cultivation of collective meanings in diverse American cultural contexts? Specifically, how does popular culture address the crucial notions of subjectivity and agency, notions that typically shape the parameters of meaningful life and — conversely — functional, if not actual, death? This semester, we will keep such questions in mind as we engage a variety of popular culture forms, including (but not limited to) music, film, television, and sports, with specific attention to how these forms relate to the everyday practices and beliefs of a contemporary American context. Because as participants we are, all of us, necessarily and inextricably implicated in any discussion of American popular culture, such as exploration will invoke our personal investments in the discussion. This approach will outline our terrain and provide the tools with which we can work through our questions thoughtfully, responsively, and responsibly. Through our diligent, collaborative, critical, and self-reflexive efforts, our class together will develop resources we can use to interrogate how popular culture matters to the most critical of meaning formations, the understanding of life and death.

————————————————————————————–

AMST205 – Material Aspects of American Life

CORE History or Theory of Arts (HA) Course. GenEd: Distributive Studies – Humanities; Diversity – Understanding Plural Societies.

This course introduces students to material culture, to theories, questions, and methods of studying objects and things that surround us in everyday life. How do we use material things? What do they mean to us? We shall also explore how material goods and objects shape cultural ways, identities, and landscapes in contemporary America and how they intersect with such categories as race, class, gender, and sexuality, as well as discourses on memory and history.

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AMST328B – Perspectives on Identity and Culture; Internet and Social Media Cultures: Exploring Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality

WB11 ONLINE Paul Saiedi

So much of our everyday lives are played out in online spaces and through mobile phones.  Theorists of new media call this constant and everyday use of the internet a state of ubiquitous computing or pervasive computing.  This course will be an examination of the overlapping dimensions of difference and identity in internet and social media cultures focusing on sites such as YouTube videos, internet communities, mobile apps, and the mobile internet. We will focus on sites that are often labeled as “virtual” and “digital” to examine how, why, and to what end individuals and communities (mis)use them in their everyday lives; keeping in mind that both the virtual and the digital are always connected to and must be studied through the embodied lenses of race, class, gender, and sexuality. This course frames internet and social media cultures, whether conceived of as peoples’ systems of shared meanings, attitudes, and values or as the texts and practices of everyday life, as vital to unpacking and understanding how power, inequality, and resistance work in relation to what we watch, download, and stream everyday. Contemporary forms of internet and social media cultures can reveal much about social and cultural tensions in and across time. In other words people shape and negotiate cultural messages and values, economic activity, institutions, and the social relationships that underlay local, national, and international communities through the ways they use, play, ignore, and create in online spaces.  In this way the internet and social media cultures can always be thought of as sites of cultural production and meaning making.