American Studies Program Course Descriptions Spring 2022

Undergraduate Courses  

Introduction to American Studies -  
Drew Ciccolo  
Monday and Wednesday, 1-220PM  

As an interdisciplinary field, American Studies employs countless lenses to explore competing definitions of “America.” Therefore, it does not have a standard set of practices that defines its approach. Instead, as an interdisciplinary field, American Studies allows us to start with a given problem or question and use the approaches, theories, and sources that best address it.   

In this course, we will begin by analyzing discussions about America writ large. Then, we will move (for the most part) chronologically from the pre-Columbian era through the present. Though we will be anchored by historical narratives, we will expand beyond history into other disciplines, including English, African American Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, Anthropology, Economics, and more in order to critically and carefully read and write about primary and secondary sources. Through our studies, we will focus on the following themes: oppression and resistance, identity and difference, and inclusion and exclusion.  

Our goals are not just to gain greater perspective on U.S. history and culture, but also to think about how American Studies, in comparison to other fields, allows for such perspectives.   

Our work in this course will mirror the diversity (and, at times, the dissonance) of the field and the country itself. That is to say, you will be not just encouraged, but required, to find your own individualized path into a deeper understanding of “America.” To do so, you will first need to be aware of how others have created their paths. Then, following your curiosities, you can begin to map your own.    


Introduction to American Studies -  
Kyle Riismandel  
Tuesday and Thursday, 10-1120AM  

Rather than a survey of all of American history, in this course, we will examine various ways in which groups have attempted to define what is America and who is an American. We will begin with the premise that identity, including that of America and of Americans, is always contingent and contextual. Using interdisciplinary methods, we will analyze how groups contested and shaped these categories at key moments in the history of North America. To do so, we will use the interpretive tools of different disciplines central to the analysis of American culture to understand the stakes and implications of defining Americaness.   


Race and Ethnicity -  
Mike Pekarofski 
Monday and Wednesday, 4-520PM  

In the U.S. people often use the terms “race” and “ethnicity” interchangeably. Although most scholars would agree that these terms are “socially constructed,” we often do not really explore or explain what this means or why this is the case. This course will focus on the historical and contemporary meanings of these terms as they are used in everyday situations and especially in various academic fields, including history, the social sciences, literature, and popular culture. Using academic readings, films, literature, and other media, this course will help us come to some common understandings of these concepts and why they matter. As with any course, this one will also help us formulate important questions and identify key issues which may lead to further thought and discussion. In addition to focusing on its relationship to “ethnicity,” we will pay close attention to the many ways we create race in our culture today and how these ways differ from various times in our past. In particular, we will explore how geography, social class, lived experience, immigration status, gender, sexuality, and other factors often play important roles in how we think about this powerful concept and the ways it profoundly shapes people’s lives.  


Topics in American Studies: Mutual Aid and Storytelling - 21.050.488.02  
Leora Fuller  
Tuesday 230-520PM  

In our highly colonized, late capitalist world marked by massive environmental destruction we all have needs that aren’t being met; from lack of access to housing, food, and safety to the absence of deeply connective relationships. This reality can feel overwhelming, paralyzing, and depressing, but alternative ways of being, living, and collectively supporting each other exist in communities across the world. In this unusual learning space organized by the Humanities Action Lab, we will learn about radically different ways of moving through our lives from mutual aid practitioners, environmental justice organizers, and Indigenous lifeways.   

Together we will begin from the simple idea of the story. Not a traditional hero’s story or three act narrative, but the everyday stories we all tell about ourselves, our needs, and our dreams. We’ll conceive of our own stories as important, impactful experiences that collectively shape the larger world. We’ll learn from others across the hemisphere about the hyper local stories they tell and the ways they draw together shared stories to radically change their material conditions and challenge systemic oppression.  

All participants in this space will act as teachers and learners to develop and expand accountable, transformative, and community-centered pedagogies and practices that challenge what teaching and practicing justice-centered public history can and should be.  Along the way, we’ll create, share, and explore multi-media hyperlocal narratives that explore the historical roots of current problems and imagine alternative visions for the future that center around mutual aid and community care. These narratives may either be drawn from, or contribute to, existing Humanities Action Lab projects such as Climates of Inequality, States of Incarceration, and the Rikers Public Memory Project. Together we’ll ground ourselves in intentional, reciprocal mentoring relationships to facilitate a lasting learning community and change the ways we approach our lives.   


Topics in American Studies: EcoArt II: Ecoart and the Anthropocene - 21.050.488.04  
Alexandra Chang  
Tuesday, 230-520PM  

This interdisciplinary class will investigate the current framings of our time as the Anthropocene, Capitalocene, and Chthulucene among them, with a rethinking our relationships to nature and situated narratives of past, present, and future sites of environmental degradation and remediation in the New York/New Jersey area. Using books by Anna Tsing such as The Mushroom at the End of the World and Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, Extreme Cities by Ashley Dawson, and Staying with the Trouble by Donna Haraway we will investigate art histories and practices in parallel with ecology, literature, science fiction, critical theory, and entwined histories to think about the changing coastlines of Newark and New York City and the impact of urbanism on the natural environment. The class will incorporate digital art history and curation as a way for students to convey and form their own research development and curated narratives. The course can be taken by those who have little to no background in art history.  


Topics in American Studies:  Asian American Issues and Contemporary Politics - 21.050.488.Q1-Writing Intensive  
Diane Wong  
Tuesday, 230-520PM  

What does the growing population of Asian Americans mean for the landscape of American politics? What are the contours of Asian American political consciousness and movement? This course investigates Asian American political participation around contemporary issues such as immigration, multiracial coalitions, affirmative action, data disaggregation, detention and deportation, environmental justice, gentrification, and more. This course will explore the political developments that gave rise to the term “Asian America” in the 1960s and probe deeper theoretical questions about the complexities and pluralities of the contemporary Asian American experience. We will also consider the role of American political institutions including the federal, state, and local governments, and how public policies at all levels come to shape the political lives of Asian Americans in the United States. Texts include Claire Jean Kim’s Bitter Fruit: The Politics of Black-Korean Conflict in New York City, Eric Tang’s Unsettled: Cambodian Refugees in the New York City Hyperghetto, and Monisha Das Gupta's Unruly Immigrants: Rights, Activism, and Transnational South Asian Politics in the United States. As we read these texts, students will be exposed to intersectional, comparative, and emergent approaches to the study of race, culture, power, place, and politics.  


Topics in American Studies: Intergroup Dialogue - 21.050.488.0Q2-Writing Intensive *OPEN TO HLLC STUDENTS ONLY* 
Marta Esquilin 
Tuesday, 230-520PM  

Intergroup Dialogue is a three-credit course that has been carefully structured to explore social group identity as it pertains to race and its intersections within the United States.  The course will deeply examine conflict and community, with a focus on power imbalances within and between social identity groups. The focus of this course is to give students the tools and skills to engage in deep and transformational dialogues across difference. Each dialogue involves identity groups defined by race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic class, gender, sexual orientation, (dis)ability status, or national origin. Participants will explore similarities and differences among and across groups, the relationships between them, the history of the construction of race in the United States, and strive towards building a more equitable and just society.   

The goal of intergroup dialogue is help students develop the skills and competencies necessary to engage in meaningful discourse about difficult topics that often create wedges between communities.   Whereas in debate, students learn to listen to gain advantage, in intergroup dialogue, students learn to listen to gain understanding of those different from themselves. In so doing, students develop increased facility to communicate across difference, heightened intergroup awareness and sensitivity, and greater commitment to civic engagement.  Ultimately, this course is about sharing diverse perspectives and learning how to ask others about their experiences and listen for understanding to others.  


Graduate Courses   

Internship in American Studies: Humanities Action Lab and the Newark Water Coalition - 26.050.619.01  
Liv Sevcenko  

Develop your skills in mutual aid organizing, community-based storytelling, and digital media production through this internship course hosted by the Humanities Action Lab at Rutgers-Newark and Newark Water Coalition. Interns will work with members of Newark Water Coalition–a local advocacy organization–and Humanities Action Lab staff as the two organizations jointly launch Newark Community Voices, a new community-based media project focused on environmental justice issues in the city’s “frontline” communities (those hit hardest by environmental injustice and COVID-19).  

Through workshop-style training sessions and on-the-ground practice with a professional videographer and veteran organizers, interns will gain tangible experience:   

distributing vital resources to local residents through Newark Water Coalition’s mutual aid network conducting public outreach and developing organizing relationships in frontline communities collaborating with local residents to identify potential stories about the environmental challenges, material needs, and public policy priorities of Newark’s frontline communities creating short video documentaries about the above issues for audiences in frontline communities and in collaboration with community members.  


Topics in American Studies: Creating and Funding Public Humanities Projects - 26.050.521.03  
Bob Beatty  
Asynchronous, Online  

The operating expenses of a museum, history, or humanities organization come from a variety of sources including earned income (payment for services, gift shop revenue, admissions, licensing, etc.) as well as philanthropy (grants, corporate support, individual donors, etc.) Because so few generate a majority of their income from earned revenue, fundraising efforts are critical to keeping the doors of any museum open, from the local historical society to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In this class you will learn some fundamental elements of museum fundraising, including individual giving, campaigns, fundraising events, and grants.   


Topics in American Studies: Sexuality and American Culture- 26.050.521.04  
Whitney Strub  
Tuesdays, 5:30-8:10pm  

This course examines sexuality, culture, and the ways they have interacted as both reflections and constitutive elements of social power in the United States. Our readings will proceed chronologically, from the colonial period through the twenty-first century, and our discussions will also be methodological in nature, focusing on the techniques and theoretical framework through which cultural historians and historians of sexuality have approached these issues in their work. As a reading seminar, assignments will come in the form of historiographical essays and analytical book reviews.  


Topics in American Studies: U.S. Empire - 26.050.521.05  
Kornel Chang  
Mondays 5:00-7:40pm  

This reading-intensive seminar focuses on U.S. empire-building, examining how it evolved from a white settler society to a global hegemon in the twentieth century. Drawing on both canonical and more recent scholarship, the course pays close attention to the ideals, rationales, and policies that animated and justified American imperialism over the course of two centuries.   

Students will track the evolution of American power, comprehending its shifting logic and contradictions, and examining how it has changed over time and space. This will involve studying the American Empire from the vantage point of class and political economy, race and gender, policing, public health, development, and the environment.  


Topics in American Studies: Public History: De-Eugenicizing Anglo-North American Political Culture -26.050.521.06  
Jack Tchen  
Tuesdays, 2:30-5:20pm   

This public humanities research/practicum seminar is linked to the ongoing work of the Anti-Eugenics Project (AEP), which Tchen founded. This past Fall, the AEP held the seven-day "Dismantling Eugenics" convening reckoning with 100th anniversary of the Second International Eugenics Congress at the American Museum of Natural History. This Spring 2022 seminar continues from the Fall 2021 seminar and new students are welcomed.  

This seminar will continue to reckon with the history and practice of contesting the ongoing ramifying impacts of eugenics in all aspects of Anglo-North American settler colonial political culture.   

What does this ongoing historical reckoning constitute? How can we generate public policy regarding CRISPR "free market" designer babies, biased big data and AI, and a Gattaca-like future, eco-justice, and related issues which plague our everyday lives? The seminar will be engaged with actual research concomitant to transitional justice and to ongoing questions of reconstruction and reparative justice.  


Topics in American Studies: Latin America and the World - 26.050.521.07  
Karen Caplan  
Mondays, 5:00-7:40pm  

In this course, we will investigate the multifaceted relationship between Latin American places, nations, and people and the rest of the world. How has that relationship shaped Latin America, and how has Latin America shaped the history of other places? Beginning with the colonial era and bringing the story up to the present, we will ask how the culture, politics, and economics of Latin American society fit into a global narrative. In the process, we will define and interrogate concepts like “influence,” “exploitation,” “imperialism,” and “cooperation.” We will at times ask very specific questions about particular kinds of relationships—between Spain and its American colonies, between the United States and Latin America, or between Latin American nations and their neighbors.  But will also constantly be exploring how we might build a narrative of Latin American history that both is globally informed and informs the global.  


Topics in American Studies: Cultural History across Borders - 26.050.521.08  
Ruth Feldstein  
Wednesdays, 5:30-8:10pm (ONLINE)  

This graduate seminar will consider scholarship on cultural history, with a particular focus on work that crosses traditional national borders. How have scholars made sense of the transnational flow of cultural commodities, and related questions about production, consumption, reception, and desires? How can a transnational approach to cultural history shape our understanding of literature, the Cold War, black freedom struggles, and migration? Note: This seminar can accommodate graduate students looking for a readings class and those who want to write a primary-source based research paper.  


Research Seminar: Environmental Justice and Climate Change   
48:510:600 – Please note this class is offered through NJIT   
Neil Maher  
Thursdays, 6:00-9:00pm  

Throughout human history, people’s relationship to nature has always been influenced by power.  While some groups of people have the authority to gain access to nature, to transform it into natural resources for profit, and then to distance themselves from the negative consequences of such use, other groups do not.  This research seminar examines this longstanding, unequal relationship to nature in post-World War II America.    

The class meetings will be divided into two parts, and will result in the writing of a final paper based on primary historical research. During the first few weeks of the semester, we will familiarize ourselves with this period by undertaking shared readings on environmental justice and inequality in the postwar United States.  The rest of the semester will be a research and writing workshop that teaches students how to locate and collect primary source materials, trains them to analyze and organize these materials, and finally allows them to share their writing with one another in an effort to improve drafts before submitting their final paper.   

Additionally, this research seminar will also include an online mapping and digital archive component that asks students to upload their final papers, along with the historical data they have gathered for their project, to an interactive, web-based digital archive that has been created for this course (see The goal of this digital archive is to provide an open-source, interactive, geographic database of environmental justice sites in the postwar United States.