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American Studies Courses

AMST 51 – FYS: Navigating America
Section 1:  Rachel Willis
1-1:50 MWF; 210  Graham Memorial

This seminar is designed to teach students how to navigate new intellectual terrain and process unfamiliar information from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. The seminar emphasizes discussion and field study.   Each student will plan, implement, and document an individual short journey during the first half of the semester.  This voyage of discovery on the campus or in the surrounding community can be either physical or intellectual, but must be chronicled with a documentary journal and presented to the class in a multi-media format that conveys the individual’s perspective, journey, and discoveries.  Additionally, the class will collaboratively plan, implement, and document a common journey to the western part of the state from MARCH 25-27, 2011 that will be linked to our readings, guest lectures, and research on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail.  Students must be available for these three days for this travel as it will be a core aspect of the experiential education connection for the course.

AMST 53:  Family and Social Change in America

Section 1:  Robert Allen

9:30 TR, Graham Memorial 210

This course will be structured around a semester-long research project in which you will research the life and times of the members of the last four generations of your family: your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents.

This will involve your using documents and photographs family members might have saved about your family’s history, interviews with living family members, archival resources available in/through the UNC Libraries and N.C. State Archives, public records held by other state governments, and online resources available through such subscription-based services as

You will also research the places associated with your family’s history and the major historical events/trends/developments occurring throughout the lives of each of the last four generations of your family.

Throughout the semester, we will be reading and discussing historical scholarship on the changing nature of family life and the diversity of family forms in America from the colonial period to the present.  You will relate what you learn about marriage, courtship, fatherhood, motherhood, parenthood, childhood, adolescence, divorce, adoption, and other aspects of family life to the lived experience of family represented by your own family history.

The vehicle for organizing, editing, displaying, and sharing your family history project will be the Wiki feature of our Blackboard course site.  You will build your family history site over the course of the semester, using information you’ve uncovered from your genealogical research, family documents and photographs, information about the places associated with your family, your own commentary on the relationship between your family’s history and the history of family forms more generally.

This course has several goals:

–to enable you to gain a better understanding of your own family history over the past four generations

–to enable you to place each of these generations within social, political, economic, and cultural contexts

–to enable you to gain a better understanding of the family as a social institution in America over the past 300 years

–to help you develop research, problem-solving, teamwork, and presentation skills that will be of benefit to you throughout your academic career

NOTE: Because of the richness of archival material in the North Carolina Collection of the UNC Libraries and in the N.C. State Archives in Raleigh, this course is particularly well-suited to students whose family histories are associated with the state of North Carolina; however, students with family histories beyond the state are also welcome.

AMST 059:  Yoga in Modern America:  History, Belief, Commerce

Section 1:  Jay Garcia

3:30-4:45 TR; 210 Graham Memorial

This seminar offers a chronological and interdisciplinary exploration of yoga in the U.S. from the late-nineteenth century to the present. Following prefatory readings in yoga philosophy, the seminar concentrates on discussions of yoga undertaken by American writers, including Henry David Thoreau, William James and Christopher Isherwood, among others. The seminar addresses several interrelated subjects, including the cultural networks that helped to bring yoga to the U.S. via lecture circuits for Hindu thinkers; the complex versions of yoga that have arisen within the contours of the U.S.; practical and philosophical tensions created by the divergent meanings attached to yoga (exercise regimen, spiritual practice and advertising concept, among others); and the status of yoga as a growing industry in North America ($18 billion in 2007). The seminar draws upon the expertise of local residents who participate in different ways in the yoga community. Through readings, visitors and writing assignments, students gain a detailed understanding of the complex processes of transplantation that have made yoga practices an increasingly visible feature of contemporary American life.

AMST 101:  Emergence of Modern America

Section 1:  Joy Kasson

MWF 11, Phillips 215

This course traces major themes in American culture as viewed through history, literature, art, film, music, politics, and popular culture, from the American Revolution to the present.  It is not a comprehensive survey but rather an examination of the ways in which history and the arts interrelate as the present emerges from the past.  Topics include American diversity, the natural environment, the rise of the cities, social criticism, the cultural impact of war.  Reading consist of primary sources:  poetry (Walt Whitman), fiction (Ernest Hemingway and Tim O’Brien), and autobiography (Frederick Douglass and Jane Addams).  Each unit will include the work of an artist or photographer, such as Thomas Cole, Matthew Brady, Jacob Riis, Dorothea Lange. Topics include the heritage of the American Revolution; slavery, Civil War, and memory; technology and the environment; writers, film-makers, and artists as social critics.

AMST 201:  Literary Approaches to American Studies

Section 1:  Michelle Robinson

9:30 TR, 204 Murphey Hall

This course provides an introduction to the interdisciplinary methods of American Studies, as well as an overview of major developments in the field of American Studies and contemporary approaches to the study of American society and culture. Our examination of American life will be limited to four historical moments. First, we will explore representations of race, gender, and citizenship in the late nineteenth century, with a focus on fictional and non-fiction representations of the 1898 Wilmington Riots. Next, we will consider the transformation of gender roles and heterosexual marriage in the 1940s, with specific attention to Hollywood romantic comedies such as The Lady Eve (dir. Preston Sturges, 1941) and His Girl Friday (dir. Howard Hawks 1940). We will also study the origins of ACT Up and gay and lesbian political mobilization during the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Finally, we will examine the assertion of Muslim-American identities following 9/11, using ethnographies, short stories and legal documents, as well as in the Canadian sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie, as our sources.

AMST 203: Approaches to American Indian Studies

Section 1:  Tol Foster

W  3:00-5:30 Gardner 07

American Indian Studies is an interdisciplinary field that depends on and reflects the particular intellectual perspectives of many

different disciplines. Like tributaries of a river, each discipline contributes a body of knowledge based on unique research methods that when merged contribute to our understanding of Native America. This course is designed to serve as an introduction to both the many scholars at UNC who compose the faculty of American Indian Studies as well as to the various approaches that comprise the program. This course is the best offering on campus for exposing students to the broad disciplinary grounding of American Indian studies, and is meant to serve as a “crash course” in the various methodologies and

assumptions of the field, from literary theory to anthropology, from documentary efforts to archeological speculations, from ancient to modern timeframes. Yet, even as American Indian Studies moves across broad areas of inquiry, our goal in this course is to integrate these disciplines, each as a necessary part of a larger journey.

UNC is the South’s leading university in the field of American Indian Studies, and this course is team taught by over fifteen faculty members, graduate students, and guest experts.  Those seeking the Major or Minor in American Indian Studies through American Studies will gain in this course an opportunity to meet nearly everyone in the field on our campus, in just one course.  Non-majors and minors are also welcome to what may be one of the most unique courses offered at UNC.  Students respond with 2-3 page essays and critical questions every single week of the course – graded by Dr. Foster, and read a rigorous course curriculum that cuts across numerous disciplinary fields and historical periods.  Students are expected to be fully prepared for every class as you become archeologists, anthropologists, literary critics, lawyers and ethnohistorians; due diligence in the readings is an absolute minimum requirement for this unique journey. It is expected that at the end of this course, students will be conversant with the dominant fields and issues that animate American Indian Studies, and that this course will prepare students for further study in this exciting and relatively new field.  Seats fill quickly.

AMST 210:  Introduction to Southern Studies

Section 1:  Timothy Marr

Gardner 008, MWF 1:00-1:50

What is now called the “South” is defined by its relationship with a north from which its states once sought to secede.  Yet there are many other “Souths,” such as spiritual homeland for Indian nations, imperial outpost for Europeans expansion, and destination for diverse migrations over time, including Latinas/os moving north from a deeper American south and Africans forcibly removed across the Atlantic.  This interdisciplinary course examines some of the complex histories that have helped to form this distinctively intercultural region. The course will explore a broad diversity of expressions ranging from travel narratives, legends, songs, and literature to artifacts, architecture, photography and film – comparing for example Huck Finn, L’il Abner, and Andy Griffith.  Our inquiry into what constitutes southernness also reveals rich perspectives on the evolution of racial relations in the United States from slavery through segregation to the struggle for Civil Rights. Beginning with Ponce de Leon’s fantastic quest for a Fountain of Youth in Florida, we will explore how to measure the meaning of southern experiences from the hard soil of agricultural struggle, to neo-Confederate commemorations of the Lost Cause, to the region’s integration into global networks in the new millennium.

AMST/HIST 235:  Twentieth-Century Native America

Section 1:  Dan Cobb

2 TR; 204 Murphey Hall

The idea that American Indian communities would continue to exist in the year 2000 would have confounded late nineteenth-century federal policymakers.  By that time, the Native population had collapsed, the tribal land base had been all but destroyed, and the allotment and assimilation juggernaut pledged to “Kill the Indian to Save the Man.”  And yet, at the dawn of the new millennium, it was the system of colonial administration—not the indigenous peoples subjected to it—that appeared anachronistic.  Against terrible odds and in defiance of dominant expectations, Native communities endured.  “Twentieth-Century Native America” explores this complex and fascinating story.  Readings and lectures will carry students from the Pacific Northwest at the end of the nineteenth century to the Southeast at the end of the twentieth.  Along the way, we will engage critically important issues, such as identity construction and contestation, the shifting meanings of sovereignty and citizenship, and the problems of blood and belonging.

AMST 256:  Anti-‘50s:  Voices of a Counter Decade

Section 1:  Robert Cantwell

2:00 MWF; 204 Murphey

We remember the nineteen-fifties as a period of relative tranquility, happiness, optimism and contentment.  The decade saw unprecedented prosperity, an expanding middle class, the consolidation of a postwar national security state and the ascendancy of America as a global power.  The picture is not altogether mistaken.  Yet the ‘fifties had its sores and blemishes:  a too passionate social conformity, a crass and overblown consumerism, a fatuous ideology of the family, as well as the usual forms of racism, anti-semitism, homophobia and class resentment which in such eruptions and McCarthyism enjoyed episodes of national assent.

This course will consider a handful of counter-texts:  voices from literature, film, politics, and mass culture of the nineteen-fifties that each for one or another reason found life in the postwar world repressive, empty, frightening, or insane, and predicted the social and cultural revolutions that marked the decade that followed.

AMST 275H:  Documenting Communities

Section 1:  Rachel Willis

3.30-6 M; 213 Graham Memorial
This honors seminar will cover the definition and documentation of communities within North Carolina through study, experience, and practice in film.  The viewing and analysis of key community documentaries, short field study to several communities, and readings will be used to identify the formation and identity of communities within the region.  Students will undertake a small group project on the documentation of an internal University community through research, video filming, and editing of a short documentary (images and sound) during the first part of the semester using Final Cut Pro. Each student will then independently pre-produce, film, edit, and preview a short video documentary of a regional community of their choice.  We will learn how to use Final Cut Pro and I-movie on University MAC computers at the Beasley Multimedia Center and the Multimedia Resources Center at House Undergraduate Library. .  Students need not own recording or editing equipment as they are available for loan or use at no charge during the semester. Training in digital recording and editing technologies is not  expected, but will be offered as part of the course.  A 3.2 GPA or higher is required to sign up in the Honors Office in Graham Memorial.


AMST290:  LGTBQ Literature and Film from 1950 to the Present

Section 1:  Michelle Robinson

2:00 TR; 204 Murphey Hall

This course will explore representations of gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and gender-queer identities in American literature and film from 1950 to the present. We will examine how theories about sexual identity have shifted in the last half-century, and consider topics such as sexuality, desire, activism and family. We will also examine the impact of specific historical developments, such as the Stonewall Riots, the AIDS epidemic, and the implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” on the emergence of a LGTBQ literary tradition in the United States. Books and films may include Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt (1952), John Rechy’s City of Night (1963), Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckenridge (1968), Gus Van Sant’s Mala Noche (1985), Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (1995), Jaime Babbit’s But I’m a Cheerleader (1999), Felicia Luna Lemas’ Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties (2003), and Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home (2006).

AMST 292:  The South in Black and White

Section 1:  Tim Tyson

T 6:15 – 8:45 p.m., CDS at Duke, 116 Pettigrew St., Durham

Documentary traditions in the American South, with focus on the call and response between black and white cultures in a region where democracy has been envisioned and embattled with global consequences. History and culture as documented in spirituals, gospel, blues, and rock-and-roll; civil rights photography; Southern literature; and historical and autobiographical writing. Will include work by such historians as W.E.B. Du Bois, C. Vann Woodward, John Hope Franklin; literary achievements of Richard Wright, Zora Neal Hurston, and Ernest Gaines, along with their white counterparts William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Lillian Smith, and others. Includes lectures, music, poetry, film clips, discussion, and visitors.

AMST 335H:  Defining America
Section 1: Professor John Kasson

Section 2: Professor Timothy Marr

MWF 10:00-10:50;

Together John Kasson and Timothy Marr will lead a thoroughly interdisciplinary course focusing on a series of defining and controversial historical events from America’s emergence as a major industrial power to the present.  The focus of sections in “Defining America II”  include the rise of Chicago and  the Haymarket Affair of 1886; The Wilmington Race “Riot” of 1898 and the rise of segregation in the South; Margaret Sanger, women’s rights, and struggles surrounding the legalization of birth control beginning around 1914;  the internment of Japanese citizens during the Second World War; Vietnam and the Chicago Democratic Convention of 1968; contemporary concerns over terrorism and security in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001.  Linking all these events will be a focus on such issues as:  order and violence; security and freedom; citizenship and aliens; the contested elaborations of civil rights from the 14th amendment to the Patriot Act; the expansion of national power from the aftermath of the Civil War to the status of sole superpower; and transformations in expressive media from regional print culture to global virtual networks.  Throughout the course, we will also be concerned with how these histories are variously narrated and preserved, forgotten, or transformed in historical memory and commemoration. This year a unit on the rise of Disneyland in the 1950s and the transnational Disney media empire will be offered in collaboration with American Studies students at the University of Sydney in Australia.

Students will write short papers and projects in response to questions for each of the six units.  As a final exercise, each student will design a hypothetical unit of readings and assignments on an important American instance since 1865 that could be taught as an additional section for this course.

AMST 336 : Indigenous Film: From Silver Screen to Red

Section 1:  Tol Foster

Tuesday 3:30-5:50 PM                           Mitchell Hall 005 – Foster                      120 Students

Wed.       10am – 10:50am    Recitation 601         Bingham 306                         24 Students

Wed.       3 – 3:50 pm             Recitation 602        Mitchell 009                            24 Students

Thursday 9:30 – 10:20 am      Recitation 603         Murphy 314                            24 Students

Thursday 2 – 2:50 pm            Recitation 604        Woollen Gym 301                   24 Students

Friday      10am – 10:50am    Recitation 605        Murphey 304                           24 Students

A few years ago, when a delegation of American Indian artists visited their indigenous colleagues in Nicaragua, a tribal elder there reportedly said, “We are so glad you are alive!  In the movies, they had killed you all!”   At its very beginning, Hollywood began creating the narrative of the proud but doomed stoic American Indian warrior, and then they went about making a killing with that stock character right up until, and past, Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves. The stock Indian is a global cinema character; there are Indians in Spanish, Italian, German, and Russian films, to name a few.  Dreamcatchers sell in Singapore malls; Czech children go to Native American themed summer camps.

But this course is concerned, instead, with the phenomenon of indigenous people behind the camera – not just in front of it.  A recent UN document notes that there are an estimated 300 million indigenous people in 70 countries today, and yet we are only now beginning to see indigenous filmmakers, indigenous scripts, indigenous characters.  This course proposes to do just that, beginning with a crash course in American Indian history and representational issues, and then onward to a study of the genres, regions, and issues that (sometimes literally!) animate indigenous films and their creators.  But it also takes the intellectual work of film technique, grammar, and theory seriously, so students will be required to read and take a test based upon David Bordwel l’s Film Art.  Together with materials in Native studies, these readings will inform students in their out of class viewings, participation in a mandatory recitation section, short response papers, and group presentations.

In addition to Film Art, Paul Chaat Smith’s Everything you Know about Indians is Wrong, Perdue and Green’s North American Indians: A Very Short Introduction, students will need to set up for themselves a Netflix account and have time to view films out of class on their own schedule.  If you care about film, or want to learn about indigenous communities here and abroad, we invite you to this course!

AMST 350:  Main Street, Carolina

Section 1:  Robert Allen

2:00-3:15 TR; Graham Memorial 213

No matter what town or city in North Carolina you might visit (or be from), its downtown is likely to share many common features with other “Main Streets” across the state and around the country.  By the same token, each downtown is unique—the product of local forces and a specific history.  Hundreds of towns and cities in the state began to assume their modern forms in the years between 1880 and 1920—when more towns were chartered in N.C. than in any other period of the state’s history and when existing towns and cities replaced older wooden structures and dirt roads with multi-story brick buildings and streetcars.

This course looks at how downtowns in N.C. developed and how downtowns then shaped the economic, social, and cultural life of communities across the state.  We will try to reimagine the experience of “being” downtown for our great-grandparents’ generation.  We will research and think about how race, gender, religion, class, and ethnicity inflected that experience.   We will look at the establishment and growth of businesses and cultural institutions that come to define Main Street throughout most of the twentieth century: movie theaters, department stores, drug stores, fraternal organizations, restaurants, and barber shops, among them.

We will use Wilson Library’s extraordinary collection of materials about towns and cities in North Carolina in our study of downtowns at the turn of the century: newspapers, city directories, maps, photographs, and postcards in the North Carolina Collection; family papers, oral histories, business records, and diaries in the Southern Historical Collection.

A major focus of the course will be on using the latest digital technologies to document and share the history of Main Street.  Students will have a chance to use and contribute to “Going to the Show” (, a recently launched digital collection that documents more than 1300 places where movies were experienced in more than 200 N.C. communities between 1896 and 1930.

We will also use this class as a beta-testing site for an exciting new digital project, also called Main Street, Carolina, which will allow local libraries, museums, schools, and historic preservation organizations to collect and display a wide range of content about the history of downtown layered on top of highly detailed historic maps (Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps).  Development of Main Street, Carolina is supported by the 2009 C. Felix Harvey Award to advance Institutional Priorities at UNC and a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

AMST 375:  Food in American Culture

Section 1:  Danille Christensen

12:30 – 1:35 TR:  217 Wilson

This course will examine the history and meaning of food in American culture and will explore the ways in which food shapes national, regional, and personal identity.

AMST 387:  Race and Empire in 20th-Century American Intellectual History

Section 1:  Jay Garcia

W 3:30 – 6:00; Saunders 204

This upper-level seminar explores twentieth-century writings on race hierarchy and empire by American intellectuals. In a number of genres and in several different contexts, American writers have examined the history of empire, engaging in dialogues with anti-colonial writers from elsewhere in the world. Through commentaries on race hierarchy and empire in the modern world, American writers have considered the role of the intellectual in society, the rise of fascism, and the relationships between majorities and minorities both domestically and internationally. In turning their gaze outward on various international scenes, many writers revised available perspectives on American society and culture. The seminar also explores select anti-colonial narratives originating in other parts of the world that proved to be influential during particular moments in American intellectual history. Readings will include books and essays by W. E. B. Du Bois, Randolph Bourne, Richard Wright, Alain Locke, Lillian Smith, Frantz Fanon, among others.

AMST 499: Documentary Expression and the Sacred South

Section 1:  Tom Rankin
3:30-6:00 W; 204 Murphey

A course that explores the intersections of sacred traditions and documentary expression in the American South, investigating ways in which writers, photographers, filmmakers, ethnographers, visual artists, among others, have responded to and portrayed individual and community faith, belief, and sacred space.  The course will look at depictions and resonances that come from outside as well as inside the region and particular southern communities.

AMST 685:  Literature of the Americas

Section 1:  Maria DeGuzman

12:00 MWF; 317 Bingham

Two years of college-level Spanish or the equivalent strongly recommended.  Multidisciplinary examination of texts and other media of the Americas, in English and Spanish, from a variety of genres.