Course Offerings in American Studies
Please note: the course numbers for all American Studies classes are the same as the parent department, but simply substitute the AMER prefix. If you believe that a course should be cross-listed, but it is not listed below, please contact Tara Rutledge.
The following courses are cross-listed with American Studies:
Early America, 1492–1815
HIST 18703, AMER 18703
This course explores the development of American culture, society, and politics from the first contact between Native Americans and Europeans to the emergence of a stable American nation by the end of the War of 1812. It emphasizes the diverse experiences of the many kinds of Americans and the different meanings that they attached to the events in their lives. Topics include the meeting of Indigenous, African, and European peoples, the diversity of colonial projects, piracy and the Atlantic slave trade, the surprising emergence of a strong British identity, the coming of the American Revolution, the range of Americans’ struggles for independence, and the role of the trans-Appalachian West in shaping the early republic. This lecture course is open to nonmajors and does not presume any previous history coursework.
Histories of Racial Capitalism
AMER 18202/1 
Instructor: Destin Jenkins
What is the relationship between race and capitalism? This course introduces students to the concept of racial capitalism, which rejects treatments of race as external to a purely economic project and counters the idea that racism is an externality, cultural overflow, or aberration from the so-called real workings of capitalism. Spanning the colonization of North America to the era of mass incarceration, topics include the slave trade, indigenous dispossession, antebellum slavery, the Mexican-American War, “new imperialism,” the welfare state, and civil rights. This class neither presumes a background in economics, nor previous coursework in history.
City Imagined, City Observed
AMER 24191/1 
Instructor: Luke Joyner
This urban design studio course takes two distinct notions of the city as its starting point: grand, imaginative plans — utopian, unbuilt, semi-realized, real… both as aesthetic objects, and as ideas — and how the minute flows of day-to-day life, up from the smallest scale, enter into dialogue with little built and lived details, intended or not. With Chicago as context and canvas, we will dream both big and small, search both present and past, and draw precisely on both what we dream and what we experience… seeking not to dictate what the city will be, but to expand our sense of what a city can be. The studio work will proceed in two stages: individually developing ideal city plans, then breaking each others’ plans, using real observations and factors (and even spontaneous impulse) to complicate and rebuild them into something lovelier.
Introduction to Black Chicago, 1893 to 2010
AMER 27705/1 
Instructor: Adam Green
This course surveys the history of African Americans in Chicago, from before the twentieth century to the near present. In referring to that history, we treat a variety of themes, including migration and its impact, the origins and effects of class stratification, the relation of culture and cultural endeavor to collective consciousness, the rise of institutionalized religions, facts and fictions of political empowerment, and the correspondence of Black lives and living to indices of city wellness (services, schools, safety, general civic feeling). This is a history class that situates itself within a robust interdisciplinary conversation. Students can expect to engage works of autobiography and poetry, sociology, documentary photography, and political science as well as more straightforward historical analysis. By the end of the class, students should have grounding in Black Chicago’s history and an appreciation of how this history outlines and anticipates Black life and racial politics in the modern United States.
Social Reform in the United States 1890-1908
AMER 29505/1 
Instructor: Ben Zdencanovic
This seminar charts organized efforts to transform and reconfigure the social and economic fabric of American life through a focus on five distinct periods of reform: the agrarian Populist movement at the end of the nineteenth century; the Progressive movement in the early twentieth century; the New Deal during the 1930s and early 1940s; the Civil Rights movement and the Great Society in the 1960s; and the rise of the New Right in the postwar period. By looking at continuities, connections, and ruptures within and between these reform movements, we will explore a range of defining topics in twentieth century US history: capitalism and risk; gender and labor; economic citizenship and security; law and the state; immigration and ethnicity; and race and (in)equality.
American Graphic Art and Commercial Culture: 1850-1960
Instructor: Neil Harris
This class focuses on widely distributed printed images, most of them with commercial, aesthetic, and/or political significance, along with the graphic design traditions and typography associated with them. While concentrating on American imagery, the context would be international, reflecting the condition of popular graphic arts in this country. Among other things it would treat book illustration, posters, advertising art, magazines and newspapers, cartooning, postcards, children’s literature, commercial paper, and trade catalogs. Necessarily, given this wide scope, it will be episodic in character, but it will also attempt to relate this visual explosion to larger artistic movements, major events, technological changes, and political trends. It would also explore, from time to time, the roles played by collecting, exhibition, and academic commentary in legitimating the subject, as well as the power of ethnic and racial stereotyping and the multiplication of trade and printing journals. The aim, in short, is to examine the flowering of a visual print culture that had its roots in the Gutenberg Revolution of the 15th century. There will be both class discussion and lecturing. This is art in context, emphasizing breadth and the introduction of figures, institutions, and movements nurtured by an expansive production and distribution network. The course will be hosted by the Special Collections Research Center at Regenstein Library, and will feature items drawn from the University of Chicago’s own collections.
American Literature and Photography
MAPH, AMER 40150, 25150
Instructor: Megan Tusler
This class considers how photographic techniques spurred new literary methods. We’ll discuss how visual media impact the development of forms, methods, and genres of literature, and how pictures and novels can be read together. Students will learn how to consider the visual register in novels, and how the drive to make fiction “real,” or “photographic,” helps to shed light on many attendant issues – the question of evidence, the problem of reliability, the terms of objectivity. We will discuss the drive to narrate real events in photographic and literary terms, and the limits of representation. Furthermore, we will think carefully about how discourses of race and poverty are imbricated with the development of photographic technologies and methods, and how racial groups such as American Indians are invented and reinvented in the advent of the mobile camera. Primary texts include fiction by Stephen Crane, Ella Cara Deloria, and Ralph Ellison and secondary texts include works from Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, Judith Butler, Susan Sontag, and Gerald Vizenor.
A list of past course offerings is available upon request.