American Studies Courses

Course Offerings in American Studies:

The University of Chicago does not have a formal American Studies department, but there’s a robust study of American culture, history, literature, music, film, art, and more. The Scherer Center identifies some of these courses with its own cross-listing for American Studies, but this certainly does not reflect all of the American Studies at the University. If you believe that a course should be cross-listed or wish to identity your course with American Studies, please contact Nolan Kishbaugh.

Note the course numbers for all American Studies classes are almost always the same as the parent department, but simply substitute the AMER prefix. 

Autumn 2021:

Art History: ARTH 25401. Cities in Protest.

PQ: As with most architecture studio courses offered, consent is required to enroll, for fit, not prior experience. Interested students should email the instructor (Geoff Goldberg, Some design or drawing experience preferred. Long considered as condensers of social interaction, cities are here examined as to their response under significant public protest. Such events are understood as “stress-tests” to conventional urban theory as they alter, if only temporarily, previously understood conventional relationships of public and private domains. The project then is to document, assess, and understand those changes. Initial work focuses on documentation of protests using architecturally based techniques, to provide clearer understanding and materials for comparison and discussion. Attention is on the year of 1968, a time when many cities were taken over by conflagrations. Drawings and digital models are to be prepared from detailed review of photographs, news reports and histories to document the events. A second area of investigation involves representation and how differing techniques of graphic projection impacts our understandings. A range of representational strategies are to be compared and assessed as to how they respond to the changes in urban spatialities engendered by protests. Work then concludes with individual investigations of more contemporary protests, identified and discussed together. Instructor: G. Goldberg.

Winter 2022

English: ENGL 27703/47703: Queer Modernism  

This course examines the dramatic revisions in gender and sexuality that characterize Anglo-American modernity. Together, we will read literary texts by queer writers to investigate their role in shaping the period’s emergent regimes of sex and gender. We’ll consider queer revisions of these concepts for their effect on the broader social and political terrain of the early twentieth century and explore the intimate histories they made possible: What new horizons for kinship, care, affect, and the everyday reproduction of life did modernist ideas about sex and gender enable? At the same time, we will seek to “queer” modernism by shifting our attention away from high literary modernism and towards modernism’s less-canonical margins. Our examination will center on queer lives relegated to the social and political margins—lives of exile or those cut short by various forms of dispossession. This class will double as an advanced introduction to queer theory, with a particular emphasis on literary criticism.  Instructor: Anges Malinowska 

English: ENGL 27708/47708: Feeling Brown, Feeling Down 

Taking its cue from José Esteban Muñoz’s 2006 essay in Signs, this course interrogates negative affective categories as they are expressed in US ethnic literature in the 20th and 21st centuries. As Muñoz argues, “depression has become one of the dominant affective positions addressed within the cultural field of contemporary global capitalism”; this course explores orientations such as depression, shame, sickness, and melancholy to think critically about racial formations amidst capital and how these are posed alongside literary questions. Primary texts may include Larsen, Ozeki, Morrison, and Okada; secondary texts may include Ahmed, Freud, Muñoz, Cheng, and Spillers.  Instructor: Megan Tulser

Law, Letters, and Society: LLSO 28030/HIST 28305:  Alcohol and American Society

Contests about America’s political economy and legal regime had long been tied to alcohol policy and drinking culture when the Sons of Liberty made Boston’s Green Dragon Tavern their unofficial “headquarters of the Revolution.” Americans’ drinking habits have remained a key battleground ever since. This class will explore major themes in the development of America’s legal regime and its political, economic, social, and cultural life from the colonial era to the present through the nation’s relationship with intoxicating beverages. Topics covered may include rum’s role in empire; the role of colonial tavern culture in the Revolution; persistent conflicts over taxation; ethnoreligious conflict surrounding the temperance movement; the legacy of the common-law doctrines regulating public houses in civil-rights law; Prohibition and organized crime; the brewing industry’s roles in financialization, corporate consolidation, and labor struggles; the construction of homogenized consumer culture and the postmodern quest for “authenticity;” and the laws shaping craft brewing. Through discussions drawing on primary sources as well as the history, social science, and law literatures, we will analyze how Americans defined the bounds of the political community, individual rights, and state power. Students will build on these experiences for their final research papers, which will use primary sources to explore a subject of their choice related to these themes. Instructor: Robert Kaminski     

Spring 2022

Art History: ARTH 24192. Imagining Pittsburgh’s Common Buildings. (=ARCH 24192).This class is an architectural studio based in the common residential buildings of Pittsburgh and the city’s built environment. (It has been offered for Chicago in other academic years and in Summer 2021, and will likely be again in the future.) While design projects and architectural skills will be the focus of the class, it will also incorporate readings, a small amount of writing, some social and geographical history, one or two required visits to Pittsburgh, and some additional explorations around Chicago. The studio will: (1) give students interested in pursuing architecture or the study of cities experience with a studio class and some skills related to architectural thinking, (2) acquaint students intimately with the common residential buildings and built fabric of a different place, while also comparing that place to our own, and (3) situate all this within a context of social thought about residential architecture, common buildings, housing, and the city. Instructor: Luke Joyner 

English: ENGL 27712/47712: Spectral Modernism 

In this course, we examine modernist cultural objects that are preocuppied with the ghostly, the untimely, and the haunted. We will consider the figure of the ghost in the gothic modernist tradition and the emergent horror genre as a tool for grappling with the shocks of modernity, as well as the disturbing sedimentations of history and tradition. We will also be interested in more metaphorical hauntings. We will look, for instance, at texts that are “haunted” by the ethical and affective claims of the past and of history; that engage subjectivity or memory as a site of fantasy, otherness, repression, or trauma; that consider the spectral qualities of capitalist production, as well as of modern race, gender, and sex relations; and that resist in various ways the progressive futurity so often associated with the culture of modernity. Finally, we will consider the development and reception of modernist media and technology—like the telegraph, the photograph, the x-ray, and the cinema—as these were bound up with the supernatural and the phantasmic. The seminar focuses mostly on American modernism and modernity. While our primary concern is with literary texts, the course syllabus also includes film, photography, music, and theoretical writings drawn from hauntology and spectrality studies.  Instructor: Anges Malinowska 

Law, Letters, and Society: LLSO 28020/HIST 28811:  American Conservatism since 1945

American conservatism was at a low ebb in the early 1950s. It was politically irrelevant and, perhaps worse, boasted no coherent intellectual movement. Yet the conservative movement’s path from the height of the (supposed) midcentury consensus through the rise of Reagan, the Tea Party, and Trump stands at the heart of America’s modern political history. And conservative politicians could draw upon a vast new network of economists, lawyers, think tanks, and other organizations for support. This course will explore the American right’s emergence from the wilderness to success at the ballot box, in public-policy debates, and in the courtroom. It will draw upon primary sources as well as the history and social science literatures to analyze conservatism as an intellectual, sociopolitical, and legal movement. We will examine the different traditions making up the American right, the institutions that brought them together, and the movement’s history. Did conservatism represent a single coherent movement? What did it (aim to) conserve? What were the roles of corporate power, religion, libertarianism, populism, and racial bias in its ascendance? How did Chicago-School economists and the conservative legal movement shape the polity? The class will conclude with a unit exploring the present political moment. What were the origins of Trumpism? Was it a break with conservatism’s past or an evolution of the movement? What do current debates bode for the future of American politics? Instructor: Robert Kaminski     

A list of past course offerings is available upon request.