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. 

Spring 2024:

AMER 24206/1 [41272]: Cultural Cartography of Bronzeville
Andrew Schachman, Fri : 10:30 AM-02:50 PM, 3/18/24 – 6/01/24, Cochrane-Woods 153
The city continually erases itself, replacing the spaces, architectures, objects and activities that resonate in the memory of its inhabitants. While this process is the consequence of familiar forces – capitalist development, socio-cultural changes, environmental responses – the phenomenon of perpetual erasure sometimes produces a form of collective amnesia, interfering with our ability to reconcile with our pasts, especially histories of systemic displacement, exclusion, and exploitation. This course, a hybrid of a seminar and studio, will examine the deep cultural and urbanistic implications of Chicago’s Bronzeville. Via poetry, fiction, history, testimony, interviews, photography,and films, students will recover Bronzeville’s layered history and contemporary implications. In the studio, students will develop drawings to connect these narratives so space and time. Via site visits and conversations, this course will connect with artists, architects and researchers currently completing projects within and adjacent to this area of the city.
AMER 24601/1 [44673]: Martin and Malcolm: Life and Belief
Dwight Hopkins, Wed : 09:30 AM-12:20 PM, 3/18/2024 – 6/01/2024, Swift Hall 200
This course examines the religious, social, cultural, political, and personal factors that went into the making of the two most prominent public leaders and public intellectuals emerging from the African American community in the 1950s and 1960s: Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. We will review their autobiographies, the domestic trends within the USA, and the larger international forces operating during their times. Their life stories provide the contexts for the sharp differences and surprising commonalities in their political thought and religious beliefs. At the end of their lives, were they still radical contrasts, sharing the same views, or had their beliefs shifted – did Malcolm become Martin and Martin become Malcolm?
AMER 25400/1 [44678]: The Bible in U.S. Politics: The Use and Abuse of Sacred Texts in the Public
Lee Hoffer, Tue Thu : 02:00 PM-03:20 PM, 3/18/24 – 6/01/24, Swift Hall 106
People across the political spectrum continue to cite the Bible to justify their viewpoints. Black Lives Matter protestors carried signs citing scriptural support for the rights of African Americans to life and justice, while some of those who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6th first marched around their state capitols in recreation of biblical Israel’s circling of the doomed city Jericho. How can the same book serve the political ends of such ideologically distinct movements? In this course, we will explore the variety of ways in which the Bible, especially the Christian New Testament, informs contemporary political discourse. We will discuss what the Bible is and where it comes from, and how an interpreter’s social location and culturally and historical-bound assumptions shape their interpretation. We will build upon this foundation by examining several contentious political issues in which the Bible is commonly invoked, including abortion, sexuality, immigration, and gun rights. We will analyze the key passages used by supporters of various policy positions to support their claims, situating these texts in their original contexts and highlighting the historical distance that problematizes their use today. Prior familiarity with biblical literature is not required.
AMER 33001/1 [44610]: Black Gods of the Black Metropolis
Matthew M. Harris, Wed : 10:30 AM-01:20 PM, 3/18/24 – 6/01/24, Swift Hall 201
This course examines the history and significance of the shifting and emergent forms of African American religious culture in the wake of the Great Migration (c.1915-1970). Focusing, initially, on how this process unfolded in Chicago, the course will both introduce select figures, movements, institutions, and popular cultures that emerged in the period, and consider to what ends they have been represented. Together, we will read both indispensable classics and innovative new works on the subject and consider how they have approached and addressed themes of, among others, race, space, class, gender, and sexuality. In addition, this course aims to emphasize how the so-called era of the “sects and cults” has and continues to raise important questions about the archives, representation, and narration of African American religion.

Winter 2024:

AMER 22110/1 [26472]: Religion in the Enlightenment: England and America:
Study in the historiographies of the Enlightenment in England and in America, with special attention to the “trans-Atlantic” communication of ideas regarding the nature of the person, religion, and the role of the political order.

AMER 22202/1 [26445]: Black Religious Protest in the U.S.
This course examines African American religious protest against the American nation for its actual history and its ideals in view of black oppression. The course begins with David Walker’s Appeal (1829) and ends with debates around Jeremiah Wright’s “God damn America” sermon. The course situates black religious protest amidst discussions of the American Jeremiad, a particular critique of the nation in relation to the divine, American exceptionalism, and racial injustice. We attempt to trace continuity and discontinuity, hope versus pessimism, and visions of a more perfect union in these public critiques of the nation.

AMER 22667/1 [26438]: The Christian Right
From the Gilded Age to the age of Donald Trump, conservatives Christians have played a major role in shaping American politics and culture. This course will use primary and secondary sources to explore the development of the Christian Right in the United States. We will answer essential questions about the movement: Who joins it? Who leads it? And who funds it? We will examine how conservative Christians approach not only “moral” issues like abortion but also issues like economic regulation and foreign policy. Finally, we will seek to answer the question: What is the future of the Christian Right in an increasingly diverse America?

AMER 27006/1 [23479]: Not Just the Facts: Telling About the American South
The great jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once observed: “The main part of intellectual education is not the acquisition of facts but learning how to make facts live.” This course concerns itself with the various ways people have striven to understand the American South, past and present. We will read fiction, autobiography, and history (including meditations on how to write history). Main themes of the course include the difference between historical scholarship and writing history in fictional form; the role of the author in each and consideration of the interstitial space of autobiography; the question of authorial authenticity; and the tension between contemporary demands for truthfulness and the rejection of “truth.”

AMER 27703/1 [23111]: Queer Modernism
This course examines the dramatic revisions in gender and sexuality that characterize the early twentieth century in the U.S. and Europe. 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? Our examination will center primarily on queer lives relegated to the social and political margins-lives of exile or those cut short by various forms of dispossession. Towards the end of the quarter, we will also consider how more recent cultural producers-and in particular Black filmmakers associated with the New Queer Cinema movement- have sought to imagine or in some sense recover queer lives and scenes that have been silenced or apparently lost to history. This class will double as an advanced introduction to queer theory, with a particular emphasis on literary criticism and cultural studies. (1830-1990; 20th/21st)

AMER 27708/1 [23127]: 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.

AMER 29000/1 [26559]: The American Culture Wars
Should we tear down statues of Confederate soldiers? Should religious institutions be exempt from public health regulations? How (if at all) should we regulate abortion? These questions are only the latest battlefields in the “culture wars,” the long-running conversation-or, more often, shouting match-about how Americans ought to live. This seminar will explore how Americans have wrestled with questions of morality and national identity since the country’s founding. Two questions will drive our discussion. First, why do certain issues become the subject of fierce cultural conflict? Second, do these conflicts enrich or undermine American democracy?


A list of past course offerings is available upon request.