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Courses Offered

For the most up-to-date information about courses offered through Saint Louis University’s Department of American Studies, consult the College of Arts and Sciences Academic Catalog.

Undergraduate Courses

ASTD 1000: Investigating America: An Introduction to American Studies 
What does it mean to be American? Is it citizenship or geographical location? Political ideals or shared culture? How does it change over time? This course introduces interdisciplinary methods to answer such questions, including analysis of images, literature, popular entertainment, and diverse experiences of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and nation. This course fulfills the cultural diversity in the U.S. requirement for the Arts and Sciences B.A./B.S. core.

ASTD 2100: Studies in American Photography
What can American photographs tell us about the past and the present, and about how Americans have thought about themselves and others? What can we learn from archives, the media, family albums, photography blogs, and Facebook snapshots about the role of photographs in crafting individual and collective identities? From the Civil War to Abu Ghraib, and from the daguerreotype to digital media, this course introduces students to critical methods in studying American photography. We will read a range of foundational texts about photography as well as recent American Studies approaches to visual culture analysis. This course fulfills the fine arts requirement for the Arts and Sciences B.A./B.S. core.

ASTD 2600 / AAM 2930-02 / POLS 2930-01: American Places: Empire & Identity in the US South and the Caribbean
Several cities in the US South and the Caribbean evolved from European slave colonies into places that today often struggle to overcome the ghosts of slavery and the specter of underdevelopment. This course examines the intertwined history and culture of the US South and the Caribbean, and the battle for self-determination in these formerly and currently colonized communities. The Caribbean independence movements and the US civil rights movement are some of the social uprisings that will come into center focus in class discussions. Other core topics include imperialism, migration, and tourism. Harry Belafonte films, reggae songs, beach photos, and government documents are some of the primary sources we will use to gain a better understanding of these interdependent regions. Through written assignments and digital projects we will document the historic and contemporary ties that bind the US South and the Caribbean islands. This course fulfills the cultural diversity in the US requirement for the Arts & Sciences B.A./B.S. core.

ASTD 2700: Gender, Race, Social Justice
This course examines the intersection of gender and race with other categories of analysis (such as class, religion, sexuality, and nation) in historical and contemporary social justice movements in the United States. Topics include the role of races in movements for gender equality, as well as the impact of gender on movements for racial justice.This course fulfills the Cultural Diversity in the U.S. requirement for the Arts and Sciences BA/BS core.

ASTD 2930 / WGST 2400: Gender and Popular Culture
Popular culture provides the stories and images that enable us to imagine and practice femininities and masculinities. This course explores popular culture's influence on understandings of gender and its intersections with other identity markers and focuses on how feminist concepts raise awareness of discrimination and oppression in pop culture.

ASTD 2930 / AAM 2930-01 / FSTD 2930: In Search of the Real: Spike Lee's America
Love him or loathe him, Spike Lee is undeniable. For more than twenty-five years, he has been one of America's best-known filmmakers, and one of the most visible and vocal figures in African American culture. This interdisciplinary American Studies course will survey Lee's career to understand how his films engage with American history, reify cultural moods and trends, and struggle to pin down specific moments for posterity. Along the way, the course will reconcile Lee's portrayal of America with additional historical and cultural accounts. It will also investigate Spike Lee as an artist, analyzing his body of work through established critical approaches, especially film studies. Crosslisted with Film Studies.

ASTD 3000 / AAM 3930 / WGST 3930: American Decades: Hip-Hop History and Culture
This critical introduction to hip-hop history and culture considers the production and consumption of the genre, tracing it from its 1970s subcultural beginnings to its current state of global popularity and crosscultural appeal. Its scope includes a wide range of stylistic, artistic, and musical practices, considering rap artists, DJs, b-boys, graffiti artists, fashion designers, producers, critics, and listeners as important actors making up the genre's diverse nature and culture. We consider topics such as geographic and political factors in the genre's spread and popularity, the processes of appropriation and recontextualization in hip-hop style and music, notions of authenticity and "realness," commercialization and luxury product placement, censorship of explicit depictions of sex and violence, and attitudes regarding misogyny and homophobia. Students will explore these topics through analysis of varied media-including album covers, music videos, lyrics, concert footage, film, ad campaigns, and interviews. Participants adopt a sociohistorical approach to examine the conditions for the creation and continued existence of hip-hop, while using frameworks such as Marxism and feminist theory to analyze issues of power and its distribution in hip-hop culture. This course fulfills the cultural diversity in the U.S. requirement for the Arts and Sciences B.A./B.S. core.

ASTD 3020 / ENGL 3560: American Mosaic: Literature and Diversity
In Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior (1975), the narrator describes how "When we Chinese girls listened to the adults talk-story, we learned that we failed if we grew up to be but wives or slaves." This narrative is not the only one that links storytelling to ethnic and gender identity formation-and, at times, subversion. Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony (1977) begins with the reminder, "I will tell you something about stories. . . . They aren't just entertainment. Don't be fooled." More recently, Sandra Cisneros's Caramelo (2002) admonishes its reader to "Tell me a story, even if it's a lie." What is the function of storytelling in these texts, and for writers of color? Do stories create and sustain ethnic and gender identities-or do they trouble our expectations of these identities? Can stories be used as a form of domination or resistance? Questions like these will form the center of this course as we read contemporary multiethnic fiction that tells us about "talking-story."  This course fulfills the cultural diversity in the U.S. requirement for the Arts and Sciences B.A./B.S. core, the upper division literature requirement for the Arts and Sciences B.A. core, and the literature requirement for the Arts and Sciences B.S. core.

ASTD 3000: American Decades - Culture Wars after WWII
In post-WWII America, ideals like consumerism and the nuclear family were thought to be central to national identity. However, growing counter-cultures demonstrated that Americans were not as unified as they believed. Through pop culture, politics, and social history, this course explores how competing perspectives evolved into what we now call "culture wars:" political conflicts over the meaning of America.This course fulfills the cultural diversity in the U.S. requirement for the Arts and Sciences B.A./B.S. core.

ASTD 3100: Making the American City: Culture, Space, and 20th-century U.S. Urbanisms
This seminar examines the cultural history of the U.S. city, 1880s to present. Students consider how changing city environments have shaped urban cultural communities and processes of identity-formation over time. Meanwhile, using fiction, film, paintings, photography, and other primary-source genres, participants explore relationships between urban space and representational practices in the arts and popular culture.

ASTD 3200: The Urban Crisis
This course examines the political, cultural, economic, and demographic transformations that have remade US cities and their metropolitan areas in the decades since World War II. Over the course of the semester, students will investigate the history and legacy of urban problems such as racial segregation and poverty, white flight and suburban sprawl, public housing and urban renewal, riots and insurrections, job loss, and industrial change. Participants will also consider a number of the approaches developed by planners, policymakers, social activists, and ordinary residents to address these challenges, as well as several examples of how Americans have tried to make sense of the changing urban landscape in the realms of art, literature, popular culture, and social criticism. Along the way, participants will regularly engage with the city around them, pausing frequently to consider local examples, spaces, and issues in greater depth.This course fulfills the cultural diversity in the U.S. requirement and three credits of the social science requirement for the Arts and Sciences B.A./B.S. core.

ASTD 3400 / SOC 3930 / CCJ 3401: Prisons in American Culture
Using history, social theory, film, fiction, and autobiography, the course surveys the cultural history of incarceration in America, and examines the place of incarceration in American culture. Because it is crosslisted with sociology, this course fulfills three credits of the Social Science requirement for the Arts and Sciences B.A./B.S. core, regardless of whether it is taken under the American studies or sociology course number.

ASTD 3500 / THEO 3930: Religion and American Culture: American Catholicism
In this course we will explore the history of American Catholicism from the colonial era to the present, examining Catholic institutions, beliefs, people, and events and exploring Catholicism as an important element of American culture. We will ask how Catholic individuals and ideas have contributed to major U.S. debates over democracy, slavery, social justice, gender, sexuality, immigration, and more. We will explore Catholicism (and anti-Catholicism) as a theme in American literature, television, and film, and probe the way that ideas about Catholicism and images of Catholics have shaped public discourse. And throughout, we will examine Catholic practice and material culture, asking how Catholic faith has been lived, defined, and redefined, by a great variety of Americans, over the course of U.S. history. This course fulfills the 3000-level theology requirement for the Arts and Sciences B.A. core.

ASTD 3600: American Food and Cultures
This course investigates American foodways through the lens of agriculture, labor, landscape, festival, the body, ethnicity, ethics, and gender. Its goals are to teach students about the meaning of food and how the simple act of eating can reveal interconnections among so many diverse aspects of society and the environment.

ASTD 4100: Senior Seminar
This course is designed to guide students through researching and writing a senior thesis and, in the process, to teach them how to be good critics. The senior thesis is the embodiment of the knowledge and training students have garnered in their undergraduate education in American Studies. When completed, it should be a strong expression of students' analytical and writing skills, which will be useful for whatever career they plan to pursue. In the class, students focus on the step-by-step process of producing a 30- to 40-page research paper, read and discuss practical guides to research and writing, and use the classroom as a forum to critique individual projects. Each student plays a vital role in the development of every other student's work. At the end of the course, students will have honed their research and writing skills, developed strong techniques for critiquing their peers' work, and produced a research project that they can use as a writing sample as they pursue their respective further endeavors.

ASTD 4930: Chicana/o Literature and Culture
This course uses Mexican American literature in conjunction with other cultural forms—such as film, music, and visual art—as a point of departure for the study of major topics in Chicana/o culture and history, including indigeneity, language, borders, immigration, labor, gender, and colonialism.

Graduate Courses

ASTD 5000: Perspectives in American Studies
Introductory graduate seminar offering a survey of major theoretical and methodological frameworks for the interpretation of American culture over time. In this course, first-year graduate students examine the intersection of history, text, and theory in the interdisciplinary study of the American experience, consider the historical development of American Studies as an academic field of inquiry, and engage with readings in areas such as Marxism, feminism, semiotics, post-structuralism, post-colonialism, cultural studies, critical race theory, and queer theory. Participants will leave the seminar with a strong understanding of selected major texts that have shaped the contemporary practice of American Studies and related disciplines. Offered every year. N.B.: First-year Ph.D. students will complete a SP18 qualifying exam on materials covered in ASTD 5000 and one other graduate course taken during the 2017-18 academic year. Required of first-year M.A. and Ph.D. students.

ASTD 5010: African American Politics, Culture, and Identity
This graduate seminar explores the connections and tensions between politics, culture, and identity in African American experiences and public movements. Covering the mid-nineteenth century through the contemporary period, we will focus on activism, issues of representation, and the multiple strategies within a diverse African American population, paying attention to issues of gender, class, religion, region, migration, and national identity.

ASTD 5020: Frontiers and Borderlands: Contact and Conquest in the American Imagination
In 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner announced the westward frontier was the defining process of American history. He insisted that confrontation with environmental wilderness and indigenous people had resulted in a unique American culture and identity. Intellectuals and artists since have interrogated this famous thesis, at times embracing it, at times rejecting it, and at times reconceptualizing it to give it new meanings. Exploring these turns, this course asks the following questions: What are the differences between "frontiers," "borderlands," and "the West?" Are these places, processes, or symbols? How have they been represented, contested, and mobilized? Why are they salient for American Studies? We will take an interdisciplinary approach to exploring these questions, examining a variety of sources and methods: literary, historical, and visual.

 ASTD 5700: Metropolitan America
Introduction to the study of American urban and suburban life. Course examines American cities, their cultures, and their built environments as these change over time. Students engage scholarship, develop visual literacy for "reading" the metropolis, and analyze the ways in which built environments shape and reflect American cultural meaning.

ASTD 5900: The Practice of American Studies
The goal of this course is to prepare graduate students to become practicing members of the interdisciplinary humanities community, whether inside or outside of the higher-education industry, and to enable them to engage thoughtfully and critically with the social, political, and economic forces currently reshaping the various institutions in which humanities labor takes place. Over the course of the semester, participants will learn and practice a variety of practical skills, cultivate a broadened awareness of professional options available to them, and consider contemporary debates over an array of issues in higher education, including academic freedom, institutional governance, labor practices, evolving curricula, and political engagement. Required of all American studies Ph.D. students during the second or third year of study.

ASTD 5930: Chicana/o Literature and Culture
This course uses Mexican American literature in conjunction with other cultural forms—such as film, music, and visual art—as a point of departure for the study of major topics in Chicana/o culture and history, including indigeneity, language, borders, immigration, labor, gender, and colonialism.

ASTD 5930: Cultures of American Religion
According to a recent American Quarterly article, American studies has had a "long, self-conscious, and productive engagement with the very category of 'religion' itself, as a category no less simple or transparent than 'race,' 'nation,' and other organizing themes of our work." This course will introduce students to that scholarship: to religion as a topic and category of analysis in the study of modern U.S. history and culture. We will begin by exploring definitional and theoretical questions: what is this thing we call "religion"? What are the kinds of things we might be able to say about it? We will also analyze some of the major grand narratives scholars have produced about American religious history. What is the shape of the story they tell about religion in the United States? What are the major question, themes, and turning points? What is included, what gets left out, and how has this changed over time? And, finally, we will explore some of the most exciting recent scholarship on religion and American culture, focusing in particular on the currently vibrant themes of race, gender, sexuality, material culture, religious pluralism, medicine, capitalism, the law, and the state.

ASTD 5930 / WGS 5930: Women of Color and Feminism
In 1851, former slave Sojourner Truth spoke to a crowd of both supporters and hecklers at the Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio. There, she pointed out that the nineteenth-century ideology of femininity-inflected by purity, piety, domesticity, and submissiveness-was also a racialized discourse that excluded African American women under a regime of slavery. "That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages. ... Nobody ever helps me into carriages...!," she pointed out, reportedly rhetorically asking, "And ain't I a woman?" For more than 150 years since, not only black women, but also Latinas, Asian American women, Arab American women, Native American women, and third-world women have continued to experience, theorize, and subvert this intersectional "matrix of domination," at times at odds with feminist thought that tends to be dominated by whites, and with civil rights and ethnic nationalist discourses that tend to be dominated by men. In doing so, women of color have produced a heterogeneous body of feminist thought to express their diverse perspectives, explain their experiences of oppression, enrich their communities, and empower themselves while working towards social justice for all people. This course will examine this genealogy, its contexts, and its contours, with particular attention to the time period after the civil rights and women's liberation movements.

ASTD 5930-01: Ideas and Intellectuals in Twentieth Century America
Over the past century, the United States has been riven by debates in which intellectuals and their ideas have played starring roles. This seminar will explore such debates in the United States, from the late nineteenth century to the present. Topics will include: debates about the relationship between the self, the community, and the state; about the future of the nation in a globalizing world; about the intersections between religious and secular authority; about the politics of difference and the discourse of rights; and about the very definition of intellectual work itself. This course will focus in particular on new scholarship.

ASTD 5930-02: What Makes a Man? Manhood and Meaning in American Culture
From dueling among Southern "men of honor" to fistfights on the floor of Congress, from the "self-made men" of the frontier to the boxing ring of the "Fight of the Century," from the frontlines of warfare to icons like Ernest Hemingway or James Dean, and from fraternity rushes to the National Beard and Moustache Growing Championships, this course takes the question "What makes a man?" seriously by examining the contested sites of manly conduct throughout American history and among American cultures.

ASTD 6000: Mythbusting and Mythmaking in Recent American Studies Scholarship
It is widely known, if not always well understood, that many full-blown myths circulate in American culture, and that these mythic discourses often serve to obscure people's view of the histories for which those myths are substitutes. What's less well known is the precise role of academic scholarship in the career of such myths-sometimes in uncovering them, and sometimes in propping them up. In this seminar we will examine two areas of American mythmaking, one that surrounds the Vietnam War, and another concerning the Civil War and its aftermath. In addition, we will take a few detours to briefly visit other precincts of Mythland; and students will identify one mythic construct and carefully critique it with their own scholarship.

ASTD 6020 / POLS 6700 / WGST 5930: American Political Thought
This course focuses on selected ideas, issues, and institutions that have been central to the U.S. Constitution and the practice of American constitutionalism, from the founding era to the present. Readings emphasize seminal works in American political thought, which are supplemented by historical accounts, illustrative literature, and contemporary analyses.

ASTD 6100: Dissertation Colloquium
This course is designed to facilitate the dissertation-writing process. Seminar discussions will focus on peer review of student generated works-in-progress. Required of all Ph.D. students. May be repeated for credit at adviser's discretion.

ASTD 6400: Transnational America
This course introduces students to the history, intellectual trajectories, and institutional impact of the "transnational turn" in American Studies. Focusing on 19th and 20th century cultural, economic, political, and religious encounters in Africa, Asia, and Europe, participants investigate the varied manifestations and wide-ranging impact of U.S. global engagement.

ASTD 6930: Civil Rights Activism and Cultural Memory
In the last twenty years scholars have challenged almost every aspect of our collective narrative of the African American civil rights movement. Continuing debates over the roles of women, gender, class, race, religion, and region bring new interpretations and new definitions of what the boundaries of civil rights activism were. The Civil Rights movement is now "long"; or did 1955 mark something new? Was it a Southern phenomenon or also a Northern one? What about the Midwest? Did men lead and women organize? Should the Black Power movement be understood as a separate new movement or yet another shift in the ongoing Black Freedom Struggle? We will read both classic and recent scholarship addressing these questions, providing students with the opportunity to follow debates and "turns" in a vibrant and still-growing field. But we will also ask questions about the significance of both academic and popular narratives of civil rights activism: Why do these different narratives of civil rights activism matter? What roles do they play in recent political and social debates and how we view emerging protest movements? In addition to the historiography of the civil rights and Black Power movements, we will also look at scholarship on visual culture, popular history, and public memory to examine the significance of iconic images and narratives of civil rights.

ASTD 6930: The Harlem Renaissance 
The first decades of the twentieth century witnessed the beginning of the "Great Migration" of African Americans from the rural south to the urban north and west, where many hoped to find increased employment opportunities, and decreased prejudice, discrimination, and racialized violence. Cities like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles saw the establishment of vibrant black communities and a subsequent explosion in black visual arts, music, literature, and intellectual work. The most renowned of these sites was Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s, during what is now commonly known as the "Harlem Renaissance" or "New Negro Movement." This course will explore the literary arm of this movement and its intersections with the broader cultural history of the period, putting literature into dialogue with black politics, music, and visual and performing arts.

ASTD 6930-01: Visualizing Race
This seminar examines cultural depictions of race and racial otherness in visual images, primarily in the late nineteenth and twentieth-century U.S. Drawing on theories of visual culture and racial constructions, we look at the uses of racialized images as political speech, as cultural expression, and as entertainment.

ASTD 6930-01: The Cultural Studies Movement: Origins and Contemporary Practice
Seminar covers the rise of British cultural studies and its influence on scholarship in American Studies and related fields. Participants will examine the history of British cultural studies as an intellectual movement, with special attention to the Birmingham School of practice; they will become familiar with selected theoretical and methodological approaches that characterize particular phases of cultural studies research in North America, the U.K., and elsewhere; and they will engage with recent American Studies works that continue or challenge this intellectual tradition. Culminating projects will make sustained and deliberate use of contemporary cultural studies concepts and methods to analyze specific artifacts or aspects of recent U.S. popular culture. Open (with instructor permission) to graduate students from any humanities or social science department.

ASTD 6930-02: Many Midwests: Race and Citizenship in the American Heartland
The Mid-West as a region has received relatively little attention in the historical and cultural study of race, citizenship, and civil rights. The early to mid-nineteenth century regional divide between North and South over the issue of enslavement has shaped a much broader academic study of race and region into the present. Scholars of the West have added that region's different ethnic, economic, and political patterns to the North-South model, most recently arguing for the centrality of Western states in twentieth-century reconstructions of race, civil rights, and citizenship. Where does this leave the Mid-West? Much work has been done that focuses on these issues in Midwestern locations, but little of it considers or theorizes the heartland as a region. We will look first at regional studies that examine the "Mid-West" as a geographic and cultural entity with ambiguous borders. We will examine several local studies of developing race relations, civil rights movements, and other struggles around citizenship in specific Mid-Western cities and states. Of the city-studies, Chicago and Detroit are arguably over-represented in publications; this unit will emphasize scholarship on smaller cities (e.g. Indianapolis, Cleveland) as well as on cities and states further west (Milwaukee, the Dakotas, Kansas, etc.). Much of the available scholarship also focuses on African Americans, particularly emphasizing the civil rights movement, but other ethnic groups will be included as well. Our final unit will focus on "border" or ambiguous locations to consider the usefulness and limits of considering them within or against the Mid-West.