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This year, I'm teaching the following courses at Williams College

American Studies 222: Hip Hop Culture

Cross-listed in English, Music, and Africana Studies

The course examines how young people of color created hip hop culture in the postindustrial ruins of New York City, a movement that would eventually grow into a global cultural industry. Hip hop music producers have long practiced “diggin’ in the crates”–a phrase that denotes searching through record collections to find material to sample. In this course, we will examine the material and technological history of hip hop culture, with particular attention to hip hop’s tendency to sample, remix, mash-up, and repurpose existing media artifacts to create new works or art. We will use a media archaeological approach to examine the precise material conditions that first gave rise to graffiti art, deejaying, rapping, and breakdancing, and to analyze hip hop songs, videos, and films. Media archaeology is a critical and artistic practice that seeks to interpret the layers of significance embedded in cultural artifacts. How does hip hop archaeology remix the past, the present, and the future? How do the historical, political, and cultural coding of hip hop artifacts change as they increasingly become part of institutional collections, from newly established hip hop archives at Cornell and Harvard to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture?

American Studies 372: Technologies of Race

Cross-listed in Africana Studies and Science & Technology Studies

This course is an introduction to theories, methods, sources, and approaches for interdisciplinary research and creativity in and through the interdisciplinary field of American Studies. We will focus on the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, and disability with modern media technologies, from early photography in the mid-19th century to contemporary trends in machine learning and artificial intelligence. Through a process of shared inquiry, course participants will investigate the ways that historical legacies of oppression and futuristic speculation combine to shape human lives in the present under racial capitalism. Whether analyses of the automation of militarized border control in Texas, or of the ways that obsolete, racist concepts are embedded in machine vision and surveillance systems, the readings in the course will chart out the key moments in the co-evolution of race and technology in the Americas. Students will gain a working competence in all four tracks of the American Studies major (Space and Place; Comparative Studies in Race, Ethnicity, and Diaspora; Arts in Context; and Critical and Cultural Theory). Finally, we will also explore alternative paths toward a future where technology might help to effect the abolition of oppressive structures and systems, rather than continue to perpetuate them.

American Studies 101: America: The Nation and Its Discontents

This course introduces students to the capacious and extraordinarily varied interdisciplinary field of American Studies. First institutionalized in the mid-twentieth century, American Studies once bridged literature and history in an attempt to discover a singular American identity. Over 80 years later, many American Studies scholars reject this exceptionalizing rhetoric, working instead to understand how genocide, enslavement, colonization, and militarism/war are foundational to the formation of the U.S. nation-state, and how marginalized and minoritized peoples have survived through, rebelled against, and created new visions for collectivity, relationality, and community. In this course, students will be introduced to the dynamic ways American Studies work links to ethnic studies; women, gender, and sexuality studies; literary studies, political science; critical geography; critical media studies; disability studies; history; anthropology; sociology; art; and more. We will anchor this array of approaches by examining beliefs, practices, places, and migrations that have shaped and been shaped by the U.S., and we will pay particular attention to the people who labor for, have been racialized by, and who think critically about “America.” Through close reading; discussions; and analyses of music, art, and film, we will collectively reckon with the questions of who and what makes “America” — hemispherically, transnationally, globally. In the process, students will be encouraged to co-create a learning experience rooted in praxis, political consciousness, intersectionality, and mutual support.

American Studies 412: Cold War Archaeology

Cross-listed in Africana Studies and Science & Technology Studies

In this advanced American Studies course, we will examine Cold War history and culture with attention to the intersection of racialization and nuclear paranoia. The concurrent unfolding of the struggle for Civil Rights and the national strategy of Civil Defense played out against the backdrop of a global ideological battle, as the United States and the Soviet Union fought each other for planetary domination. From the scientific fantasy of bombproofing and “safety in space,” to the fears of both racial and radioactive contamination that drove the creation of the American suburbs, the affective and material dimensions of nuclear weaponry have, from the beginning, been entangled with race. Drawing on the critical and analytical toolkits of American Studies and media archaeology, students will dig beneath the surface of received narratives about the arms race, the space race, and race itself. Students will uncover generative connections between mineral extraction, the oppression of Indigenous populations, the destructive legacies of “urban renewal,” and the figure of the “typical American family” huddled in their backyard bunker. Finally, this course will examine the ways in which the Cold War exceeds its historical boundaries, entangles with the ideology and military violence of the Global War on Terror, and persistently shapes the present through its architectural, affective, and cultural afterlives.

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