Undergraduate Course Inventory

American Studies

Introduction to American Studies
CAS AM 200 (4 credits)
An exploration of the multi-faceted themes of American society and culture in selected historical periods using a variety of approaches to interpret such topics as American art, literature, politics, material culture, and the mass media. Required of majors and minors. Carries humanities divisional credit in CAS.

What’s Boston?
CAS AM 202 (4 credits)
What’s Boston? explores Boston’s complex urban and natural world. University faculty share cutting-edge research, focusing on Boston as a PLACE and a guiding IDEA, introducing the perspectives of disparate scholarly disciplines. Discover where you stand and where you might go! No prerequisites. This course welcomes first-year students and is open to all BU undergraduates.

Native American Studies
CAS AM 220 (4 credits)
Examines diverse cultural expressions of Native peoples, from oral traditions to modern fiction, and their historic and political contexts. Employs interdisciplinary perspectives from Native American and Indigenous Studies to ask critical questions about the arts, identity, community, and creativity.

American Arts and Society
CAS AM 250 (4 credits)
Investigates key issues and themes in American arts and letters, typically offered in the Spring. Topic changes by semester and have previously included:

  • Cold War and Consensus in 1950s: Investigates key issues and themes in American arts and letters. Explores the tensions between domestic ideals and fractured reality in Cold War America. Combining film study, literary criticism, material culture, and cultural history, students gain a thorough, interdisciplinary understanding of the 1950s. Topics include Elvis Presley, McCarthyism, suburbia, and Disneyland.
  • America, Travel, and Gender: The idea of travel often conjures images of adventure, danger, and uncertainty, but it also brings promise of hope, and possibility. When we think of American travel writers, men typically dominate the field of usual suspects: Henry David Thoreau, Jack Kerouac, Mark Twain and many other others. Travel has often been understood as a form of escape from the “feminine” domestic space, but perhaps this interpretation leaves too many questions unanswered. For example: what do we make of Thoreau and Kerouac both maintaining strong ties with “home” while away? And what about the comfort each took in returning during the same time as Thoreau or Kerouac? Is there such a thing as “masculine” travel writing, and if so, do the male writers always engage in it? As a traveler, does Martha Gehorn writing on a journalism assignment in China in the 1930s have anything in common with Isabella Bird who crossed the Rocky mountains alone on horseback in the 1850s? Recently, scholars such as Deborah Paes de Barros and Sidonie Smith have shown that women have been traveling (and writing about travel) for centuries, but because of the limited access to the press, have been undervalued in scholarly discourse about travel writing. Other scholars, like Eric Leed, have suggested that travel has been gendered masculine, but perhaps wrongfully so. This course will simultaneously engage in travel writing and critical essays in order to challenger the most dominant assumptions about travel as it ties to gender. Likewise, we will also examine travel in film and music to further complicate the role travel plays in gender construction.
  • Neoliberalism in America: In response to the 1960s and 1970s U.S. and global social movements’ demands for revolutionary economic and cultural change, powerful corporations and officials learned how to incorporate the rhetoric and symbols of those movements into a project of upward redistribution of wealth: a economic and cultural project that scholars have come to call neoliberalism. This course explores the complicated politics of identity and cultural representation under this new economic regime. Through an examination of literary and popular fiction, rap, neo-soul music, and reality television, we will trace the history of the global epistemic shift to neoliberalism capitalism from the 1970s to the present, and investigate how neoliberal economies and culture have come to organize the racial, sexual, and gendered lives of citizens in the Americas. We will pay particular attention to neoliberal capitalism’s attempts to incorporate and co-opt many of the demands of 1960s and 1970s social movements, and the ways in which people throughout the Americas have staged resistance to the ideological and economic imperatives of neoliberal culture.

Perspectives on the American Experience
CAS AM 301 (4 credits)
American history and society as viewed by those who made it, typically offered in the Fall. Topic changes by semester and have included:

  • Balls, Nets, and Boards: Sports in American Culture: Amateur and professional sports are deeply connected to everyday American life. By analyzing texts, photographs, films, and architecture, this course explores the role that sports have played in American society and culture from the colonial era to the present.
  • America on Television: Television is often seen as providing a mirror through which we can view real life.  Sitcoms from Leave it to Beaver to Modern Family have claimed to offer a window onto the everyday life of the typical American family, dramas like The West Wing often explore more exceptional individuals or circumstances, and even the most far-fetched fantasies, from The Walking Deadto Once Upon a Time make some sort of statement about what it means to live in our increasingly complicated society. But who gets to decide what it means to be an American and how well do televised visions of “Americanness” reflect the historical and present-day realities of life in the United States?  This class will examine the ways in which television has represented and influenced social debates over issues like gender, race, historical events, and what it means to be an American in the 20th and 21st centuries.
  • The American Way of Eating: This course explores the cultural history of food in America. Through case studies and close readings including cookbooks, film, literature,  art and artifacts, the course considers the historical, political, and cultural implications of  the American way of eating.

Surfing and American Culture
CAS AM 363 (4 credits)
The history of the sport of surfing , tracing the cultural, technological, and economic aspects of its transformation from a Polynesian folkway to a global multi-billion dollar economic force.  Thematic emphasis on questions of American diversity and identity. 

Material Culture
CAS AM 367 (4 credits)
Introduction to the theory and practice of the interdisciplinary study of material culture, which includes everything we make and use, from food and clothing to art and buildings. Topic for Fall 2013: American Folk Art. Course explores the range of objects, created from the seventeenth century to the present, known as American Folk Art. Also offered as CAS AH 367.

American Folk Art
CAS AM 369 (4 Credits)
Explores the objects that collectors and museums identify as “American Folk Art”; examines how this label developed throughout the 20th century; familiarizes students with major collections and genres including painting, sculpture, textiles, and other media. Also offered as AH 369.

Seeing and Reading Boston: 1630-Present
CAS AM 371 (4 credits)
Historical exploration of Boston’s art, architecture, and literature. With frequent walking tours in and around the city, students confront specific neighborhoods that also appear in the literature. Independent research leading to a class presentation and final paper. This course covers the same material as was previously offered under the title of Art and Architecture in Boston, 1630 to the Present. Typically offered in the Summer.

American Buildings & Landscapes
CAS AM 385 (4 Credits)
This class provides an introductory analytic survey of American buildings and landscapes within their historical and cultural contexts. Students examine forces which have shaped the American built environment. Topics range from Indian mounds to commercial strips; Spanish missions to skyscrapers. Also offered as AH 385.

Special Topics in American Studies
CAS AM 501 (4 credits)
Previous topics have included:

  • American Culture in the Sixties: This course focuses on American culture of the 1960s and covers mainstream, independent, and experimental films, American theater of the 1960s, novels, and the essayistic contributions of the decade’s leading intellectuals. Because the sixties constitute one of the more dramatic periods of political and cultural change in recent history, the course is concerned with historical accounts and historiographic models that attempt to narrate and comprehend the decade.
  • Reading Boston – Conversations About the Real and Imagined City: Team taught by Professor William Huntting Howell (Department of English) and Professor Keith N. Morgan (Department of History of Art & Architecture). Multidisciplinary examination of Boston from Wampanoag settlement to the present. Explores how specific neighborhoods have developed and how they have been presented in literature. Includes frequent site visits around Boston. Serves as AM capstone.
  • Transnational American Studies: Drawing on examples from literature, history, art, photography, architecture, and material culture, this course explores the global origins of American culture. Topics will include the immigrant experience; the middle passage; transatlantic tourism; black internationalism and cultural crossings between Japan and the United States in the late nineteenth century. Readings by and about Emerson, John La Farge, Henry James, Kakuzo Okakura, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gertrude Stein, Langston Hughes, and others.

Special Topics in American Studies
CAS AM 502 (4 credits)
Previous Topics have included:

  • Mystic Orders and Secret Societies: Fraternalism in America: Interdisciplinary seminar exploring the activities and ideologies of fraternal organizations, including the Freemasons, Ku Klux Klan, and the Rebekahs, among others, and examining the role of secret societies in American culture. Culminates with an original research paper.
  • American Baseball: This interdisciplinary research seminar examines the history, culture, and science of the game from its shadowy origins in the early days of the nineteenth century, explosive growth in popularity during the Jazz Age, to the controversy-ridden Steroid Era. Also offered as CGS HU 500.
  • The American Cultural Landscape: This interdisciplinary research seminar challenges students to interpret the built environment as evidence of human activity. Buildings, landscapes, transportation networks, and religious compounds are examined as carriers of historical and cultural meaning. The field’s historiography is also addressed.

The American South in History, Literature, and Film
CAS AM 505 (4 Credits)
This course explores the American South through literature, film, and other sources. Considers what, if anything, has been distinctive about the Southern experience and how a variety of Americans have imagined the region over time. Also offered as HI 505.

Topics in American Material Culture
CAS AM 567 (4 Credits)
An interdisciplinary research seminar exploring a topic in American material culture. Specific content will vary by semester and may be repeated for credit as topics change. Previous topics have included: Material Culture of the Twentieth-Century United States.

Senior Independent Work
CAS AM 401, 402
Prerequisite: consent of Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Directed Study
CAS AM 491, 492
Prerequisite: consent of Director of Undergraduate Studies

Preservation Studies

Internships in Public History
CAS AM 313 (4 credits)
Students undertake supervised work in Boston-area institutions dedicated to the public presentation of America’s past. Students meet with the instructor to discuss themes in public history theory and practice that, together with the internship experience and related readings, inform a final research project and class presentation. Also offered as CAS HI 313.

Housing America
CAS AM 376 (4 credits)
What do dwellings say about the diversity of American experience? For over four centuries and across a continent, wealth and poverty, family and community, taste and technology have all shaped the meaning of home. Illustrated lecturers supplemented by field trips. Also offered as CAS AH 376.

New England Cultural Landscapes
CAS AM 524 (4 credits)
Examines the historic forces that have shaped the distinctive regional landscapes of New England and catalogues the changing forms that make up those landscapes. Also offered as CAS AH 525.

Places of Memory: Historic Preservation Theory and Practice
CAS AM 546 (4 credits)
Covers key aspects of the history, theory, and practice of historic preservation. Preservation is discussed in the context of cultural history and the changing relationship between existing buildings and landscapes and attitudes toward history, memory, invented tradition, and place. Also offered as CAS AH 546 and CAS HI 546.

Boston Architectural and Community History Workshop
CAS AM 555 (4 credits)
This course focuses on class readings, lectures, and research on a single neighborhood or community in Boston (or Greater Boston). Greatest emphasis is on using primary sources– land titles and deeds, building permits, fire insurance atlases and other maps. There are both group and individual research projects. Also offered as CAS AH 554 and CAS HI 569.

Affiliated Programs

Students in the American Studies Program also take courses in other departments with affiliated faculty. Some of the courses commonly taken by students are listed below. For a detailed course list for each department, please consult the Undergraduate Bulletin.
African American Studies
History of Art & Architecture
Film & Television
Political Science
Women’s & Gender Studies