Introduction to Asian American Studies

Introductory level undergraduate lecture

This interdisciplinary course confronts the realities of racism in the United States through the lens of Asian American history and culture. It offers a critical introduction to the multiple, heterogeneous histories, cultural productions, and issues that shape the study of Asians in the United States. By reading a range of historical, legal, theoretical, and cultural texts, we will explore issues and employ methodologies central to the field of Asian American Studies. What are the formative experiences and histories that define Asian America?  What is the relationship of Asian Americans to the U.S. nation-state?  Who is included in the category “Asian American”?  Who/what decides?  How have conceptions of Asian America shifted over time?  In approaching these questions, the course will focus broadly on the topics of identity and community formations, immigration, citizenship, gender, sexuality, labor, capitalism, and (post)colonialisms in Asian America. As we move through the course, our perspective will be both national and transnational in scope, including a focus on major concepts and issues of Asian America in a domestic context and a broader consideration of the ways in which migrations, war, imperialism, and global capitalism have affected the lives of Asians in the U.S. historically and in contemporary times.

Prisons, Race, and Terror

Upper level undergraduate seminar

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. In addition to the more than 2 million people imprisoned under the criminal justice system, the U.S. government captures even more people into carceral spaces within and beyond its borders. This course examines the U.S. prison regime—manifested not only in the prison as a physical place or institution, but also enacted in practices that seek to shore up state authority by exercising extraordinary power over prisoners. Reading scholarship in critical ethnic studies, particularly regarding U.S. prisons, immigration, and warfare, we will examine three areas of U.S. imprisonment—criminal justice, immigrant detention, and martial imprisonment. We will focus on narratives told from the perspectives of prisoners—in autobiographies, documentary films, and testimonies. We will also examine the archive of the Texas After Violence Project (a subsidiary of the Human Rights Documentation Initiative), an organization that collects the oral histories of people closely affected by the death penalty. We will closely analyze select oral histories from this archive from a range of perspectives on capital punishment including relatives of murder victims and of the executed; prosecutors advocating for the death penalty; and priests and activists who seek to end it.

Immigration, Law, and Rights

Upper level undergraduate seminar

This interdisciplinary course explores the histories, cultures, and experiences of im/migration to the United States by examining cultural productions (literary and visual narratives and texts) alongside legal discourses (legislation, federal court cases, legal scholarship) and historical analyses. Informed by critical race theory, ethnic studies, and cultural studies scholarship, we will pay particular attention to the tensions between the legal discourses and practices that seek to regulate and manage im/migrants and the cultural productions that reveal the limits and contradictions of the law.  Some questions we will consider through the semester include: What are defining encounters that have shaped im/migrant lives and cultures? How do cultural studies inform our understanding of what it means to be an im/migrant under U.S. law? How have im/migrants challenged notions of U.S. nationhood and legal regimes? 

We will begin by considering what is at stake in looking at cultural and legal texts together within a comparative ethnic studies frame. The course then examines the closing and opening of U.S. borders to regulate the entry of im/migrants, giving particular attention to the case of Chinese Exclusion—the first racially based prohibition on immigration. We will also pay close attention to the relations between capitalism, labor, and nation. The course concludes by considering recent crises over immigration and immigrant activism, particularly regarding border violence, immigrant detention, and education.

Immigrant, Women, Labor

Intermediate level undergraduate seminar

This course examines the intersections of gender, migration, and labor, with a particular focus on immigrant women of color in the United States. Through transnational and woman-of-color feminist lenses, we will investigate how global capitalist forces both disrupt local economies, compelling women to migrate from their homes across national borders, and then channel these women into limited employment opportunities in some of the most exploitative industries in the United States, including manufacturing, agricultural, and domestic work. We will pay attention to both productive and reproductive labor, particularly as the labor of care becomes increasingly commodified and reliant on immigrant women workers. We will thus examine the relations between immigrant women workers and their employers—not only agribusinesses and factories, but also U.S. families who employ domestic workers to care for their homes, children, and elders.

As an interdisciplinary course, we will examine these issues through a range of texts, including theory, history, literature, films, visual culture, and activist organizing.

U.S. Race and Empire

Intermediate level undergraduate seminar

This interdisciplinary course invites students to thoughtfully examine histories and narratives of U.S. imperialism and racism. Its investigation begins from the following concepts: that the United States has long held and continues to maintain imperial powers across the globe and that U.S. imperial power is inextricably tied to the workings of racial difference and hierarchy. Further, it examines U.S. racism and imperialism not solely as political and military ventures, but also a cultural project.  Drawing on methods from cultural studies, comparative ethnic studies, and feminist studies, this course will focus on the movement of imperial and racial power not only in more obvious sites of governmental action (like military bases or warfare), but also in an extensive range of everyday practices in which ordinary people participate. We will therefore examine histories and narratives of U.S. imperialism not only in historical texts and government documents, but also in works of cultural production, like literature, film, and visual culture.

Some of the questions that will guide us through the material include: How has U.S racial imperialism been historically produced? What has made it possible?  By what (multiple) means has it been accomplished economically, politically, and culturally?  How is it experienced “over there” and “at home”?  How has U.S. racial imperialism helped define U.S. national culture and subjectivity? 

Gender, Migration, & Rights

Introductory level undergraduate seminar

The nation-state of a person’s citizenship is supposed to ensure that a person’s rights are recognized and respected. What then happens if a person moves beyond his/her country of citizenship? Are her/his rights recognized once s/he moves beyond national borders? What if the person is persecuted by her own country/family/society and must leave its territory for her own survival? What if s/he leaves because s/he would otherwise starve?  And how does her/his gender affect the recognition of her/his rights? How are the processes of migration always gendered?

This interdisciplinary course deploys a transnational and women-of-color feminist lens to examine the relationship among gender, the movement of people across national borders, and rights discourses, with particular attention paid to human rights discourses in the United States. We will consider how gender impacts the reasons why people migrate, how they migrate, how their rights (as refugees, as migrants, as workers, as citizens, as humans) are recognized, and how they can find redress for rights violations. We will look at historical texts, as well as the work of cultural workers and activists.

Race, Memory, and Violence


Upper level undergraduate seminar


“The past is never dead. It is not even past.”

                – William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

“Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.”

    – Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”

“History is a battle royale, a contest between the powerful and powerless in “what happened” and in the stories we tell about what happened—a fight to the death over the meaning of the past. The narrative of the defeated never triumphs but ekes out an existence in the shadow of its victors. But must the story of the defeated always be a story of defeat?”

                 – Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

This interdisciplinary course examines how processes of racial formation and histories of racial violence shape how and what we know about the past—in historical narratives and in collective and individual memory.  We will consider how narratives of the past are produced—from the selection of facts, their assemblage into archives, and the creation of historical stories from the archives, as well as in the living and recorded memories. We will examine historical narratives about racial violence in the United States—including slavery, lynching, imprisonment, and warfare—and consider how archives and historical narratives enact discursive violence by obscuring resistant, alternative, or subjugated knowledges about these violent pasts. Further, we will examine contemporary engagements with such pasts that attempt to re-read these histories in the hopes of disrupting dominant narratives about Western modernity and U.S. nationhood to imagine alternative futures.




Introductory Readings to American Studies

Graduate Seminar

This seminar introduces issues and concerns in the broad, decentered, interdisciplinary field of American Studies.  We are not aiming to define American Studies but to look at a range of the questions, problems, theories, and methods that current practitioners engage with in their scholarship.

Using the presidential addresses to the American Studies Association as well as “keywords” of the field, we will examine a constellation of ideas and archives of the discipline.  We will also analyze book-length texts as discrete entities, putting them in historical and cultural contexts, and evaluating their methods and theories. This course and many of its core texts situate the ostensibly “nationally” defined field of American Studies in an explicitly transnational framework.  As we move through the semester, we will critically reflect on the methods of historical research; multi-site and transnational archival and ethnographic research; historically grounded cultural studies; and political economy (with a particular focus on the intersections of capitalism, nation, and labor).  We will focus on race, gender, cultural politics, capitalism, labor, diaspora, and trans/nationalism.

Towards the end of the semester, we will also read dissertations relevant to the field of American Studies.  These dissertations either have been or soon will be published as exemplary books in the field and can serve as models for your own work as you move through the graduate program here.

Theories and Methods of Asian American Studies

Graduate Seminar

The foundational gateway for graduate study in Asian American Studies, this course examines the political, historical, epistemological, and cultural bases of the field through an intensive reading of foundational and recent, cutting edge works and study of core concepts in the field. We are not aiming to define Asian American Studies but looking at a range of the questions, problems, theories, and methods that current practitioners engage with in their scholarship. We will grapple with the problems of interdisciplinary research and scholarship and seek to adopt an intersectional and coalitional approach to Asian American Studies.

Towards the end of the semester, we will also read dissertations from interdisciplinary fields.  These dissertations either have been or soon will be published as exemplary books and can serve as models for your own work as you move through the graduate program here.


Graduate Seminar

Focused on the theories and practices of abolition, this interdisciplinary graduate seminar examines the radical, yet realizable, possibilities of abolition in its many forms. We will consider the dense web of relationships that extend far beyond the prison as a material structure, tracing the many different sites and effects of the prison industrial complex as well as the multiple efforts to dismantle it. At the same time, we will follow what WEB DuBois and Angela Davis call “abolition democracy,” which positions abolition as a process of creation rather than simply of dismantlement. Accordingly, the course looks closely at practices that redirect resources away from systems of oppression and toward imagining and building new conditions where all can survive and thrive.