AAS 125(F) SEM Introduction to Asian American Studies

Who or what constitutes the term "Asian American"? Leading with this provocation, this course offers an introductory overview of the interdisciplinary discipline of Asian American Studies, tracing its formation and evolution from the late 1960s onward. Focusing on an array of foundational texts, cultural production, and primary sources, we will ask who has been included/excluded from this term, what the bounds are (if any), and how others approach and negotiate this term. As such, we will analyze its shifting constructions and enactments alongside other markers of difference from the nineteenth century to the present. In particular, we will be attentive to how these constructions have been shaped both relationally through other racial formations as well as overlapping systems of power, including settler colonialism, U.S. war and empire, capitalism, and globalization within and beyond the U.S. With this, we will examine how this term has been widely undone and remade via political activism, visual and performance art, plays, media, poetry, etc. The aim of this course is not to identify a single or right definition of the term "Asian American" but to collectively assess and explore the limits, reaches, utility, and expansiveness of it. [ more ]

AAS 206 TUT Beyond the Tiger Mom: Depictions of East Asian Mothers in Contemporary American Literature

Last offered Spring 2024

A tutorial designed to explore the interpretative difficulties and possibilities of East Asian mothers and motherhood in contemporary American literature (fiction and memoir). The "Tiger Mom"--highly controlling, strict, severe almost to the point of abuse--has become the go-to phrase for many Americans when referring to traditional East Asian mothering styles. This attempt to categorize and simplify cultural differences fails to capture the complex nature of East Asian mothering. While the American public imagines East Asian parenting as only unwavering and harsh, immigrant parents, for example, must often find a parenting strategy that bridges traditional East Asian and mainstream American norms. This course will explore the ways that contemporary Asian American authors depict the complexity of East Asian mothering and mothers. What kinds of mothering does the reductive category of Tiger Mom ignore? What are the central questions these authors pose about mothers and motherhood? How do they negotiate the tension between the individual versus the community, or the pursuit of the child's own interests as opposed to success as defined by the parent when it comes to that child's future? And what are the pitfalls of reading literature as social science? In keeping with tutorial format, students will meet in pairs with the instructor once a week; during these meetings, one student will present a short analytical paper on the texts covered that week. The other student will write a response paper and join the instructor in a discussion of both papers. The reading list may include work by Ocean Vuong, Yiyun Li, Michelle Zauner, Celeste Ng, Amy Tan, Jessamine Chan, Maxine Hong Kingston, Alice Sola Kim, and Amy Chua, among others. [ more ]

AAS 214 SEM Racial and Ethnic Politics in America

Last offered Spring 2024

Arguably, the dominant discourse in American politics today is about race. Race is connected to salient issues like immigration and police conduct; to politicians across the political spectrum; and (some argue) to virtually everything in American politics, including fundamental concepts that have no manifest racial content, like partisanship and the size and scope of government. We will evaluate the role of race as it relates to public opinion, political behavior, campaigns, political institutions, and public policy debates, with special attention devoted to the nature of racial attitudes. Most of the course will focus on the historical and contemporary relations between whites and African Americans, but we will also explore topics involving other pan-ethnic communities, particularly Latinos and Asian Americans. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AAS 215(S) SEM Introduction to Asian American Literature

This course will provide an introduction to some of the major works of Asian American literature, from the mid-20th century to the present. Throughout, we'll attend to the intersection of aesthetics and politics, exploring the creative ways Asian American literary texts both reflect and respond to the historical forces that have shaped Asian American experiences and identities, including exclusion, internment, and U.S. wars and imperialism in Asia. Works we're likely to read include: John Okada's No-No Boy, Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee, Jessica Hagedorn's Dogeaters, lê thj diem thúy's The Gangster We Are All Looking For, and Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies. [ more ]

AAS 216(F) SEM Asian/American Identities in Motion

The course aims to explore dance and movement-based performances as mediums through which identities in Asian and Asian American (including South Asian) communities are cultivated, expressed, and contested. Students will engage with how social and historical contexts influence the processes through which dance practices are invested with particular sets of meanings, and how artists use performance to reinforce or resist stereotypical representations. Core readings will be drawn from Dance, Performance, Asian, and Asian American Studies to engage with issues such as nation formation, racial and ethnic identity politics, appropriation, tradition and innovation among other topics. This is primarily a discussion-based seminar course, and might also include screenings, movement workshops, and discussion with guest artists and scholars. No previous dance experience is required. [ more ]

AAS 237 SEM Islam in the United States: Race, Religion, Politics

Last offered Fall 2023

Malcolm X is one of the most iconic yet controversial figures in the black freedom struggle in the United States. He is also arguably the most prominent and influential Muslim in the history of the United States. His story and legacy powerfully illustrate the complex intersections of Muslim identity, political resistance, and national belonging. From the early period of "Black Muslim" movements represented by Malcolm X, to the current "War on Terror" era, American Muslims have faced a complex intersection of exclusions and marginalization, in relation to national belonging, race, and religion. Taking Malcolm X as our point of departure, this course examines how American Muslims have navigated these multiple layers of marginalization. We will therefore consider how the broader socio-political contexts that Muslims are a part of shape their visions of Islam, and how they contest these competing visions among themselves. In so doing, we will examine the complex relation between religion, race, and politics in the United States. Throughout the course, we will be engaging with historical and anthropological material, autobiographies, documentaries, films, historical primary-source documents, music, and social media materials. The course fosters critical thinking about diversity by challenging assumptions of who Muslims are, what being American means, and what Islam is. It also focuses on the complex interaction of different dimensions of diversity, from religion to ideology, race, nationality, ethnicity, culture, gender, and language. [ more ]

AAS 252(F) SEM Im/mobilities

We think of the freedom to move as a mark of privilege. In the United States, passing a driving test, owning a car, and getting a passport are milestones that signal modernity and freedom. Likewise, we think of restrictions on movement as the domain of the underprivileged, such as the current and formerly incarcerated. But as the Covid-19 pandemic reveals, there have always been two sides to immobility: privileged as well as involuntary immobility. There are correspondingly two sides to mobility: those who move because they want to and others because they have no choice. In this class, students will explore conceptions of mobility as adventurous, free, and modern (as with jet-setting international elites). They will compare and contrast when mobility can be threatening, exclusionary, and limited (as recognized by the Black Lives Matter movement). This class invites students to interpret their environment through the lens of mobility and inequality in the time of coronavirus. Drawing on sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, geography, and migration studies, this interdisciplinary course offers a beginning conversation on the causes and consequences of the freedom to move--or to stay still. [ more ]

AAS 253 SEM Embodied Knowledges: Latinx, Asian American, and Black American Writing on Invisible Disability

Last offered Fall 2023

This interdisciplinary course assumes an expansive approach towards disability, defining it not exclusively as a legible identity that one can lay claim to, but rather as an identity grounded in one's relationship to power (Kim and Schalk, 2020). This course centers on the critical role of lived experience as a key site of everyday theorization for the multiply marginalized, and specifically on the ways in which invisibly disabled Latinx, Asian American, and Black American individuals write the self. As scholars in disability studies argue, self-representations of disabled individuals carry the potential for us as a society to move beyond the binary narratives of "tragedy or inspiration" so often associated with disability. Rather, the self-produced narratives of US disabled writers of color offer a much more nuanced portrayal of everyday life with disability/ies for the multiply marginalized. Much like invisible disability itself, these self-representations ultimately refute traditional depictions of disability, and underscore the ways in which the bodymind serves as a rich, albeit often overlooked, site of knowledge. Embodied Knowledges draws on the insights of disability studies, crip studies, anthropology, literary studies, medicine, psychology, education, cultural studies, ethnic studies, American studies, gender and sexuality studies, sociology, and trauma studies. We will examine the works of Latinx, Asian American, and Black American writers and scholars others in relationship to one another, and as points of departure for examining issues such as the relationship between immigration and disability; intergenerational trauma; the impacts of paradigms such as the Model Minority Myth and notions of cultural deficit; passing; the politics of disability disclosure, the paradoxes of invisible disability; invisible disability in academic spaces; the role of culture and categories of difference such as race, gender, class and immigration status in societal approaches to and understandings of invisible disability; and future visions in the realm of disability justice and care work. [ more ]

AAS 275(S) SEM Acting Out: Performativity, Production, and Politics in East Asian Theatres

"Asian Theaters," for those in the West, can conjure up a variety of exotic impressions: spectacle and cacophony, mysterious masks and acrobatic bodies, exquisite styles and strangely confusing conventions. Although Asian theaters have been studied systematically in the West for at least a century, the West has never truly left its "othering" look at them. Yet, what is "different" for the West is bedrock for Asian cultures. Theatre, one of the most important and dynamic forms of cultural production and communication, has actively involved all strata of Asian societies for a millennium. How to explain theatre's continued presence and relevance for Asian nations? What do the traditions of Kun, Kabuki, and P'ansori reveal about the cultures and communities in which they were created? This course seeks to understand from the Asian perspective, rather than "exoticize" and "other," musical and dance theatres from China, Japan, and Korea. Examining the evolving presentations of signature dramas dating from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, we will act out Asian theatres in the following ways: (1) by reading the original plays in translation in tandem with their contemporary and intercultural reproductions, we will explore how Asian theatres fare in the era of globalization within and beyond national borders; (2) by revealing the "technologies" of writing, reading, acting, and staging these plays in different cultural milieus, we will consider what kinds of language and rhetoric, forms of music and movement, as well as visual components are deployed to convey evolving messages; (3) by considering key performances held outside of the proscenium stage, we will gain exposure to alternative theatrical spaces in Asian and diasporic communities that reform performing conventions, reconfigure staging environments, and renegotiate cultural values. In this manner, we will together gain an appreciation for the aesthetic devices, thematic concerns, and production politics of East Asian theatres and their global reproductions. Class materials include drama, production videos, and invited zoom sessions with Asian theatre practitioners and directors who live in the U.S. and other diasporic communities. All materials are in English. No language prerequisite. Funded by the Global Initiatives Venture Fund, this course includes an all-expense-paid travel component, a cultural and academic exchange project titled "Redefining Amateurism: Experientail Learning with Student Theatre in Contemporary China," which will bring up to eight Williams students to Nanjing, China during the Spring Break (3/23-4/3/2025). Students will participate in workshops with playwrights and theater-makers in contemporary China and engage in black-box theater productions with students from Nanjing University and Shanghai Theatre Academy. This travel component is OPTIONAL for students taking this course. However, students enrolled in this class will receive priority consideration to be included in the free travel project. Selection criteria include active participation, excellent performance in the course, etc. [ more ]

AAS 279 American Pop Orientalism

Last offered NA

This tutorial will investigate the representation of Asians and Asian Americans in American popular culture since the late nineteenth century. Our focus will be on music's role in Orientalist representation in a wide variety of media and genres, including Hollywood film, television, popular song, music videos, Broadway musicals, hip hop, and novels. We will begin with major texts in cultural theory (Said, Bhabha) and will attempt throughout the semester to revise and refine their tenets. Can American Orientalism be distinguished in any fundamental way from nineteenth-century European imperialist thought? How does Orientalist representation calibrate when the "exotic others" being represented are themselves Americans? Our own critical thought will be sharpened through analysis and interpretation of specific works, such as Madame Butterfly, "Chinatown, My Chinatown," Sayonara, Flower Drum Song, Miss Saigon, Rising Sun, M. Butterfly, Aladdin, and Weezer's Pinkerton. We will end the semester by considering the current state of Orientalism in American popular culture. [ more ]

AAS 284(F, S) LEC Asian American History

This course offers an overview of Asian American history from the late seventeenth century to the present. It will cover the earliest Asian migration and settlement in the U.S., the rise of anti-Asian movements, the experiences of Asian Americans during World War II and the Cold War, the emergence of the Asian American movement in the 1960s, the post-1965 Asian immigration, and the War on Terror. We will investigate broader themes including labor, citizenship, political resistance, gender and sexuality, community formation, empire, and transnationalism. We will also consider key contemporary issues, including race and ethnic relations, anti-Asian harassment and violence, and the legacy of U.S. colonialism in Asia-Pacific. Along the way, we will engage classic and recent scholarship in the field, and form our own interpretations of the past based on a wide range of sources--including films, novels, newspapers, government documents, political cartoons, and more. Throughout, the course advances the argument that citizenship and belonging in the U.S. cannot be fully understood without accounting for the experiences of Asian Americans. [ more ]

Taught by: Hongdeng Gao

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AAS 312(S) SEM The 626

Ryka Aoki's Light from Uncommon Stars is "a defiantly joyful adventure in California's San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made doughnuts." What sociological insight could a sci-fi novel about intense extracurricular pressure, food, and foreignness have to offer about the San Gabriel Valley, area code 626? In this course, we take the fantastical characters and plots of Aoki's novel as an invitation to delve into the histories of Asian American settlement to Gabrielino/Tongva lands on the eastern fringes of present-day Los Angeles County. The multilingual boba shops, restaurants, and store fronts throughout the valley mask a history of violent backlash and English-only initiatives. Media reports of academic and musical prodigies skew a broader socioeconomic picture that includes crimmigration, deportation, and xenophobia. And the figure of an intergalactic refugee mother exposes the toll that crossing borders takes on individuals, families, and communities. In this project-based course, we survey the formation of a particular place and its surroundings. In doing so, students grapple with general questions such as: How does migration shape intergenerational dynamics? When and with what tools do people confront racism and intersecting forms of discrimination? How do ethnic enclaves form and fracture? And how do communities mobilize for political rights? [ more ]

AAS 313(F) SEM Gender, Race, and the Power of Personal Aesthetics

This interdisciplinary course focuses on the politics of personal style among women of color in the digital era. With a comparative, transnational emphasis on the ways in which ideologies of gender, disability, sexuality, ethno-racial identity, neoliberal capitalism and class inform normative beauty standards and ideas about the body, we examine a variety of materials including commercial websites, podcasts, histories, personal narratives, ethnographies, and sociological case studies. Departing from the assumption that personal aesthetics are intimately tied to issues of power and privilege, we engage the following questions, among others: What are some of the everyday functions of personal style among women of color in the US and globally? How do Latina/x, Black, Arab American, and Asian American personal aesthetics reflect the specific circumstances of their creation, and the unique histories of these racialized communities? What role do transnational media and popular culture play in the development and circulation of gendered, raced, and sexualized aesthetic forms? How might the belief in personal style as activist strategy complicate traditional understandings of feminist political activity? And what do the combined insights of ethnic studies, feminist studies, cultural studies, media studies, queer studies and disability studies contribute to our understanding of gendered Asian American, Arab American, Black, and Latina/x bodies? [ more ]

AAS 316 SEM Music in Asian American History

Last offered Fall 2022

Is "Asian American music" all music made by Asian Americans, music by Asian Americans specifically drawing on Asian heritage, or music engaging with Asian American issues? This course embraces all three definitions and the full diversity of Asian American musical experience. We will study the historical soundscapes of immigrant communities (Chinese opera in North America; Southeast Asian war refugees) and how specific traumatic political events shaped musical life (Japanese American internment camps). We will encounter works by major classical composers (Chou Wen-Chung; Chen Yi; Tan Dun; Bright Sheng) and will investigate the careers and reception of prominent classical musicians (Midori; Seiji Ozawa; Yo-Yo Ma). Afro-Asian fusions, inspired by civil rights protest movements, manifested in jazz (Jon Jang; Fred Ho; Anthony Brown; Hiroshima; Vijay Iyer) and hip hop (MC Jin; Awkwafina; Desi rappers). Asian Americans have been active in popular music at home and abroad (Don Ho; Yoko Ono; Wang Leehom; Mitski). Finally, we will investigate communal forms of Asian American music making that have crossed racialized and gendered boundaries (taiko drumming; Indonesian gamelan; belly dance; Suzuki method). This seminar is designed to develop research skills, as we pursue original fieldwork, archival research, and oral history interviews. [ more ]

AAS 351(F) TUT Racism in Public Health

Across the nation, states, counties and communities have declared racism a public health crisis. This push to identify systemic racism as a high priority in public health action and policy is an important symbolic and political move. It names the faults of histories, systems and institutions but also brings to the spotlight the individual and community responsibility to dismantle racism in the US. In this tutorial, we will examine racism in public health policy, practice and research through an investigation of several mediums of evidence and information, ranging from peer reviewed literature to news editorials, podcasts and documentaries. We will explore specific pathways by which legacies of colonialism and racism function in various public health disciplines such as epidemiology, social & behavioral sciences, health policy and environmental health while also examining the dynamics of power and history in research and community practice. We will take deep dives into issues on how health can be impacted by redlining, racist medical algorithms, racial trauma and stress and police violence, to name a few. Students will also have two opportunities to select their own case studies, as a way for you to research and learn about particular racial health issues that are of personal interest. This course is also about self-reflection and exploration of the ways in which our identities and lived experiences impact our understanding and perspective. We will gain skills in speaking across differences and articulation of how our own perceptions and lived experiences of race and racism impact our study of public health. This tutorial requires an openness to self-reflection and the practice of listening and articulation. [ more ]

AAS 364(S) SEM Asia and Asian Americans During the Cold War

This course traces how American geopolitical interests and involvement in Asia during the Cold War affected Asian Americans. It examines the history of the Cold War as a period of U.S. imperial expansion as well as a time when various actors and organizations, especially those of Asian descent, harnessed the East-West rivalry to advance their own agendas. We will consider how diverse diplomatic strategies including militarization, educational exchange, and immigration reform shaped East, South, and Southeast Asian migrations to and settlement in the United States and the social and material lives of these diverse communities. Case studies include transnational adoptees from Korea, Hmong and Vietnamese refugees in the U.S. and across Guam and Israel-Palestine, Black, Latinx, and Asian American activists who traveled to Vietnam, educated Indian and Pakistani immigrants, and American-born individuals of Japanese ancestry in Japan. We will also explore how individuals of Asian descent leveraged Cold War geopolitics and forged cross-ethnic, cross-class alliances to advocate for social change both at home and abroad. [ more ]

Taught by: Hongdeng Gao

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AAS 373 SEM US Empire in the Philippines: Capitalism, Colonialism, and Revolution

Last offered Fall 2023

When the United States of America took official colonial control of the Philippines in 1898, Filipinos had already been fighting an anti-colonial struggle against Spain for several years. With the start of the Philippine-American War in 1899, that fight continued. Keeping the always-present possibilities of Filipino revolt in mind, this course takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of U.S. empire-building in the Philippines from the late-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. We will frame our understanding in terms of racial capitalism and the coloniality of power, with particular attention to the materiality of empire -- infrastructure, architecture, financing, markets, and population management -- and U.S. empire's production of racial, gender, indigenous, religious, and sexual categories and difference. Our readings may be drawn from critical ethnic studies, gender & sexuality studies, American studies, postcolonial theory, Black studies, disability studies, and more. Topics include the military "management" of Muslim, Christian, and animist groups, the Katipunan society, interracial intimacies, and early 20th century Filipino migration to the United States. Students are expected to take an active role in discussion, but no prior knowledge of the Philippines is expected. [ more ]

AAS 375(S) SEM Asian American Sexualities

Perceived as objects of sexual use and perversity, how might Asian/Asian American subjects contend with these projections and enact their own genders and sexualities? Anchored in this question, this theory-intensive seminar will provide a study of seminal and recent scholarship at the intersections of Asian American Studies, feminist criticism, and queer theory that focus on or are read in tandem with a collection of cultural expressions, including film, sculpture, poetry, drag performance, music, manifestos, and visual and performance art. To first root us, the seminar will introduce key uses and theorizations of sex/gender, sexuality, and queerness. Then, across the semester, we will focus on deployments of them through a range of topics, including sexual subjugation and activism of "comfort women," orientalism/ornamentalism, the queering of Sikh, South Asian, and Muslim Americans post-9/11, western demands to "come out," representations in pornography, lesbian invisibility, devaluation of trans* lives, etc., exploring questions of racialized, gendered, and sexual subordination alongside power, pleasure, play, and critique. To this end, we will approach gender and sexuality not as identity categories that one is or has but socially and biologically construed categories, loci for intervention and play, anti-normative positions, lived experiences, and ever-evolving processes of doing, becoming, and unbecoming. [ more ]

AAS 384(F) LEC Comparative History of Science and Medicine in Asian/Pacific America, 1800-Present

How have scientific knowledge and medicine been tools of exclusion, violence, and imperial control against Asian Americans, as well as indigenous peoples, Black, Latinx, and white migrants, and their descendants? How have these groups negotiated and resisted encounters with such knowledge from the 19th century to the present? This seminar explores these questions by examining a series of case studies--including American colonial medicine and science in the Philippines and Hawai'i, Cold War migration of Chinese scientists and South Asian doctors to the U.S., and the politics of HIV/AIDS, psychiatry, and culturally competent care in Black, Asian, and Cuban migrant communities. Together, we will survey the literature in history, English, Global Health, Sociology, and other fields and consider how the Asian/Pacific American experience in science and medicine has been integral to, as well as informed by, the experiences of other groups in the transpacific world. Students will leave this course with interdisciplinary tools for understanding present-day health inequities in underserved Asian/Pacific American communities and other marginalized groups. [ more ]

Taught by: Hongdeng Gao

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AAS 399(F) SEM Marxist Feminisms: Race, Performance, Labor

This seminar provides an overview of queer, black and women of color feminist, decolonial, and critical ethnic studies critiques of orthodox Marxism. Beginning with core texts from the tradition, including Capital Volume I, we will examine a range of social positions and modes of extraction that complicate Marx's emphasis on the white male industrial factory worker. Every week, we will focus on texts that foreground conditions of reproduction, racial slavery, care and domestic work, indentured servitude, immigrant labor, land expropriation, and sex work among others. Throughout the seminar and specifically at the close of it, we will turn to critical perspectives and aesthetic practices that not only respond to these conditions but also incite new social relations and ways of being in the world. As such, this seminar will equip students with critical understandings of how racial capitalism has fundamentally relied on the mass elimination, capture, recruitment, and displacement of different racialized, gendered, and abled bodies in and beyond the U.S. as well as how the capitalist system of value and life under these conditions can and must be undone and reimagined. [ more ]

AAS 414 SEM Race and Performance

Last offered Spring 2024

How does one "do" race? This seminar offers a survey of foundational and emergent scholarship at the nexus of performance studies, critical ethnic studies, and gender and sexuality studies alongside contemporary visual and performance art works. It will explore how the framework of performance destabilizes notions of race, gender, and sexuality as identities that are inherent to us and approaches them as ones we enact, do, and undo. We will begin the course by tracing key concepts in performance studies (i.e., performance, performative, performativity) before examining a range of performances that respond to and negotiate life under the ongoing conditions of racial capitalism, empire, anti-blackness, and settler colonialism. To this end, we will focus on how qualities attributed to racialized and gendered bodies, such as silence, diseased, patience, depression, passivity, and aloofness, are retooled as feminist and queer of color actions or positions. [ more ]

AAS 497(F) IND Independent Study: Asian American Studies

For students pursuing a semester-length independent study for Asian American Studies credit in the fall. Independent study proposals are due to the Chair of Asian American Studies by the end of the pre-registration period the semester prior. Proposals must be approved before students can enroll. Note that students enroll for this course code regardless of the instructor advising the independent study. See Chair for more details. [ more ]

AAS 498(S) IND Independent Study: Asian American Studies

For students pursuing a semester-length independent study for Asian American Studies credit in the spring. Independent study proposals are due to the Chair of Asian American Studies by the end of the pre-registration period the semester prior. Proposals must be approved before students can enroll. Note that students enroll for this course code regardless of the instructor advising the independent study. See Chair for more details. [ more ]