Engaged Learning and Social Justice

Members of the Williams project team focus on forms of learning that center decolonial and antiracist ethics, actions, and ways of relating and knowing.  In our classrooms and beyond them we support pedagogies that center the co-production of knowledge, rather than top-down or hierarchical “expertise,” and continuously connect studying with doing.

Courses offered in current academic year by grant team faculty members

Joy James
Cuba, US, Africa, and Resistance to Black Enslavement, 1791-1991

AFR 372 / AMST 400 / GBST 400 / PSCI 379 / INTR 400

This seminar focuses on the entwined histories of liberation movements against racism, enslavement, and imperialism in the US, Cuba and Africa. Readings include: Hugh Thomas, Cuba: A History; Che Guevara: The Motorcycle Diaries; Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa; Laird Bergad, The Comparative Histories of Slavery in Brazil, Cuba, and the United States; Thomas Sankara, Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle; Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro, How Far We Slaves Have Come! Students will read and analyze texts, screen documentaries, collectively compile a comprehensive bibliography, and present group analyses. The seminar is open to all students; however, priority is given to seniors majoring in American Studies.

Cold War Intellectuals: Civil Rights, Writers and the CIA

AFR 224 / PSCI 221 / AMST 201 / LEAD 220 / INTR 220

This weekly tutorial has alternating primary and secondary writers (5pages/2pages). In weekly one-hour sessions, students read their work aloud followed by dialogue and critique. Primary papers are due to respondent/professor 48hrs before the tutorial meets; response papers are emailed to the professor 2hours before the weekly tutorial meets. Readings include: We Charge Genocide; Williams J. Maxwell, F. B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature; Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire; Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America; “Part III Supervision and Control of the CIA,” Rockefeller Commission Report; Malcolm X Speaks; Sam Greenlee, The Spook Who Sat By the Door; and, The Murder of Fred Hampton. The tutorial is open to all students.

Selamawit D. Terrefe
Race and Psychoanalysis: Slavery and the Psyche

ENGL 320 / AFR 365 / GBST 365 / AMST 365

This course explores slavery and the psyche through a constellation of Black diasporic literary, visual, and theoretical texts from the US, Caribbean, and Africa. Unwieldy and generative, the opacity of race within the field (and practice) of psychoanalysis shares a fraught intimacy with the co-constitutive terrains of violence and race that form the unconscious. Querying what escapes the hermeneutics of psychoanalysis and aesthetics in the fantasies race engenders, we will examine modernity’s articulation of racialization through conceptualizations–both fantasmatic and real–of self, world, knowledge, and possibility. Course texts may include: Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones, Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro, Bessie Head’s A Question of Power, Arthur Jafa’s APEX and Love is the Message and the Message is Death, Conceição Evaristo’s Ponciá Vicêncio, Lars von Trier’s Manderlay, Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, Derek Walcott’s “Laventille”; and, selections from Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, David Marriott, Kathleen Pogue White, Franz Fanon, Hortense Spillers, Nathan Gorelick, Jaqueline Rose, Jared Sexton, Melanie Klein, Jacques-Alain Miller, Melanie Suchet, and Jean Laplanche. Note: This course will reflect the Continental tradition in philosophy. Student should be familiar with the basic interventions of psychoanalysis.

Christine DeLucia
Sovereignty, Resistance, and Resilience: Native American Histories to 1865

HIST 254 / AMST 254 / LEAD 254

This course surveys Native American/Indigenous North American histories from creation through the mid-nineteenth century, tracing the complex ways that tribal nations and communities have shaped North America. Equally important, it reckons with the ongoing effects of these pasts in the twenty-first century, and communities’ own forms of interpretation and critique. It also introduces foundational methodologies in Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) and strategies for pursuing decolonizing scholarship and action. Beginning with the diverse Indigenous societies that have inhabited the Americas for millennia before Columbus’s arrival, it foregrounds the complexity of Native peoples, nations, and worldviews situated in particular homelands, as well as accounts of beginnings and migrations. It addresses how Native peoples confronted grievous epidemics resulting from the “Columbian Exchange,” and contended with Euro-colonial projects of “discovery” and colonization. Indigenous nations’ multifaceted efforts to maintain sovereignty and homelands through eras of pervasive violence and removal are addressed, as well as forms of relations and kinship with African-American and Afro-Indigenous people. It concludes with how different Native communities negotiated the tumultuous era of the Civil War and created pathways for endurance and security in its aftermath. The course centers on Indigenous actors–intellectuals, diplomats, legal strategists, knowledge keepers, spiritual leaders, artists, and many others–and consistently connects historical events with present-day matters of land, historical memory, education, caretaking, and activism. Additionally, it provides an opportunity to engage with original materials in the Williams College Archives/Special Collections and Art Museum. While the scope of the course is continental and transoceanic, it devotes significant attention to the Native Northeast and the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican homelands in which Williams College is located.

Land, Memory, Materiality: Histories and Futures of Indigenous North American Arts

ARTH 561 / HIST 454

This course engages Indigenous North American traditions of creative expression, remembrance, and representation in historical, contemporary, and future-facing ways. Drawing upon diverse Native American and First Nations theories and practices, it ranges widely across the continent to consider Indigenous arts and material culture within specific cultural, socioeconomic, and political contexts. Part of the course is grounded in the Native Northeast, including the Indigenous homelands of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Community in which the Graduate Art Program and Williams College are situated. Other units will focus on continuities and transformations in artistic and maker-traditions within and across specific Indigenous nations and communities. The course is especially interested in connections between past and present, and the innovative ways Indigenous artists, makers, and knowledge-keepers have reckoned with what has come before, while also mapping meaningful future pathways. Topics will include repatriation and community-led restorative efforts to bring home ancestors and important heritage items “collected” over the centuries following 1492; concepts and practices of cultural, intellectual, visual, and political sovereignty; decolonizing museums; the complex dynamics of collaboration; Indigenous, African-American, and Afro-Indigenous artistic connections and solidarities; and Indigenous challenges to Eurocentric and settler colonial approaches to preservation, interpretation, and classification. Seminar members will develop familiarity with methods and ethics grounded in Native American and Indigenous Studies, and with new scholarship by leading and emerging critics and creators.

Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Community Histories, Presents, and Futures

HIST 276

The ancestral and continuing homelands of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Community (SMC) are where Williams College is located, a fact that the institution formally recognized in Fall 2021 through a land acknowledgment. This was one step toward building more meaningful relations between the College and the sovereign tribal nation, which has been displaced through violent, painful processes directly shaped by the Williams family, while also maintaining enduring relations with these homelands. This course addresses needs to continue work of learning and repair by “educating beyond the land acknowledgment.” It centers SMC experiences, knowledge, and goals, and provides space for students to work on projects directly meaningful for the community, including the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) that is based locally through an official partnership with the college. It will have strong collaborative and experiential components, plus ethical commitments to highlighting the tribal nation’s active forms of stewardship, knowledge-keeping, and intellectual as well as political sovereignty. The exact shape of the syllabus and projects will be determined in close conversation and collaboration with the Stockbridge-Munsee Community. Depending on goals/interests, potential areas of focus might include SMC homelands; archaeological research and its importance for place-stewardship; political sovereignty, governance, and leadership; histories and impacts of European colonialism among SMC people; SMC traditions of diplomacy and peacemaking; strategic uses of archives and documents in protecting community wellbeing and resisting dispossession; the “Many Trails” of forced removal westward; establishment of the SMC in Menominee homelands; 20th and 21st-century experiences, knowledge-keeping, and continuing connections with eastern homelands; repatriation of ancestors and belongings; language revitalization, Land Back, education, and economic sovereignty; and other topics.