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Steven Hoelscher, Chair Burdine 437, Mailcode B7100, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-7277

Elissa Underwood

Doctoral Student



J.D. Boston College Law School, 2004
B.A. The Growth & Structure of Cities, Bryn Mawr College, 2001


critical prison studies, food studies, surveillance studies, critical race theory, urban studies

AMS 310 • Intro To American Studies

29945 • Fall 2015
Meets MW 300pm-430pm GAR 0.102
(also listed as HIS 315G )
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This course will introduce students to key themes and methodological approaches involved in the interdisciplinary analysis of American culture.  In this particular section of AMS 310, we will use carceral spaces and incarceration to frame our interrogation and understanding of U.S. policies and practices.  By studying a wide range of texts, including memoirs, photographs, legal decisions, and films, we will work to illuminate the causes and impacts of imprisonment in the U.S., and more specifically mass/hyper-imprisonment of low-income communities of color.  Our examination of historical and contemporary primary source materials will raise questions pertaining to race, ethnicity, citizenship, class, gender, sexuality, age, disability, and other systems and categories of marginalization as we develop a discourse around the purposes of and potential alternatives to one of America's oldest and strongest institutions -- the prison.


Exam 1 (25%)
Midterm (35%)
Final (40%)

AMS 311S • Prisons/Punishment In Amer Cul

30690 • Spring 2013
Meets MWF 900am-1000am BUR 228
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The United States’ incarceration rate is not only the highest it has ever been in our country’s history, but it’s also the highest of any country in the world. More than two million American men and women live behind bars. This interdiscipinary course will serve as a critical engagement with prisons and punishment in American culture.  We will examine the historical roots of the American prison and explore major theoretical approaches to punishment as a foundation for inquiry into incarceration and carceral spaces in the post Civil Rights era. In an effort to understand and interrogate the practices and processes associated with mass imprisonment and their impact on American society, we will analyze a variety of texts including prison ethnographies, prison writing, legislation, legal decisions, television shows, films, photography, and music.  Through this analysis, we will foreground issues of race, ethnicity, citizenship, class, gender, and sexuality in the modern prison, question the notion of prison as spectacle, and develop a discourse around the purposes of and potential alternatives to one of America’s oldest and strongest institutions.           



15%     Engaged Class Participation

15%     Book Review

15%     Critical Response to Community Engagement

15%     Final Research Paper Proposal/Bibliography

10%     Presentation of Final Research Paper

30%     Final Research Paper


Possible Texts

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

Lorna Rhodes, Total Confinement: Madness and Reason in the Maximum Security Prison

Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?

Michelle Brown, The Culture of Punishment: Prison, Society and Spectacle

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness


Course Reader

Flag(s): Writing, Cultural Diversity

AMS 311S • Prisons/Punishment In Amer Cul

30607 • Fall 2012
Meets MWF 900am-1000am BUR 228
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coming soon

AMS 311S • Prisons/Punishment In Amer Cul

30608 • Fall 2012
Meets MWF 1100am-1200pm GAR 1.126
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coming soon

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