Faculty Profile

Cotten Seiler

Associate Professor of American Studies (2008)

Contact Information


Denny Hall Room 312


U.S. cultural and intellectual history, critical race theory, cultural studies.


  • B.A., Northwestern University, 1990
  • Ph.D., University of Kansas, 2002

2016-2017 Academic Year

Fall 2016

AMST 101 Racial Politics/Am Pop Music
This course will consider popular music as both a reflection of and a transformative force within American culture. Beginning with the nineteenth century and continuing into our own time, we will look at (and listen to) the ways in which popular music has participated in continuing, often volatile, dialogues about racial identity and racial power in the United States, and has simultaneously shaped ideologies of gender, class, sexuality, and nation. Rather than be structured as a strict chronological survey, the course will focus on themes and issues in popular music production and consumption. In the first part of the course, we will examine theories of musical aesthetics, inquire into the sources of identity, and discuss the power of popular music to reflect and influence politics and cultural values. These discussions will give us analytical tools and historical knowledge for thinking and writing about music commerce and the genres we will discuss more specifically in the course's second half—blues, “race” music, hillbilly/country, ragtime, swing, rhythm & blues, rock and roll, folk, disco, rap/hip-hop, funk, punk, salsa, heavy metal, and “alternative.”

AMST 201 Intro to American Studies
Introduces students to basic theories and methods used for the interdisciplinary analysis of U.S. cultural materials and to the multiplicity of texts used for cultural analysis (mass media, music, film, fiction and memoir, sports, advertising, and popular rituals and practices). Particular attention is paid to the interplay between systems of representation and social, political, and economic institutions, and to the production, dissemination, and reception of cultural materials. Students will explore the shaping power of culture as well as the possibilities of human agency.

AMST 303 The America that Race Built
This course examines the origins and histories of the concept of “race” in the United States. Beginning with a discussion of the concept of race and proceeding through the histories of various groups, we will examine how race interacts with other categories of identity—such as ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and nationality—in the everyday life of the nation past and present. Through we will rely on histories and social-scientific work to develop an understanding of how difference and diversity have been lived in America, we will also focus on how popular culture (such as film, television, popular music, and sports) and literature have shaped and continue to shape—rightly or wrongly—the way we see one another. This course fulfills the AMST major theory requirement.

Spring 2017

AMST 200 American Conservatism
This course charts the origins and fortunes of conservative political and economic thought in the United States from the eighteenth century to the present. We'll first investigate the origins of conservatism in various thinkers' reactions to the democratic revolutions in England, the American Colonies, France, and Saint-Domingue (Haiti), as well as to abolitionism and the effects of capitalism. We'll then move to the transformations of conservatism in the twentieth century, whose latter half saw the rise of a powerful conservative movement in politics, economics, and culture. Throughout, we'll examine the relationships between conservatism and structures of race, gender, and class, in US life, and see how conservatives have represented their ideals of selfhood and community in a range of cultural texts.

AMST 202 Workshop in Cultural Analysis
Intensive workshop focused on theoretical approaches to the interpretation of social and cultural materials. The course provides an early exposure to theories and methods that will be returned to in greater depth in the senior year. Intended to develop independent skills in analysis of primary texts and documents.

AMST 500 Independent Study