Faculty Profile

Cotten Seiler

Professor of American Studies (2002)

Contact Information


Denny Hall Room 312


My research and teaching focuses on U.S. cultural and intellectual history, critical race theory, and cultural studies. My book, Republic of Drivers: A Cultural History of Automobility in America, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2008, and my essays have appeared in journals such as American Quarterly, Public Culture, Social Text, Reviews in American History, American Historical Review, Transfers, and History & Technology. I am a frequent media commentator on US racial politics, automobility, and popular culture.


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

2023-2024 Academic Year

Fall 2023

AMST 200 Race and American Conservatism
What is "conservatism" in the United States, and what relationship does it have to our nation's racial politics? Working with a rough characterization of conservative thought as both modern and counterrevolutionary, we will study its beginnings during the French, American, and Haitian revolutions of the Enlightenment, and examine how slavery, immigration, and civil rights struggles have shaped the American conservatism of our moment. Throughout, we'll pay particular attention to practices and artifacts of representation, looking at how cultural producers in literature, film, television, journalism, and other media have portrayed the racial dimensions of US conservatism.

AMST 201 Intro to American Studies
Introduces students to basic theories and methods used for the interdisciplinary analysis of United States and hemispheric 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 401 Research and Methods in Am St
This integrative seminar focuses on the theory and methods of cultural analysis and interdisciplinary study. Students examine the origins, history, and current state of American studies, discuss relevant questions, and, in research projects, apply techniques of interdisciplinary study to a topic of their choosing. Prerequisite: 303, Senior American studies major, or permission of the instructor.

Spring 2024

AMST 101 Racial Politics/Am Pop Music
This course considers popular music as both a reflection of and a transformative force within the larger American culture. Beginning with the nineteenth century and moving toward our own time, we will look at (and listen to) how popular music has helped to form and challenge racial identities in the United States. In the first part of the course, we will examine theories of musical aesthetics, inquire into the origins and revisions of the ever-weird entity called race, 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 the genres such as minstrelsy, blues, "race" music, hillbilly/country, rhythm & blues, rock, folk, disco, rap/hip-hop, funk, conjunto, punk, heavy metal, reggae, and "indie" (to name just a few!).

AMST 303 Make Live and Let Die
This course looks at the American past and present through the lens of what the philosopher Michel Foucault called "biopolitics." This theory has offered contemporary thinkers rich new ways of thinking about how the state and other powerful institutions "make live" or "let die" the populations they govern. In this workshop, we'll look at how American thought and practices around evolution, incarceration, enslavement, reproduction, health, race, justice, climate change, and wealth have reflected the biopolitical regime that has dominated the modern era. We'll also look at how film, literature, music, and other cultural products have illustrated or challenged that regime.