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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

2022-2023 Academic Year

Fall 2022

AMST 101 Racial Politics/Am Pop Music
These courses explore cultural diversity in the United States through an interdisciplinary framework combining historical, literary, and cultural analysis. Students are introduced to the methods and questions central to the interdisciplinary field of American Studies, and special attention is paid to issues of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexualities in exploring American histories and cultures. Topics may include ; Class and Culture; Body Politics; Comparative Ethnicities; The New Negro Movement; Race, Class, and the American Dream; Urban Landscapes.

AMST 202 Workshop in Cultural Analysis
This intensive writing workshop focuses 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 upper level departmental courses. Intended to develop independent skills in analysis of primary texts and documents.Prerequisite: Any AMST course or permission of instructor.

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.

Spring 2023

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 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.