African American Studies

The Programs in African American and American Cultural Studies (AAACS)

In 1990, the Bates community founded and combined two intersecting, interdisciplinary programs that introduce students to models of scholarly inquiry and interpretation of shared multifaceted socially constructed topics: race, ethnicity, social class, gender, sexuality, disability, immigration, power and social justice. Though the primary focus of African American Studies (AAS) is the exploration of the experiences, histories, and cultures of people of African descent in the United States as well as throughout their diaspora; its affiliation with ACS gestures toward the study of other American ethnic experiences in the combined programs of AAACS.  American Cultural Studies (ACS) examines the ways that Americans categorize and represent what they understand to be their distinctive social experiences and how they express and symbolize these activities.

These fields also investigate the reciprocal transnational cultural relations between the US and other societies. We have no single theory or methodology but instead draw upon ideas and practices of several disciplines in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences. Rather than seeking answers that will hold over all time, AAS and ACS develop flexible tools that adapt to this rapidly changing world.

AAACS facilitates its faculty and students’ identification and examination of different social roles assigned to individuals by race, gender, sexuality, ability, and social class. In addition, this includes the analysis of the inequitable distribution of material resources and the connection between structures of knowledge and larger systems of privilege and oppression.

About African American Studies

African American Studies adopts progressive interdisciplinary approaches to the understanding of people of African descent in the Atlantic world: Africa, the Americas— with special attention to the United States—and Europe. Our courses examine conceptualizations of “race” and its use as a tool of critical analysis. Attention to the intersection of “race” with other social and political identities informs all aspects of the intellectual project of African American Studies at Bates.

Goals and Objectives of African American Studies at Bates:

  • To enrich knowledge of histories and experiences of peoples of the African diaspora.
  • To demonstrate the importance of “race” as a tool of critical analysis for explaining, among other things, the allocation of economic resources, the formation of personal and group identities, the dynamics of unequal power, the changing nature of political behavior, and the creation of aesthetic expressions.
  • To engage students in the critical theorization of the construction of race, with special focus on the ways that this category of difference has changed over time and place.
  • To deepen students’ understanding of secular practices, intellectual traditions, religions, and social institutions of African-descended peoples in the US and the diaspora.
  • To consider multifarious ways that race intersects with class, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, and other modes of social differentiation.
  • To facilitate a vibrant conversation between students and faculty across the campus and beyond in a variety of different fields: literature, music, American cultural studies, art and visual culture, Gender and Sexuality Studies, history,sociology, politics, anthropology, education, rhetoric, and science.
  • To communicate effectively in writing and speech.
  • To foster engagement in the larger community—local, national, and international.
  • To prepare students for fulfilling careers in a variety of fields, including research and teaching; policy, advocacy and community work; law; cultural organization and curating; digitization and management.