Introduction to Gun Studies: History, Politics, and American Violence
Few objects loom larger in American history, media, and politics than guns. Americans own more firearms than citizens of any other country on Earth. The United States is the largest manufacturer, importer, and exporter of guns on the planet. Alongside currency, guns are the only manufactured object mentioned in the U.S. Constitution; and the question and reality of the “right to bear arms” have proved central to the formation of American state, society, and culture. Today, the American history of the gun—from colonial settlement to Manifest Destiny to Jim Crow—finds continuity in routine spectacles of armed protest and mass shooting, as well as in the quieter, quotidian dramas of American life. What are we to make of America’s relationship to guns? In what ways is it exceptional, and in what ways is it not? How did this all come to be, and what might the future hold?
These are some of the key questions animating the emergent, interdisciplinary field of Gun Studies, to which this class offers a survey introduction. Bracketing partisan commitments, we will explore guns as products of political economy, objects involved in specific ways of life, and sites of both shared and contested meaning. We will consider materials from, among other fields, history, sociology, legal studies, cognitive psychology, and public health, as well as pieces of journalism, literary texts, and films. Moving from the beginning of colonization through the establishment and expansion of the United States, we will track the role of guns to the present, paying particular attention to both the modern “gun control” and “gun rights” movements. Considering America in a global context, we will interrogate and refine the stakes of American “exceptionalism” vis-à-vis guns and gun violence, as well explore how American “gun culture” in fact consists of multiple gun cultures. We will consider the many ways in which guns have been, and remain, intimately involved with questions of race, gender, class, the extraction of wealth, and flows of capital, and consider the complex relationship of guns to resistance, repression, vigilantism, and constructions of legitimacy. Readings will include work by Jennifer Carlson, Richard Slotkin, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Priya Satia, Adam Winkler, Jonathan Metzl, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Ida B. Wells, Caroline Light, Gary Younge, and many others.
Course ScheduleSunday, 2:00-5:00pm ET
February 05 — February 26, 2023