Course Syllabus

Women in American Cultures: Settler Colonialism, Wilderness, and the Making/Unmaking of Gender, Race, and Property

Gender and Women’s Studies 100AC / Spring 2021 / Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:10 am - 12:30 pm / On zoom sponsored by UC Berkeley, located on Unceded Chochenyo Ohlone Land


Instructor: Dr. Barbara A. Barnes (she/her/hers)

Once enrollment stabilizes, you will be assigned to one reader. Readers will also hold office hours, starting within a couple of weeks.

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UC Berkeley is located on the territory of Huichin, which is the unceded land of the Chochenyo speaking Ohlone people. Spanish missionaries enslaved Indigenous people in so-called California in the 18th century and the state of California supported an attempted genocide in the 19th century. As instructors and students at UC Berkeley, we directly benefit from the settler theft of this land, which remains Ohlone land. The intent of this Land Acknowledgement, is to affirm Indigenous sovereignty and a commitment to hold UC Berkeley —and the settler institutions in all parts of the U.S. — accountable to the needs of American Indian and Indigenous peoples.



GWS100AC aims to enable critical thinking about “American wilderness” as an idea, rather than a place, which is shaped by settler colonial logics, and thus quietly reproduces colonial norms that erase the diversity, richness, relations, and histories of “American” land and landscapes. As students in this class, you will learn ways to recognize specific ways in which “wilderness” is built on, and reinforces, some of the structural inequities that justify the most violent elements of American pasts and presents including Native genocides, chattel slavery, and racist immigration policies (e.g., white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, compulsorily framing land as private property, and compulsory able-bodiedness/able-mindedness). Students will also be introduced to ways of relating with, and understanding landscapes that challenge these settler colonial norms.

To begin, the curriculum will introduce key terms and concepts (e.g., women/gender, wilderness, settler colonialism, race, property, land) and encourage an understanding of the ways these terms shape each other in American cultures. We will also explore the ways in which “American wilderness” “is quite profoundly a human creation” (to quote environmental historian William Cronon), based in part on frontier narratives (told in paintings, myths, photographs, and films), and created in concert with narrow and historically- and culturally-specific notions of gender, race, sexuality, able-ness, and property. The argument at the heart of the course is that although “frontier wilderness” is often imagined as “empty” space, it is in fact not empty at all, but richly full of histories, cultures, and lives (human and nonhuman; past, present and future), and that framing it as “empty” requires a concerted and repeated emptying, which likewise entails a concerted and repeated forgetting of the variety of lives that make up land and place (These lives are human — in all our glorious variations — and nonhuman; past, present, and future.) Central to this process are the logics of settler colonialism, including naturalized and racialized notions of womanhood/manhood.

Course materials and assignments will introduce students to terms and concepts through which to think critically about, and act responsibly in relationship with, the land —and all the relationships that make up the land — on which we all live. These include terms such as those listed above, as well as “intersectionality,” “contact zone,” “dualism,” and “nation.” Most of this work will take place in reading across disciplines, along with writing and discussions/exercises conducted both inside and outside the classroom

Learning Objectives

At the end of this course, I hope you will have gained the following points of knowledge (at least):

        • a deep understanding of settler colonialism as a structure within which American cultures have developed and changed
        • ways to think critically about the gendered category “woman” as culturally produced, historically specific, and politically infused
        • ways to think critically about the category “wilderness” as culturally produced, historically specific, and politically infused
        • ways to think critically about the concept of private property as a culturally-specific way of framing land that upholds settler colonial exclusions
        • an understanding of the relations among settler colonialism, wilderness, gender, race, and private property (e.g., some of the ways in which gender is always already about racial difference, and how intersectional sexist, racist, and private property narratives impact nation-making narratives, especially those about “wilderness,” as a central element of American culture)

I also hope you will gain or improve the following skills:

        • analytical writing
        • critical thinking

Class conduct

I aim to create an intellectual community of open inquiry, curiosity, and respect that fosters deep learning. To this end, I ask that everyone in the class work together to achieve such a space of learning within which each class member is treated with respect, and within which dignity is affirmed. Since we will be discussing emotionally-laden topics such as sexuality, race, and national identity, it is important to provide the space to allow all students to engage in these conversations without judgement. We are at a variety of starting points with regard to these conversations and we all need to create a space within which we can learn how to think, and speak, carefully and critically about the important topics we will discuss. Please be patient with each other and use this classroom space as an opportunity to teach each other your views, to gain clarity yourself, and to ask questions.


It is very important to me that this course is as accessible as possible to everyone in our community. All videos assigned will have English captions available. I will also try to make all texts compatible with screen readers.

Please bring any oversights to my attention.

If you have DSP accommodations, I'd like to encourage you to meet with me early in the semester to ensure that  I've received your letter outlining your accommodations and that we both understand what you need and what to expect.

If you need to miss class for a disability-related reason, please send me an email and cc your DSP advisor. 

Here is the website for the UC Berkeley Disability Resource CenterLinks to an external site.

Academic Integrity:

The student community at UC Berkeley has adopted the following Honor Code:

“As a member of the UC Berkeley community, I act with honesty, integrity, and respect for others.” The hope and expectation is that you will adhere to this code.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism or other forms of unethical behavior will not be tolerated. Plagiarism is when text or ideas are copied from another source without appropriate reference and will result in a failing grade for your assignment and usually further disciplinary action. For additional information on plagiarism and how to avoid it, see, for example:

Required Texts

REQUIRED reading is available in three places, all of which will require some effort on your part: 1) on bcourses under the “files” tab (listed alphabetically by author’s surname); 2) online (when sources are available online, this will be indicated on the syllabus and a link provided); 3) in epublications available through the library (specific books/chapters will be indicated but you may need to look up the publication on oskicat). 

Most of the RECOMMENDED reading will be made available on bcourses.


Course Assessment

Lecture Engagement (15% of final assessment):

Our classes will meet synchronously on most Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11:10. Research on online education shows that synchronous structures lead to better student outcomes. In my many years of teaching, I have also found that students who attend classes regularly also do much better that those who miss a lot of classes. At the same time, we are living in a moment filled with crisis, trauma, and struggle, and there may be a variety of reasons (e.g., childcare responsibilities, poor internet connectivity, time zone differences, illness, among others) that it is difficult for students to attend classes synchronously.

The purpose of this assessment criteria is to encourage you to attend classes in real time as much as possible, and to engage with the content even though it’s often hard to stay engaged over zoom. Having a specific time set aside when you come to class and engage in the classroom community (along with participating in classroom exercises, asking questions, adding to the chat, and such) is an easy way to boost your ability to succeed in this class.

Regardless of whether you are able to come to all the synchronous lectures, your engagement in the lectures will be assessed through a class “exit slip” you will be able to submit at the end of class or after watching the video of each lecture. These “exit slips” will ask you to answer one question (probably using google forms — I’m still working out the specifics): “list one thing that you learned, or one thing that confused you, from today's lecture.”

You are required to submit 15 exit slips over the course of the semester. The very last day to submit them (without exception) is May 5 @ 11:59 pm. Obviously, it is best to do these over the course of the semester and immediately after a synchronous lecture or after watching the posted video.

About the videos

I will aim to post lecture videos as quickly after the lecture as possible, but it sometimes takes up to two days to get them up. If it ever takes any longer, than two days, then something went wrong — please contact me to make sure I realize the video is not available. Information on how to access the videos will be provided. NEVER share lecture videos with ANYONE.

Various Assignments for Deep Learning (30% of final assessment):

There will be six short assignments given that are meant to help you learn concepts and engage with the assigned readings. These may be quizzes (short-answer, multiple-choice, and/or true-false), short essays, or short projects. Altogether, these six short assignments will be worth 30% of your final assessment. The assignment with the lowest score will be dropped.

Since the pace and schedule of the course will shift these assignments do not have set dates, but will be given periodically as we cover conceptual readings and new ideas. You will know an assignment has been posted because it will be introduced in lecture and it will show up on bcourses. Once an assignment is posted, you will have at least 10 days to complete it.

Land Biography (20% of final assessment):

Your first writing assignment will be an exploration of the land you live on, come from, or care about that takes into consideration your experience of the land, as well as the views of the Indigenous people who have always taken care of that land, but whose stories and presence you probably haven’t been aware of. You may also want to pay attention to the kinds of human-nonhuman relationships that sustain the land. More details will be forthcoming, at least 10 days before the deadline. This paper is due on bcourses on February 19.

Key Concept Assignment (20% of final assessment):

This writing assignment is meant to give you a chance to deeply and accurately learn, and engage with, key concepts — and relationships among key concepts — introduced in the course. This assignment is due on April 2-5. It will be distributed 10 days prior.

Final Project (10% of final assessment):

The final assignment in this class will be a photo essay through which you will be able to tell a story that engages with, and counters, inherited and persistent settler colonial stories of and land/landscapes. More information will be provided during the last weeks of the semester. This project is due any time in between May 3 and May 13 @ noon.

Cushion (5%):

I’m reserving five percent of possible points to spread around as I see fit. The one point you got for introducing yourself to the class is one example of this (therefore, there is 4% left for me to play with). I will add points to quizzes that might take a little longer than most or offer points for reading assignment instructions or the syllabus carefully. In general, you don’t have to do much to earn these points aside from pay careful attention.


Schedule of Classes and Readings:

All readings without a URL are available on courses under the “Files” tab.

Changes will be made to the schedule of readings, depending on the intellectual needs, pace, and direction of the class, as well as any unplanned interruptions to instruction. Such changes may include adding or subtracting reading and altering assignments. When these changes are made, they will be announced in class. I will also try to keep the bcourses site current and post announcements. BUT the most sure way to remain informed about any changes, is to regularly attend lectures or watch lecture videos.


~~ Module 1: It Matters What Stories Tell Stories: How “American Wilderness” is Made in Settler Stories ~~

We will begin by considering the power of stories, and what ways in which “wilderness,” the nation, and “women” are ideas we all inherit as culturally- and historically-specific categories reified and given meaning in story. This section will also begin to introduce key terms, concepts, and histories to provide a shared vocabulary, theoretical grounding, and contexts for exploring the complex questions of gender, race, colonialism, private property, and wilderness that will be critiqued throughout the course.

Week one (January 19 & 21): It matters what stories tell stories


Week two (January 26 & 28): What is “Nature” or “Wilderness”?: It Matters What Stories Tell Stories

Week Three (February 2 & 4): It Matters Whose Stories Tell Stories


Week Four (February 9 & 11): Stories Matter



~~ Module 2: Key Terms: Settler Colonialism, Race, Gender, Private Property, Intersectionality ~~

Now that we’ve been introduced to the concept of settler colonialism and its relationship to narratives of “American” wilderness, race, and gender, we will spend time studying some of the key terms that are necessary for thinking critically about these connections: intersectionality, gender, settler colonialism as structure, private property, the contact zone / colonial naming & knowledge practices, and the ways all these concepts/terms are connected and shape each other.

Week Five (February 16 & 18): Finish up Module One

Week Six (February 23 & 25): Settler Colonialism as an Analytic for Gender & Race


Week Seven (March 2 & 4): A Nation of Immigrants? Immigrants and Settler Colonialism: Complicating White-Black / Settler-Native Binary

Week Eight (March& 11): Private Property and Race-Gender

Week Nine (March 16 & 18): Women-Race, Reproduction, and Settler Colonialism (Warning: reading for this week includes stories of sexual violence)


March 23 & 25: Spring Break!

Week Ten (March 30 & April 1): Motherhood, Children, and Settler Colonialism



~~ Module 3: Frontier “Wilderness,” & Colonizing/Decolonizing Ways of Knowing ~~

In this section of the course, we will delve more deeply into the concept of “wilderness” and how it is created through stories inherited from the authoritative knowledges produced over time in the natural and social sciences including cartography, natural history, & scientific racism. A specific focus will be placed on how specific epistemologies (ways of knowing) produce specific ideas about nature and society, and thereby “naturalize” inequalities, often based on the fundamental, gendered, raced, and also naturalized split between “nature” and “society.” We will also explore the close connection between the mythology of the American frontier and the concept of “wilderness” with a particular focus on the ways in which stories of “frontier wilderness” have shaped U.S. cultures and norms (including norms of gender, race, and property) and how U.S. cultures and  norms shape the stories of frontier wilderness.

Week Eleven (April 6 & 8): Revisiting: What is “Wilderness” in “American Culture”?


Week Twelve (April 13 & 15): National “Wilderness”: Frontier Into Parks


Week Thirteen (April 20 & 22): Multicultural Wilderness "Adventure" Narratives

Recommended — Websites from POC/Queer Outdoor Groups:

Week Fourteen (April 27 & 29): Re-Thinking/Re-Engaging with Settler Colonial "Wilderness" 



Course Summary:

Date Details Due