Spring 2024 courses in Urban Studies

Please consult the registrar's site for complete information and to register. 

SPRING 2024 Urban-Focused Courses from the Princeton-Mellon Initiative:


The Politics of Land: Dispossession, Value, and Space

URB 304 ENV 320 AMS 375 HUM 376


This class explores what land means for different groups of people-- as an asset, a risk management device, and an icon of cultural meaning. It asks what happens not just at "land's end" (in which land is stolen) but "people's end"-- in a global political economy where land is often worth more than its inhabitants? This course treats land as an orienting concept to trace processes of dispossession, commodification and financialization amid transformations in conceptions of space, material resources, and communities.


Race, Caste, and Space: Architectural History as Property History

URB 305 SAS 351 AAS 364 ARC 325

INSTRUCTOR: Sonali G. Dhanpal

This course is a cross-comparative spatial history of caste in South Asia and race in the United States. Exploring architecture's deep entanglement in property and capital, students will learn how modern property co-emerged with contextual assemblages of race, caste, class, ethnicity, gender, and citizenship. Taking a comparative and interdisciplinary approach to examine intertwined histories of settler colonial and colonial spatial practices in these different geographies, students will engage humanities research methods through critical reading and writing while simultaneously learning to analyze and draw from visual and material culture.


Commemoration, Crisis, and Revolution in the City

AMS 306 ARC 313 AAS 391 URB 311

INSTRUCTOR: Brian Whetstone

This course will explore the intersections between commemoration, heritage, social and political movements, and urban (re)evelopment. Through field trips to local institutions, museums, historic sites, and community groups planning for the upcoming Semiquincentennial, we will examine how Americans have mobilized the memory and meaning of Revolution to press for greater political rights, challenge commemorative projects, and launch revolutionary practices of memorialization. Students will develop a digital exhibition exploring past and present struggles to define the Revolution that have fueled the region's commemorative and urban landscapes.


Chinatown, The Japanese Garden, The Period Room: Case Studies for Diasporic Architecture

ARC 314 ASA 313 HUM 374 URB 313

INSTRUCTOR:  Zhiyan Yang

This course delves into East Asian-styled architecture in the US through the lens of diaspora. By surveying Chinatowns, Japanese gardens, and period rooms via immersive field trips and the visual and textual documents, we examine how the experiences of immigration, racialization, and cultural exchange are reflected in the formal language, spatial interaction, cultural symbolism, and social dynamics of the built environment. Additionally, we interpret the process of representation, appropriation, modification, and ultimately, reinvention of architecture and space, all within the context of negotiation between the home and host land.


Building African Cities, Past and Present

URB 392 ARC 392 HIS 381 AFS 392

Enrollment by application; deadline to apply is November 16. Spring Break international travel.

INSTRUCTOR: Gregory H. Valdespino

This course examines how Africans have made cities from the Medieval era to the present day. Students will learn about the forces that have structured the buildings found on African cityscapes, the jobs done by urban workers, and the relationship African urbanites had with their environments. Students will examine how people experienced and transformed urban landscapes across Africa and develop the skills needed to critically analyze urban built environments. By doing so, students will develop the tools to interpret how cities are made and remade as well as the ability to explain how cities have structured Africa's past, present and future.


The Sixties: Documentary, Youth, and the City 

HIS 202 URB 203 AMS 202 AAS 203

INSTRUCTORS: Purcell Carson, Alison Isenberg

This seminar in history and documentary film explores personal narrative and how individual experience contributes to profound social change. We study 1960s youth through oral history, archival research, ethnography and journalism. Trenton NJ is the case study. Themes include: civil rights and Black power; immigration and migration; student uprisings and policing; education; gender and sexuality; churches and city institutions; sports; work, class and neighborhood; politics, law and government. Using documentary narrative, the course asks how a new generation of storytellers will shape public conversations and policy.


Affordable Housing in the United States

URB 384 AMS 386 HIS 340 ARC 387

INSTRUCTOR: Aaron P. Shkuda

This course introduces students to the ways that policy, design, and citizen activism shaped affordable housing in the United States from the early 20th century to the present. We explore privately-developed tenements and row houses, government-built housing, publicly-subsidized suburban homes and cooperatives, as well as housing developed through incentives and subsidies. Students will analyze the balance between public and private, free market and subsidy, and preservation and renewal. Close attention will be paid to the role of race in structuring the relationship between policymakers, property owners, renters, and homeowners.


Topics in the Formal Analysis of the Urban Structure: Environmental Challenges of Urban Sprawl

ARC 492 URB 492 ENV 492 

INSTRUCTOR: Mario Gandelsonas 

As part of the search for solutions to climate, water and energy challenges in a rapidly urbanizing world, it is crucial to understand and reassess the environmental challenges and potential of the exurban wasteland. This interdisciplinary course aims to add theoretical, pragmatic and cultural dimensions to scientific, technological, and policy aspects of current environmental challenges, in an effort to bridge the environmental sciences, urbanism and the humanities focusing on the transformation of the Meadowlands, the large ecosystem of wetlands, into a State Park.


Additional Urban Studies courses:

Introduction to Urban Studies / URB 201 SPI 201 SOC 203 ARC 207

M. Christine Boyer

This course will examine different crises confronting cities in the 21st century. Topics will range from informal settlements, to immigration, terrorism, shrinking population, sprawl, rising seas, affordable housing, gentrification, smart cities. The range of cities will include Los Angles, New Orleans, Paris, Lagos, Caracas, Havana, New York, Hong Kong, Dubai among others.


Contemporary Issues in Spain / SPA 227 EPS 227 URB 237

Germán Labrador Méndez

An exploration of the major features of contemporary Spain from 1939 to the present with particular attention to developing an understanding the concepts of cultural identity and difference within the changing global context. The course will address the recent processes that have left a mark on the history of Spain: the fall of Francoism, the particular and controversial transition to democracy, the financial crisis of 2008, the Indignados social movement, the nationalist trends in Basque Country and Catalonia, and the latest feminist wave, among others. Discussions and frequent writing assignments.


Just Housing? Racial Capitalism and the Right to the City / ANT 228 URB 228

Jacob Geuder

This seminar explores racial capitalism and the right to the city from the perspective of the housing crisis in the US. We will engage historical studies, social theory, and urban ethnography in order to understand how redlining and real estate speculation produce landscapes of housing injustice. We will also consider the ways marginalized communities mobilize to fight insecurity and to guarantee their right to housing. In collaboration with our community partner, a social impact research and design studio, we will organize urban walking tours and interviews in Trenton, and students will produce collaborative multimedia projects.


Urban Blues and the Golden Age of Rock / MUS 264 URB 264

Rob C. Wegman

A survey of American popular music in the 1920s to 1960s. We will start with the early history of three major streams of music: Country & Western, Rhythm & Blues, and Popular music. The critical year in that history was 1954, when the streams fused into a volatile mixture that detonated with the birth of Rock 'n' Roll. From the beginning this was a story about race, politics, money, generational divides. The songs themselves will guide us on our path. And this course aims to guide our ears to a deeper understanding and appreciation of them.


Arts in the Invisible City: Race, Policy, Performance / HUM 352 ENG 252 URB 352 THR 360

D. Vance Smith

In this community-engaged class, students will be invited to learn about the dynamic history and role of the arts in Trenton through conversations with local artists and activists. Students will develop close listening skills with oral historian/artist Nyssa Chow. Readings include texts about urban invisibility, race, decoloniality, and public arts policy. Students will participate in the development of a virtual memorial and restorative project by Trenton artist Bentrice Jusu.


The Reclamation Studio: Humanistic Design applied to Systemic Bias / EGR 361  ENT 361  URB 361 AAS 348

Majora Carter

Assumptions and practices by the nonprofit industrial complex, government agencies and affordable housing developers treat poor communities, especially poor communities of color as problems to be managed by those from outside these communities. The Reclamation Studio explores the humanistic design practices applied by social entrepreneurs from low-status communities near Princeton (our "clients") that counteract that history of systemic bias with innovative development projects designed to retain the talent from within their communities. Students will have the opportunity to learn from, and contribute to their efforts.


Gangsters and Troublesome Populations / ANT 363 AAS 369 URB 363 

Laurence Ralph

Since the 1920s, the term "gang" has been used to describe all kinds of collectives, from groups of well-dressed mobsters to petty criminals and juvenile delinquents. In nearly a century of research the only consistency in their characterization is as internal Other from the vantage of the law. This class will investigate how the category of "the gang" serves to provoke imaginaries of racial unrest and discourses of "dangerous," threatening subjects in urban enclaves. More broadly we will examine the methods and means by which liberal democratic governments maintain their sovereign integrity through the containment of threatening populations.


Systemic Racism: Myths and Realities / SOC 373 AMS 428 URB 373

Patricia Fernández-Kelly

This course focuses on the structural and institutional foundations of racial discrimination in the United States. It emphasizes the contributions of sociologists. The course gives a historical overview followed by an investigation of key legislative actions and economic factors inhibiting racial equality. Subsequent topics include migration and immigration; urban development; and residential segregation. The end of the course reviews resistance movements and policies aimed at addressing systemic racism, including restorative justice and reparations.


Global Urbanization  / SPI 379 SOC 390 URB 379

Benjamin H. Bradlow

For the first time, most people now live in cities. One in seven humans lives in an urban slum. We analyze the political, economic, and social dynamics that both create and arise from urbanization, informality, and attempts to govern our contemporary urban world. We ask how formal and informal institutions change inequalities of shelter, work, race, and other social identities, across urban space. We investigate the links between the processes of urbanization and climate change, and how they shape the politics of cities. We draw from cases across the globe and the US, along with a range of social science methods and theoretical perspectives.


The Zoning of Things / ARC 386 URB 386 AAS 383

Mitch McEwen 

This course introduces students to zoning as an urbanistic tool related to representation, classification, and design. Readings investigate zoning as a form of both ideation and technology through texts that include Keller Easterling, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Michel Foucault, Aristotle, and Samuel Delany, as well as the Zoning Resolution of the City of New York, films, video games, archival materials, and many forms of bureaucratic tables. Students will complete two texts that either analyze an existing zoning or propose a new zoning to operate on the built environment, socio­economics, ecology, or other aspects of a specific site.


Sicily: An Architectural History / ART 466 ARC 466 URB 466

Basile C. Baudez and Sofia A. Hernandez

Despite its position at the center of the Mediterranean, Sicily has long been misunderstood. This seminar intends to provide a survey of the island's rich architectural history from Antiquity to present. Ravaged by volcanic eruptions, seismic activities, and droughts, Sicily has been forced to rebuild itself in the wake of devastation. Through close examination of building projects, visits to Firestone's Special Collections, and guest lecturers, the seminar seeks to provide a fresh look at a vibrant and diverse architectural center. To study the architecture of Sicily is to study architecture in and of the Mediterranean.


Technology and the City: The Architectural Implications of Networked Urban Landscape / ARC 546 URB 546 

Andrew Laing

The seminar explores the implications of technologically networked cities for architectural programming and the design of spaces and places. Key issues examined: information technology reshaping the nature of architectural programming and our ideas of spaces, places and communities; programs for spaces, buildings, and the city being transformed by increasing mobility, fluidity and `blurring' of activities in space; and, the history of ideas that shape how we understand technology and urbanism, programming and architecture, including cyborg cities, sentient and smart cities, big data, hybrid places, crypto cities, and metaverse urbanism.