Not Major Enough

There are nine majors out of the thirty-eight offered at Amherst College that focus on specific regional areas. Of those nine regional areas, six are European* (seven if you count the Classics major, which you should). One is America, but not Central America or South America. The last of these majors is the catch-all Asian Languages and Civilizations.

Nothing on Latin American, Caribbean, or African regions.

Do I even have to say it?


In a world where academia is hugely Eurocentric, a world that is still very much feeling the effects of colonialism and that is increasingly characterized by interactions among people with different roots, are we seriously going to pretend this isn’t a big deal?

I’m not going to get into very specific and unimportant details such as, should they choose to, an Amherst student could potentially obtain a Five College certificate in Latin American Studies, or how a Spanish major could potentially also encompass Latin American cultures. For similar reasons, I’m not going to argue that one major, Asian Languages and Civilizations can adequately cover “the languages, societies, and cultures of the major civilizations that stretch from the Arab World to Japan” when the major civilizations that stretch from Russia to France demand seven separate and specific areas of study.

Do I really have to say it?

That’s the academic equivalent of calling Africa a country.

Yes, there is a nice variety of courses actually offered at the college that represent specific cultural groups and non-European perspectives. These courses are so, so important, and I don’t want to minimize their impact. In fact, I think if the college really tried to, a Latin American studies department could be forged around courses currently offered at the college with minimal expansion. The Asian Languages and Cultures monolith could easily be broken into separate departments.

And it wouldn’t just be a change in name. It would be institutional recognition for the validity (academic and otherwise) of histories, cultures and languages outside of Europe.

I guess I’ll just have to wait on it.

* American Studies, Asian Lang/Civ, Classics, English, European Studies, French, German, Russian, Spanish.