Professors Abiodun†, Cobham-Sander (Chair), Drabinski‡, Ferguson, Moss, and Vaughan‡; Associate Professor del Moral; Assistant Professors Hicks and Polk; Visiting Assistant Professor Hill; Visiting Lecturers Bailey and Hickmott.
Affiliated Faculty: Professors Basu, Hart, Lembo, Parham, and Redding; Associate Professors Robinson and Sitze; Assistant Professor Henderson; Senior Lecturer Delaney.
*On leave 2017-18.
† On leave fall semester 2017-18.
‡On leave spring semester 2017-18.
Black Studies is an interdisciplinary exploration of the histories and cultures of black peoples in Africa and the diaspora. It is also an inquiry into the social construction of racial differences and its relation to the perpetuation of racism and racial domination.
Major Program. The major in Black Studies consists of eight courses:& three core courses, three distribution courses, and two electives. The three core courses are BLST 111 (normally taken by the end of the sophomore year), BLST 200 (normally taken in the sophomore year), and BLST 300 (normally taken in the sophomore year), but before the final semester of the senior year. The three course distribution consists of one course in three of four geographic areas: Africa; the United States; Latin America and the Caribbean; and Africa and its Diaspora. The student may choose the two electives from the Department’s offerings, from cross-listed courses, or from other courses at the Five Colleges. Majors fulfill the department's comprehensive requirement by successfully completing BLST 300.
Departmental Honors Program. Normally students planning to write a thesis should have completed BLST 300 before the last semester of their senior year. All candidates for Honors must write a senior thesis. Candidates for Honors will, with departmental permission, take BLST 498-499 during their senior year. The departmental recommendation for Latin honors will be determined by the student’s level of performance on her/his thesis.
Key for required core and distribution requirements for the major: R (Required); A (Africa); US (United States); CLA (Caribbean/Latin America); D (Africa and its Diaspora).
Information concerning the Five College African Studies Certificate Program is available at https://www.fivecolleges.edu/african/certificate
Introduction to Black Studies
[R] This interdisciplinary introduction to Black Studies combines the teaching of foundational texts in the field with instruction in reading and writing. The first half of the course employs How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren as a guide to the careful reading of books focusing on the slave trade and its effects in Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States. Important readings in this part of the course include Black Odyssey by Nathan Huggins, Racism: A Short History by George Frederickson, and The Black Jacobins by C. L. R. James. The second half of the course addresses important themes from the turn of the twentieth century to the present. Beginning with The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois, it proceeds through a range of seminal texts, including The Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon and The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. This part of the course utilizes Revising Prose by Richard Lanham to extend the lesson in reading from the first half of the semester into an exploration of precision and style in writing. Computer exercises based on Revising Prose and three short essays--one on a single book, another comparing two books, and the last on a major theme in the course--provide the main opportunity to apply and reinforce skills in reading and writing learned throughout the semester. After taking this course, students at all levels of preparation should emerge not only with a good foundation for advancement in Black Studies but also with a useful set of guidelines for further achievement in the humanities and the social sciences.
Limited to 20 students per section. Fall semester: Professor del Moral. Spring semester: Visiting Lecturer Bailey.Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023
Survey of African Art
(Offered as ARHA 149 and BLST 123 [A]) An introduction to the ancient and traditional arts of Africa. Special attention will be given to the archaeological importance of the rock art paintings found in such disparate areas as the Sahara and South Africa, achievements in the architectural and sculptural art in clay of the early people in the area now called Zimbabwe and the aesthetic qualities of the terracotta and bronze sculptures of the Nok, Igbo-Ukwe, Ife and Benin cultures in West Africa, which date from the second century B.C.E. to the sixteenth century C.E. The study will also pursue a general socio-cultural survey of traditional arts of the major ethnic groups of Africa.
Spring semester. Professor Abiodun.2023-24: Not offered
Hip Hop History and Culture
(Offered as BLST 134 [US] and MUSI 126) This course examines the cultural origins of hip hop and how this small, Bronx-based subculture expanded into one of the most influential styles of music in the world. The course will begin by analyzing the cultural conditions out of which hip hop arose in the mid-1970s; from there it will turn to examining how hip hop music, over the last thirty-five years, has sounded the identity of its creators as they have grappled with six major questions: What musical elements are crucial components of hip hop’s sound? What does realness in hip hop sound like, and why does it matter? How have artists negotiated expressing their specific geographic origins while simultaneously embracing globalization? How does this genre fit into the music industry, and how has the music industry affected hip hop? Should hip hop be political, and how should artists express their politics? How have technological developments altered hip hop’s sound? Through answering these questions, students will gain an understanding of how hip hop has developed into the styles that we hear today, and how hip hop has radically transformed American racial politics and popular culture more broadly.
Enrollment limit 45. Fall Semester. Visiting Professor Amy Coddington.2023-24: Not offered
Embodiment, Race Inquiry, and Ethics: An Introduction to Qualitative Research
(Offered as BLST 146 and SOCI 204.) This introductory course explores role power, race-relations, and identity in qualitative research. Through readings, methodological practices, and discussion, students will consider the ways research can reproduce and disrupt the status quo. We will examine how we walk through the world; explore the skill sets we need to conduct race-related inquiry; and reflect upon the motivations behind methodological decisions. Additionally, we will engage key topics in qualitative research methods and experiment with varied research approaches including the fundamentals of data collection through interviews, participant-observation, and document analysis. Students will document their evolving curiosities and questions about qualitative research and reflect on the roles and responsibilities of being a researcher in general and a researcher of race in particular.
Fall semester. Professor Hill.2023-24: Not offered
Race, Place, and the Law
(Offered as LJST 105 and BLST 147 [US]) Understandings of and conflicts about place are of central significance to the experience and history of race and race relations in America. The shaping and reshaping of places is an important ingredient in the constitution and revision of racial identities: think of “the ghetto,” Chinatown, or “Indian Country.” Law, in its various manifestations, has been intimately involved in the processes which have shaped geographies of race from the colonial period to the present day: legally mandated racial segregation was intended to impose and maintain both spatial and social distance between members of different races.
The objective of this course is to explore the complex intersections of race, place, and law. Our aim is to gain some understanding of geographies of race “on-the-ground” in real places, and of the role of legal practices--especially legal argument--in efforts to challenge and reinforce these racial geographies. We will ask, for example, how claims about responsibility, community, rationality, equality, justice, and democracy have been used to justify or resist both racial segregation and integration, access and expulsion. In short, we will ask how moral argument and legal discourse have contributed to the formation of the geographies of race that we all inhabit. Much of our attention will be given to a legal-geographic exploration of African-American experiences. But we will also look at how race, place and the law have shaped the distinctive experiences of Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans.
Limited to 40 students. Spring semester. Senior Lecturer Delaney.Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2016, Spring 2018, January 2021, Fall 2023
Bob Marley and the Globalization of Jamaican Popular Music
(Offered as MUSI 115 and BLST 154 [CLA]) The 1972 partnership of British-based Island Records and reggae icon Bob Marley signaled a new and important presence in the international pop music world and a rising voice of Pan-African consciousness. The commercial viability of reggae led to the globalization of a music culture with a complex semiotics and particularity to Jamaican society. At the same time, the influence of ska, reggae, Jamaican DJ culture, and Rastafarianism has had a profound influence on local cultures spread across multiple continents, creating a web of relationships between communities in Jamaica, the United States, Great Britain, Brazil, many countries in Africa, and elsewhere. This course will draw from the music and life of Bob Marley to generate a number of questions about the role of popular music in globalization and the creation, continuation, and challenging of complex racial and social identities that illustrate processes of transnationalism and globalization. We will explore the roots and development of Afro-Jamaican popular music, its leading figures and styles, and its enduring influence throughout the world. Two class meetings per week.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor J. Robinson.2023-24: Not offered
The Postcolonial City
(Offered as ARHA 157, ARCH 157, and BLST 193 [D]) This introductory course engages the buildings, cities, and landscapes of former colonies in Africa, South Asia, and the Caribbean. Beginning with the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, the non-European territories, which once comprised the lucrative possessions of modern European empires, quickly became independent states charged with developing infrastructure, erecting national monuments, and handling the influx of laborers drawn to the metropolises that were formed as sleepy colonial towns grew into bustling postcolonial cities. This class will examine the buildings, urban spaces, rural landscapes, and national capitals that emerged in response to these political histories. We will approach a number of issues, such as the architecture of national independence monuments, the preservation of buildings linked to the colonial past, the growth of new urban centers in Africa and India after independence, architecture and regimes of postcolonial oppression, the built environments of tourism in the independent Caribbean, and artists’ responses to all of these events. Some of the places that we will address include: Johannesburg, South Africa; Chandigarh, India; Negril, Jamaica; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; and Lilongwe, Malawi. Our goal will be to determine what, if any, continuities linked the buildings, landscapes, and spaces of post-independence Africa, India, and the Caribbean in the twentieth century.
Over the course of the semester, students will gain skills in analyzing buildings, town plans, and other visual materials. Also, this class will aid students in developing their writing skills, particularly their ability to write about architecture and urban space.
Spring semester. Visiting Professor Carey.Other years: Offered in Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2023
Critical Debates in Black Studies
[R] In this course students will focus closely on major debates that have animated the field of Black Studies, addressing a wide range of issues from the slave trade to the present. Each week will focus on specific questions such as: What came first, racism or slavery? Is African art primitive? Did Europe underdevelop Africa? Is there Caribbean History or just history in the Caribbean? Should Black Studies exist? Is there a black American culture? Is Affirmative Action necessary? Was the Civil Rights Movement a product of government action or grass-roots pressure? Is the underclass problem a matter of structure or agency? The opposing viewpoints around such questions will provide the main focus of the reading assignments, which will average two or three articles per week. In the first four weeks, students will learn a methodology for analyzing, contextualizing, and making arguments that they will apply in developing their own positions in the specific controversies that will make up the rest of the course.
Limited to 20 students. Fall and spring semesters. Visiting Lecturer Hickmott.Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023
Power and Resistance in the Black Atlantic
(Offered as BLST 201 [D] and HIST 267 [LAp/AFp]) The formation of "the Black Atlantic" or "the African Diaspora" began with the earliest moments of European explorations of the West African coast in the fifteenth century and ended with the abolition of Brazilian slavery in 1888. This momentous historical event irrevocably reshaped the modern world. This class will trace the history of this transformation at two levels; first, we examine large scale historical processes including the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the development of plantation economies, and the birth of liberal democracy. With these sweeping stories as our backdrop, we will also explore the lives of individual Africans and African-Americans, the communities they built, and the cultures they created. We will consider the diversity of the Black Atlantic by examining the lives of a broad array of individuals, including black intellectuals, statesmen, soldiers, religious leaders, healers and rebels. Furthermore, we will pay special attention to trans-Atlantic historical formations common during this period, especially the contributions of Africans and their descendants to Atlantic cultures, societies, and ideas, ultimately understanding enslaved people as creative (rather than reactive) agents of history. So, our questions will be: What is the Black Atlantic? How can we understand both the commonalities and diversity of the experiences of Africans in the Diaspora? What kinds of communities, affinities and identities did Africans create after being uprooted by the slave trade? What methods do scholars use to understand this history? And finally, what is the modern legacy of the Black Atlantic? Class time will be divided between lecture, small and large group discussion.
Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Hicks.2023-24: Not offered
Global Women's Literature
(Offered as SWAG 279, BLST 202, and ENGL 279) What do we mean by “women’s fiction”? How do we understand women’s genres in different national contexts? This course examines topics in feminist thought such as marriage, sexuality, desire and the home in novels written by women writers from South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. We will draw on postcolonial literary theory, essays on transnational feminism and historical studies to situate our analyses of these novels. Texts include South African writer Nadine Gordimer’s My Son’s Story, Indian novelist Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, and Caribbean author Shani Motoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Shandilya.2023-24: Not offered
Women Writers of Africa and the African Diaspora
(Offered as ENGL 216, BLST 203 [D], and SWAG 203) The term “Women Writers” suggests, and perhaps assumes, a particular category. How useful is this term in describing the writers we tend to include under the frame? And further, how useful are the designations "African" and "African Diaspora"? We will begin by critically examining these central questions, and revisit them frequently as we read specific texts and the body of works included in this course. Our readings comprise a range of literary and scholarly works by canonical and more recent female writers from Africa, the Caribbean, and continental America. Framed primarily by Postcolonial Criticism, our explorations will center on how writers treat historical and contemporary issues specifically connected to women’s experiences, as well as other issues, such as globalization, modernity, and sexuality. We will consider the continuities and points of departure between writers, periods, and regions, and explore the significance of the writers’ stylistic choices. Here our emphasis will be on how writers appropriate vernacular and conventional modes of writing.
Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2017-18. Visiting Lecturer Bailey.2023-24: Not offered
African Popular Music
(Offered as BLST 204 [A] and MUSI 105) This course focuses on twentieth-century African popular music; it examines musical genres from different parts of the continent, investigating their relationships to the historical, political and social dynamics of their respective national and regional origins. Regional examples like highlife, soukous, chimurenga, and afro-beate will be studied to assess the significance of popular music as a creative response to social and political developments in colonial and postcolonial Africa. The course also discusses the growth of hip-hop music in selected countries by exploring how indigenous cultural tropes have provided the basis for its local appropriation. Themes explored in this course include the use of music in the construction of identity; popular music, politics and resistance; the interaction of local and global elements; and the political significance of musical nostalgia.
Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2017-18.2023-24: Not offered
Introduction to Postcolonial Theory
[D]What was colonialism? What sort of shadow does it cast over the formerly colonized world, even after formal colonial relations have ended? How does colonialism survive independence? What is the postcolonial moment? And what does it call for in processes of decolonization? This course introduces postcolonial theory as a form of philosophical thinking, political strategy, and transformative cultural intervention. We will read works on the meaning of colonialism and the imperatives of decolonial thinking from the black Atlantic world, including early thinkers like Albert Memmi, Aimé Césaire, and Frantz Fanon and their legacy in more contemporary thinkers like Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Wole Soyinka, Édouard Glissant, and Achille Mbembe. As well, we will read selections from key figures in global postcolonial theory including Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Homi Bhabha, and Subcommandante Marcos. Our aim across these readings is to register the deep and complex harm of centuries of conquest, enslavement, and colonial rule, and the complicated, often paradoxical task of making a world after colonialism. That complicated and paradoxical task, as we shall see, makes it difficult, if not impossible, to make clean distinctions between the individual and the collective, ethnicity and race, history and memory, and ultimately culture and politics.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Drabinski.
2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as MATH 205, BLST 209 and HIST 209 [US]) This course will look at issues surrounding inequality in K-12 math education. Mathematics has a reputation for being something that either you can do or you can’t: the so-called "geniuses" know all the answers already, whereas for everyone else it is a constant struggle. In addition, math and other STEM fields have traditionally been discouraged as career paths for women and for students from underrepresented groups. At Amherst today, students from those groups are still in the minority in math classes. We’ll ask why this is, whether it can and should be changed, and if so, how.
Our discussions will be guided by some of the following questions: To what extent is math ability an innate talent that you are either born with or not? How and why is variation in accomplishment in mathematics related to race, gender and socio-economic class? What mathematics should we teach in schools and how should those teachers be prepared? What is "math phobia," how does it develop and how can it be treated? How do attitudes towards math in the general public affect student learning?
Limited to 25 students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Spring semester. Professors Ching and Moss.2023-24: Not offered
Christianity and Islam in West Africa
(Offered as BLST 210 [A] HIST 210 [AF] and RELI 220.) This course explores how Christianity, Islam, and indigenous African religious beliefs shaped the formation of West African states from the transformative nineteenth-century Islamic reformist movements and mission Christianity, to the formation of modern nation-states in the twentieth century. The course provides a broad regional West African overview, paying careful attention to how religious themes shaped the communities of the Nigerian region — a critical West African region where Christianity and Islam converged to transform a modern state and society. Drawing on primary sources and historical texts as well as Africanist works in sociology, anthropology, and comparative politics, this Nigerian experience illuminates broader West African, African, and global perspectives that underscore the historical significance of religion in politics and society, especially in non-Western contexts.
Fall semester. Professor Vaughan.2023-24: Not offered
Africa Before the European Conquest
(Offered as HIST 284 [AFP] and BLST 211 [A]) The African continent has been called by one historian the social laboratory of humanity. Art, trade, small-scale manufacturing, medical knowledge, religion, state systems, history and legend all flourished before the formal political take-over of the continent by European powers in the late nineteenth century. It is this varied history of states and cultures in the period before 1885 that this course will examine. The course will explore four topics in depth: slave-ownership within African societies and the impact of both the trans-Atlantic and east African slave trades; the interaction of religion and power on the rise and fall of the central African kingdom of Kongo; the genesis of the Zulu state in southern Africa and the historical evidence behind the contradictory histories of Tshaka; and the changing roles of women as economic, political, and social actors. We will discuss some of the differences between oral historical narratives and written ones to understand both the history of the people living on the continent as well as the active process of writing and interpreting that history. Two class meetings per week.
Spring semester. Professor Redding.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 278 and BLST 212 [A]) This course will examine how African writers incorporate digital technologies into their work when they publish traditional print texts, experiment with digital formats, or use the internet to redefine their relationship to local and international audiences. We will reflect on how words and values shift in response to new forms of mediation; on the limits these forms place on the bodies they represent, and on the protections they occasionally offer. Students will read fictional works in print, serialized narratives on blogs, as well as other literary products that circulate via social media. Students also will be introduced to a selection of digital humanities tools that will assist them in accessing, analyzing and responding to these works. Course materials include print, digital and hybrid publications by Oyono, Farah, Adichie, Cole, Maphoto, and Wainaina, among others.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor R. Cobham-Sander.
2023-24: Not offered
Master Musicians of Africa I: West Africa
(Offered as BLST 214 [A] and MUSI 106) This course concentrates on the lives and music of selected West African musicians. Departing from ethnographic approaches that mask the identity of individual musicians and treat African societies as collectives, this course emphasizes the contributions of individual West African musicians whose stature as master musicians is undisputed within their respective communities. It examines the contributions of individual musicians to the ever continuous process of negotiating the boundaries of African musical practice. Individuals covered this semester include Babatunde Olatunji (Nigerian drummer), Youssou N’Dour (Senegalese singer), Kandia Kouyate (Malian jelimuso) and Ephraim Amu (Ghanaian composer). The variety of artistic expressions of selected musicians also provides a basis for examining the interrelatedness of different African musical idioms, and the receptivity of African music to non-African styles.
Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Five College Professor Omojola.2023-24: Not offered
Colonial and Post-Colonial Africa
(Offered as HIST 181 [AF] and BLST 221 [A]) Africa is a continent of fifty-four countries, but in many people’s minds the continent’s name conjures up a host of stereotyped images--some positive and many negative--that misrepresent the continent as an undifferentiated whole. The primary goal of this course is to address the images of Africa by putting the continent’s contemporary situation into historical perspective from the late nineteenth century until the present day. The main themes will be the social, political and economic impacts of imperial policies on African societies, the constructions and alterations of “tribal” identities and nationalist politics, issues concerning medicine and public health, the development of “gatekeeper” states, and problems faced by post-colonial states. We will explore the variety of experiences as people from multiple societies have often innovated new cultural forms in the wake of colonial rule, and the advent of “resource conflicts,” particularly those involving petroleum, diamonds, and other minerals. Three class meetings per week.
Fall semester. Professor Redding.Other years: Offered in Fall 2023
South African History
(Offered as HIST 283 [AFP] and BLST 222 [A]) South African history is undergoing radical shifts in the way it is being written, read and interpreted, and this course will explore established and emerging themes in the history of this intriguing country. The time period covered will span the precolonial indigenous cultures and move on to study the initiation and expansion of white settlement and its early dependence on slave labor. The course will also investigate African resistance, both in its political and cultural forms, as well as the social effects of gold-mining and migrant labor. African nationalism, including the ANC, the Black Consciousness Movement, and the United Democratic Front, will be the focus of our study of the responses to apartheid and the ultimate collapse of the apartheid state. The course will end with discussions of recent events in South Africa, particularly the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its aftermath as well as the developing AIDS epidemic and the growing problem of crime. Two class meetings per week.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Redding.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as POSC 260 [G] and BLST 227) Students will develop a rich understanding of African politics from the pre-colonial period to the present and will be able to analyze and discuss contemporary African politics in light of historical forces. Specifically, students will be able to analyze and discuss local experiences of democracy and governance; the challenges of economic development; and national as well as international policy responses. The topics will be considered in light of varied colonial experiences; nationalist and independence movements; international political economy; and informal sources of political power.
African American History from the Slave Trade to Reconstruction
(Offered as BLST 231 [US] and HIST 247 [US]; or may be included in AF concentration, but not AF for distribution in the History major.) This course is a survey of the history of African American men and women from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries through the Civil War and Reconstruction. The content is a mixture of the social, cultural, and political history of blacks during two and a half centuries of slavery with the story of the black freedom struggle and its role in America’s national development. Among the major topics addressed: the slave trade in its moral and economic dimensions; African retentions in African American culture; origins of racism in colonial America; how blacks used the rhetoric and reality of the American and Haitian Revolutions to their advancement; antebellum slavery; black religion and family under slavery and freedom; the free black experience in the North and South; the crises of the 1850s; the role of race and slavery in the causes, course, and consequences of the Civil War; and the meaning of emancipation and Reconstruction for blacks. Readings include historical monographs, slave narratives by men and women, and one work of fiction.
Combined enrollment limited to 25 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Moss.Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2019, Spring 2023
Jazz History to 1945: Emergence, Early Development, and Innovation
(Offered as MUSI 226 and BLST 234 [US]) One of two courses that trace the development of jazz from its emergence in early 20th-century New Orleans to its profound impact on American culture. Jazz History to 1945 examines its early roots in late 19th-century American popular culture and its role as American popular music in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s. Using themes that connect the evolution of jazz practices to social and racial politics in American popular culture, we will look closely at the work of well-known historical figures (Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and several others) as well as the vibrant communities that nurtured and prompted their innovative musical practices. Two class meetings per week.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Robinson.2023-24: Not offered
Black Panther, Black Power
[US] The iconic, militant images of the Black Power and Black Panther movements are familiar, embodying so many of the cultural and political shifts in African-American life after the civil rights movement. But what sort of concepts of liberation, identity, and revolution generated such iconic images? Why did armed struggle and other forms of militancy emerge as centerpieces of political thinking and mobilization? This course reads key players in the Black Power and Black Panther movements as vernacular intellectuals, revolutionary theorists, and transformative figures in African-American culture, from the early blending of the civil rights struggle with armed resistance in the writings of Robert F. Williams to charismatic and influential figures like Stokely Carmichael and Huey Newton to key feminist interventions by Elaine Brown and Angela Davis. We also read the revolutionary sources of both movements, with particular focus on W.E.B. DuBois, Frantz Fanon, Che Guevara, and Mao Tse-Tung, in order to engage fully with their sense of Black militancy and a revolutionary global south. Lastly, the course will draw out key differences in the cultural and political visions of the Black Power and Black Panther movements, including conceptions of race, gender, class, internationalism, and sexuality.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Drabinski2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as BLST 236 [US] and SWAG 330) From the modern era to the contemporary moment, the intersection of race, gender, and class has been especially salient for people of African descent—for men as well as for women. How might the category of sexuality act as an additional optic through which to view and reframe contemporary and historical debates concerning the construction of black identity? In what ways have traditional understandings of masculinity and femininity contributed to an understanding of African American life and culture as invariably heterosexual? How have black lesbian, gay, and transgendered persons effected political change through their theoretical articulations of identity, difference, and power? In this interdisciplinary course, we will address these questions through an examination of the complex roles gender and sexuality play in the lives of people of African descent. Remaining attentive to the ways black people have claimed social and sexual agency in spite of systemic modes of inequality, we will engage with critical race theory, black feminist thought, queer-of-color critique, literature, art, film, “new media” and erotica, as well as scholarship from anthropology, sociology, and history.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Polk.2023-24: Not offered
[US] This course explores the complex relationship between race, racism, and mass incarceration. Readings from the African-American intellectual tradition, contemporary critics of the prison industrial complex, and memoirs from political prisoners will help us understand the depth and structure of the historical and cultural meaning of racialized imprisonment. In particular, we will look at how incarceration has been both a metaphor for the Black experience in the United States and a constant presence in that experience as a form of social, cultural, and political control. We will also examine how economic factors intersect with race and racism in the expansion of the prison system in the United States. Lastly, we will read a cluster of prison memoirs in light of contemporary historical and critical race analysis in order to discern the effects and affects of imprisonment on African-American life.
Fall semester. Professor Drabinski.
2023-24: Not offered
African-American Religious History
(Offered as RELI 238 and BLST 238 [US]) A study of African-American religion, from the time of slavery to the present, in the context of American social, political, and religious history. Consideration will be given to debates concerning the "Africanity" of black religion in the United States, to the role of Islam in African-American religious history, and to the religious impact of recent Caribbean immigration. The major emphasis throughout the course, however, will be on the history of African-American Christianity in the United States. Topics covered will include the emergence of African-American Christianity in the slavery era, the founding of the independent black churches (especially the AME church) and their institutional development in the nineteenth century, the predominant role of the black Baptist denominations in the twentieth century, the origins and growth of black Pentecostalism, the increasing importance of African-American Catholicism, the role of the churches in social protest movements (especially the civil rights movement) and electoral politics, the changing forms of black theology, and the distinctive worship traditions of the black churches.
Fall semester. Professor Wills.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as BLST 239 [US] and HIST 239 [US]) This course will examine the practices, cultures, and consequences of racial segregation in the modern United States. Beginning with the Jim Crow South, students will learn to interpret segregation not simply as a system of racial separation but as a critical site of political, economic, and psychological investment. Two questions will animate this class: how did segregation work and for whom, historically, did it work? In attempting to answer these questions, students will learn to see the ways in which a supposedly bygone institution has continued to profoundly shape the nature and distribution of power in the United States. Students will, for instance, ponder connections between the color line in the South and the history of red-lining in the urban North. In doing so, this class will ask students to consider the ways in which southern history might be understood as national history, and the ways in which the presence of segregation remains central to the persistence of inequality in American life.
Omitted 2017-18. Visiting Lecturer Hickmott.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as AMST 216 and BLST 240 [CLA/US]) Who is an “Afro-Latino”? Are they Latinos or are they Black? Afro-Latinos are African-descended peoples from Latin America and the Caribbean who reside in the United States. In this course, a focus on Afro-Latinos allows us to study the history of racial ideologies and racial formation in the Americas.
We take a multi-layered approach to the study of modern Afro-Latino history (late nineteenth century to the twentieth century). First, the history of Afro-Latinos has been shaped by the historical relationship between race and nation in Latin America. Therefore, we look closely at the varied histories of African-descended peoples in Latin American countries. Second, the historical relationship between the United States and Latin America has shaped the experience of Afro-Latinos who reside in the U.S. The long history of U.S. economic dominance and military interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean generated an equally long history of Latin American migration to the U.S. In the twentieth century black migrants came from nations that promoted myths of racial democracy to a nation that practiced racial segregation and violence. Afro-Latino migrants experienced racial segregation and violence in the U.S. in ways similar to but different than other Latinos and African Americans. Therefore, third, we examine the history of Afro-Latinos in relation to Latinos in the U.S. The history of Latinos is at the core of U.S. continental expansion, labor practices, and exclusionary citizenship. The category “Latino” has also been shaped by racial hierarchies. The relatively new category of “Afro-Latino” allows us to examine a history that has been silenced within the broader categories of “Latino” or “African American.”
In this course, we examine how Afro-Latinos maneuvered between different racial contexts in Latin American nations and the United States. It is a history that highlights the competing and conflicting racial ideologies that have shaped the Americas.
Limited to 20 students. Fall semester. Professor del Moral.
2023-24: Not offered
African American History from Reconstruction to the Present
(Offered as BLST 241 [US] and HIST 248 [US; or may be included in AF concentration, but not AF for distribution in the History major]) This course is a survey of the social, cultural, and political history of African American men and women since the 1870s. Among the major topics addressed: the legacies of Reconstruction; the political and economic origins of Jim Crow; the new racism of the 1890s; black leadership and organizational strategies; the Great Migration of the World War I era; the Harlem Renaissance; the urbanization of black life and culture; the impact of the Great Depression and the New Deal; the social and military experience of World War II; the causes, course and consequences of the modern civil rights movement; the experience of blacks in the Vietnam War; and issues of race and class in the 1970s and 1980s. Readings and materials include historical monographs, fiction, and documentary films.
Limited to 50 students. Omitted 2017-18.2023-24: Not offered
Black Women's Narratives and Counternarratives: Love and the Family
(Offered as SWAG 202, BLST 242 [US], and ENGL 259) Why do love and courtship continue to be central concerns in black women's literature and contemporary black popular fiction? Are these thematic issues representative of apolitical yearnings or an allegory for political subjectivity? Drawing on a wide range of texts, we will examine the chasm between the "popular" and the literary, as we uncover how representations of love and courtship vary in both genres. Surveying the growing discourse in media outlets such as CNN and the Washington Post regarding the "crisis" of the single black woman, students will analyze the contentious public debates regarding black women and love and connect them to black women's literature and black feminist literary theory. Authors covered will range from Nella Larsen to Terry McMillan and topics will include gender, race, class, and sexuality.
Limited to 18 students. Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Henderson.2023-24: Not offered
This course will explore the life and times of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Through a deep engagement with his published work and public rhetoric, relevant secondary literature, and personal papers, students will locate the civil rights leader within the broader upheavals of mid-century America. As such, the course serves as an introduction to modern US history, the black freedom struggle, and the archive of civil rights. Moving beyond mythology, this course will emphasize his connections to American liberalism, the labor movement, the black prophetic tradition and human rights. As such, this course will excavate the radical King, a man whose life and work often challenged the liberal consensus on questions of class, race, and empire, and thus questions later ahistorical characterizations of the Civil Rights Movement as either “moderate” or “conservative.” The course will culminate in a student research-led conference, to mark and reflect upon the fiftieth anniversary of King’s assassination in 1968. Two class meetings per week.
Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Visiting Lecturer Hickmott.2023-24: Not offered
Introduction to Black Girlhood Studies
(Offered as BLST 246 [US] /SWAG 246.) The course introduces students to theories, methods, and analytical approaches to the study of Black girlhood. Students will interrogate Black girlhood as a political category of identity and symbol of agency, addressing such topics as foundations of the field, utility of the categories of "girl" and "woman" and representation of Black girlhood in academic literature and popular culture. We will explore problems pressing upon the lives of Black girls with respect to their lived experiences of work, sexuality, and education and illuminate the strategies, genius and potential of Black girls and Black girlhood. Working within and beyond Black radical hip hop feminist frameworks, our learning will involve thinking through and embodying theories and practices -- emancipatory, humanizing, radical acts -- as produced by Black girls, artists, and scholars. Class materials will include journal articles, films, novels, music and student-generated ethnographic observations.
Fall semester. Professor Hill.2023-24: Not offered
Race and American Capitalism: from Slavery to Ferguson
(Offered as BLST 248 [US] and HIST 246 [US]) An unconventional history of capitalism, this class explores the various ways African Americans have experienced and responded to shifts in the organization of the American economy. Beginning with the middle passage and creation of plantation slavery in the New World, we will explore the commodification of African Americans' labor, and the ways in which that labor became a cornerstone of capital accumulation, both globally and in the United States. We continue through the revolutions of emancipation, the rise of Jim Crow and the making of urban America, to our present day reality of deeply rooted, and racialized, economic inequality. More than a history of exploitation, however, we will address the various ways in which African Americans chose to manage both the challenges and possibilities of American capitalist development. How, for instance, did black ownership of real estate in the segregated South shape Jim Crow governance? To what extent has black business contributed toward struggles for political and social equality? Finally, we will assess the numerous black critics, including intellectuals, activists and working African Americans, of the American political economy. How have such men and women called attention to the ways race and class have combined to shape both black lives and black political subjectivity?
Fall semester. Visiting Lecturer Hickmott.2023-24: Not offered
The Colonial City: Global Perspectives
(Offered as ARHA 257, ARCH 257, and BLST 253) Creole dwellings were first erected by enslaved builders working under Diego Colón (the son of Christopher Columbus) on the island of Hispaniola. By the end of the first wave of European expansion in the early nineteenth century, the creole style existed across imperial domains in the Caribbean, North and South America, Africa, the Indian Ocean, and even Asia. We will examine the global diffusion of this architectural typology from its emergence in the Spanish Caribbean to its florescence in British and French India in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. In doing so, we will address buildings and towns in Spanish, French, Dutch, Portuguese, and British colonies worldwide. Some of the urban centers that we will engage include: Kingston, Jamaica; Pondicherry, India; Cape Town, South Africa; Cartagena, Colombia; Saint-Louis, Senegal; and Macau, China. In investigating both creole structures and the cities that harbored such forms, we will think through the social and economic factors that caused buildings and urban areas to display marked continuities despite geographical and imperial distinctions.
Fall semester. Visiting Professor Carey.Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2022, Fall 2023
Fanon and After
[D and C/LA] Who was Frantz Fanon as a theorist? How did he change our thinking about colonialism, its contestation, and what comes after? And how are we to assess his legacy after decades of critical assessment? Fanon is arguably the most important anti-colonial writer of his generation. His decade of work, beginning in 1952 with Black Skin, White Masks and ending upon his death in 1961, engaged the major trends of his day: existentialism, Négritude, surrealism, psychoanalysis, and Marxism. But Fanon makes those trends his own by infusing them with imperatives of anti-, de-, and post-colonial thinking, fundamentally revolutionizing basic philosophical and political categories, from language to dialectic to the self to a wide range of formal and informal social institutions. What is Fanonian thinking in these intersections? And what is its future? To those ends, the aim of this course is simple: read all of Fanon’s published work and assess its meaning and legacy. We will offer close readings of Fanon’s books, essays, and psychiatric case studies, and then examine how that work has been received both inside the Caribbean and Africa (Édouard Glissant, the creolist movement, Achille Mbembe, and others) and across the global South (Homi Bhabha and others). What will emerge from our studies is a deep understanding of Fanon the thinker and an appreciation of the complexity of anti-colonial, de-colonial, and post-colonial thought and practice in his wake.
Fall semester. Professor Drabinski.2023-24: Not offered
Black Radicalism in the Global South
(Offered as BLST 291[D] and HIST 291[AF/c]) This course will examine the geographic formation contemporary scholars have identified as the "Global South," and explore how it has been historically infused by the political struggles of people throughout the African Diaspora. Transnational in scope, this course will address the American South, the Caribbean and Africa, placing the history of colonialism and decolonization alongside--and in dialogue with--efforts to achieve racial justice in the United States. In turn, we will probe how the Global South simultaneously nurtured, and was created by, the emergence and development of a Black Radical Tradition, and broader notions of black diasporic identity. Through close readings of primary sources, this course will establish pioneering intellectuals such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Eric Williams, Frantz Fanon, Ella Baker, Stokely Carmichael, Claudia Jones and CLR James as "southern" critics of racism and western modernity. In turn, this course will assess the black radical's relationship to modes of thought (particularly liberalism, nationalism and Marxism) initially articulated outside the Global South. Finally, we will critically assess the extent, and limitations, of such efforts to "make the world anew."
Omitted 2017-18. Visiting Lecturer Hickmott.2023-24: Not offered
Russia and the Representation of Race
(Offered as RUSS 252, BLST 292 [D] and FAMS 352) This course focuses on the modes by which race has been represented in Russian and Soviet culture. We approach this topic in two ways: first, we examine how Russian and Soviet culture grappled with questions of race, focusing on episodes in the representation of minority peoples throughout the empire and the Soviet Union; secondly, we consider how Russian and Soviet culture served as a mirror in which minorities from other countries saw their experiences partially reflected or as a source from which they found models to articulate their own experience of race. These two concerns guide us through the course as we study such works as Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground as it enters into dialogue with Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man and Leonid Tsypkin’s Summer in Baden Baden; the representation of Central Asia by such figures as Langston Hughes and Andrei Platonov; the appeal of the Soviet Union to Western intellectuals, in particular African-American thinkers and writers, from W.E.B. Du Bois, Hughes, and Claude McKay; Alexander Pushkin and the question of his “blackness” and universality; the cinematic representation of minorities in the films of Dziga Vertov and Vsevolod Pudovkin. We will draw our critical theoretical models from Homi Bhabha, Dipesh Chakrabaty, Patricia Hall Collins, Johannes Fabian, Stuart Hall, and Mary Louise Pratt, among others.
Spring semester. Professor Kunichika.2023-24: Not offered
African Art and the Diaspora
(Offered as ARHA 270 and BLST 293 [D]) The course of study will examine those African cultures and their arts that have survived and shaped the aesthetic, philosophic and religious patterns of African descendants in Brazil, Cuba, Haiti and urban centers in North America. We shall explore the modes of transmission of African artistry to the West and examine the significance of the preservation and transformation of artistic forms from the period of slavery to our own day. Through the use of films, slides and objects, we shall explore the depth and diversity of this vital artistic heritage of Afro-Americans.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Abiodun.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as BLST 294 [D] and EUST 294) This research-based seminar considers the enduring presence of people of African descent in Europe from the nineteenth century to the contemporary moment, a fact that both confounds and extends canonical theories of African diaspora and black internationalism. Focusing particularly on the histories of black people in Britain, Germany, and France, this course will take an interdisciplinary approach in its study of the African diaspora in Europe. We will examine literature, history, film, art and ephemera, as well as newly available pre-1927 audio recordings from Bear Family Records (http://www.black-europe.com/) in effort to better comprehend the materiality of the black European experience. These inquiries will enable us to comment upon the influence black people continue to have upon Europe today. Reading the central texts in the emerging field of Black European Studies—including African American expatriate memoirs, Afro-German feminist poetry, and black British cultural theory—student work will culminate in an annotated bibliography and a multimedia research project.
Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Polk.2023-24: Not offered
The Concept of Race
[US] What do we mean by the term "race"? From where does the concept come and what role did "race" play in white Western modernity? Is "race" always a destructive concept, or can it be re-defined and re-deployed as part of critical and emancipatory projects? This course explores the concept of race in three basic moments. First, we will look at how our contemporary language of race originated in the Enlightenment and was conceived and justified by some of the key figures of white Western intellectual life, including John Locke, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and G.W.F. Hegel. This genealogical moment reveals race-thinking as foundational to European identity. Second, we will read and critically assess contemporary theorizations of race in order to see how notions of blackness are generated and to what extent, if any, those notions are defensible as liberatory ideas. This political moment critically examines the relationship between identity, tradition, and ideas of race. Third, we will explore how whiteness has been conceived across history in relation to abject racial categories and how whiteness survives, functions, and exercises power in forms of invisibility and hyper-visibility. This analytical moment interrogates the relationship between whiteness as a political identity and anti-Black violence and terror.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Drabinski.
2023-24: Not offered
Research in Black Studies
[R] This seminar prepares students to conduct independent research. Although it concentrates on the field of Black Studies, it serves as a good introductory research course for all students in the humanities and social sciences regardless of major. The first part of the course will intensively introduce students to the library through a series of readings, exercises, and discussions aimed at sharpening the ability to locate information precisely and efficiently. The second part of the course will introduce research methods in three important areas of Black Studies: the arts, history, and the social sciences. Faculty members of the Black Studies Department, departmental affiliates, and visitors will join the class to present their own ongoing research, placing particular emphasis on the disciplinary methods and traditions of inquiry that guide their efforts. Also in the second part, through individual meetings with professors, students will begin developing their own research projects. The third part of the course will concentrate more fully on development of these projects through a classroom workshop. Here students will learn how to shape a topic into a research question, build a bibliography, annotate a bibliography, shape a thesis, develop an outline, and write a research proposal, or prospectus.
This class is required of Black Studies majors. It is open to non-majors with the consent of the instructor. Although BLST 111 and 200 are not required for admission, preference will go to those who have taken one or both of these courses.
Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Cobham-Sander.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2022, Fall 2023
(Offered as HIST 350 [AF/LA/c] and BLST 309 [CLA/D]) One of the longest and largest migrations in world history was between Western Africa and Brazil; over the course of four centuries the slave trade displaced nearly six million Africans to the then-Portuguese colony. In this course, students will explore the material, cultural, intellectual, linguistic and economic exchanges that defined the relationship between Western Africa and Brazil from 1500 to the present. Through this history, students will consider how this unique connection spurred new forms of transatlantic consciousness and identity in Brazilian society. Our examination of the linked histories of Africa and Brazil will allow us to probe a number of questions: How does this history help us understand Brazil’s emergence as the world’s first self-described “racial democracy”? Who decides what is “modern”? How is race related to ideas of civilization, order and progress? What does “authenticity” mean? Does understanding black history outside of the United States challenge our ideas of how racial identities are created, experienced and maintained? And finally, is black consciousness universal? Two class meetings per week.
Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Hicks.
African Migrations and Globalization
(Offered as BLST 311[A/D] and HIST 311 [AF].) This course examines how postcolonial African migration and transnational African populations in Western countries have shaped African states and societies in the global era. Drawing on key readings about the formation of nation-states in Africa and the historical sociology of transnationalism since World War II, we will discuss what concepts such as the nation-state, communal identity, global relations, and security mean in the African context and explore African transnational experiences in the context of state crisis and globalism. The course also will focus on how African national and transnational encounters in the context of globalization consistently reflect African agency, revealing important discussions on homeland and diaspora, tradition and modernity, gender and generation.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Vaughan.2023-24: Not offered
Tones in Black and White
(Offered as ENGL 321 and BLST 312.) Abdul JanMohamed argues that colonialism produces a compartmentalized world in which white authors write to extend their domination through demeaning depictions of blacks, while black authors use their writing to recuperate their people’s dignity through, to use Chinua Achebe’s inventive term, “re-storying.” The lingering question: what does this “re-storying” entail? And how do African writers imagine “whiteness”?
This multi-media course immerses students in songs, films and texts that imagine “otherness” to examine this black-white divide, and how it problematizes race and representation. Readings may include Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino, Ernest Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa, Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa, Elspeth Huxley’s The Flame Trees of Thika, Tom Stoppard’s Night and Day, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat and Weep Not, Child, and John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me, and the following films: I Am Not Your Negro, Black Like Me, Black and White in Color. Students will provide both critical and creative writing.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 25 students. Preregistration is not allowed. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Spring semester. Visiting Writer Kimani.2023-24: Not offered
Visual Arts and Orature in Africa
(Offered as BLST 313 [A] and ARHA 138) In the traditionally non-literate societies of Africa, verbal and visual arts constitute two systems of communication. The performance of verbal art and the display of visual art are governed by social and cultural rules. We will examine the epistemological process of understanding cultural symbols, of visualizing narratives, or proverbs, and of verbalizing sculptures or designs. Focusing on the Yoruba people of West Africa, the course will attempt to interpret the language of their verbal and visual arts and their interrelations in terms of cultural cosmologies, artistic performances, and historical changes in perception and meaning. We will explore new perspectives in the critical analysis of African verbal and visual arts, and their interdependence as they support each other through mutual references and allusions.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Abiodun.2023-24: Not offered
Myth, Ritual and Iconography in West Africa
(Offered as BLST 315 [A] and ARHA 353) Through a contrastive analysis of the religious and artistic modes of expression in three West African societies--the Asanti of the Guinea Coast, and the Yoruba and Igbo peoples of Nigeria--the course will explore the nature and logic of symbols in an African cultural context. We shall address the problem of cultural symbols in terms of African conceptions of performance and the creative play of the imagination in ritual acts, masked festivals, music, dance, oral histories, and the visual arts as they provide the means through which cultural heritage and identity are transmitted and preserved, while, at the same time, being the means for innovative responses to changing social circumstances.
Spring semester. Professor Abiodun.
2023-24: Not offered
Riot and Rebellion in Colonial and Post-Colonial Africa
(Offered as HIST 488 [AF] and BLST 321 [A]) There were numerous rebellions against the state during the period of European colonial rule, and violent resistance to state authority has continued to characterize political life in many post-colonial African countries. This seminar will examine the development of several outbreaks of violence in Africa in the colonial and post-colonial periods to explore important questions in a comparative context. We will look at the economic, social, religious, and political roots of these disturbances; at the challenges faced both by rebel groups attempting to gain a foothold and by states with a fragile hold on ruling authority; and at the social disruptions caused by the participation of child and youth soldiers in various conflicts. We will also discuss the problems historians face in trying to narrate and analyze revolts whose strength often emerged from their protean character, and the legends and rumors that frequently swirled around violent revolts and their role in the construction of historical narratives. The events studied will include the Maji-maji rebellion in German-controlled Tanganyika in 1906-1907; the first (1896-1897) and second (1960-1980) Chimurengas (revolts) in southern Rhodesia/Zimbabwe; the widespread revolt in the 1980s and '90s in South Africa against the apartheid regime; and the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda in the late 1990s. Students will each write a 20- to 25-page research paper on an individually chosen topic as a final project; in addition there will be frequent, shorter writing assignments throughout the semester. There will be one class meeting per week.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Redding.2023-24: Not offered
The Politics of Intervention in Africa
(Offered as POSC 327 [G, SC] and BLST 327[A]) Africa is a primary target for aid intervention as it is the region with the highest poverty and suffers from recurring humanitarian challenges. This seminar will review international interventions in Africa--both military and humanitarian--to identify patterns of aid provision and critically examine the motivations behind intervention. Through a close reading of books describing different types of intervention, we will study the success of these interventions, but more often, we will try to diagnose the patterns of failure in attempting to improve the human condition. Our collective goal is to identify potential models for successful intervention.
Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2017-18.
Spike Lee’s Joints
(Offered as ENGL 374, BLST 330 [US], and FAMS 358) In offering extended formal considerations of Spike Lee’s cinematic oeuvre–in particular his uses of light, sound, and color–this course is interested in how shifting through various modes of critical inquiry can enable or broaden different kinds of cultural, political, or historical engagement with a film. This semester we will also pay special attention to the question of what it means to encapsulate a particular cultural moment, particularly vis-à-vis the often differing demands of fictional and non-fictional representation.
Omitted 2017-18. Professors Parham and Drabinski.2023-24: Not offered
Red/Black Literature: At the Crossroads of Native American and African American Literary Histories
(Offered as AMST 320 and BLST 332) Throughout this class we will consider the "crossroads," marked by an X, as a visual and symbolic point of intersection with undefined meaning and the potential for fateful outcomes. Reading literary and historical texts students will consider how the crossroads X carries specific meanings for an Afro-Native literary tradition. We will bring Scott Lyons's theory of the X mark, as the signature Native people placed on treaties, to issues of coercion and consent in African American literature and history. Thus, this class focuses on texts that speak in a triple voice, inflected by echoes of a Native American oral tradition, flashes of African American vernacular culture, and forms and techniques adapted from various models of modern Western literature. Students will read literary works as well as primary and secondary historical sources that point to the sometimes powerful and also fraught intersections of Black and Indian histories in the United States from the nineteenth century to the decades following the Civil Rights and Black and Red Power movements. Topics of particular attention include land and politics, history and identity, and gender and sexuality. We will also focus on themes of race, place, family, and belonging. Some of the authors featured in this course are Tiya Miles, Craig Womack, Lauret Savoy, LeAnne Howe, and Michael Dorris. In addition to active participation in seminar discussions students will write a series of short papers in response to the readings and conduct short research assignments.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Vigil.2023-24: Not offered
The Art of Black Dance: A Panoramic Study
What is “Black” dance? How is Black expressivity discerned and preserved in American dance? The course explores the history and contributions of African American and African diasporic dance artists in the formation of American dance as a distinctive art form, with emphasis on the cultural, spiritual and social-political philosophies embedded in the traditions and practices of the Black dancing body. We will investigate the emergence of Black dance aesthetics in the American colonial period and its aftermath, and the routes of its dispersion and further development in the movement of Black citizens to America’s urban centers in the inter-war period, through the period of Civil Rights activism and the liberation movements of the 1960s-1970s, and the inculcation of Black tradition in American dance in the late twentieth century. We will trace the trajectory of this tradition through early interlocutors such as Edna Guy and Charles Williams, mavericks Josephine Baker and Ada Overton Walker, intellectuals Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus, disrupters Janet Collins and Arthur Mitchell, and popular choreographers including Talley Beatty, Donald McKayle and Alvin Ailey. We will give special attention to how these artists interact with the social forces of their time, determine their approaches to constructing meaning, and consider the contexts that contribute to their dance making. This course will also engage with the spring symposium “African American Dance: Form, Function and Style!” through the development and presentation of student research. Through readings, discussions, visual media, movement experiences, and attendance at live dance events we will practice observing, analyzing, discussing, and writing about dance thoughtfully, clearly, and intelligently. Together we will investigate how the artists challenge, manipulate and destabilize expectations to inhabit new and expansive identities and modes of expression.
Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Visiting Instructor Escobar.2023-24: Not offered
Contours of a Colorblind Culture
(Offered as SOCI 334 and BLST 336 [US]) The passage of civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965 was a defining moment in American race relations. By comparison to what preceded it, the post-civil rights era amounted to a great social transformation, leading many to assert ours is now a “colorblind” culture. This course will use the idea of colorblind culture to examine the changing role of race and racism in the contemporary United States. We will examine specific claims that United States culture is, or is not, colorblind, while exploring the social structural, institutional, and broader cultural factors that shape present-day race relations.
Requisite: SOCI 112 or equivalent. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 20 students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Spring semester. Professor Lembo.Other years: Offered in Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2023
The Local and Global 1970s
(Offered as BLST 342 [US] and HIST 358 [US]) Often overshadowed by the long 1960s and the conservative ascendancy in the 1980s, the 1970s provides an important transitional moment for the United States, one that arguably linked local experiences to global dynamics and social movements in unprecedented ways. It was also a decade fraught with contradictions. On the one hand, Americans experienced widespread disillusionment with the power of the federal government to promote and protect the minority from the majority. Historians seeking to understand the collapse of the welfare state or the origins of white resistance to civil rights’ initiatives most often point to the 1970s as the time when the Supreme Court abandoned school desegregation and the federal government shifted the burden of the social welfare system onto the market, state and local governments, and onto poor people themselves. And yet, the 1970s also saw an explosion of progressive social activism, as the women’s movement, the gay rights movement, and the environmental movement, among others, all came into their own. Likewise, this was also a time of U.S. retreat and military overextension, and a time of new hegemonies of human rights regimes and multinational corporations. This course asks students to consider how connecting the local with the global can help us better understand and resolve these apparent contradictions. How does our understanding of American politics, society, and culture change depending upon our point of view? What are the possibilities and limitations of global and local methods of inquiry? How might historians more fruitfully combine sub-disciplines to understand the ways in which Americans experienced and engaged with their historical realities as members of local, national, and global communities? One class meeting per week.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professors Moss and Walker.2023-24: Not offered
Black Feminist Literary Traditions
(Offered as SWAG 208, BLST 345 [US], ENGL 276, and FAMS 379) Reading the work of black feminist literary theorists and black women writers, we will examine the construction of black female identity in American literature, with a specific focus on how black women writers negotiate race, gender, sexuality, and class in their work. In addition to reading novels, literary criticism, book reviews, and watching documentaries, we will examine the stakes of adaptation and mediation for black female-authored texts. Students will watch and analyze the film and television adaptations of The Color Purple (1985), The Women of Brewster Place (1989), and Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005) as well as examine how Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970) was mediated and interpreted by Oprah Winfrey’s book club and daytime talk show. Authors will include Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Gloria Naylor. Writing Attentive. Expectations include three writing projects, a group presentation, and various in-class assignments.
Limited to 20 students. Priority given to those students who attend the first day of the class. Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Henderson.Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Fall 2023
Race, Sex, and Gender in the U.S. Military
(Offered as BLST 347 [US] and SWAG 347) From the aftermath of the Civil War to today's "global war on terror," the U.S. military has functioned as a vital arbiter of the overlapping taxonomies of race, gender, and sexuality in America and around the world. This course examines the global trek of American militarism through times of war and peace in the twentieth century. In a variety of texts and contexts, we will investigate how the U.S. military's production of new ideas about race and racialization, masculinity and femininity, and sexuality and citizenship impacted the lives of soldiers and civilians, men and women, at "home" and abroad. Our interdisciplinary focus will allow us to study the multiple intersections of difference within the military, enabling us to address a number of topics, including: How have African American soldiers functioned as both subjects and agents of American militarism? What role has the U.S. military played in the creation of contemporary gay and lesbian subjectivity? Is military sexual assault a contemporary phenomenon or can it be traced to longer practices of sexual exploitation occurring on or around U.S. bases globally?
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Polk.Other years: Offered in Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Spring 2021, Spring 2023, Fall 2023
Race and Nation: The History of Hispaniola
(Offered as AMST 311 and BLST 361 [CLA]) The course will survey nineteenth- and twentieth-century histories of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the two nations that share the island of Hispaniola. Despite the emergence of distinct national identities in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, their histories are deeply intertwined. We survey the history of Hispaniola in three moments. We begin with the Haitian Revolution. What was the legacy of the Haitian Revolution for Hispaniola in the nineteenth century? We examine the history of abolition, independence, empire, and the peasantry. Second, in the early twentieth century, the United States intervened and occupied both nations. What is the history of U.S. Empire and its military occupations and wars in Hispaniola? We focus on the rise of dictatorships and authoritarianism as a legacy of U.S. intervention. Third, working-class Haitians and Dominicans share a long history of migration to other Caribbean islands and the United States. Migration patterns were shaped by domestic economies and neoliberal policies. How have the histories of Dominican and Haitian migration to the United States developed over the twentieth century? The study of Hispaniola provides us the opportunity to explore the history of revolution, state-building, citizenship, U.S. empire, national identities, and migration.
Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor del Moral.Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Fall 2023
Childhood in African and Caribbean Literature
(Offered as ENGL 318 and BLST 362 [A/CLA]) The course will concentrate on Caribbean authors. It explores the process of self-definition in literary works from Africa and the Caribbean that are built around child protagonists. We will examine the authors’ various methods of ordering experience through the choice of literary form and narrative technique, as well as the child/author’s perception of his or her society. French texts will be read in translation.
Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Cobham-Sander.2023-24: Not offered
Race and Revolution in Cuban History
(Offered as AMST 371 and BLST 371 [C/LA]) Race and revolution are at the heart of Cuban history. As the slave-based plantation economy expanded in nineteenth-century Cuba, enslaved and free black Cubans looked to Haiti as an example of black liberation. Inspired by the Haitian Revolution, in 1812 free black José Antonio Aponte organized an island-wide rebellion to free Cuba from slavery and Spanish rule. When Cuban elites called for independence from Spain in 1868, they relied on enslaved and free blacks for military support and promised gradual abolition in return. The concept of “racelessness” in a Free Cuba powerfully shaped the national identities that emerged during the 1895 War of Independence. In 1912, black veterans organized the Partido Independiente de Color (PIC, Independent Party of People of Color) and demanded that the state recognize the equal rights of black Cubans. The government responded by accusing the PIC of launching a “race war” and massacred thousands of PIC members and other black Cubans. The abolition of racial inequality was a central goal of the 1959 Cuban Revolution. The new revolutionary state invested heavily in social policies designed to promote racial equity. In the United States, white Cuban émigrés reproduced the racial hierarchies of pre-revolutionary Cuba, while subsequent Afro-Cuban immigrants challenged racism in the diaspora. Since the Special Period of the early 1990s, economic liberalization polices have widened economic disparities on the island, threatening the revolutionary goal of equality for all Cubans.
Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor del Moral.2023-24: Not offered
Bad Black Women
(Offered as SWAG 329, BLST 377 [US], and ENGL 368) History has long valorized passive, obedient, and long-suffering black women alongside aggressive and outspoken black male leaders and activists. This course provides an alternative narrative to this misrepresentation, as we will explore how “bad” is defined by one’s race, gender, class, and sexuality as well as how black women have transgressed the boundaries of what it means to be “good” in U.S. society. We will use an interdisciplinary perspective to examine why black women have used covert and explicit maneuvers to challenge the stereotypical “respectable” or “good” black woman and the various risks and rewards they incur for their “deviance.” Students should be aware that part of this course is “immersive” and consequently, students will participate in a master class that will explore how dance operates as a way to defy race, class, and gender norms.
Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Priority given to students who attend the first day of class. Writing Attentive. Limited to 18 students. Expectations include a master dance class, three writing projects, a group presentation, and various in-class assignments. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Henderson.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as BLST 381 [CLA/D] and HIST 365 [LA/FA]) Did the emancipation of millions of African-descended people from the bonds of chattel slavery--beginning with the 1791 slave rebellion in Haiti and ending with Brazilian abolition in 1888--mark the beginning of an irrevocable march towards Black freedom? Or was it merely an evolution in the continuing exploitation of Black people throughout the Americas? This course scrutinizes the complex economic, political, ideological, social and cultural contexts which caused and were remade by emancipation. Students are asked to consider emancipation as a global historical process unconstrained by the boundaries of the modern nation-state, while exploring the reasons for and consequences of emancipation from a trans-national perspective that incorporates the histories of the U.S., the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa. By focusing on the ideological ambiguities and lived experiences of enslaved people, political actors, abolitionists, religious leaders, employers and many others, this seminar will question what constitutes equality, citizenship, and freedom. Finally the course will explore what role emancipated slaves played in shaping the historical meanings and practices of modern democracy.
Limited to 20 students. Fall semester. Professor Hicks.2023-24: Not offered
Fall and spring semesters. Members of the Department.Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023
Baldwin and the Black Atlantic
[D/US] As one of the most important writers of his generation, James Baldwin articulated key truths about race and racism in the United States. His fiction and non-fiction bear witness to the cruelty of anti-black racism, while also attending to the complexities of love, hope, and community in the African-American context and the context of democracy in the United States more widely. But he lived and wrote in an era that saw an explosion of black writing across the diaspora. His era was also the era of the postcolonial global South, the source of radical and revolutionary writings about race, identity, revolution, and massive cultural upheaval. How does Baldwin’s long reflection on race and Americanness sit in relation to other theorizings of blackness and nation from that same historical moment in the Caribbean and West Africa? What critical tensions emerge when Baldwin’s work is drawn into conversation with figures like Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, Léopold Senghor, and others? This course focuses on Baldwin’s non-fiction and its complicated relation to mid-century trends in black Atlantic theory, from the racialism of Négritude to various iterations of existentialism to post-independence notions of pan-Africanism and Black Power. What emerges from our considerations will be a portrait of Baldwin as a writer of the particularity of African-American experience and as a vernacular intellectual dedicated to the articulation of localized forms of knowing and being, while also being attentive to the blurry borders of blackness, whiteness, and the history of anti-black racism.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Drabinski.2023-24: Not offered
The Long Civil Rights Movement
(Offered as HIST 455 [US] and BLST 431 [US]) This course will explore the temporal, ideological and cultural dimensions of the American Civil Rights Movement. Following 1954’s Brown vs Board of Education decision, a diverse social movement of students, preachers, working people, activists and intellectuals challenged—and eventually dismantled—Jim Crow segregation in the American South. How did this happen? To answer this question, we will examine the origins of the movement, its institutional dimensions, its key figures, and its intellectual underpinnings. In addition, this class will trace the afterlife of the movement, assessing its national and global reverberations, as well as its relationship to the Black Power movement. As a research seminar, this course will culminate in the production of a 25-page research paper based on an analysis of primary sources related to the movement. Two class meetings per week.
Not open to first-year students. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2017-18. Visiting Lecturer Hickmott.2023-24: Not offered
Race and Relationality
(Offered as ENGL 455 and BLST 439 [US]) When we say “race relations,” we are using a phrase drawn from early twentieth-century American sociology, a phrase that conjures up a scenario in which already existing racial groups are separated by prejudice and misunderstanding. As many sociologists and historians have argued, we need a new paradigm, one that implies neither that race is a primordial reality nor that racism is merely an informational problem. In this class, we will begin by familiarizing ourselves with critical race theory and with theories emerging from the “relational turn” in psychoanalysis. We will then bring both of those theoretical traditions to bear on Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition, Nella Larsen’s Passing, William Faulkner’s Light in August, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, Sandra Cisneros’s Woman Hollering Creek, and Sherman Alexie’s The Toughest Indian in the World. In our discussions of these works, we will be aiming not to become (impossibly) post-racial, but to imagine, collectively, different futures for our (inevitably) racially inflected relations.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Sanborn.2023-24: Not offered
Ghosts in Shells? Virtuality and Embodiment from Passing to the Posthuman
(Offered as ENGL 456, BLST 441 [US], and FAMS 451) This class begins with narratives about individuals who pass–that is, who come to be recognized as someone different from whom they were sexually or racially “born as.” Such stories suggest that one’s identity depends minimally on the body into which one is born, and is more attached to the supplementation and presentation of that body in support of whichever cultural story the body is desired to tell. Drawing on familiar liberal humanist claims, which centralize human identity in the mind, these narratives also respond to the growing sophistication of human experience with virtual worlds–from acts of reading to immersions in computer simulation. But what kinds of tensions emerge when bodies nonetheless signify beyond an individual’s self-imagination? As technology expands the possibilities of the virtual, for instance surrogacy, cloning, and cybernetics, what pressures are brought to bear on the physical human body and its processes to signify authentic humanness? Rather than ask whether identity is natural or cultural, our discussions will project these questions into a not-so-distant future: What would it mean to take “human” as only one identity, as a category amongst many others, each also acknowledged as equally subject to the same social and biological matrices of desire, creation, and recognition? We will approach these questions through works of literature, philosophy, media history, and contemporary science writing.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Parham.2023-24: Not offered
Toomer, Faulkner, and Morrison
(Offered as ENGL 454 and BLST 442) William Faulkner and Toni Morrison are generally understood as two of the most important writers of the twentieth century. In a country that works hard to live without a racial past, both authors have brought deep articulation to what it means to experience that which is often otherwise ignored and regardless unspoken. This semester we will explore several key novels from each author’s oeuvre, looking for where their texts converge and diverge. We will also spend time with Jean Toomer–-a modernist writer critical to understanding what might be at stake in Faulkner and Morrison’s writerly manipulations of time, space, place, and memory–-and with several philosophical texts that will help us to conceptualize what it means to “know” something like race or to “understand” history.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Parham.2023-24: Not offered
The Radical Black Imagination: Educative Possibilities, Transgression, and Freedom
[US] What relationships connect education, self-actualization, and transgressive acts? How can body centric and Black feminist pedagogies help us (re)imagine education? What insights and possibilities emerge from placing imagination, transgression, and education in conversation? "The Radical Black Imagination" ruminates on these questions. By studying texts and pedagogical practices of Black feminists, in particular, this course endeavors to illuminate under-explored pathways of freedom and transgression as educative tools.
The course entails class discussion, engagement with artistic mediums, translation of traditional texts into creative and transgressive terms, as well as opportunities to put the pedagogical theories covered in the course into practice. The course will culminate with a collective public presentation.
Spring semester. Professor Hill.2023-24: Not offered
The Creole Imagination
(Offered as ENGL 491 and BLST 461 [CLA]) What would it mean to write in the language in which we dream? A language that we can hear, but cannot (yet) see? Is it possible to conceive a language outside the socio-symbolic order? And can one language subvert the codes and values of another? Questions like these have animated the creolité/nation language debate among Caribbean intellectuals since the mid-1970s, producing some of the most significant francophone and anglophone writing of the twentieth century. This course reads across philosophy, cultural theory, politics, and literature in order to consider the claims such works make for the Creole imagination. We will engage the theoretical and creative work of Édouard Glissant, Maryse Condé, Wilson Harris, Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite, Patrick Chamoiseau, Jamaica Kincaid, and Edwidge Danticat. We also will consider how these writers transform some of the fundamental ideas of psychoanalysis, poststructuralism, and critical historiography. At stake in our readings will be the various aesthetic and political aspects of postcolonial struggle–how to think outside the colonial architecture of language; how to contest and subvert what remains from history’s violence; and how to evaluate the claims to authenticity of creolized New World cultural forms.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Cobham-Sander.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2015, Spring 2018, Spring 2020, Fall 2023
Senior Departmental Honors
Spring semester. Members of the Department.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023
Jazz History After 1945: Experimentalism, Pluralism, and Traditionalism
(Offered as MUSI 227 and BLST 244 [US]) One of two courses that trace the development of jazz from its emergence in early 20th-century New Orleans to its profound impact on American culture. Jazz History after 1945 explores the emergence of bebop in the 1940s, the shift of jazz's relationship with American popular culture after World War II, and the dramatic pluralization of jazz practice after the 1950s. We will also look at the emergence of fusion and the jazz avant-garde of the 1960s and 1970s, and theorize the reformulation of "tradition" during the 1980s. Central to our examination will be the phenomenon of "neoclassicism" common in jazz discourse today, measuring that against the radical diversity of jazz practice around the world. Many figures central to the development of the varied post-bebop directions in jazz will be discussed: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Ornette Coleman, the New York Downtown scene, and many others. Two class meetings per week.
Fall semester. Visiting Professor Harper.2023-24: Not offered