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Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses

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Black Studies

Professors Abiodun*, Bailey, Bradley†, Cobham-Sander‡, del Moral‡, Moss*, Thiam* and Vaughan (chair); Associate Professors Lohse, Polk and Herbin-Triant; Assistant Professors Jolly and Loggins.

Affiliated Faculty: Professors Basu, Lembo, Redding, Reyes, Robinson, Sitze and Omojola; Assistant Professors Carey & Roberts; Associate Professor Henderson; Senior Lecturer Delaney; Visiting Assistant Professor Brodnika.

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, BLST 200, and BLST 300. 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 their 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.

**On leave 2022-2023.

†On leave Fall 2022.

‡On leave Spring 2023.

111 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 Frantz 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 18 students per section. Fall semester: Professor Loggins. Spring semester: Professor Vaughan.

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, Fall 2024, Spring 2025

123 Survey of African Art

(See ARHA 149)

130 Transnational American Studies

(See AMST 130)

131 Introduction to the Black Freedom Struggle

(Offered as BLST 131 [US] and HIST 131 [US/TR/TS]) This course will explore the evolution of African American social movements over the course of the twentieth century. It will survey the critical organizations, institutions, and figures of the Black freedom struggle and will examine the ideological diversity of an umbrella movement that encompassed ever-shifting combinations of uplift politics, black nationalism, liberalism, and leftism. It will explore critical Black lives over the course of the semester, including Ida B. Wells, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, Pauli Murray, Ralph Bunche, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, Angela Davis, and others. The course will also introduce students to foundational debates and issues in the field of African American history. Additionally, it will push students to ponder how the political, socioeconomic, and cultural endeavors of African Americans have and continue to alter conventional understandings of "freedom," "justice," "democracy," and "equity" within and beyond the United States.

Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2023-2024. Professor Bradley.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2021, Fall 2024

147 Race, Place, and the Law

(See LJST 105)

163 Black Genius: African American Artistic Masterpieces

(See ENGL 163)

195 Black Existentialism

(Offered as BLST 195[D] and ENGL 195) During the middle decades of the twentieth century, existentialism dominated the European philosophical and literary scene. Prominent theorists such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty put the experience of history, alienation, and the body at the center of philosophical and literary life. It should be no surprise, then, that existentialism appealed to so many Afro-Caribbean and African-American thinkers of the same period and after. This course examines the critical transformation of European existentialist ideas through close readings of black existentialists Aime Césaire, Frantz Fanon, George Lamming, and Wilson Harris, paired with key essays from Sartre, Camus, and Merleau-Ponty. We will engage black existentialism not just as a series of claims, but also as a method, which allows us to read works by African-American writers such as W.E.B. Du Bois, James Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison in an existentialist frame. Last, we will consider the matter of how and why existentialism continues to function so centrally in contemporary Africana philosophy.

Omitted 2023-24. Prof. Thiam

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Spring 2023

200 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. Spring Semester. Professor Bradley.

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, Spring 2025

201 Power and Resistance in the Black Atlantic

(Offered as BLST 201 [D] HIST 267 [AF/LA/TEp/TR] and LLAS 201) 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 course 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.

Omitted 2023-24. 

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Spring 2018, Spring 2020, Spring 2021

203 Women Writers of Africa and the African Diaspora

(Offered as BLST 203 [D], ENGL 216, 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 2023-2024. Prof. C. Bailey.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2024

204 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. 

Omitted 2023-24. Limited to 30 students. Five College Professor Omojola.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Spring 2016, Fall 2020, Fall 2022

208 African Migrations and Globalization

(Offered as BLST 208 [A/D] and HIST 211 [AF]) As the crisis of the postcolonial nation-state deepens in the context of globalization and statism in African countries especially in the last three decades, African societies have experienced significant migration of skilled and unskilled workers.  These migration flows are raising new questions about the nature of politics, economics, and culture in various African national and transnational contexts.  To explore the political, social, and economic consequences of these waves of migration in African states and among countries receiving African migrants, this course will examine the following topics at the core of the transformation of African states in the global age:  colonialism and the construction of modern African states; globalization and political legitimacy in postcolonial African states; globalization and African labor migration; globalization and African popular culture; globalization and Africa's new religious movements; globalization and Africa's refugee crisis; Africa and globalization of the media; Africa and the global discourse on gender and sexuality; Africa and the global discourse on AIDS/HIV; Africa and the globalization of football (soccer).  Course readings will focus not only on the impact of globalization and state crisis on African societies, but also on how emerging national and transnational African populations are shaping the processes of globalization.

Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Vaughan.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2020, Spring 2022, Spring 2023

210 Christianity and Islam in Africa

(Offered as BLST 210 [A] HIST 210 [AF] and RELI 220) The course will examine the central role of Christianity and Islam in pre-colonial, colonial, and postcolonial African societies. Focusing on case studies from West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, and Southern Africa, course lectures will explore the following issues in African religious, social, and political history: Christianity, Islam, and African indigenous belief systems; Muslim reformist movements in West African societies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; mission Christianity and African societies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; Christianity, Islam, and colonialism in Africa; Christianity, Islam, and politics in postcolonial African states.

Limited to 25. Omitted 2023-2024. Professor Vaughan.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Spring 2022, Spring 2023

213 Foundations of African American Literature

(See ENGL 213)

215 Music and Poetry of the African Diaspora

(Offered as BLST 215[D] and ENGL 241) This course explores various musical forms and traditions as well as poetry from the Caribbean, South America, and the United States. We will explore thematic and stylistic synergies between the different genres and pay particular attention to their social, political, and ideological orientations. Musical forms will include: The Blues, Calypso, Reggae, Rap, and Spirituals and we will read poetry by Kate Rushin, Sonia Sanchez, Mutabaruka and others.  Limited to 20 students.

Fall semester. Professor C. Bailey

Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Spring 2025

217 Slavery and Its Afterlives in the Northern United States

(See HIST 217)

220 Slavery in U.S. History & Culture

(Offered as BLST 220 [US] and HIST 220[US/TR/TS]) The impact of slavery is still with us in the United States, and it is essential that we examine this institution and look critically at the ways Americans have chosen to remember it over the years. The first part of this interdisciplinary course examines how slavery has been understood by historians, examining historical questions such as what the relationship was between slavery and racism, how gender influenced the experiences of enslaved people, and how the enslaved resisted slavery. The second part of the course examines how slavery has been depicted in American culture, using the novels Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Beloved; the films Way Down South, Django Unchained, and 12 Years a Slave; and the work of artist Kara Walker, among other sources. We will pay attention to controversies over how slavery is remembered, including the recent backlash against the 1619 Project. As we explore slavery and the memory of slavery, we will also discuss to what extent the ways we view the past are shaped by the times in which we live.

Omitted 2023-24. Limited to 20 students. Associate Professor Herbin-Triant.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

221 Black and White in the U.S. South: Race, Racism, and Resistance

(Offered as BLST 221 [US] and HIST 221 [US, TC, TR, TS]) This course examines the history of the southern United States from the colonial period through the present.  Its central preoccupation is race.  We will examine why white southerners denied political and other rights to African Americans and explore the varied responses of African Americans to exclusion and exploitation, including resistance to slavery, accommodationism (with Booker T. Washington as the most prominent advocate for this), migration out of the region, and civil rights activism.  As we follow the themes of racial control and resistance over the course of the semester, we will consider to what extent southerners left behind antebellum patterns of labor relations and social hierarchy as they built a "New South" after the Civil War. Topics explored in this course—like state violence directed toward Black people, voter suppression, and labor exploitation—will shed light on problems the region has grappled with for generations. Other topics discussed in the course, including Black activism, will point to paths forward.  Students will work with a variety of sources, which in addition to traditional historical sources will include literature by authors such as Toni Morrison and Jesmyn Ward and films such as In the Heat of the Night.

Fall semester. Professor Herbin-Triant.

Pending Faculty Approval

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023

226 Theorizing the Black Queer Americas

(Offered as BLST 226[D], LLAS 226 and SWAG 226) This course focuses on Black Queer and Trans life and struggle as well as the cultural and intellectual contributions Black Queer and Trans have made to in numerous fields throughout the Americas (North and South). While for many years narratives of the lives of Black LGBTQ people have been silenced and erased due to stigma and intersectional oppression on the basis of race, gender, and sexuality, scholars and artists in the past four decades have worked to recover the stories of Black Queer and Trans communities throughout the diaspora. The Black Queer/Trans Americas will dive into works that highlight these cultural contributions, while also understanding the compounded systemic violence that Black LGBTQ communities have faced and continue to face. By the end of this course students will have a strong understanding of how systems of power work to restrict the freedoms of Black Queer and Trans communities, and how Black LGBTQ people have lived, organized, and created in spite of and in response to these oppressions. This interdisciplinary undergraduate upper level course will utilize academic texts accompanied by poetry, fiction, film, television, and visual art to understand Black Queer and Trans subjectivities. In addition to course materials, the class will also make use of presentations from local artists, activists, and community members in the local area to add to the course experience. Every week will focus on a different theme or field of study related to Black LGBTQ+ life. 

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2023-2024.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2022

233 Racial Capitalism: Racism, Exploitation and Exclusion in U.S. Economic History

(See HIST 233)

236 Black Sexualities

(Offered as BLST 236 [US] and SWAG 235) 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
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2022, Spring 2025

248 Race and American Capitalism: From Slavery to Ferguson

(Offered as BLST 248 [US] and HIST 246 [TR/US]) An unconventional history of capitalism, this course 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?

Omitted 2023-24. 

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2016, Fall 2017, Spring 2019, Fall 2020

257 Black and Queer Agency in World War II Military Performance

(See SWAG 257)

268 Black History of Spanish America, 1503-1886

(Offered as BLST 268 [CLA], HIST 268 [LA/TE/TR/TSP], and LLAS 268) Students will gain in-depth knowledge of the experiences of Africans and their descendants, slave and free, from the time the first captives were brought to Hispaniola in 1503 until the time of abolition in Cuba in 1886 in this course. Regions to be covered include the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America, and the Andean and Southern Cone regions. Topics will include the ways in which specific regions of Western Africa contributed captives to specific regions of Spanish America, the nature of Spanish colonial institutions and their impact on the lives of Africans and their descendants, resistance and rebellion, routes to freedom, and slave and free Black families. This readings-based course features both secondary and primary sources. Select primary documents will acquaint students with the sources historians use to reconstruct these aspects of the histories of largely non-literate African-descended peoples.

Fall semester. Professor Lohse.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2021, Fall 2023

271 The Black Radical Tradition

[US/D/CLA] In this course, we explore the history and philosophy of Black resistance to domination and oppression in the new world. We begin with the Haitian Revolution and then proceed to the grand and petty revolts of the nineteenth century. We investigate the everyday abolitionism that informs what Cedric Robinson called “the truer genius” of Black struggle. We examine thinkers who we might understand to comprise the Black Radical Tradition (Nannie of the Maroons, W.E.B. Du Bois, C.L.R. James, Richard Wright, Toussaint L’ouverture) and also the range of philosophical and political themes the tradition as a whole elucidates (violence vs. non-violence, leadership, self-mastery, property, historical consciousness, rebellion, culture). Our overall objective is to think critically about the Black Radical Tradition as an under-examined project involving its own codes, histories, beliefs, values, virtues, and well as vices.  

Omitted 2023-24. Limited to 25 students. Professor Loggins.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022

275 Gender and Slavery in Latin America

(Offered as BLST 275 [CLA], SWAG 274, HIST 275 [LA/TS/TR/ P ] and LLAS 275)  Latin American slavery was one of the most brutal institutions the world has ever known, and it affected women and girls, boys and men in profoundly different ways. This readings-based course features both secondary and primary sources. Students will gain in-depth understanding of how gender and sexuality affected the experiences of enslaved Africans and their descendants in Latin America from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries. Topics will include gender roles in Western Africa and how these diverged from the expectations of Spanish and Portuguese slave masters; the sexual and reproductive as well as labor exploitation of enslaved African women and girls; how enslaved men constructed masculinity within the emasculating institution of slavery; gender relations and family structures within slave communities; childhoods under slavery; and the sometimes distinct visions of freedom imagined by enslaved women and men. Select primary documents will acquaint students with the sources historians use to reconstruct these aspects of the histories of largely non-literate African-descended peoples. Regions to be covered include Brazil, the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, Mexico and Central America, and the Andean region. Students will be evaluated on class participation, a series of weekly reading notes, and two short papers.

Omitted 2023-24. Professor Lohse.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2022

277 Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World

(Offered as BLST 277 [CLA], LLAS 277 and HIST 277 [LA/TS/TR])  The Haitian Revolution began in 1791 with a slave revolt on a single plantation and, after more than a decade of total war, destroyed slavery forever and resulted in the independence of the world's first Black republic. By the end of 1804, the white planter class had been killed or exiled and Black men ruled the island. Before it happened, white slave masters could never imagine that tens of thousands of enslaved Africans would one day break their chains and succeed in defeating French, British, and Spanish armies. For millions of enslaved people, the Haitian Revolution proved that the dream of freedom could become reality and inspired slave conspiracies and rebellions from Virginia to Brazil. At the same time, Haiti struck fear in white slave masters throughout the Americas, who did their best to strangle the new Black Republic in its cradle. This readings-based course features both secondary and primary sources. Students will gain in-depth understanding of the origins and development of the Haitian Revolution and its impact in Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Students will be evaluated on class participation, a series of weekly reading notes, and two short papers.

Omitted 2023-24. Professor Lohse.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022

278 Black History of Brazil, 1500-1888

(Offered as BLST 278 [CLA], LLAS 278 and HIST 278 [LA/TS/TR/ P ])  More people of African descent live in Brazil than in any country in the world, except Nigeria. Of the more than 12 million Africans deported as captives to the Americas, Brazil received 24 percent. In contrast, North America received less than 4 percent. This readings-based course features both secondary and primary sources. Students will gain in-depth knowledge of the experiences of Africans and their descendants, slave and free, from the time the first captives were brought to Brazil at the beginning of the sixteenth century until final abolition in 1888. Topics will include the ways in which specific regions of Western Africa contributed captives to specific regions of Brazil, the nature of Portuguese colonial institutions and their impact on the lives of Africans and their descendants, resistance and rebellion, routes to freedom, slave and free Black families, and the origins and development of vibrant Afro-Brazilian religions and cultures . Select primary documents will acquaint students with the sources historians use to reconstruct these aspects of the histories of largely non-literate African-descended peoples. Students will be evaluated on class participation, a series of weekly reading notes, and two short papers.

Omitted 2023-24. Professor Lohse.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

280 Slave Resistance in Latin America & the Caribbean

(Offered as BLST 280 [CLA], HIST 280 [LA/TR/TS] and LLAS 280) Slave resistance was caused by slavery itself. In a multitude of ways, from the moment they reached the shores of the Americas, Africans fought against their enslavement. The first slave ship to arrive in the Americas, which came to what is now the Dominican Republic, also brought the Americas' first recorded runaway slave, an African man who freed himself by immediately disappearing into the forest. Within two decades of the European "discovery" of the New World, Africans in Hispaniola had risen up against their masters and threatened the very future of the Spanish conquest. These were just the first of hundreds of slave rebellions that shook Latin America and the Caribbean between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the case of Haiti, the enslaved defeated French, Spanish, and British armies and succeeded in destroying the institution of slavery altogether. As spectacular as rebellions could be, they formed only one of many ways in which enslaved Africans struggled against their oppressors. From Jamaica to Mexico, to Colombia to Brazil, self-liberated slaves fled to indigenous communities or founded their own Maroon settlements, a few of which fought the colonizers for decades and attracted as many as 20,000 African women and men. Many more enslaved people remained in legal bondage and found other ways to resist, including escape, murder, and suicide, but also by less dramatic means such as fighting to defend their own families and cultures. This readings-based course features both secondary and primary sources. Select primary documents will acquaint students with the sources historians use to reconstruct these aspects of the histories of largely non-literate African-descended peoples. In close readings of the historiography of slave resistance, students will discuss and debate the meanings of concepts such as resistance, accommodation, opposition, collaboration, and agency. Students will be evaluated on class participation, a series of weekly reading notes, and two short papers.

Fall semester. Professor Lohse.

Pending Faculty Approval

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023

281 Africa, Latin America, & the Atlantic Slave Trade

(Offered as BLST 281[CLA], HIST 285 [AF/LA/TR/TS] and LLAS 281) The Atlantic slave trade was, until the twentieth century, the largest migration in human history and one of the most consequential events in the history of the world. Its legacies continue to shape the histories of the Americas, Europe, and Africa itself. Between 1500 and 1860, more than 12.3 million African men, women, and children were loaded onto ships to be taken to the Americas. Nearly 2 million died on the Middle Passage. Of the 10.7 million who survived, the vast majority disembarked in Latin America and the Caribbean (by contrast, fewer than 4% arrived in what is now the United States). By the time English colonists purchased the first twenty African captives at Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, more than 428,000 Africans had already arrived in Latin America. This readings-based course examines the impacts of the Atlantic slave trade on Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean from the time of the first Portuguese incursions into West Africa in the 1440s until the last slave ships arrived in Cuba from Africa in the 1860s. Students will learn about such topics as how African men, women, and children came to be captured and enslaved in their home countries; the organization of the slave trade as a business and the enormous profits made by European and African slave merchants; the logistics of the Middle Passage; characteristics of the captives transported from Africa to the Americas; the long-term effects of the trade on African societies and economies; and most important, the Africans' own experiences of the Middle Passage. Students will be evaluated on class participation, a series of weekly reading notes, and two short papers.

Spring semester. Prof. Lohse.

282 From Slavery to Freedom in Latin America

(Offered as BLST 282 [CLA], HIST 282 [LA/TR/TS] and LLAS 282) Throughout Latin America, millions of enslaved Africans and their descendants gained their freedom in the course of the nineteenth century. Emancipation began during the wars of independence that shook the continent between 1810 and 1824. As white creoles clamored for "freedom" from Spain, slaves demanded their freedom from white creoles, taking up arms and fighting on both sides to advance their cause. In a few countries, such as the republics of Central America, freedom came immediately with independence, but in most, slavery persisted for decades. Through policies of gradual abolition, the white ruling classes of the newly independent republics sought to phase out slavery over time and minimize social disruptions. Where slavery was most entrenched, slave masters fought hardest to preserve it. In Cuba and Brazil, masters clung tenaciously to the institution into the 1880s. In Colombia, Southern Conservatives fought a Civil War against a Liberal government to prevent abolition. But they failed. From Mexico to Brazil, slaves' actions helped to make slavery impossible to maintain and accelerated its demise. With legal abolition, the ex-slaves and their former masters continued to struggle over the meanings of freedom as millions of Black women and men claimed their rights as citizens. Students will be evaluated on class participation, a series of weekly reading notes, and two short papers.

Spring semester. Prof. Lohse.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2018

283 How to Be Antiracist: Black Perspectives on Changing the World

(See ENGL 293)

294 Black Europe

(Offered as BLST 294 [D], SWAG 294 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.

Omitted 2023-2024. Limited to 20 students. Professor Polk. Sophomore Seminar.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Spring 2018, Fall 2019, Spring 2021, Spring 2023

300 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 course 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. Fall semester. Professors Jolly, Thiam & Herbin-Triant.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

301 Queer of Color Critique: Theory and Practice

(See SWAG 301)

309 Island Bodies and Bodily Autonomy

(Offered as BLST 309[CLA/D/US], AMST 309 and SWAG 311) This course explores Black women’s health and activism through an Africa diasporic lens that bridges intellectual work, grassroots action, and community-based learning. Grounded in faculty-student collaborations, it engages a range of materials and methodologies that explore historical and contemporary experiences of reproductive justice, cultural politics, debt and inequality, tourism, citizenship, and agency in the Caribbean. This course combines interdisciplinary coursework with practical work in communities drawing on examples from the United States, Jamaica, and the broader Caribbean region to activate learning in action that prioritizes the lived experiences and indigenous expertise of local actors and grassroots organizations. A Spring Break study abroad trip to reproductive justice sites and networks in the Caribbean region will provide an experiential component that grounds our inquiries and supports efforts to take collective actions. This course prioritizes critical reflection and reciprocity as central values in our collective learning experiences: Students and the faculty will build mutually beneficial and equity-based relationships with community leaders and organizations foregrounding reciprocity between the needs and outcomes of communities by fostering collaboration, respect, and attentiveness to power dynamics. Reflection that will support critical thinking, meaning-making, and hands-on activities to help students connect their community engagement experience with the learning objectives of the course and to their lived experiences is a central component of this course. Ultimately, students will start to think about ways to combine their personal reflections and on-site experiences in order to start to challenge different systems of oppression.

Limited to 10 students. Spring semester. Prof. Jolly

Other years: Offered in Spring 2017

313 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. In addition to visiting the Mead Art Museum to see African works, students will be required to listen to audio-recordings and engage selected visual images to enhance their understanding of the interrelationship of arts in Africa.

Omit 2023-24. Professor Abiodun.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022

315 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.

Omitted 2023-2024. Professor Abiodun.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2022, Spring 2023

318 Rap, Reagan and the 1980s

(Offered as HIST 318 [TC/TR/TS], BLST 318 [US] and EDST 318) This course will delve into the sociopolitical, economic, and cultural factors that affected the lives of Black youth in the United States during the 1980s. Using rap and hip hop as a tool to understand the decade, the course will explore the racialized implications of America’s cold war with the Soviet Union while detailing the societal impact of “Reaganomics.” In a period featuring culture wars, deindustrialization in urban areas, the arrival of crack cocaine, deep cuts to public school funding, and the invasion of HIV/AIDS, the bourgeoning genre of hip hop reflected the complexities of survival for many Black youth in marginalized American neighborhoods.  As the new artform became a business, America witnessed the realization of a conservative ascendancy that carried Ronald Reagan to the presidency, which transformed political discourse for the subsequent decades. Young scholars in this class will be required to engage book and article-length texts, access and analyze song lyrics, critique visual media, write cogent essays, and present arguments orally.

Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Bradley.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2022, Spring 2025

330 Caribbean Literature in the Age of Globalization

(Offered as BLST 330 [CLA] and ENGL 312) This course offers a comprehensive study of selected Caribbean literature from the perspective of postcolonial and globalization studies. Writers include Dionne Brand, Achy Obejas, Edwidge Danticat, and Kai Miller. Themes include colonization, migration, diasporas, gender and sexuality, immigration, and the experiences of the urban residents. Limited to 20 students.

Omitted 2023-24. Prof. C. Bailey

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2016, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

339 Toni Morrison-Multi-Genre Exploration

(Offered as BLST 339[US], SWAG 338, ENGL 361) This course examines a significant portion of Toni Morrison’s body of work. Taking a primarily thematic approach, we will read several novels, essays, and other writings by Morrison. Our readings will also include critical reception of, and the wide-ranging scholarly reflections on Morrison’s work and her contribution to American and Black Diasporic literatures. Assignments will include: oral presentations, essays, and a research project.

Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Carol Bailey.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023

340 Capstone in Black Studies

[D] This course will guide the capstone projects of students interested in conducting intensive research on topics in African American studies and African & African diaspora studies.  Drawing from disciplinary and interdisciplinary methodologies, theories, and concepts in the humanities and social sciences, capstone research topics will cover broadly defined themes in Black Studies such as the effects of Atlantic slavery on the United States, the Americas, Africa, and Europe; the Black freedom struggle in the United States; women, gender, and sexuality in Black America, the African diaspora, and Africa; colonialism and independence in Africa and the Caribbean. Through a collaborative learning process, the capstone experience will work with students to define clear research objectives, refine their analytical skills, effectively engage major issues in their research materials, and make critical intellectual interventions.  Students will be encouraged to critically explore research topics from courses they have taken in Black Studies and related disciplines as topics for their capstone research projects. Where appropriate, relevant films and videos will be available for critical analysis.

Omitted 2023-2024.  Limited to 15 students. Not open to first-year students. Professor Vaughan.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

345 Black Studies Thesis and Research Workshop

This course is designed for Black Studies majors (and prospective Black Studies majors) working on Black Studies theses and other intensive research projects in African American studies and African and African diaspora studies. The course is intended to provide a scholarly community for students as they embark on the writing of their theses and research projects. The course will (a) assist students to identify primary and secondary research materials; (b) carefully explore effective research and writing strategies; (c) workshop students’ work-in-progress; (d) coordinate students' research projects with faculty advisors and the Black Studies librarian. Students are required to submit a substantive research paper at the end of the semester.

Requisite: One course in BLST. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Vaughan.

Pending Faculty Approval

Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

347 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

350 Black Latinas: Latin American, Caribbean, and US Latinx Women of African Descent

(Offered as BLST 350 [CLA/D], AMST 349 and LLAS 350) “Black Latinas” surveys the history of Black women in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Black Latinas in the United States. The course begins with a brief historical survey of Afro-Latin America and then explores the experiences of Black women through different contemporary movements. They include Black Latina feminisms, gender roles, Black Power movements, environmental activism, gentrification, workers’ rights, electoral politics, police brutality, anti-black Latino bias, and media and representation. The course highlights the writing and scholarship of Black Latinas, as well as scholarship about Black Latinas. The topics for discussion will represent examples from Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and other cases from Latin America, the Caribbean, and US diasporic communities. There are no class pre-requisites and all students are welcome to register. However, these courses provide a strong foundation for the course: BLST 268, BLST 275, BLST 278, BLST 280, BLST 282, and HIST 264.

Limited to 18 students. Fall semester - Prof. del Moral

Pending Faculty Approval

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023, Spring 2025

363 Research Seminar in the History of the Atlantic Slave Trade

(Offered as BLST 363 [CLA], HIST 463 [AF/TC/TE/TS/TR/P] and LLAS 463) In this course students will consult, analyze, and employ a variety of sources, including the accounts of missionaries, journals of slave traders, the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database, and the few available slave narratives written by Africans. Students will be presented with the tools to write original research on topics including the involvement of Western African societies in the slave trade, the logistics of the Middle Passage, characteristics of the captives transported from Africa to the Americas, and the Africans' own experiences of the Middle Passage and adaptation to the slave régimes of the Americas. Students will write a series of short assignments leading up to a major research paper of 20-25 pages.

Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2023-2024. Professor Lohse.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2022

380 Whitewashing Race

(See SOCI 380)

390, 490 Special Topics

Independent reading course.

Fall and spring semesters. 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, Fall 2024

410 Black Feminist Health Science Studies & the African Diaspora

(Offered as BLST 410 [D], AMST 313, SWAG 409) This research tutorial will explore a diverse archive of contemporary and historical texts that foregrounds Black feminist health science studies (BFHSS) which focuses on a social justice science that understands the health and well-being of marginalized groups to be its central purpose. This course enables students to contribute to the robust interdisciplinary and transnational research agenda of the Black Feminist Reproductive Justice, Equity, and HIV/AIDS Activism (BREHA) Lab that bridges the medical humanities, social sciences, and hard sciences. In this shared research project, students will be able to more clearly define new modes of inquiries on racism, gender, class, sexuality, and health that engage intersecting arenas of scholarship and activism, including the medicalization of race, feminist health studies, reproductive justice, and disability studies. To this end, we explore several questions: What is a black feminist approach to health among Afro-diasporic peoples and communities? What are the key terms, methodologies, theoretical frameworks, and political stakes associated with a BFHSS field? How can BFHSS expand our collective research inquiries on wellness, inequality, and society? Finally, how can this field contribute to broader efforts for social justice concerning the health, wellness, and longevity of the most vulnerable communities?

Open to sophomores and juniors. Limited to 6 students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Spring Semester. Professor Jolly.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2025

461 The Creole Imagination

(See ENGL 491)

498, 498D, 499, 499D Senior Departmental Honors

Spring semester. 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, Spring 2025