English 211: Thematic Approaches to Literature (cross-listed)
The Women of the Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance has been a much-studied era of African American culture, but significantly less attention has been paid to black women’s vital contribution to this movement. Across the 1920s and 1930s, black women in literature, art, music, and dance furthered the development of this African American cultural tradition in the midst of the Great Migration and Jim Crow. Such women invented new forms of black artistic expression, blending pan-African elements, high and low cultures, and experimental modernist forms in order to explore the experience of and to imagine a future for black women in the United States in particular. In this course, we’ll study these women’s works in conversation, including the work of novelists, playwrights, and poets such as Jessie Redmon Fauset, Angelina Weld Grimké, Zora Neale Hurston, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and Nella Larsen; sculptors and painters such as Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Lois Mailou Jones, and Augusta Savage; and jazz and blues vocalists such as Billie Holiday, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith.
To view the syllabus for this course, click here.
English 433G: Approaches to African American Literature (partial graduate; cross-listed)
The Theories and Poetics of Black Studies
This seminar will serve as a site for sustained engagement with the theories and poetics of black studies, a discipline invested in tracing blackness and anti-blackness across the African diaspora in order to imagine a means of radical abolition and black liberation. In this course, we’ll investigate the politics and aesthetics of some of the major theoretical texts in black studies published across the last decade, sketching the evolution of key questions, the formation of new archives, and the invention of fresh methods and styles for scholarly work in the field. Through discussion of such texts as Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (2019), Fred Moten’s consent not to be a single being trilogy (2017–18), Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake (2016), and Alex Weheliye’s Habeas Viscus (2014), we’ll consider the past, present, and future of black studies as a discipline and an artform. As a result, this seminar will introduce a variety of methodological approaches to the field of black studies, including those from Afro-pessimism, assemblage theory, biopolitical theory, black feminism, black Marxism, critical race theory, and queer of color critique.
To view the undergraduate syllabus for this course, click here.
English 596: Research Methods (graduate)
This seminar surveys advanced research methods in literary and cultural studies to enable incoming graduate students to situate their work in relation to the past, present, and future project of the discipline. To that end, we’ll trace the most significant theoretical and methodological developments of literary and cultural studies, and we’ll consider how these developments have shaped the interpretive practices and priorities of the discipline today. Additionally, we’ll develop the practical research skills required for producing professional scholarship in literary and cultural studies through a series of readings, discussions, and assignments. We’ll also discuss pragmatic advice for success in the graduate program and the profession, as well as the general structure and expectations of graduate programs, departments, and universities in the contemporary moment.
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English 371: Introduction to Ethnic Literatures
Policing Blackness on Film
In a moment in which the visibility of police brutality, excessive force, and state murder of people of color has dramatically increased, contemporary filmmakers have responded by dramatizing the police state on the silver screen. In this course, we’ll explore not only how films represent blackness and police violence but also the political and historical insights and implications at the intersection of race and film. We’ll engage critical terms from film studies related to image and sound, and we’ll discuss a variety of theoretical approaches to race and cinema from biopolitical theory, critical race theory, black Marxism, prison studies, and trauma studies. While examining the cultural work of policing blackness on screen, we’ll also focus on the historical impact of the police state on people of color from the antebellum era through the contemporary rise of the prison-industrial complex and mass incarceration, as well as sustained black resistance in the form of such movements as the contemporary movement for black lives.
English 496G: Major Literary Figures (partial graduate)
This seminar will survey the body of work of the prolific African American author Toni Morrison, heralded upon her passing in August 2019 as the “last great American author.” From the 1970s through the 2010s, her oeuvre centered the many facets of the black experience across US history—from enslavement to the Civil Rights Movement and beyond—with “visionary force” and “poetic import,” in the words of her Nobel Prize announcement. As a scholar, Morrison indelibly changed the course of American literary studies in insisting that blackness was not marginal but rather fundamental to understanding the American cultural imaginary. In this seminar, we’ll read a selection of her novels, short stories, and critical works, perhaps including such texts as Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), “Recitatif” (1983), Beloved (1987), Playing in the Dark (1992), A Mercy (2008), and The Origin of Others (2017). To facilitate critical reading of and writing about these works, this seminar will introduce a variety of methodological approaches to the field of African American literary studies, including methods from Afro-pessimism, critical race studies, black feminism, black Marxism, and queer of color critique.
English 550: Studies in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (graduate)
Racial Capitalism and Democracy from Reconstruction to the Second World War
This seminar will survey how racial capitalism—the notion that “racism enshrines the inequalities that capitalism requires,” in the words of Jodi Melamed—animates the American literary and cultural imaginary from Reconstruction (1863–77) to the Second World War (1939–45). In doing so, we’ll necessarily examine how the development of racial capitalism impacted the conception and execution of democracy in the United States, especially during westward imperialism, Jim Crow, the Gilded Age, and the Progressive Era. If democracy is, as Fred Moten has described it, “government in which the common people hold sway,” how has racial capitalism impacted the practice of democracy? What does democracy look like in a racial capitalist nation? Attending to the work of authors such as Charles Chesnutt, Stephen Crane, W. E. B. Du Bois, William Dean Howells, María Ruiz de Burton, Sui Sin Far, Mark Twain, Ida B. Wells, and Zitkála-Šá, we’ll investigate how literary and cultural texts understood and responded to the structural inequities and liberatory potentials of one of the most tumultuous periods of US history. Thus, this seminar will introduce a variety of methodological approaches to the field of American literary and cultural studies, including methods from critical and comparative race and ethnic studies, gender studies, and class and labor studies.
English 433G: Approaches to African American Literature (partial graduate)
The Present Past: History in Contemporary African American Fiction
This seminar will survey contemporary African American fiction of the last decade with a particular emphasis on representations of and engagements with black history, including works by such authors as Paul Beatty, James McBride, Jesmyn Ward, and Colson Whitehead, among others. The seminar will consider how, why, and to what end African American fiction grapples with histories of slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration in the current moment, examining how texts problematize or deauthorize so-called official histories by recovering, rewriting, or reimagining alternate histories. Employing as a lens Toni Morrison’s chant from the close of Beloved (1987), “This is not a story to pass on,” we might consider the nuances of narrative passing on with regard to heredity and lineage, racial performance, received histories, and even death. To facilitate critical reading of and writing about these works, this seminar will introduce a variety of methodological approaches to the field of African American literary studies, including methods from Afro-pessimism, critical race studies, black feminism, black Marxism, and queer of color critique.