English 211: Black Literature and Culture
Black Poetry Now!
Poetry has always been important to the Black literary and cultural imaginary. After all, according to Alice Walker, “poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness.” However, in recent years, especially in the wake of the summer 2020 uprisings, the public has expressed a renewed interest in contemporary Black poetic production. In this course, we’ll examine the triumphant resurgence of this body of work, considering how it represents Blackness, resistance, and radicalism in the United States as well as, more broadly, the political and historical implications of Black poetics. In doing so, we’ll learn to close read poetry with the critical keywords of poetics, and we’ll discuss a variety of methodological approaches to Black literary and cultural studies, including theories from Afrofuturism, Afropessimism, Black feminism, and Black Marxism.
Humanities 300: Themes in the Humanities
Slavery on Film
The earliest blockbuster films, from The Birth of a Nation (1915) before sound and color to Gone with the Wind (1939) after, prominently featured stories of the Old South, stories of slavery. Though today’s Hollywood studios tread similar thematic ground with historical films like 12 Years a Slave (2013) and Harriet (2019) and horror films like Get Out (2017) and Antebellum (2020), they’re arguably telling vastly different stories about the history and afterlives of slavery in the United States. In examining a range of US films from the interwar period to the present, this course will trace the thematic development of slavery as a subject of film alongside the development of filmmaking technologies across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Likewise, it will consider the influence of earlier theatrical forms, such as blackface minstrelsy, on the creation and performance of enslaved and emancipated Black characters. Furthermore, it will investigate how conventions of narrative genres such as action, comedy, drama, horror, and romance shape the stories about slavery that film tells. Why does slavery appear so often on film? What are the legacies of the early films, and why are contemporary filmmakers returning to slavery in this cultural moment? How do these films call their audiences to bear witness to slavery? How do they understand slavery as a cultural, political, and economic institution? What do the stories these films tell about slavery and Blackness reveal about the historical moment in which they were created? These are just some of the questions we’ll explore in this course.
English 490: Senior Seminar
This course serves as the capstone for advanced undergraduate students majoring in English, giving you the opportunity to develop your research skills to your fullest potential and apply your knowledge of the methods and content of one or more of the various scholarly disciplines housed in English—including literature and culture, folklore, rhetoric and composition, and linguistics—in a semester-long research project. In this course, we’ll investigate and perhaps even rethink what it means to “do research” in humanities disciplines, understanding research as a process of knowledge production that builds on and responds to ongoing conversations in our disciplines using carefully-selected methods. Your capstone research projects will be thoughtfully and intentionally designed and executed not only through reading and writing but also through learning to: conceptualize problems in our disciplines; pose research questions about our topics; situate ourselves in relevant scholarly conversations; and choose and implement relevant methods for gathering and interpreting evidence. In generating our capstone research projects, we’ll come to identify academic writing as a continual process of reading, thinking, writing, and revision.
English 211: Black Literature and Culture (cross-listed)
The Women of the Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance has been a much-studied era of Black US culture, but significantly less attention has been paid to Black women’s vital contributions to this artistic and intellectual movement. Across the 1920s and 1930s, as the New Negro Movement rejecting Jim Crow anti-Blackness picked up steam and the New Woman’s Movement promoting women’s autonomy and sexual freedom gained traction, Black women grappled with their place at these movements’ intersection in their artworks. In inventing new forms of Black artistic expression that blended pan-African elements, high and low cultures, and experimental modernist forms, Black women artists both explored the past experience of and imagined a future for Black women in the United States. Examining Black women artists’ contributions in conversation, we’ll consider, for example, the literature of Marita Bonner, Jessie Fauset, Angelina Weld Grimké, Zora Neale Hurston, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and Nella Larsen; the visual art of Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller and Augusta Savage; and the musical stylings of Gladys Bentley, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith. In doing so, we’ll discuss the literary trope of the tragic mulatta, histories of racial passing, the rhetoric of Black uplift and respectability, and the trauma of Black motherhood. In this moment of immense potential for cultural change, we’ll consider how and why Black women artists often understood race, gender, and sexuality as ambiguous, unfixed, and, at times, incomprehensible.
English 371: Introduction to Ethnic Literatures (cross-listed)
Nineteenth-Century Black Radical Thought
This course traces nineteenth-century Black radical thought in the United States through an examination of a wide range of literary genres including political pamphlets and speeches, manifestos, and speculative and utopian fiction. In doing so, it considers how and why Black radical thinkers responded to the oppressions of their historical moment by imagining an entirely different world and persuading others to help them build it. Investigating notions of Black freedom—as opposed to liberal freedom—from chattel slavery through Jim Crow, this course asks students to reflect on the legacies and lessons of nineteenth-century Black radicalism for today’s social justice movements. How did Black radicalism develop across the course of the nineteenth century in response to and anticipating legal and extralegal subjection in the United States? What kinds of Black freedom and Black worlds did it imagine? And how and why do Black radical strategies and appeals resonate in the current moment? These are just some of the questions we’ll explore in this class as we develop skills of literary and cultural analysis and read primary texts with a variety of methodological lenses.