Fall 2021

Humanities 300: Themes in the Humanities

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.

Fall 2021

English 550: Studies in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (graduate)

Citizenship and Sovereignty in the Long Nineteenth Century

The nineteenth-century United States was rife with questions of citizenship and sovereignty as the liberal-democratic nation advanced colonial and imperial projects at home and abroad, from settler colonialism and chattel slavery to the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow to global imperialism and immigration restriction. All of these historical moments necessitated redefinitions of who counted as American and what counted as America, recalibrating power among individuals across the country and nations around the world. In this seminar, through an examination of sentimental, western, realist, and speculative literature written primarily by authors of color across the long nineteenth century, we’ll ask: How do texts stage and understand the relationship between citizenship and sovereignty? How do social, cultural, and legal definitions of personhood contribute to evolving notions of who counts as citizen and what entities are sovereign? What freedoms and unfreedoms does liberal-democratic citizenship require, and how do they manifest along axes of identity and difference? What kind of cultural work does literature do in the nineteenth-century liberal-democratic nation? To explore these questions, this seminar introduces a variety of methodological approaches to the fields of US literary and cultural studies and critical ethnic studies, including theories of biopolitics, liberalism, settler colonialism, nationalism, and imperialism.

Spring 2022

English 440G: Southern Literature (partial graduate)

Reading Confederate Monuments and Counter-Monuments

Since the 2015 Charleston church massacre, more than eighty Confederate monuments have been removed from public lands in the United States—some toppled by protestors, many relocated to museums, and others put into storage. Meanwhile, more than seven hundred monuments remain, and at least twenty, mostly installed on private lands and funded by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, have been newly unveiled. Waves of removal, following the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and the 2020 George Floyd protests, have revealed that Confederate monuments activate agonistic discussion of Civil War memory, so-called white Southern heritage, the legacies of slavery, and the persistence of anti-Blackness. From courts and legislatures to town squares and city parks, the public is now actively engaged with how to read Confederate monuments—interpreting the meanings of their existence and their persistence or removal.

This course addresses what’s at stake in how we read Confederate monuments and offers frameworks for interpreting them in context, then and now. Tracing the rise and fall of Confederate monuments in US culture, we’ll engage questions about Confederate memory and memorialization alongside notions of social justice and national belonging. In doing so, we’ll necessarily read Confederate monuments as southern literature. Yet we’ll also do the inverse, reading some southern and Black literature as Confederate monuments and counter-monuments. Thus, we’ll interpret both literal and literary Confederate monuments, from the Mouton statue in downtown Lafayette to early blockbuster films like The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Gone with the Wind (1939), juxtaposed with contemporary Confederate counter-monuments, ranging from Natasha Trethewey’s poetry, to Suzan-Lori Parks’s plays, to Kehinde Wiley’s statue Rumors of War (2019).

Summer 2022

English 212: Literature and Other Media

Paris on Screen

Ever since Gene Kelly starred in the film version of the Gershwin musical An American in Paris in 1951, American screenwriters and filmmakers have continually returned to Paris not only as a backdrop for but also as an important character in their comedic and dramatic narratives. In this course, we’ll examine US films set in Paris across the second half of the twentieth century, moving from some of Audrey Hepburn’s classic romantic comedies such as Funny Face and Sabrina to contemporary films that combine a passion for romance, food, and the city itself, including popular films like Before Sunset, Moulin Rouge, Ratatouille, Paris Je T’aime, Julie & Julia, and Midnight in Paris. How do these films represent Paris as a character and a location of passion of all kinds? How do such representations contribute to the cultural imaginary of Paris in the United States? In this course, we’ll explore hubs of modernist art (visual, literary, and musical) including Musée Picasso and Montmarte, an important site for offshoots of Harlem jazz. We’ll also replicate the experiences our texts describe and hold discussions in the cafes in which our authors wrote through visits to Café Tournon, Les Deux Magots, and the Jardin du Luxembourg.

English 320: Modern Fiction

Americans in Paris

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris,” Ernest Hemingway writes, “then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” In this course, we’ll examine the prose and poetry of expatriate white and Black US authors living in Paris during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, moving from the work of modernists such as William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, and Langston Hughes to midcentury authors such as James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and Chester Himes to contemporary writers such as Ta-Nehisi Coates. We’ll consider how these literary works frame the pleasures of Paris and the experience of being a cultural outsider, as well as how they cultivate a sense of personal identity and literary experimentation in this unfamiliar environment. How do these literary works represent, reflect, and embody Paris, its people, and its culture? And, by extension, what does that reveal about the United States? In this course, we’ll explore the settings of our films through visits not only to big Paris landmarks but also to smaller sites of famous scenes such as bridges, bookstores, public squares, and bistros. We’ll also visit the Cinémathèque Française, where we can examine an archive of early film culture, including documents and ephemera. Finally, we’ll have immersive cultural experiences, such as taking a French cooking class, that allow us to reflect on the cultures and lifestyles of Parisians.