This course introduces students to the field of African American Studies through an examination of the complex experiences, both past and present, of Americans of African descent. Through a multidisciplinary perspective, it reveals the complicated ways we come to know and live race in the United States. Students engage classic texts in the field, all of which are framed by a concern with epistemologies of resistance and of ignorance that offer insight into African American thought and practice.
This course focuses on the networks, the imaginaries and the lives inhabited by Black artists, makers, and subjects from the 18th through 19th centuries. It revolves around the Caribbean (particularly the Anglophone Caribbean), North America and Europe. We will reflect on how pre-twentieth century Black artists are written into history or written out of it. We will explore the aesthetic innovation of these artists and the visionary worlds they created, and examine their travels, their writings, along with the social worlds and communities they formed. The course incorporates lectures and readings and, if possible, museum visits.
This course surveys history of African American art during the long 20th-century, from the individual striving of late 19th century to the unprecedented efflorescence of art and culture in 1920s Harlem; from the retrenchment in black artistic production during the era of the Great Depression, to the rise of racially conscious art inspired by the Civil Rights Movement; from black feminist art in the 1970s, to the age of American multiculturalism in the 1980s and 1990s; and finally to the turn of the present century when ambitious "postblack" artists challenge received notions of black art and racial subjectivity.
As a required course for AAS concentrators, this junior seminar introduces students to theories and methods of research design in African American Studies. Drawing on a wide-ranging methodological toolkit from the humanities and social sciences, students will learn to reflect on the ethical and political dimensions of original research to produce knowledge that is intellectually and socially engaged. This is a writing-intensive seminar with weekly essay assignments.
This course explores the intellectual history of scientific racism, paying close attention to how its theories influence power and institutions today. Reading primary sources from the history of science, each class will trace the reverberations of scientific racism in media, education, politics, law, and global health. Our conversations will consistently analyze the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and age in the legacies of scientific racism. We will also examine the impact of scientific racism in public discourse about the Black Lives Matter Movement and collectively brainstorm for activism towards restorative justice.
Who decided which first names are deemed "difficult to pronounce?" Why are the words "fear," "ignorance," "belief," and "guilt" used to normalize racism? Why do history textbooks avoid the use of the word "genocide" when addressing Atlantic slavery? This course explores the recent intellectual history of the role of naming and coded language in institutional anti-Blackness. Each class will analyze how structures of power have intentionally erased their histories and contemporary acts of racial oppression through linguistic and epistemic control, while also paying close attention to the language of resistance in Black activism.
This course will explore the history of human subjects research as a scientific practice and how practitioners interpreted the use of living and dead bodies for producing scientific knowledge. It examines how and why certain bodies become eligible for research and experimentation. This course will show how race, class, gender, and disability shape the history of human subjects research, and show how human subjects were also deliberately selected from vulnerable populations. It will focus on the experiences of African Americans as research subjects, and consider other vulnerable populations such as children, the disabled, and the incarcerated.
A survey of 20th- and 21st-century African American literature, including the tradition's key aesthetic manifestos. Special attention to how modern African American literature fits into certain periods and why certain innovations in genre and style emerged when they did. Poetry, essays, novels, popular fiction, a stage production or two, and related visual texts.
This course explores African American history from the Atlantic slave trade up to the Civil War. It is centrally concerned with the rise of and overthrow of human bondage, and how they shaped the modern world. Africans were central to the largest and most profitable forced migration in world history. They shaped new identities and influenced the contours of American politics, law, economics, culture, and society. The course considers the diversity of experiences in this formative period of nation-making. Race, class, gender, region, religion, labor, and resistance animate important themes in the course.
Why are some events from the past widely recalled, memorialized, and taught in school, while others are consigned to obscurity? What role do acts of historical erasure play in processes of exclusion? How have acts of remembering figured in struggles for justice? Using historical scholarship, memoirs, visual art, and music, this course examines the relationship between "history" and "memory", focusing on the different ways that race and social power have shaped the relationship in the U.S. and across the African diaspora. We will link representations of the past to debate about issues such as public monuments, legal redress, and reparations.
This seminar traces the historical roots and growth of the Black Lives Matter social movement in the United States and comparative global contexts. The movement and course are committed to resisting, unveiling, and undoing histories of state sanctioned violence against Black and Brown bodies. The course seeks to document the forms of dispossession that Black Americans face, and offers a critical examination of the prison industrial complex, police brutality, urban poverty, and white supremacy in the US.
How do we grapple with complicated, violent, and disavowed aspects of our collective histories in contemporary society? This class takes as its central issue how societies chose (or not) to reckon with, redress, and repair their difficult pasts. This course will challenge students to take on the difficult work of grappling with violent and otherwise negative pasts through the cultural media of memorial, monument, museum, and collaborative heritage practice. See "Other Information" below about a possible Break Trip to a memorial to the victims of racial terrorism in the U.S. South, located in Montgomery, Alabama.
This course examines the role and status of photography in different phases of Africa's political, cultural and art historical experience since 1945. We explore how African photographers used the photographic medium in the service of the state, society and their own artistic visions during the colonial and post-independence eras. Photography's relationship with art and its social function in Africa will underlie our discussion.
This seminar proceeds through a series of thematic and case studies ranging from Britain's early colonial expansion to the legacies of empire in contemporary art and museum practice. Topics include science and ethnography; the colonial picturesque; curiosity and collecting; slavery and visual representation; art and nationalism and readings are drawn from a range of disciplines.
This course uncovers the roots of racial injustice in Hollywood; the secret, but cardinal role Woodrow Wilson played in the production and distribution of D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation that led directly to the rebirth of the KKK and increased violence against Afro-Americans; and William Monroe Trotter's fight against the propaganda film. Wilson's policy of segregation was adapted by Hollywood as a self-censoring industry regulation of representation. Black people could only appear on screen as subservient and marginal characters, never as equals, partners or leaders. This code, Wilson's legacy, has become second nature to Hollywood.
This course is dedicated to the study of critical film curation. The Pandemic disrupted traditional film production, distribution and canonization. Could this disruption be turned into a creative subversion of the strong industrial and commercial aspect of American filmmaking and the Jim Crow system of Hollywood? In cooperation with the Sundance and the Berlin Film Festivals, we will practice critical curation of films made by women and Afro-American directors and interview filmmakers, film festival directors and leaders of the film industry. Work-products of the class (interviews, reviews, synopses) can be published on our course website.
This course explores questions and practices of liberation in writings by women philosophers and poets whose work helped to create cultural and political movements in the U.S. and Latin America. Starting in the 60s, we will study a poetics and politics of liberation, paying special attention to the role played by language and imagination when ideas translate onto social movements related to social justice, structural violence, education, care, and the commons. Readings include Gloria Anzaldúa, Angela Davis, Silvia Federici, Diamela Eltit, Audre Lorde, Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Gayatri Spivak, Zapatistas, among others.
A studio course introducing students to American dance aesthetics and practices, with a focus on how its evolution has been influenced by African American choreographers and dancers. An ongoing study of movement practices from traditional African dances and those of the African diaspora, touching on American jazz dance, modern dance, and American ballet. Studio work will be complemented by readings, video viewings, guest speakers, and dance studies.
This course traces histories, traditions and innovations in Black American dance through archival and embodied practice. Moving from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to the 1970s, we will explore how dance - when executed by those who identify as Black and when circulated outside/beyond/without Black people themselves - speaks to the body's relationship to the political, social, and cultural contexts of American life. Through a hybrid seminar/studio seminar format, students will be introduced to theories, debates, and critical frameworks in Black Dance. We'll wrestle with the complexities around researching, doing, and reading Black Dance.
A foundational moment in the history of European modernism in the twentieth century was the discovery of the world of Black others and the use of Blackness as a mechanism for maintaining and sustaining a new style of art. At about the same time, Black writers and artists adopted modernism as the aesthetic that would represent Black subjectivity in a world defined by racial violence. This course has two aims: to explore how black writers and artists in Africa, the Americas, and the Caribbean responded to high modernism's exoticism and to explore how they adopted and transformed the aesthetic ideology of global modernism.
The readings and discussions will consider how the literature and arts of Haiti affirm, contest, and bear witness to historical narratives concerning the world's first black republic. The course will sample an array of historical accounts, novels, Afro-Caribbean religion (Vodun), plays, music, film, and visual arts of this unique postcolonial nation.
This course explores the recent intellectual history of media, sex, and the racialized body. We will analyze the representation of the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality in film, advertisements, the fashion industry, reality TV, animation, and music videos. This course will also closely examine the predominance of White heteronormativity in film, the representation of gender in K-pop and K-dramas, and the hypersexualization of Blackness and Latinidad in Blaxploitation films and telenovelas.
This course surveys the history of cities in the United States from colonial settlement to the present. Over centuries, cities have symbolized democratic ideals of "melting pots" and cutting-edge innovation, as well as urban crises of disorder, decline, crime, and poverty. Urban life has concentrated extremes like rich and poor; racial and ethnic divides; philanthropy and greed; skyscrapers and parks; violence and hope; downtown and suburb. The course examines how cities in U.S. history have brokered revolution, transformation and renewal, focusing on class, race, gender, immigration, capitalism, and the built environment.
This readings course considers the dispersals, political movements, cultural production, social bonds, and intellectual labors that together have constituted and continually re-configured the modern African diaspora, from the emergence and collapse of the Atlantic slave system through the late twentieth century. The course tracks the evolution of diaspora as an idea and analytical framework, highlighting its intersections with concepts of Pan-Africanism, black nationalism, cosmopolitanism, and citizenship.
This course examines various political controversies that surround the role of race and ethnicity in American society. These controversies and issues affect public opinion, political institutions, political behavior, and salient public policy debates. Thus this course will assess and evaluate the role of race in each of these domains while also examining historical antecedents. The first half of the course will focus on historical antecedents such as the civil rights movement and the Black Power movement. The second half of the course will focus on the role of race in the 2008-2020 presidential elections.
This course is designed to explore the possession experiences in Caribbean Religions. Through historical, ethnographic, autobiographical, literary and visual texts this course examines complex, gendered practices within the possession process, the vibrant spiritual energy that sustains communal connections during religious ceremonies, and the transnational imaginations that animate Caribbean religious practices in the Americas. Special attention will be given to Santeria, Candomble, Vodou, Myal, Palo Monte, and Revival Zion in the Americas.
Widening inequality is a key challenge of the 21st Century. This course introduces students to the sociological study of inequality and stratification, motivated by the question of how disparities of wealth, income, and life chances have variously grown, shrunk, and transformed in the United States during recent decades. Distributional inequality and race/class /gender gaps will be examined amid changing systems of education, work and labor markets, housing, healthcare, wealth/financial security, and criminal justice/policing.
Analyzes the historical construction of race as a concept in American society, how and why this concept was institutionalized publicly and privately in various arenas of U.S. public life at different historical junctures, and the progress that has been made in dismantling racialized institutios since the civil rights era.
Theater artists routinely bend, twist and break all kinds of rules to create the imaginary worlds they bring to life on stage. Why, then, has the American theater so struggled to meaningfully address questions of equity, diversity and inclusion? In this course, we undertake a critical, creative and historical overview of agitation and advocacy by theater artist-activists aiming to transform American theatre-making as both industry and creative practice, as we connect those histories with the practices, structures and events determining the ways diversity is (and is not) a guiding principle of contemporary American theater.
The South African Anti-Apartheid movement saw mass resistance against the government's racial segregationist policies. Students will learn about the conditions that gave rise to Apartheid and the Anti-Apartheid movement, taking a look at the instrumental role that the performing arts and protest theatre played in dismantling the unjust system. Participants will develop performance work of their own based in South African protest theatre, encouraging a rejection of excess and on seeing obstacles as opportunities. Students will craft original protest theatre works that address sociopolitical concerns of their choosing.
How can posthumous research on a curatorial subject influence the structure and form of an exhibition or a new conceptual artwork? This course retraces the steps taken to produce McClodden's 2015-2019 artistic and curatorial work centering the lives of three Black gay men - poet Essex Hemphill, writer/poet Brad Johnson, and composer Julius Eastman - in order to examine key concepts central to research-based practice. Students will be expected to produce a research/exhibition study of an artist whom they feel has been obscured posthumously.