Courses

AFR 104 SEM Race and a Global War: Africa during World War II

Last offered Spring 2023

This course highlights African experiences of World War II. Although most histories have excluded Africa's role in the war, the continent and its people were at the center of major developments during in this global conflict. In fact, many Africans remember the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 as the start of the war. African servicemen fought alongside the Allied and Axis forces on major warfronts in Europe, Africa and Asia. African communities and individuals also established war charity campaigns to collect funds, which they sent to war ravaged societies in Europe. Indeed, African economies, despite their colonial statuses, kept European imperial nations afloat in their most hour of need. At the same time, African colonial subjects faced severe food shortages, the loss of working-age men to labor and military recruiters, and dramatically increased taxes. We will examine the impact of these and other wartime pressures on different African communities. How did African societies meet such challenges and how did they view the war? In this course we will examine the roles that women played during the war, and the various other ways that African communities met wartime demands. Other topics we will explore include the role of African women; colonial propaganda; political protest against the war; race and racial thought in the wartime era; war crimes; African American support for the liberation of Ethiopia; and the war's impact on decolonization across the continent. We will further study how Africans and outsiders have differently conceptualized the continent's role in the war by analyzing a variety of sources, including scholarly writings, archival materials, films, former soldiers' biographies, and propaganda posters. [ more ]

AFR 105 LEC Art, Space, and Visual Culture in Africa from Past to Present

Last offered Fall 2019

This course introduces students to the power and diversity of expressive forms that have characterized the arts, spaces, and visual cultures of Africa from prehistory to the present. In the context of this course, students will not only study a wide array of objects, images, and structures that have been produced within this vast geography, but will also consider how such forms have used materials, ideas, and aesthetics to function variously as tools of divine manifestation, political intervention, social commentary, and identity construction. [ more ]

AFR 110 SEM Television, Social Media, and Black Women 'Unscripted'

Last offered Fall 2023

Nene Leaks, Issa Rae, Zendaya, Oprah Winfrey, Lavern Cox and Joy Reid have become common household names. Whether from the television shows they star in, the TV shows they have created, or the social media presence they have developed--these women continue to influence and shape popular culture. In this course we will situate Black women as creators and contributors to popular culture as a whole, but specifically through television (scripted and "unscripted") and social media. We will begin by covering the history of Black women in television. This historical approach will then lead us to examine selected TV episodes, and investigate social media pages of Black actresses, television producers, and the fans of these shows. The aim of this course is to analyze the ways in which Black women continually shift the popular culture paradigm and how they serve as key players determining what is indeed popular. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AFR 111 SEM Afro-Modern Dance I: Theory & Practice (Dunham Technique)

Last offered Fall 2023

Modern African diasporic dance creates a conversation between the past and the present; it brings forth memories of the African "homeland" and of the dispersal of African bodies around the world, while simultaneously engaging the current joys, pains, challenges, and cultural growth of Black people. Through movement and rhythm, dancers experience the embodied knowledge of previous generations, while connecting to contemporary cultural, political, and economic realities. Katherine Dunham devoted her life to exploring and exposing the multiple layers and complexities of the African diasporic experience through her ethnographic dance choreographies, her dance technique, her schools, her music, and her writing. Dunham's work as a dance anthropologist, artist, educator, and humanitarian is manifested in Dunham Technique; the technique is a fusion of African diasporic dance, ballet and modern dance, and functions as an embodied medium for cultural communication. The technique is considered "a way of life" as it uses theory and philosophy to engage participants in a holistic experience that is not only physical, but also intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. Through this combination of physicality, history, theory, and philosophy, Dunham Technique is a tool to understand one's inner self and place oneself within a historical and cultural framework. In this course, students will explore the history, theory, and philosophies of Dunham Technique and Katherine Dunham, while actively participating with the technique's movement concepts and vocabulary. Students will engage in the fundamentals of a Dunham Technique movement class through center floor work, barre exercises, progressions, and choreography. The course will combine the studio experience of the physical technique with lectures and discussions. Students will learn about the three theories of Dunham Technique (Form and Function, Intercultural Communication, and Socialization through the Arts) and its three philosophies (Self-Examination, Detachment, and Discrimination) while also learning the history and historical context of the technique and its creator. [ more ]

AFR 113 LEC Musics of Africa

Last offered Fall 2023

This course introduces musical traditions spanning the geographical breadth of continental Africa. We will prioritize hands-on experience and musical practice, critical listening, and deep social and political contextualization as strategies of musical engagement. Following an introductory exploration of overarching aesthetic and social trends in African musical practice, the course will then focus on 3-4 geographically rooted case studies, allowing us to discuss how different musical practices and subcultures (featuring traditional, contemporary, and popular forms) interrelate in a musical soundscape. The geographical focus of the case studies may vary but previous case studies have included: Ghana, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Egypt, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo. [ more ]

AFR 115 SEM The Literature of Sports

Last offered Fall 2020

The ubiquity of the sporting event, the athlete as hero, the athlete as failure, the crowd, the fan, the stadium, and all of the complex conflicts therein have long been the subjects of some of the finest writing in America and throughout the world. Writers have used sport as a context through which to explore and examine ideas such as beauty, the sublime, tragedy, politics, race, class, sexuality, and gender. This course will focus on poetry, fiction, and non-fiction invested in the public spectacles and private revelations of sport ranging from the poetics of praise to issues of urbanism, colonialism, globalization with readings by Pindar, Rankine, CLR James, Baldwin, Hemingway, Oates, DeLillo, and many others. [ more ]

AFR 128(S) TUT James Baldwin's Song

"It is only in his music [. . .] that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story. It is a story which otherwise has yet to be told and which no American is prepared to hear," wrote James Baldwin in Notes of a Native Son in 1955. In this course, we strive to listen more closely to racialized experience through James Baldwin's musical literature. Through analysis and creation of music, we hope to better understand cultural difference and collective humanity. In this course, we closely analyze James Baldwin's use of song names, creation of musician characters, and replication of musical elements in his writing. Baldwin's musical word play crosses historical and genre boundaries. So we will explore texts from his early to late career, such as the gospel music of his youth in the semi-autobiographical novel Go Tell It on the Mountain, the metaphor of the blues in the play written during the civil-rights movement Blues for Mr. Charlie, the jazz musician protagonist in "Sonny's Blues" written after World War II in Paris, and his only musical recording in A Lover's Question set down near the end of his life. In addition to closely analyzing James Baldwin's attention to music throughout his literature, students will learn basic music writing and production skills. The tutorial will draw on a range of musical resources, including playlists, music workshops, guest lectures and performances. All of these resources will guide students to a more attuned hearing not only of music but also of the African American experience it reflects. By the end of the course, students will have written several short 1-2 page close analysis essays and song lyrics. For their final project, students will produce an original song based on key insights from the course. No musical experience is required, though an openness to learn and practice songwriting is expected. [ more ]

AFR 132 SEM Contemporary Africana Social and Political Philosophy

Last offered Spring 2022

This introductory seminar investigates the relationship between three major schools of thought in contemporary Africana social and political philosophy: the African, Afro-North American, and Afro-Caribbean intellectual traditions. We will discuss a range of thinkers including Dionne Brand, Aimé Césaire, Angela Davis, Édouard Glissant, Kwame Gyekye, Paget Henry, bell hooks, Katherine McKittrick, Charles Mills, Nkiru Nzegwu, Oyèrónke Oyewùmí, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Cornel West, and Sylvia Wynter. A primary goal of the course is to provide students with the intellectual resources to decipher problems central to philosophical discourse and to allow students an opportunity to apply what they learn to critical issues in current geopolitics. [ more ]

AFR 135 SEM Queen Sugar and Black Study

Last offered Fall 2023

The critically acclaimed and award winning television series, Queen Sugar, follows the Bordelon family through its struggles to sustain hold of its ancestral land. An adaptation of the eponymously named 2014 novel by Natalie Baszile, the series will soon enter its seventh and final season. This gateway course to Africana Studies will explore the historical, political, and economic contexts of the making of the series before considering its representations and dramatizations of key topics of Black study: the afterlives of enslavement, plantation regimes, global sugar production, land dispossession, the carceral state, gender and sexualities, kinship, activism, and African-diasporic spiritualities. [ more ]

AFR 140 LEC Black Autobiography

Last offered Spring 2018

Autobiography--whether slave narrative, memoir, or semi-fictional life account-has served as a primary form of writing for people of African descent. Although primarily understood as a textual means for articulating selfhood, Black autobiographies also ask other questions like: How do Black reflections on the self necessitate critiques of society and culture? How have Black autobiographies been utilized for political mobilization? And, what might a collective analysis of Black autobiographies reveal about changes in conceptions of Black selfhood over time? We will explore these concerns by reading autobiographies across time and space by authors like Ottobah Cugoano, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Alice Walker. [ more ]

AFR 158 SEM North of Jim Crow, South of Freedom

Last offered Spring 2023

This course analyzes the freedom struggle in the North during the twentieth century. Whereas black northerners drew from broader campaigns and traditions of black resistance, we will explore territorial distinctions in the region that otherwise have been flattened within the long history of civil rights discourse. To accomplish this aim, we will engage the following themes: black culture and radicalism; community formation and residential segregation; demographic and migratory transitions; deindustrialization and the war; gender and respectability politics; labor tensions and civil rights unionism; northern racial liberalism; and the influence of world affairs--all with an eye toward scrutinizing the freedom struggle in its northern variety. [ more ]

AFR 159(F) TUT Crossing the Color Line: A History of Passing

In June 2015, Rachel Dolezal emerged as a media spectacle and the subject of national scrutiny after her white parents stated publicly that Dolezal is a white woman passing as black. Their insistence that Dolezal is white came in the wake of her reports to local news media and police that she had been the victim of several hate crimes. To critics, Dolezal is a fraud who has committed cultural appropriation. Yet, for her supporters, Dolezal's racial identification as a black woman is authentic and indisputable, since race is not based on biology but rather is a social construction. For both groups as well as impartial observers, many wondered curiously why a white woman had chosen to pass as black, especially given that historically it has been African Americans who opted to become white. Inspired by the controversy surrounding Dolezal, this tutorial will explore the history of passing in the United States. Whereas our attention will primarily be focused on black-to-white passing, we will expand our understandings of passing by emphasizing the variety of ways that identities have been shaped through the crossing of boundaries--class, ethnic, gender, intellectual, political, religious, and sexual. To accomplish our goals, we will read and cross-examine fictional and nonfictional as well as primary and secondary historical accounts of boundary-crossers. We will also screen several films that engage the theme of passing. [ more ]

AFR 160 SEM After the Civil Rights Movement

Last offered Spring 2024

This course examines African American politics, life, and culture from the period following the end of the civil rights movement in the late 1960s to today's Black Lives Matter movement. In examining this time period, we will pay particular attention to a number of key questions: What organizations, activists, and campaigns dominated Black politics in the post-civil rights movement era? How did organizers build on the issues and tactics of the movement in the years that followed? In what ways were structures of racial inequality reconfigured in the post-movement era? How did the popular culture of the era reflect the changing social, economic, and political lives of African Americans? How were the gains of the civil rights movement preserved or threatened in the post-movement era? In considering these questions, we will explore the ways that struggles for racial equality continued to shape American life in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and 00s. Using scholarly works, film, music, oral history, and other primary and secondary sources, we will look at topics including: debates over the legacy of the civil rights movement; the impact of mass incarceration and the War on Drugs on Black communities; HIV/AIDS activism; Black conservatism in the age of Ronald Reagan; anti-police brutality activism in the years before the Black Lives Matter Movement; urban disinvestment and the rise of hip hop culture; electoral politics, Black political power, and the Obama presidency. [ more ]

AFR 167 SEM Let Freedom Ring? African Americans and Emancipation

Last offered Spring 2021

This course will examine African Americans' transition from slavery to freedom. In the years that encompassed the Civil War and immediately after, most African Americans changed from being legal property, able to be bought, sold, mortgaged, rented out, and leveraged into U.S. citizens, with the Constitutional right to male suffrage. This course examines this transition. How did it come about? To what extent were African Americans able to exercise their rights that the constitution guaranteed? How did Emancipation shape African American family relations, culture and demography? This is a research seminar. We will examine work of historians and discuss the contradictions and nuances of emancipation. Readings will include monographs, scholarly articles and heavy dose of primary sources, as many as possible written by African Americans themselves. Assignments include an original research paper on an aspect of Emancipation. We will devote considerable time throughout the semester to finding primary and secondary sources and on the writing process. [ more ]

AFR 170(F) LEC What is Race in Black Studies?

Black/Africana Studies has offered much on the study of race, though race is not its sole focus. The goal of this course is to study theoretical perspectives and interrelated schools of thought on race in disciplines including and adjacent to Africana Studies. These perspectives include critical race theory, the Black radical tradition, whiteness studies, and decolonial theory. Our goal is to begin to notice the ways in which race -- far from being a singular or uniformly understood mode of difference -- can be theorized through a range of approaches. The course will explore questions including: What is at stake in various perspectives on race? What sort of redress is made possible using the framework of "race," and what transformative possibilities are foreclosed? How does the twentieth century trajectory of the concept shape the twenty-first century racial politics? How does the state-form structure the concept of race? [ more ]

AFR 19 Black Storytelling From Page To Stage

Last offered NA

Some of the most impactful Black artists have chosen multiple genres and interwoven genres to write stories about Black life. For example, Alice Walker's The Color Purple began as a novel, then became a film and a musical. With for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, Ntozake Shange wrote a choreopoem that merged dance with music and poetry. It was performed on the theatrical stage and was later adapted twice into film. These multi-genre stories of Black life have stood the test of time and captured the interest of diverse communities of fans. In advance of the course, Professor Rashida K. Braggs will choose one Black performance text that is relevant to winter study 2025. Students will engage with this text through multiple genres, including written and staged forms. The course will feature student discussion, writing and analysis of Black performance. Additionally, students will explore acting, moving, writing and film approaches that they will apply to the course text. In this way, students will not only learn by viewing, listening and discussing Black art, but by creating it too. Homework will include reading and viewing Black performance texts, short written responses to contribute to discussion, and rehearsal for in-class performances. The ending course goals are to see a performance of the featured text and for students to share their own performative interpretations of it. No prior performance experience is required, only an openness and curiosity about creating Black performance. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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AFR 190(S) SEM Introduction to Afro-Latin American Studies

Although there is a common idea of "African American exceptionalism," the Black Experience in the Americas is far more complex and diverse than it may seem at first glance. Since the beginning of the 16th century, around 10.7 million Africans survived the Middle Passage, and around 4 percent disembarked in the USA. If it is true that each country has its own singularities, nation-building processes, and particular race and ethnic relations, it is also true that there are remarkable resonances and connections across and within the Black Diaspora in the Americas. Drawing on this historical background, the seminar introduces students to the flourishing field of Afro-Latin American Studies. The seminar will focus on the current experiences of Afro-Latin Americans in Haiti, Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia. Therefore, this is not a course about slavery or colonial history, even though it will shed light on the historical roots of the present-day struggles and experiences of Afro-Latin Americans. The seminar invites students to investigate and discuss the following questions: What does it mean to be Black in Latin America today? How are racial categories used in and by each country's public policies and social movements? What is behind the idea of racial democracy? What role do affirmative action and cultural movements play in the fight against racism and Anti-Blackness? How did Black activists and movements foster an Afrodiasporic dialogue and collaboration throughout the Americas? The seminar aims to connect students with Afro-Latin American perspectives (drawn mainly from Anthropology, Sociology, and History); promote a welcoming space for class discussions; and provide students with guidance to structure and develop a written reflection (in any preferred format, such as essays, interviews, research papers, audiovisual creations) about a topic of their choice (in relation to the Black Experience in Latin America). [ more ]

AFR 200(F, S) LEC Introduction to Africana Studies

This course introduces students to the content and contours of Africana Studies as a vibrant field of knowledge. Through exploration of the genealogy, disciplinary diversity, and evolution of the field, we will examine the depth and range of experiences of African-descended peoples throughout the Americas, the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa. We will also give some attention to how members of the Diaspora remember and encounter Africa, as well as their diverse responses to the history of enslavement, colonialism, apartheid, racism, and globalization. Through materials that embrace both historical and contemporary perspectives, we seek to help students develop critical frameworks for understanding African diasporic experience while simultaneously illumining disjunctures and challenges for the field. This course features two pedagogical strategies: 1) a rotational, interdisciplinary approach that includes the expertise, methods, and specializations of Africana faculty; and 2) the incorporation of aesthetic materials--film, photography, music, dance, performance, and artwork--to enhance student ability to draw ongoing connections between visual and textual sources covered in the course. Close textual analysis, vibrant debate, and engaging discourse are expected. [ more ]

AFR 201(F) STU African Dance and Percussion

We will examine two forms that embody continuity of tradition or the impact of societal, political or economic change. Lamban was created by the Djeli, popularly called Griots served many roles in the kingdoms of Ghana and Old Mali from the 12th century to current times. This dance and music form continues as folklore in modern day Guinea, Senegal, Mali and The Gambia where it is practiced by the Mandinka people. Bira is an ancient and contemporary spiritual practice of Zimbabwe's Shona people. While these forms are enduring cultural practices, Kpanlogo from the modern West African state of Ghana represents the post-colonial identity of this nation's youth and their aspirations for independence at the end of the 1950s. We will also consider the introduction of these forms outside of their origin. This course can be taken for academic and/or PE credit. [ more ]

AFR 202(S) TUT Narrating Color: Black Women Sing and Write About Complexion

Colorism, skin color discrimination where light skin is privileged over dark skin, is not a new phenomenon, but globally entrenched in our society and one of the many vestiges of white supremacy. For Black Americans of all backgrounds, colorism is a familiar and a living legacy concretized by the institution of slavery in the Americas. Although some believe that we are "post-color," similarly to those that naively believe we are "post-race," one can look to the recent example of misogynoir (misogyny directed at Black women) and skin color politics that Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, has faced at the hands of the British Monarchy, that her light-skinned color, biraciality, and class privileges couldn't protect her from. Alternatively, we can look at the numerous examples of colorism and anti-Black racism that tennis icon Serena Williams is subjected to because of her dark-brown skin complexion and body shape. One cannot fully understand the issue of colorism without understanding that it is an outgrowth or an extension of anti-Black racism firmly rooted in white supremacy, and so insidious that it impacts all aspects of Black life. Examining colorism through literary texts and music, provides a depth of understanding that both compliments and expands these empirical studies. Literature and music provide the narratives and rhythm that paint a vivid picture of the many ways that colorism impacts the lives of Black people. Through the methods of literary and rhetorical criticism we will examine the works of five Black women authors and music artists that take up issues around colorism and passing. We will explore, Toni Morrison's, The Origins of Others (2017), Brit Bennett's, The Vanishing Half (2020), Tressie McMillian Cottom's, Thick (2019), Marita Golden's, Don't Play in the Sun (2004), Yaba Blay's, One Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race (2021), Nina Simone's, "Four Women" (1966) and "Young, Gifted and Black" (1958), Sara Martin's, "Mean Tight Mama" (1927), India.Arie's, "Brown Skin" (2001), Azealia Banks' "Liquorice" (2012), and Beyoncé's "Creole" (2012), "Formation" (2016) and "Brown Skin Girl" (2020). By examining colorism in both literature and music, it will give first year students a foundational and nuanced understanding of skin tone bias and equip them with the tools to critically engage literary and music texts. [ more ]

AFR 203 LEC The Making of Modern Africa

Last offered Fall 2021

This course traces the incorporation of Africa into an expanding global world from the middle of the 19th century to the present and examines the impact of this integration on the history of African cultures and modern nation states. It is designed to provide you with an introductory understanding of the economic, social, and political forces that have shaped Africa in recent times and continue to affect the lives of individual people across the continent. Over the course of the semester you will be introduced to major historical themes in African History from the past 150 years, including the abolition of the slave trade and its effects, African states in the 19th century, the growing integration of different regions into shifting global and economic systems, European colonization, and African resistance to imperial conquest. We will also explore the emergence of the nationalist and anti-colonial movements, and Africa's post-colonial experiences of self-governance. Within these broad historical processes, the class will cover additional key themes such as religious change and the role of Western missionaries; changing gender roles; environmental exploitation and change; the emergence of the developmental state; urbanization; military dictatorships, and war and violence in the late 20th century. We will also cover some of the issues surrounding the study of African History as a discipline. This is a challenging task as no single course can cover more than a silver of the complexity and variety of the continent. This is why we approach the study of Modern African History through a comparative prism. [ more ]

AFR 204 SEM Introduction to Francophone Literatures

Last offered Fall 2016

What is the Francophone world comprised of? Who speaks French today and why? What does the idea of Francophonie really mean? Is this term really relevant? Why, how, and by whom is this idea being criticized? How does the littérature-monde manifesto fit within these interrogations? Is the French-speaking world merely a linguistic community or is it also a political, cultural, and economic project? Last but not least, why is the idea of Francophonie so important for France? We will answer these questions through the lens of literary and cinematic texts from Québec, Sénégal, Vietnam, France (l'hexagone), and Haiti among others. [ more ]

AFR 205 TUT She Speaks in Color: Examining the 'Color Complex' in Toni Morrison's Writings

Last offered Fall 2023

The practice of colorism, or skin color discrimination, is very familiar to people of color globally. Often described as intra-racial racism, colorism within the Black American context is part of the colonial legacy of institutionalized slavery where the vestiges of white supremacy have created color castes among Blacks that still, to this day, have serious consequences for those on the darkest end of the color spectrum. The impact of this practice is far-reaching, influencing everything from romantic partnering, economic and educational attainment, and perceptions of beauty, attractiveness, and criminality. Although the vast majority of colorism scholarship is empirically based, there is much that we can glean from a literary investigation of this practice by analyzing the works of renowned writer, theorist, and folklorist Toni Morrison. Her work is particularly useful in examining issues of skin color, as this topic has been persistent yet underexplored in Morrison's writings. Employing the methods of literary and rhetorical criticism, this tutorial will investigate five Morrison novels, The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), Love (2003) and God Help the Child (2015), and some of her non-fiction writings. In our discussions of each text, we will examine the problem of the "color complex" at the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class and sexual violence, and how the characters manage these overlapping issues. We will bring the novels into conversation with social science articles on the practices of colorism in daily life. Because the tutorial blends different kinds of investigations into colorism, it will equip first year students with tools to critically engage and interrogate fictional literature; help them identify the real and nuanced ways that color discrimination affects Black communities; and consider how Morrison, one of our foremost writers, bridges literary creativity with ethnographic observation. [ more ]

Taught by: Meredith Coleman-Tobias

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AFR 206(S) STU African Dance and Percussion

Before the 20th century, the African continent was the source of dance and music that influenced new forms rooted on and off the continent. These forms are shaped by the impact of religion, colonialism, national political movements, travel, immigration, and the continuing emergence of technology. In South Africa, the labor conditions of miners instigated the creation of Isicathulo, Gum boots, and in Brazil the history of colonialism is a factor that anchors Samba as a sustaining cultural and socioeconomic force. The birth of Hip Hop in the 20th century finds populations across the globe using its music, dance, lyrics, and swagger as a vehicle for individual and group voice. Hip Hop thrives as a cultural presence in most countries of the African continent and in the Americas. We will examine the factors that moved this form from the Bronx, New York, to Johannesburg, South Africa, and Rio, Brazil. We will examine at least two of these forms learning dance and music technique and composition material that will inform their practice. Each of these genres generated physical practices, new and enduring communities while continuing to embody specific histories that have moved beyond their place of origin. What is their status in this century? [ more ]

AFR 207 TUT "Out of Africa": Cinematic Por(Be)trayals of a Continent

Last offered Fall 2020

This tutorial provides a focused study of the politics / poetics of visualization and identification associated with film and cinema about Africa from past to present. From colonial-era propaganda newsreels about Africa's 'fighting men' to contemporary white-savior narratives that exploit current socio-political ruptures on the continent for epic effect, films about Africa produced by a primarily Western cinematic regime have proven themselves to be highly effective apparatuses for framing "Africa" as a concept to be summoned time and time again to tell different stories for different audiences, and in doing so privilege particular viewpoints and imaginaries. This tutorial will provide a space for robust discussion and debate about the various representative tropes, conceptualizations, and visualizations that have been used to shape the contours of "Africa" as understood by a primarily Western audience from past to present, and how these same tropes in many ways have come to define the nature of the relationship between film / cinema and the continent over the history of their engagement. In doing so, it will also address how strategic displays and narratives deployed by cinematic productions often support specific power dynamics that locate an idea of "Africa" within paradigms of specific cultural and political understanding. In zeroing in on how such films promote targeted realities for people and places within the continent, this tutorial will address how "Africa" in Western film and cinematic traditions is positioned within a particular framework of understanding that is more often than not irrevocably tethered to a Western imaginary. [ more ]

AFR 208 TUT Time and Blackness

Last offered Spring 2023

The concept of time has been one of the most examined, yet least explicitly theorized, concepts in Africana Studies. While the field is saturated with historical studies and literary analyses that take up issues of cultural memory--which involves thinking about time--time itself has rarely the subject of sustained inquiry. This may be due to its abstractness as an idea, and the level of analysis its conceptualization demands, or because time in the Black experience cannot be understood outside of the meaning of race, which itself is not completely tangible. In this tutorial, "Time and Blackness," we will explore how Black writers across a number of genres--spiritual autobiography, fiction, memoir, literary criticism, and cultural theory--understand time, and create paradigms of time to organize their work. The following questions will structure our investigation: What are the constituent elements of time in Black writings? How does race shape the ways Black writers conceive the experience of time? And, finally, to what can we attribute the recent surge in explicit, theoretical examinations of "time and blackness"? [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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AFR 210 SEM Culture and Incarceration

Last offered Fall 2011

This seminar examines incarceration, immigration detention centers, and the death penalty from historical and contemporary perspectives. Students will study and examine interdisciplinary texts as well primary sources (legislature and criminal codes and writings by the incarcerated). The emphasis will be on the study of social attitudes concerning ethnic groups, gender/sexuality and class as they pertain to a "penal culture" in the United States. [ more ]

AFR 211 LEC Race, Environment, and the Body

Last offered Spring 2023

This course is organized around three distinct, but overlapping, concerns. The first concern is how polluting facilities like landfills, industrial sites, and sewage treatment plants are disproportionately located in communities of color. The second concern is the underlying, racist rationales for how corporations, in collaboration with state agencies, plot manufacturers of pollution. The final concern is how the environmental crises outlined in the first two sections of the course are experienced in the body. In reviewing a range of Black cultural productions--like literature, scholarship, music, and film--we will not only consider how environmental disparities physically affect human bodies, but also how embodiments of eco-crises lend to imaginaries of the relationship between the self and the natural world. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AFR 212 SEM Jazz Theory and Improvisation I

Last offered Spring 2024

The theory and application of basic harmonic structures and rhythmic language used in jazz performance. An introductory level course to the practice of jazz improvisation. Blues forms, modal compositions, diatonic progressions, secondary and substitute dominant chords, modulations. This is a performance practice course appropriate for students with basic skill on their instrument and some theoretical knowledge including all key signatures, major/minor keys and modes, intervals, triads and basic seventh chords and their functions within keys. Vocalists and drummers will be encouraged to study the piano; all students will complete jazz-specific piano and percussion lab assignments. Pianists, guitarists and bassists should be able to sight read chords on a jazz lead sheet. [ more ]

AFR 213 TUT Race, Gender, and the Alien Body: Octavia Butler's Science Fiction

Last offered Spring 2022

Science fiction is a genre well known for its ability to envision new realities, and Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006) is among the most highly regarded science fiction writers. Butler's uncanny ability to imagine the future anew and to merge those ruminations with her experiences as an African American woman provide powerful commentary on--and often disrupt--modern understandings of race, gender, and human embodiment. We will explore questions such as: What role does 'gender' play in Butler's fiction? How does Butler's treatment of the 'alien' cause us to reconsider what it means to be human? How does Butler incorporate `race' and the concept of 'other' into her fiction, and how do these techniques help us situate contemporary discussions of a post-race society? We will examine the relationship between Butler's visions for the future and what her narratives of future worlds invariably suggest about the present. We will read key texts including the best-selling text Kindred (1979), the haunting dystopian novel Parable of the Sower (1994), the popular vampire text Fledgling (2005), and the collection Bloodchild and Other Stories (1996). We will also explore contemporary engagement with Butler's work including the relationship between the main character from her book Dawn (1987), and Henrietta Lacks, the African American woman from whom the immortal cell line (HeLa) used for medical research derives. This tutorial will engage Octavia Butler's work broadly, and with particular attention to how the concepts 'race,' 'gender', `alien' and 'body' are interrogated in her writings. [ more ]

AFR 216 SEM Moving While Black

Last offered Spring 2022

Opening your apartment door, driving down the highway, taking a knee, raising a fist, sitting at the lunch counter then or sitting in a café now, these movements have historically and presently prompted fear at a minimum and in the most grave cases death for black people. Whether in the U.S. or globally, moving in the world as a black person often means being perceived as different, foreign and threatening. Crawling, dancing, running and boxing, these movements have countered fear and articulated the beauty, pride, creativity and political resistance of black people. In both cases, black movement matters and means much. While many consider movement to be just organized dance moves, this course expands students' definitions of black movement and teaches them to analyze multiple perceptions, uses, and reactions to it. "Moving while Black" offers examples of physical movement in improvised and practiced performance, quotidian movement, geographical movement across national borders and symbolic, politicized gestures. Students will investigate black movement via interdisciplinary sources that reflect various time periods and locations. Students may analyze such texts as Jacob Lawrence's visual art in The Migration Series, the movement of the rumba dance form between Cuba and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's "Revelations," William Pope.L's choreographed crawls, the 1995 World Rugby Cup in South Africa, and the 2018 case of a Kansas resident arrested while moving into his own home. Additionally, this course features an important practice element, in which students experiment with in-class movement exercises and workshops, engage with dance archives at Jacob's Pillow, interview participants of Kusika, and create and perform their own choreographies. While no previous experience in performance is required, curiosity and openness to learning through one's own body movement is expected. [ more ]

AFR 217 TUT Women and Girls in (Inter)National Politics

Last offered Fall 2020

This tutorial focuses on the writings and autobiographies of women who have shaped national politics through social justice movements in the 20th-21st centuries. Women and girls studied include: Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Chisholm, Safiya Bukhari, Erica Garner, Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, Marielle Franco, Winnie Mandela. [ more ]

AFR 218 SEM ReReading/Righting Ballet's History: Celebrating BIPOC Figures in Ballet (w/ Ballet Technique)

Last offered Fall 2022

"What does dance give you?" asked the great African American dancer, teacher, and director Arthur Mitchell: "The freedom to be who you are and do what you want to do." In the ballet world, however, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color have struggled to achieve that "freedom" their white counterparts have enjoyed. In this course students continue their technical/artistic training in ballet while also exploring different topics in past and current ballet history; in Fall 2022, our main focus will be on some of the notable BIPOC figures in the world of ballet, with the history of ballet providing both a timeline and a sociopolitical backdrop against which we can trace and discover the intersectionality that has helped shape the aesthetics of ballet as well as other genres we know today. Though this is primarily a studio course (with twice-weekly ballet technique classes) readings and viewings relevant to our coursework will be assigned; a third weekly meeting will be held for group discussions on those assignments. Alongside broader ballet history texts, the essays and articles by authors such as Brenda Dixon Gottschild and Theresa Ruth Howard will offer keen insights into some of the more specific issues and topics regarding race and diversity in the field of ballet. In addition to informal, written responses to the readings and viewings, Howard's website "Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet" will be an important anchor/springboard for course projects. Howard will be a guest collaborator in this course for Fall '22; in addition to joining us (remotely) for discussions, she will guide us in those projects. [ more ]

AFR 219 SEM Afro-Modern Dance II: Theory & Practice (Dunham Technique)

Last offered Spring 2024

Modern African diasporic dance creates a conversation between the past and the present; it brings forth memories of the African "homeland" and of the dispersal of African bodies around the world, while simultaneously engaging the current joys, pains, challenges, and cultural growth of Black people. Through movement and rhythm, dancers experience the embodied knowledge of previous generations, while connecting to contemporary cultural, political, and economic realities. Katherine Dunham devoted her life to exploring and exposing the multiple layers and complexities of the African diasporic experience through her ethnographic dance choreographies, her dance technique, her schools, her music, and her writing. Dunham's work as a dance anthropologist, artist, educator, and humanitarian is manifested in Dunham Technique; the technique is a fusion of African diasporic dance, ballet and modern dance, and functions as an embodied medium for cultural communication. The technique is considered "a way of life" as it uses theory and philosophy to engage participants in a holistic experience that is not only physical, but also intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. Through this combination of physicality, history, theory, and philosophy, Dunham Technique is a tool to understand one's inner self and place oneself within a historical and cultural framework. In this course, students will explore the history, theory, and philosophies of Dunham Technique and Katherine Dunham, while actively participating with the technique's movement concepts and vocabulary. Students will engage in the fundamentals of a Dunham Technique movement class through center floor work, barre exercises, progressions, and choreography. The course will combine the studio experience of the physical technique with lectures and discussions. Students will learn about the three theories of Dunham Technique (Form and Function, Intercultural Communication, and Socialization through the Arts) and its three philosophies (Self-Examination, Detachment, and Discrimination) while also learning the history and historical context of the technique and its creator. Students are expected to have taken DANC 111, DANC 204, DANC 206, or had some prior significant training in Dunham Technique. [ more ]

AFR 220 SEM Introduction to African American Literature

Last offered Spring 2023

What does it mean, socially, culturally, historically, personally, and spiritually, to be African American? No single, simple answer suffices, but African American literature as a genre is defined by its ongoing engagement with this complex question. This course will examine a series of texts that in various ways epitomize the fraught literary grappling with the entailments of American blackness. Readings will include texts by Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Amiri Baraka, Toni Morrison, and Ishmael Reed. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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AFR 221(F) SEM Giving God a Backbeat: Rap Music, Religion & Spirituality

On the surface, religion and rap music may seem as if they have little in common. Yet, like other Black musical traditions such as spirituals and the blues, rap is rooted in African American religious traditions. In this course, we will explore the ways in which rap music intersects with the sacred and secular worlds. Through an examination of black religious traditions, lyrics, music videos, and digital media, we will unearth what Anthony Pinn calls the "spiritual and religious sensibilities" of rap music. Grounded in culture-centered criticism, we will investigate the rhetoric of rap and religion through the theoretical ideas of Black Liberation Theology and hip-hop feminism. [ more ]

AFR 222(S) SEM Hip Hop Culture

The course examines how young people of color created hip hop culture in the postindustrial ruins of New York City, a movement that would eventually grow into a global cultural industry. Hip hop music producers have long practiced "diggin' in the crates"--a phrase that denotes searching through record collections to find material to sample. In this course, we will examine the material and technological history of hip hop culture, with particular attention to hip hop's tendency to sample, remix, mash-up, and repurpose existing media artifacts to create new works or art. We will use a media archaeological approach to examine the precise material conditions that first gave rise to graffiti art, deejaying, rapping, and breakdancing, and to analyze hip hop songs, videos, and films. Media archaeology is a critical and artistic practice that seeks to interpret the layers of significance embedded in cultural artifacts. How does hip hop archaeology remix the past, the present, and the future? How do the historical, political, and cultural coding of hip hop artifacts change as they increasingly become part of institutional collections, from newly established hip hop archives at Cornell and Harvard to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture? [ more ]

AFR 223 SEM Politics of Performance/Performing Politics in Contemporary Africa

Last offered Fall 2019

Using select examples from throughout Africa, this course highlights genres, artists, and works that engage with social and ideological change. Students practice critical listening and performance analysis, while also considering the social contexts that render these performances meaningful and provocative. Topics include: challenges to mass mediated stereotypes of African populations, the social and economic impact of cultural tourism, music as a form of social critique, changing attitudes toward women and the LGBTQIA community, music and global aid organizations, issues of migration and displacement, and the changing roles of traditional musical occupations. Popular genres-among them Afrobeat, kwaito, soukous, raï, mbalax, Chimurenga music, and a variety of rap and hip-hop styles-are discussed alongside numerous traditional and ceremonial genres, national/political anthems, and concert pieces. Active participation in class discussion is an important component of this course. [ more ]

AFR 224 TUT Cold War Intellectuals: Civil Rights, Writers and the CIA

Last offered Fall 2022

This weekly tutorial has alternating primary and secondary writers (5pages/2pages). In weekly one-hour sessions, students read their work aloud followed by dialogue and critique. Primary papers are due to respondent/professor 48hrs before the tutorial meets; response papers are emailed to the professor 2hours before the weekly tutorial meets. Readings include: We Charge Genocide; Williams J. Maxwell, F. B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover's Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature; Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire; Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America; "Part III Supervision and Control of the CIA," Rockefeller Commission Report; Malcolm X Speaks; Sam Greenlee, The Spook Who Sat By the Door; and, The Murder of Fred Hampton. The tutorial is open to all students. [ more ]

AFR 225 LEC Musics of the Caribbean

Last offered Spring 2017

From witty and politically charged calypsos to soulful bachatas, from folkloric displays that advertise a country's cultural diversity to ritual performances that facilitate communication with the spirit world, the music of the Caribbean is astonishingly diverse, both sonically and in its social application. This course serves as an introduction to a wide spectrum of Caribbean music in its broader social and historical context. Through engaging with audio and video sources, readings, performance exercises and workshops, students will learn to identify distinguishing features associated with particular countries and regions, while also exploring the sounds and musical structures that are shared between them. Featured genres include reggae, steel pan, calypso, zouk, Maroon music from Suriname and Jamaica, chutney, salsa, merengue and music from Haitian Vodu and Cuban Santería religions. Interlaced with discussion of musical genres and innovative musicians are a number of central questions about the social role of music within the region: How has slavery and colonial enterprise shaped the musical landscape of the Caribbean? How do the realms of sacred and secular performance relate to each other? What role does tourism and global circulation play in influencing musical tastes and practices? Finally, how do music and dance interconnect? [ more ]

AFR 226 SEM Black France/France Noire

Last offered Spring 2020

On the eve of the new millennium, the year 1998 saw the emergence in France of "Black studies à la française" (Ndiaye). Inspired, in part, by the 150th anniversary of the 1848 abolition of slavery, the French black minority "made itself more visible" (Faes and Smith). This course examines a wide range of discursive practices through which athletes, artists, authors, politicians, activists, and scholars amplified their voices in the French hexagone. It retraces the rise of these discourses and how they assert, reframe, and establish blackness as a legitimate field of knowledge and a space of affirmation and contestation. Following a study of the interwar period (1918-1939), when the work of "negritude women" (Sharpley-Whiting) such as "afro-latinité" spurred the negritude movement, we will discuss publications, documentaries, and seminal moments of protest in the early twenty-first century. Course material may include works by Suzanne Césaire, Jane and Paulette Nardal, Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, Achille Mbembé, Françoise Vergès, Pascal Blanchard, Nicolas Bancel and Sandrine Lemaire, Pap Ndiaye, Gaston Kelman, Rokhaya Diallo, Alice Diop, Léonora Miano, and Fabienne and Véronique Kanor. Conducted in French. [ more ]

AFR 227 LEC Colonial Rule and Its Aftermaths in Africa

Last offered Fall 2022

This course focuses on the history of Africa during the colonial and post-colonial periods, especially focusing on the period between 1885 and 2000. The first part of the course will explore the imposition of colonial rule and its attendant impacts on African societies. During this section, we will especially examine how Africans responded to colonialism, including the various resistance movements that arose at different moments to contest colonial rule. We will also explore the various transformations wrought by colonialism. The second part of the course will explore the African struggle to decolonize their societies and to fashion viable political systems. In addition to historical texts, the course will make use of cultural materials such as novels and films. [ more ]

AFR 228 LEC Revolt and Revelation in 20th-Century Americas

Last offered Fall 2017

Writing in 1971, Dominican priest and Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez asked "Is the Church fulfilling a purely religious role when by its silence or friendly relationships it lends legitimacy to dictatorial and oppressive government?" Such a question encapsulates the sometimes agonistic and other times deeply intertwined relationships between religious institutions, religious thought, and movements for political transformation in the 20th century Americas. This course examines those forms of "God-talk" broadly termed "liberation theologies" that responded to and challenged social relationships of class, colonization, race, culture, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability, and ecology. These theologies were borne out of and in turn deeply shaped struggles against oppressive regimes and structures in the Americas, and as such we will focus on some specific theological writings--such as those of Gutierrez--and their relationship to distinct social movements and struggles over land, economy, and political power, especially in Brazil, El Salvador, Perú, and the United States of America between 1960-2000. [ more ]

AFR 229 Black Outside the U.S.

Last offered NA

This course explores multiple ways Black identity evolves, adapts and is experienced differently depending on location. Students analyze Black experience in the U.S., France and Senegal through a range of texts from books and social media to music and film. One key aspect of the course is a study abroad trip to Senegal, which increases cultural awareness through experiential learning. This combination of textual learning with experiential knowledge exemplifies how language, religion, gender, geography, and performance shape one's racial identity. In the first section of the course, students investigate Black experience in the U.S., focusing on such topics as the one-drop rule, racial profiling and where mixed people fit within Black/White tensions. The second section highlights the politics of language in France. Students explore how words like "Black," "noir" and "race" have strong political connotations in France and spur both resistance to and alliance with Black American civil rights history. In the third part of the course, students visit Dakar, Senegal, and analyze Blackness through their own observations and encounters. Their trip insights jumpstart the final focus of the course on Senegal. Students investigate the influence of French colonialism on Black identity in Senegal, which makes the two geographical experiences of Blackness very different but still forever linked. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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AFR 230 SEM Gender, Sexuality, and Global HIV/AIDS

Last offered Fall 2017

The global pandemic of HIV/AIDS is now entering into its fourth decade. Throughout this history sexuality, gender and race and inequality have played a central role in the spread of the virus, and its apparent entrenchment in certain communities. This class will use a gendered, interdisciplinary perspective to investigate the pandemic's social, economic and political causes, impact, and conundrums--the problems it poses for scholarship, activism, public policy, and public health. Issues discussed will include the role of transaction sex and economic structures in both susceptibility to HIV and vulnerability to its impact; stigma and its challenges for HIV prevention, testing and treatment uptake; the role of positive youth in the next stages of the pandemic; and the evolving expressions of biopower in the global AIDS response. The class will look at examples of successful policies and activism as well as the failures, corruption and complacency that have characterized the global pandemic. There will be a particular geographical focus on experiences in the U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa. [ more ]

AFR 231 SEM Africa and the Anthropocene

Last offered Spring 2024

Despite its low contributions to global carbon emissions, the continent of Africa is predicted to experience some of the worst effects of climate change. This interdisciplinary course investigates the causes and consequences of this troubling contradiction. It positions the African continent as an important site for understanding how legacies of empire, racial and gendered inequality, resource extraction, and capital accumulation impact contemporary global environmental politics. Students will engage theoretical texts, reports from international organizations, films, novels, and web-based content. Topics include: humanism/post-humanism; migration and displacement; representations of conflict; and sustainable development. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AFR 232 SEM Islam in Africa

Last offered Spring 2023

Islam in Africa is often relegated to the peripheries in the study of Islam, a religion most associated with Arabs and the Middle East. On the flip side, Islam is also portrayed as foreign to African belief systems and institutions. The relationship between Islam and Africa, however, begins with the very advent of Islam when early Arab Muslim communities took refuge in the Abyssinian empire in East Africa. This course explores the history of Islam and Muslim societies on the African continent by focusing on the localized practices of Islam while also connecting it to Islam as a global phenomenon. The course will begin with a historical focus on the spread of Islam in Africa from East Africa and North Africa in the seventh century all the way to the spread of Islam through Sufi brotherhoods in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The course will also take an anthropological approach, exploring the diverse practices of Islam in African Muslim communities and the social and cultural impact of Islam on African societies. Among the topics the course will cover include African Muslim intellectual traditions, local healing practices, religious festivals, early modern African Muslim abolitionist movements, and the historical interactions between African and Asian Muslim communities in the Indian ocean world. [ more ]

AFR 236 SEM Europe and the Black Diaspora

Last offered Fall 2023

This course provides an overview of the relationships and interactions between the Black diaspora and the European continent in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Drawing from biographies, autobiographies, reports, literature, creative arts and academic articles, we will consider the different relationships that have evolved between Black people and Europe over the course of time. Focusing on Central Europe, we will discuss the relationships established between Europe and the Black diaspora, such as Africans, African-Americans, Afro-Latinx and Afro-Caribbeans. Some of the themes we will address include the influence of cultural contact on intellectuals, writers, artists, soldiers, politicians and asylum seekers and their works, factors that established and influenced their relationship with Europe, as well the ways in which these selected people did or did not exert influence on European cultures. We will conclude by looking at some of the current discussions that still revolve around the relationship between the Black diaspora and Europe. Reading and Discussion in English. [ more ]

AFR 237 SEM Islam in the United States: Race, Religion, Politics

Last offered Fall 2023

Malcolm X is one of the most iconic yet controversial figures in the black freedom struggle in the United States. He is also arguably the most prominent and influential Muslim in the history of the United States. His story and legacy powerfully illustrate the complex intersections of Muslim identity, political resistance, and national belonging. From the early period of "Black Muslim" movements represented by Malcolm X, to the current "War on Terror" era, American Muslims have faced a complex intersection of exclusions and marginalization, in relation to national belonging, race, and religion. Taking Malcolm X as our point of departure, this course examines how American Muslims have navigated these multiple layers of marginalization. We will therefore consider how the broader socio-political contexts that Muslims are a part of shape their visions of Islam, and how they contest these competing visions among themselves. In so doing, we will examine the complex relation between religion, race, and politics in the United States. Throughout the course, we will be engaging with historical and anthropological material, autobiographies, documentaries, films, historical primary-source documents, music, and social media materials. The course fosters critical thinking about diversity by challenging assumptions of who Muslims are, what being American means, and what Islam is. It also focuses on the complex interaction of different dimensions of diversity, from religion to ideology, race, nationality, ethnicity, culture, gender, and language. [ more ]

AFR 238 SEM Black Voices in Anthropology

Last offered Fall 2023

What names and faces come to your mind when you think about Anthropology? The course introduces students to the lives and work of pioneering Black anthropologists whose contributions are still unknown or overlooked. Through different styles, methods, and theoretical approaches, each of these intellectuals has developed antiracist perspectives on foundational topics in the Social Sciences and the Humanities, contributing to advancing the study of the African continent and the Black Diaspora. Throughout the classes, students will learn about each author's journeys, which can spark significant changes in how we think about our roles as social scientists within and outside academic boundaries. [ more ]

AFR 242 LEC Introduction to the Music of John Coltrane

Last offered Fall 2023

This course offers the serious music student an opportunity to study the unique body of work produced by saxophonist and composer John Coltrane (1926-1967). The course traces the evolution of Coltrane's compositional and performance styles in the context of the musical and cultural environment in which they developed. Emphasis placed on Coltrane's musical style, representing a unique synthesis of influences, including jazz, world, and European Classical music and spirituality. Substantial listening and reading assignments, including a biography and related criticism, as well as detailed score analysis and study, are required. [ more ]

AFR 243 SEM Asian/American and Black Literary and Cultural Thought

Last offered Spring 2020

One durable legacy of white settler colonialism has been to its divide-and-conquer management of minority populations--an amazingly effective strategy still widely practiced in a variety of forms today. While Asian Americans have been deemed "model minorities" in contrast to "unmodel" minorities--namely, African Americans--and racial minorities have been pitted against one another in the oppression Olympics and on the issue of affirmative action, there has, in fact, been a long history of political, literary, and cultural thought that have joined blacks and Asian/Asian Americans, from W.E.B. Du Bois to current ideas about digital possibilities (and constraints). In this course we will examine the theory, political writings, art, music and literature that sprang from and attended the early Marxist-Communist fight for universal brotherhood; movements against colonialism, capitalism, and the Vietnam War; Yellow Power and Black Power; and topics such as black and Asian diasporas, Afro-futurism, multiculturalism, "Afro-pessimism", racial melancholia, and digital futurities. [ more ]

AFR 244 SEM Dislocating the Harlem Renaissance

Last offered Spring 2022

Beginning with Alain Locke's The New Negro: An Interpretation, this course introduces students to the black literary and cultural production of the 1920s and 30s that we have come to regard as the Harlem Renaissance. While canonical figures will be covered, significant attention will also be paid to artists that have garnered less attention as well as those that sit outside the geographic boundaries of Harlem. Figures to be considered throughout the term include Sterling Brown, Miguel Covarrubias, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Angelina Weld Grimké, Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, Nella Larsen, Claude McKay, Richard Bruce Nugent, Anne Spencer, Jean Toomer, Eric Walrond, and Walter White. [ more ]

AFR 245 SEM Dancing with the Hips, Butt, and Pelvis: Dangerous Bodies and Community Traditions

Last offered Spring 2024

Within the historical context of the U.S., dance that emphasizes hip, butt, and pelvic movement has been racialized and associated with the Black body. While the popularity of these dance styles has expanded and now different groups of people now embrace these movement vocabularies, the practices remain deeply connected to the history and culture of Black folk. Despite the increased popularity of these dances, within Eurocentric aesthetics, the Black dancing body carries the mark of vulgarity and should either be controlled, exploited, and/or exoticized. These dangerous bodies are considered sexually deviant and in need of influence and control through colonialism, imperialism, and religion. Yet, the dancing pelvis, hips, and butt write and document the Black experience. The dancing Black body carries the memories of the diaspora and provides space for the body to experience autonomy. This embodied knowledge, carried by Black bodies, is intertwined with the everyday lives of Black folk. Furthermore, through these practices, Black communities commune, resist dominant narratives, and embrace their humanity. Nevertheless, the pelvis/hips/butt dancing body is not embraced equally among Black people. In the practice of these movement genres, Black communities negotiate matters of respectability, pleasure, and self-actualization. This course is an exploration into the use of the hips, butt, and pelvis in three movement genres: bounce, a genre of hip-hip from New Orleans and origin culture of the term "twerking" Black majorette/dance team performance, a jazz and Black social dance infused form that originated from the marching band culture at Historically Black Colleges and Universities; and Caribbean wining, a hip rolling movement performed throughout the Caribbean. Students will engage with scholarship and participate in discussions focused on the individual and communal practice of these traditions. The class community will investigate themes such as respectability politics, the politics of pleasure, and communal organizing to gain a better understanding of these practices. Additionally, students will physically explore these dance traditions and work with guest artists who specialize in these practices. The course will culminate in a public dance party that will be curated and facilitated by the class community. [ more ]

AFR 246 SEM African American History, 1619-1865

Last offered Spring 2020

This course provides an introduction to the history of African Americans in United States during the colonial, early republic, and antebellum eras. The experience of enslavement necessarily dominates this history, and it is the contours and nuances of slavery-and the development of racial classifications-that give this course its focus. We will also explore African cultural influences, the significance of gender, the lives of free blacks, and the cultural and intellectual significance of the abolitionist movement. The course closes on the themes that emerge from the Civil War, and on the meaning of freedom and emancipation. Our readings will include primary sources and secondary literature. Class meetings will combine lecture and discussion. Informed participation in class discussion is essential. This Power etc course explores the experiences and expressions of the culturally diverse peoples of African descent in the New World (and the Old), as well as the myriad ways in which they confront, negotiate, and at times challenge dominant U.S. and/or European hierarchies of race, culture, gender and class. [ more ]

AFR 247(F) LEC Circa 1492: A Black Studies Perspective

How do we understand the 1492 moment that opened the doors to the civilization under which we live? This course considers the critiques put forth in Black studies to critically examine 1492 as not a moment of European achievement but as a world-altering moment. This moment has a prehistory and a future that is not limited to the Bristol-Guinea-Caribbean triangle of the slave trade, but also the England -- Moorish North African -- North America triangle that was the dominant triangle during the Age of Discovery, or the first few decades of the 1492 moment. The twin events of the 1492 moment are the expulsion of Moors and Jews from Iberia and Christopher Columbus's initiation of the conquest of the "New World." Taking seriously Arab-African cultures, practices, and thought, this course is grounded by the scholarship of core thinkers in Black studies including Sylvia Wynter, Cedric Robinson, RA Judy, and explores what they argue is missing from our understanding of the 1492 moment and its aftermath. [ more ]

AFR 249 SEM Penning the Path: Writing and Publishing Black Studies

Last offered Spring 2024

Since the mid-20th century, Black intellectuals from Africa and the Diaspora have founded seminal journals within and beyond academic boundaries. Despite being separated by global distances and different contexts, these initiatives have decisively contributed to the emergence and consolidation of Black and Pan-African studies. Presence Africaine, founded in Paris in 1947 by Senegalese intellectual Alioune Diop; Quilombo, first published in 1948 by the Afro-Brazilian intellectual Abdias do Nascimento; and The Black Scholar, founded in California in 1969 by Robert Chrisman, Nathan Hare, and Allan Ross are just a few groundbreaking examples. From this global perspective, students will explore these and other cornerstone journals which paved the way for the emergence of Black and Pan-African Studies in the US and abroad. Additionally, the course aims to encourage students to be part of a collective effort to relaunch Kaleido[scopes]: Diaspora Re-imagined, a student led-journal created in 2014 in the Africana Studies Department by Sevonna Brown ('15), Ahmad Greene-Hayes ('16), and Nneka Dennie ('13). Students will receive guidance and mentoring to conceive and write articles, essays, audiovisual creations, and interviews with students and intellectuals from the African continent and the Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean. [ more ]

AFR 252(S) LEC Patterns of African Diasporas to the U.S.

Migration remains an integral aspect of Black experiences. This comprehensive course, formerly titled "Black Migrations: Histories of African Diaspora in the US," centers the histories of Black migration to and within the United States. Migration includes the involuntary, forceful movement of populations, but it also comprises voluntary movement of populations that seek new economic opportunities. Therefore, this course covers three historical periods of migration: 17th- 19th century (Transatlantic slave trade), early 20th century (Great Migration and the arrival of Caribbean migrants to major urban centers in the United States), and the late 20th and early 21st century (Migration continental Africans to the US). This course will ask the following questions as it relates to Black migration: What were the social, political, and economic factors that contributed to the migration of Black populations to and within the US especially in the 20th and 21st century? How do current-day Black migration patterns differ from earlier periods? In what ways can migration be utilized as a form of resistance to oppression both domestically and internationally? [ more ]

AFR 254 SEM Bebop: The (R)evolution of Modern Jazz

Last offered Spring 2023

In the 1940s, Jazz turned a corner, transitioning from the functional and popular music of the swing era to the increasingly complex art music known as bebop. The practitioners of this new sub-genre were seen not as showmen or entertainers, but (in the words of poet Ralph Ellison) as "frozen faced introverts, dedicated to chaos." This music was simultaneously old and new, a musical evolution interpreted through the lens of cultural revolution. This class will survey the lives, music and continuing impact of bebop's most pivotal figures: Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke among many others. Through score study, guided listening and performance, the class will examine the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic innovations associated with this pivotal era in jazz history. We will evaluate, compare and contrast examples of contemporary theoretical scholarship concerning this musical vocabulary and it's evolution. Intersections between the music and parallel artistic, social and political movements will also be addressed. [ more ]

AFR 255(F) LEC Race, Environment, and the Body

This course examines the relationship between structural racism and racial/ethnic health disparities. Through class discussions of readings and media images, we will explore three topics: 1) how racism intersects with classism, sexism, and xenophobia to govern the implementation of local, state and federal health care policies; 2) how the uneven enforcement of health care policies ultimately produces differences in mortality, morbidity, and quality of life among various populations; and 3) anti-racist public health scholarship that offers strategies for creating racial health equity. [ more ]

AFR 256 LEC Politics of Africa

Last offered Spring 2017

This course provides an introduction to the politics of contemporary Africa, emphasizing the diversity of African politics. It seeks to challenge the widespread image of African politics as universally and inexplicably lawless, violent, and anarchic. We begin by examining the colonization of Africa, nationalist movements, and patterns of rule in the first 30 years of independence. From there, we analyze the causes, achievements and limitations of the recent wave of political liberalization across Africa. We then consider patterns of economic development in Africa. Finally, we examine China's growing expansion into Africa and ask whether this is a new colonialism. [ more ]

AFR 257 SEM Social Justice Traditions: 1960s to #Black Lives Matter

Last offered Fall 2018

We live in a time of renewed social justice activism, as people from all walks of life confront economic inequality, police violence, discrimination against transgender individuals, and other forms of oppression. This course is designed to clarify where recent initiatives like Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street came from, and to evaluate how they might shape American life in the near future. Movements have histories, as today's activists draw on the "freedom dreams," tactics, and styles of rhetoric crafted by their predecessors, while making use of new technologies, such as Twitter, and evolving understandings of "justice." Taking a historical approach, we will begin by studying the civil rights, Black Power, anti-war, counter-culture, and feminist initiatives of the 1960s. We will then explore how progressive and radical activists adjusted their theories and strategies as the country became more conservative in the 1970s and 1980s. Making use of movement documents, documentary films, and scholarly accounts, we will study the development of LGBTQ, ecological, and economic justice initiatives up to the present day. Throughout, we will seek to understand how movements in the United States are shaped by global events and how activists balance their political work with other desires and commitments. [ more ]

AFR 258(S) SEM Thinking and Acting Politically in the Long Civil Rights Movement

In this course, students will explore the various theories of political action that animated the Long Civil Rights Movement. Students will examine how these theories helped frame the political ideals, ideologies, and behaviors of multiple sects of the Black Freedom struggle. By analyzing the political thought of thinkers like Ella Baker, Amzie Moore, Pauli Murray, Florynce Kennedy, Fannie Lou Hamer, Robert F. Williams, and Martin Luther King, Jr.--among others, students will appreciate how their experiences influenced their approach to politics in diverse ways. Subsequently, students will evaluate the theories' arguments and political actions while determining which frameworks should motivate contemporary political organizing. By challenging the charismatic leader model of teaching and learning Civil Rights politics, students will understand the Civil Rights Movement as a grassroots movement buoyed by the political activities and energies of ordinary Black citizens. Moreover, they will develop a broader understanding of the mechanics of grassroots organizing and mobilize their studies appropriately to argue persuasively how ordinary people should contest injustice by considering tactics, mobilization strategies, political visions and ideologies, and strategic dilemmas. Consequently, they will not view Civil Rights history and theory as an episode of the past but as a force that continues to shape our political imaginations. [ more ]

AFR 259 LEC Bilad al-Sudan and Beyond: Arts of the Afro-Islamic World

Last offered Spring 2020

From the Swahili stone houses of East Africa to the massive earth and timber mosques of the Sahel, the story of Islam in Africa is one of cultural and spiritual hybridity expressed through material form. In this course, students will explore how artistic forms and traditions in Africa have functioned as vehicles of access and integration for Islam, enabling it to assimilate itself with numerous African contexts towards becoming the dominant religious force on the continent. In addition, students will investigate how the forms, functions, and meanings of Afro-Islamic objects across the continent reflect not just one African Islam, but many different iterations, each shaped by the specific frameworks of its cultural context. The contemporary component of the course will examine how modernity in the form of globalization, technology, and Westernization has affected Afro-Islamic artistic traditions, and how these shifts reflect larger evolutions within understandings of Islam in Africa in the contemporary period. [ more ]

AFR 260(F) SEM 1930s Black Literature

This course explores Black literary output of the 1930s in all its forms with the belief that this often under-appreciated decade contains many of the impulses that would come to structure the literary landscape in the decades that follow. These include an unflinching embrace of humor and satire, engagements with social realism, and a keen attention to notions of the radical in the international context. Special attention will be paid to how the writing pushes away from the development of what we have come to understand as the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Work to be considered throughout the term comes from, among others, Marita Bonner, Arna Bontemps, Sterling Brown, Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, George Schuyler, Dorothy West, Richard Wright, and Octavia Wynbush. [ more ]

AFR 261 SEM Haitian and French Caribbean Literatures and Films

Last offered Fall 2016

Over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, authors and filmmakers have questioned prevalent representations of the Creole and French-speaking Caribbean such as the idea of Haiti as the First Black republic and the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere and and of Martinique and Guadeloupe as the "French" Caribbean. They have also interrogated their forebears by reclaiming modernity, reframing History, and telling "intimist" stories (Ferly). This course focuses on the diverging paths by Haitian and French Caribbean literatures (short stories, play, poem, novels) and film (short, feature and documentaries) as critical interventions that bring into focus gender, slavery, identity, exile, migration, imperialism, culture, and (non) sovereignty. [ more ]

AFR 265(F) SEM Afrodiasporic Communities: Marronage, Quilombismo, and Black Towns

In the early 19th century, a small Black community formed in White Oaks, Williamstown/MA. In 1866, 32 West Africans founded Africatown/AL, one of the first cities established and governed by Black people in the United States. In the face of the impossibility of returning to their native lands, as recounted by the Martinican poet Aimé Cesaire, millions of Africans and their descendants sought to find home in the Diaspora. In so doing, they not only contributed to building cities, nations and societies. Frequently, and in several episodes alongside Amerindians, the Black population in the Americas endeavored numerous strategies that challenged the colonial order. Such experiences also occurred in the Caribbean and Latin America and are usually described as maroon societies, cimarrons, or quilombos. However, the literature does not usually address them via an Afrodiasporic framework. Drawing from the work of scholars such as Abdias do Nascimento (Brazil, 1914-2011), students will analyze the bonds of combative solidarity within and across the Black Diaspora in the Americas. Through this approach, the experiences of Afrodiasporic Communities are not only defined or limited to the forms of territorial organization. Instead, they can be viewed and studied as examples of Black association aligned with the struggles of emancipation -- from rural villages to urban neighborhoods and towns. The seminar invites students to investigate and discuss the following questions: What do these communities have in common? What are their main differences in countries such as the USA, Jamaica, Colombia, Suriname, French Guiana, and Brazil? What can we learn from the history of White Oaks and Africatown? How could we use concepts such as quilombismo and marronage to think about the Black Experience today? The seminar aims to provide students with an Afrodiasporic framework (drawn mainly from Anthropology, Sociology, and History) to investigate different experiences in the Black Diaspora. [ more ]

AFR 270 LEC Sport and the Global Color Line

Last offered Fall 2021

Throughout the twentieth century, African Americans have broken racial barriers, confronted racial stereotypes, and garnered unprecedented success within popular culture, most notably sport. In this course, students will explore the relationship of the black athlete to the color line. We will complicate the historical view of sport as a site of professional advancement and race reform by demonstrating how societal racial practices were reconstructed within athletics. In essence, this course will emphasize the role sport performed in structuring racial exclusion as athletic arenas--like movie theaters, railroads, schools, and other public sites--shaped what Historian Grace Elizabeth Hale has termed the "culture of segregation." Though our primary focus will be on the experiences African Americans encountered, we will also probe the color line beyond its typical black-white binary. Thus, we will examine the achievements and altercations that other ethnic and racial groups realized in their transnational push for equality and inclusion. [ more ]

AFR 275 SEM Southern Literary Aesthetics

Last offered Spring 2020

Hip-Hop artists signify as "the dirty South" the distinct sounds, rhythms, landscapes, gestures, desires as well as frustrations of Black residents living in the southernmost regions of the U.S. American continent. In this course, students will examine what the South means to American concepts and how the South is used to make meaning in literature, music, art, digital archives, and film. We will give particular attention to how representations of the South are informed by region, gender, sexuality, and class. At the end of the course, students will be able to identify Black southern aesthetics across various genres and mediums with attention to historical and regional specificity despite the opacity of these categories. Potential artists include Jean Toomer, Alice Walker, Ernest Gaines, William Faulkner, Jesmyn Ward, Zora Neale Hurston, Natasha Trethewey, E. Patrick Johnson, Trudier Harris, Kiese Laymon, Julie Dash, Spike Lee, Askia Muhammad Touré, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Alison Janae Hamilton, Outkast, DJ Khalid, Beyoncé Knowles, and Solange Knowles. [ more ]

AFR 276 TUT Black Europeans

Last offered Spring 2020

This course explores the in/visibility of Black Europeans from the Enlightenment to the present with a particular focus on French, German, Austrian, Dutch, British, and Russian history. With the European Enlightenment as point of departure, the tutorial investigates the large presence of Blacks as objectified subjects in paintings and decorative artifacts of the 18th and 19th centuries while interrogating their century-long absence from European historiography until fairly recently. In this tutorial, we will start discussing the significance of the Code Noir (1685) as well as the major economic impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on European countries such as Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands. We will read historical biographies about a handful of outstanding Black Europeans in France (composer Monsieur de Saint George), Germany (Prussian officer Gustav Sabac el Cher, philosopher Wilhelm Anton Amo), Austria (royal tutor Angelo Soliman), Holland (Prince Kwasi Boachi), and Russia (military leader Abram Petrovitch Gannibal) during the 18th and 19th centuries, study paintings and decorative artifacts of the 18th and 19th centuries depicting black servants--such as Hyacinthe Rigaud's Portrait of Marquise de Louville (1708), Nicolas Lancret's The Escaped Bird (1730), and Manet's Olympia (1863) to name a few--and watch the biopic Belle by Amma Asante (2013), narrating the life of black heiress Dido Elizabeth Belle in 18th-century England. We will also do a quick survey of 20th-century European cinema, that has until now cast very few black actors in supporting and leading roles, and we will ponder the representation of black people in recent films that were commercially successful at the box office (such as Les Intouchables by Nakache/Toledano, France 2011). Finally, we will reflect on the deep roots of European colonialism that takes the form of national debates surrounding the naming of chocolate-coated treats and licorice sweets (Têtes de nègre, Mohrenkopf, and Negerkuss) or of a controversy around cultural identity resulting from the grotesque depiction of black men in folkloric tradition (like Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands). [ more ]

AFR 279(F) LEC African American History Since 1865

This course provides an introduction to the history of African Americans from the post-emancipation era to the present day. Focusing on the collective and individual life experiences of African Americans, it will highlight the actors, organizations, and ideas that have been central to the African American experience. We will examine struggles for equality, justice, citizenship, and self-determination and the various ways African Americans have sought to achieve these ends. By the end of the semester students will have a basic understanding of core topics in African American history such as Reconstruction and Redemption; the rise of Jim Crow segregation; urban migrations and the "New Negro"; the Civil Rights Movement, in its Northern and Southern manifestations; the movement for Black Power and its antecedents; the rise of mass incarceration in the post-Civil Rights Era. The course will conclude with a discussion of the Presidency of Barack Obama and the Black Lives Matter Movement. [ more ]

AFR 280 LEC Emancipation to BlackLivesMatter

Last offered Spring 2023

This introductory course surveys the cultural, political, and social history of African Americans from Reconstruction to the present. It offers a balance between a "top-down" and "bottom-up" approach and focuses primarily on African Americans' quest for citizenship, equality, justice, and opportunity. In addition to examining major historical developments and popular figures within the modern black past, we will explore the lesser-known histories of everyday people who helped shaped the black freedom struggle. In so doing, we will interrogate conventional narratives of progressive movements since emancipation. Some of the main topics include: the transition from slavery to freedom; the rise of Jim Crow and the politics of racial uplift; the Great Migration and the emergence of the New Negro; the Great Depression and the New Deal; World War II and the struggle for economic and racial inclusion; the postwar period and the intersecting movements of Civil Rights and Black Power; and the impacts of deindustrialization and mass incarceration on the black community. We will end with a discussion of the Obama years and Black Lives Matter. [ more ]

AFR 283 SEM Black Queer Looks: Race, Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary African-American Film

Last offered Fall 2022

In this course we will foreground questions around visibility and memory. We will explore representations of Black queer bodies in experimental, documentary and narrative film. This course will engage foundational texts from Black Queer Studies. We will pair texts with film in order to examine the various relationships between art and scholarship. You will also be asked to think about yourself as a filmmaker. We will screen films such as Looking for Langston (Isaac Julien, 1989), The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996), U People (Olive Demetrius and Hanifah Walidah, 2009), Tongues Untied (Marlon Riggs, 1989) and Litany for Survival (Ada Gay Griffin and Michelle Parkerson, 1995). Throughout the course we will evaluate the different ways filmmakers represent Black queerness on screen. The goal is to think about the possibilities and limitations of representation and visibility. Each of you will be asked to facilitate a class discussion. You also will be required to do weekly critical response papers. In lieu of a final paper you will create a detailed proposal for a short film that "represents" some segment of Black queer living. [ more ]

Taught by: Marshall Green

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AFR 291(F) LEC Africana Studies Approaches to AI

The rise of artificial intelligence is a hot topic in contemporary thought. However, much of this thought ignores Africana Studies. This class asks the question, what can Africana Studies tell us about the mid-twentieth century rise of artificial intelligence? The course's approach to answering this question has two parts. First, the course contextualizes the rise of artificial intelligence in the post-World War II moment, particularly around the Cold War. Second, it links this rise of artificial intelligence to the anticolonial politics and thought of this Cold War era, of which Africana Studies was central. In other words, the course shows that there is an increasing need for artificial intelligence in a world of challenges to the dominance of western thought and humanity. Just as western thought and humanity are challenged, via anticolonial action and Africana Studies thought, western thought and humanity increasingly go digital, into computers as a shield from critique. [ more ]

AFR 299 SEM Rastafari: Dread, Politics, Agency

Last offered Fall 2019

The emergence of Rastafari in the twentieth century marked a distinct phase in the theory and practice of political agency. From its heretical roots in Jamaica, Garveyism, Ethiopianism, and Pan-Africanism, Rastafari has evolved from a Caribbean theological movement to an international political actor. This course investigates the political theory of Rastafari in order to develop intellectual resources for theorizing the concept of agency in contemporary Africana thought and political theory. We will analyze texts and audio-visual works on the political economy of late colonial Jamaica, core Rastafari thinking, political theology, the role of reggae music, the notion of agency, and the influence of Rastafari on global politics. [ more ]

AFR 300 SEM "'Rebel Ecologies': Black and Indigenous Struggles for Land and Life"

Last offered Spring 2023

This course will ask, what other socioecological models exist? We will weave together a study of differing, yet often converging or synergistic traditions of Black/Womanist eco-feminism that often confronts the social constructions of race, gender, class and sexuality, dominant religion as a means of social control, imperialism, capitalism, and colonialism; Ecosocialism which often frames ecology in terms of a mode of production beyond or outside of capitalism; and Indigenous perspectives on resistance to capitalist extraction, imperialism, and colonialism. Given ongoing struggles against the extraction of land and labor, the urgent calls raised in the present-day "climate strike," the COVID-19 Pandemic, Black-led pandemic rebellions, along with long(er) histories of land-based peoples around the planet opposing racial capitalism, settler colonialism, and imperialism, this class will explore not only what those in opposition to both extractivism and expropriation resist, but also what we want. We will critique binaries, settler notions of time and explore theories of change. Additionally, this class will look to an array of literature, film, sound, and other forms of cultural production in order to not just "locate," but describe and reveal rebel ecological visions emerging "from below." Ultimately this class will consider how the above ecological praxis can work simultaneously and within a sense of plurality, examining what we can learn from the work of activists, intellectuals, and defenders on the frontline. This course is an extension of Dr. Guess' concept of a "rebel ecology." [ more ]

Taught by: Allison Guess

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AFR 301 Experimental African American Poetry

Last offered NA

Contemporary African American poets in various cities and towns across the nation--from New York City to Los Angeles, from Berkeley to Durham, N.C.--are currently producing a vibrant and thriving body of formally experimental work, yet this poetry is largely unknown to readers both within and outside the academy. This formally innovative poetry defamiliarizes what we normally expect of "black writing" and pushes us to question our assumptions and presumptions about black identity, "identity politics," the avant-garde (for example, is it implicitly raced?), formalism, socially "relevant" writing, the (false) dichotomy of form versus content, the black "community," digital poetics, and other issues of race and aesthetics. We will examine the writings of living poets, who range widely in age, and those of their avant-garde predecessors in the twentieth century. We will also be making links between this poetry and African American music and visual art. [ more ]

AFR 302(S) SEM Complexion Complexities: Colorism in Literature, Lyrics & Everyday Life

Often viewed as the "dirty laundry" of the Black American past, colorism, or skin color bias, is a pervasive force within modern global society. Although it is not a new issue, its impact is far reaching and continues to have damaging effects on people of color-especially members within the African Diaspora. From skin bleaching creams like "Whitenicious" to rap music's fetishization of light-skinned women, colorism is a very real and present issue affecting Black life. From the literary works of Wallace Thurman and Toni Morrison, to the lyrics of blues crooner Big Bill Broonzy and rapper Lil Wayne, we will analyze the many ways that the politics of color influence standards of beauty and attractiveness, perceptions of behavior and criminality, and economic attainment and stability. [ more ]

AFR 303(S) SEM The 19th Century and Its Shadow

This course explores canonical American literature from the nineteenth century alongside a selection of contemporary literary and cinematic texts that call on and intervene with this body of work. Following Toni Morrison's charge that the contemplation of a black presence "is central to any understanding of our national literature and should not be permitted to hover at the margins of the literary imagination," this course focuses on how ideas of race are explored throughout the canon and how they have been carried forward. Works considered throughout the term come from, among others, Julie Dash, Frederick Douglass, Saidiya Hartman, Harriet Jacobs, Mat Johnson, Herman Melville, Toni Morrison, Nate Parker, Edgar Allen Poe, Quentin Tarantino, Mark Twain, and Colson Whitehead. [ more ]

AFR 304 SEM A History of Health and Healing in Africa

Last offered Spring 2022

This class will explore the history of health and healing in Africa, with emphasis on the colonial and post-colonial eras. During the semester we will explore diverse medical and social interventions in African health over the past 150 years. How have African societies understood healthy communities and public health? We will examine this question through the study of spirit possession and other African healing practices but also how they have intersected with different biomedical practices and public health programs. We will also study the patterns and social impacts of new diseases in the twentieth century, as well as transformations in the understanding and treatment of diseases long present on the continent. In particular we will explore shifting understandings of the causes, treatment, and social implications of sleeping sickness, malaria, and HIV/AIDS. The development of colonial rule, shifting environmental conditions, changing diets, and urbanization all impacted the disease landscape, as well as the way African societies have understood public health. Indeed, the themes of health, medicine and disease provide a useful lens for understanding important social transformations across the continent. [ more ]

AFR 305 SEM Race and the Zombie Apocalypse

Last offered Spring 2021

This course takes a critical approach to our contemporary understanding of the figure of the zombie and its inextricable link to discourses on race and blackness in the Americas. An introductory grounding in theories of social death allows an opportunity to explore the racial anxiety that gave birth to the genre and trace its development throughout the hemisphere. The course considers the novels, films, and critical texts that frame the genre in order to pose the following questions: What can the figure of the zombie teach us about our evolving relationship to race? What roles do gender and sexuality play in the construction of the genre? And, finally, how does the recent proliferation of zombie-related television shows, movies, books, and video games reflect our present-day concerns? [ more ]

AFR 306 SEM Transcending Boundaries: The Creation and Evolution of Creole Cultures

Last offered Fall 2023

Born out of a history of resistance, Creole cultures transcend racial boundaries. This course provides a comprehensive framework for understanding the creation of Creole nations in various parts of the world. Beginning with an examination of the dark history of slavery and French colonialism, we will reflect upon the cultural transformation that took place when people speaking mutually unintelligible languages were brought together. We will then delve into the study of how deterritorialized peoples created their languages and cultures, distinct from the ones imposed by colonizing forces. As we journey from the past to the present, we will also explore how international events such as a worldwide pandemic, social justice, racism, and police brutality are currently affecting these islands. Potential readings will include prominent authors from different Creole-speaking islands, including Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire from Martinique, Maryse Condé from Guadeloupe, Ananda Devi from Mauritius and Jacques Roumain from Haiti. Conducted in French with introductions to different creoles. [ more ]

AFR 307 SEM Contemporary Short Stories from North Africa

Last offered Fall 2017

Short stories are the vibrant center of the literary landscape in North Africa today. Written in French, Arabic and sometimes Amazigh languages, short stories provide timely interventions in political and social discourse. In this course, we will read short stories that use humor and satire to address the effects of globalization on local communities, that experiment with language to portray war and revolution, and that seek to create a new space for the discussion of gender. We will also analyze films, sociological texts and Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian online newspapers in order to explore contemporary transformations of life in North Africa. Readings by Maissa Bey, Abdelfattah Kilito, Zeina Tabi, Mohamed Zafzaf, Ahmed Bouzfour, Soumaya Zahy and Fouad Laroui among others. Conducted in French. [ more ]

AFR 308 Four Poets: Gwendolyn Brooks, Frank O'Hara, Sylvia Plath, and Amiri Baraka

Last offered NA

The study of literature often relies on seemingly "objective" labels to sort and group writers. These four major American poets from the last century were often segregated into different categories: Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) and Amiri Baraka (1934-2014) clumped together as black poets; Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) labelled a "Confessional Poet" and/or taught as a female poet but not a "white poet"; Frank O'Hara (1926-1966), designated a "New York School" poet but not a "white poet" or "male poet." In looking closely at the poetry of these four writers, whose work is usually not taught side by side, we will ask questions about the assumptions implicit in the concepts and categories of American (and English-language) poetics and how literary history usually gets written. For example, who is the presumed "universal" poetic speaker? Who is the assumed reader? Do our attitudes about raced and gendered bodies influence how we read raced and gendered poets? Is a queer poet read with the same particularity as a black poet? [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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AFR 309 TUT Scriptures and Race

Last offered Spring 2018

This course focuses on the relationships between constructions of race in the post-1492 American world and "Christian scriptures." The big questions of the course examine the ways that contestations of power are intertwined with the making of, interpretation, and transformation of sacred texts. Both scriptures and race are conceptual constellations of human social imagination, and yet their conceptualization has often been embroiled in the hopes and traumas of everyday life in the Americas. How and why did these two terms come to have any relationship to each other? How and why do peoples engage "scriptures"? In what ways have "scriptures" informed how people imagine themselves, their communities, and their relationship to religious and racial "others"? How did "scriptures" and "race" inform each other in modern colonialisms and imperialisms? In this course, we will examine the ways that scriptures have been employed in order to understand and develop notions of race, and we will examine how ideas about and lived experiences of race have informed the concept of scriptures as well as practices of scriptural interpretation. [ more ]

AFR 310 LEC Womanist/Black Feminist Thought

Last offered Fall 2018

This course explores the genealogy and development of black feminist and womanist thought. We will investigate the expansion of womanist thought from a theologically dominated discourse to a broader category of critical reflection associated more commonly with black feminism, analyze the relationship between womanism and black feminism, and review the historical interventions of black feminism. As critical reflections upon western norms of patriarchy, heterosexism, and racism, womanism and black feminism begin with the assumption that the experiences of women of color--particularly black women--are significant standpoints in modern western society. Through the examination of interdisciplinary and methodological diversity within these fields, students will be introduced to key figures including Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, and Katie Cannon, and will engage materials that draw from multiple fields, including, but not limited to, literature, history, anthropology, and religious studies. [ more ]

AFR 311 Women Warriors, Colonial Soldiers, and Slave Armies: Soldiering and Warfare in African History

Last offered NA

Soldiering is one of the oldest professions in African history. Throughout the continent's long history, ordinary soldiers have risen to become kings, queens, presidents, and held other positions of significance. Soldiers in African history have hailed from diverse backgrounds, ranging from the enslaved to those from the nobility. Notable soldiers in African history have been both men and women. Certainly, in Africa as in other world regions there is a tendency to associate the military profession with men. Yet, there have been famous female military warriors in African history, some of the most famous ones being Queen Nzinga in the seventeenth century; the all-female military units in the kingdom of Dahomey, known for their rigor and being effective fighters; and, more recently, Alice Lakwena who commanded a rebellion that nearly brought down the Ugandan government in the late twentieth century. Some of the other themes which we will explore include how warfare was organized from the precolonial era to more recent times; the impact of changing technologies on warfare and the everyday life of armed soldiers; colonial conquest and the soldiers who fought for Europeans and those who resisted; recruitment criteria during the colonial period, and colonial military identities; service in the military as labor and rebellions and mutinies over pay and work conditions; the army and nationalism. Throughout the course we will challenge the enduring Western image and stereotype of Africa as a violent place by focusing on a) the changing conditions that have pushed individuals and communities to go to war, and b) by examining how Africans have initiated and resolved conflict. Students will analyze a variety of resources including soldiers' biographies, films, oral traditions, and archival sources that will help them to come up with their own arguments about the role of the soldiers and the military in Africa. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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AFR 314 LEC Groovin' the Written Word: The Role of Music in African American Literature

Last offered Fall 2016

In an interview with Paul Gilroy, Toni Morrison once said, "Music provides a key to the whole medley of Afro-American artistic practices." Morrison is not the only one who believes that music speaks to numerous aspects of the African American experience. From Sterling Brown and Zora Neale Hurston to John Edgar Wideman and Suzan Lori-Parks, many African American authors have drawn on music to take political stands, shape creative aesthetics, and articulate black identity. In this course, students will explore the work of these authors and more, investigating music's ability to represent and critique African American culture in their literature. Texts will cover a range of literary forms including poetry, plays, short stories and novels alongside theoretical and critical essays. Students will discuss such key issues as assimilation into mainstream culture, authenticity claims on black music, and music used as a tool for protest. Additionally, class assignments will include musical examples in spirituals/gospel, blues, jazz, and rock/rhythm and blues. While this class requires students to practice in-depth literary and performance analysis skills, students are not required to have technical musical knowledge. [ more ]

AFR 315 SEM Blackness 2.0: Race, Film and New Technologies

Last offered Spring 2019

Are distinctions of race truly eliminated with digital technologies? Through an engagement with scholarship in media studies, cultural studies, gender studies, and Africana studies (to name a few), this course will investigate the nuanced ways blackness is (re)constructed and (re)presented in digital technologies. Although we will largely focus on representations of blackness in modern film, we will examine the impact of 'new' technologies upon the broader categories of race, gender, and sexuality. Additional topics may include: avatar-based entertainment; race in the 'real' vs 'virtual' world; emoji wars; blogosphere politics; internet and hashtag activism; social networking and a post-race future; and fandom in the twitter era. [ more ]

AFR 316 LEC Sacred Cinema: Black Religion and the Movies

Last offered Spring 2015

Although they represent different genres, what popular films Madea's Family Reunion (2006), First Sunday (2008), The Princess and the Frog (2009) have in common is that they each offer complex and at times contradictory images of black religious expression in North America. These films, which present varied perspectives of African American experience, implicitly and explicitly engage themes inherent to the study of religion, such as the role of faith in decision-making processes and the use of religious tradition as a means of reinforcing or contesting socio-cultural norms. This course is as much about the use of film to study black religious expression as it is about the use of paradigms of religious thought to study the intersections of gender, race, and religion in film. We will study films of different genres to facilitate discussion about the various dimensions of black religious expression. Conversely, we will use images, metaphors, and teachings found in Religious Studies to discuss what appears on screen. Through interdisciplinary, critical approaches in Film Studies and Popular Culture Studies, this course will examine how black religious expression pervades modern cinema, and will offer constructive strategies for engaging in dialogue with this phenomenon. [ more ]

AFR 317 SEM Black Migrations: African American Performance at Home and Abroad

Last offered Fall 2023

In this course, students will investigate, critique and define the concepts migration and diaspora with primary attention to the experiences of African Americans in the United States and Europe. Drawing on a broad definition of performance, students will explore everything from writing and painting to sports and dance to inquire how performance reflects, critiques and negotiates migratory experiences in the African diaspora. For example, how did musician Sidney Bechet's migration from New Orleans to Chicago to London influence the early jazz era? How did Katherine Dunham's dance performances in Germany help her shape a new black dance aesthetic? Why did writer James Baldwin go all the way to Switzerland to write his first novel on black, religious culture in Harlem? What drew actor/singer Paul Robeson to Russia, and why did the U.S. revoke his passport in response to his speeches abroad? These questions will lead students to investigate multiple migrations in the African diasporic experience and aid our exploration of the reasons for migration throughout history and geography. In addition to critical discussions and written analysis, students will explore these topics through their own individual and group performances in class. No prior performance experience is necessary. [ more ]

AFR 319 SEM Ethnographic Approaches to Africana Studies

Last offered Spring 2012

Ethnography is the systematic study and recording of human cultures. It involves the collection and analysis of information from multiple sources including (but not limited to) first-person accounts, life histories, interviews, observations, and autobiographical materials. Within Africana Studies, ethnographic approaches have been utilized to reflect complex narratives of black experience throughout the Diaspora. This seminar is a critical introduction to the theory, method, and practice of ethnography in Africana studies. We will explore a variety of cultures and settings, and discuss the practical, methodological, and ethical issues related to ethnography. Three broad questions will dominate our discussions: 1) What are the theoretical, practical, and stylistic tools needed to fashion compelling ethnographies that get to the heart of what it means to document Africana experience? 2) What are the ethical and political implications of representing Africana perspectives in fieldwork studies? 3) What are the strengths and limitations of ethnography as a research method in Africana studies? Each student will utilize the materials covered in the course to research and write their own ethnography. [ more ]

AFR 320 SEM Dangerous Bodies: Black Womanhood, Sexuality & Popular Culture

Last offered Spring 2023

Whether presented as maternal saints, divas, video vixens, or bitches, black female celebrities navigate a tumultuous terrain in popular culture. This course considers the ways that black female celebrities such as Oprah, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, Janet Jackson, and Michelle Obama negotiate womanhood and sexuality, and the popular landscapes through which we witness that negotiation. It also engages contemporary black feminist scholarship, which most frequently presents the presentation of black female bodies in popular media forms as exploitive. We will review historical stereotypes of black women in popular media forms, discuss the history of the "politics of respectability" within black culture, engage black feminist responses to these types, and examine theoretical approaches to assess social constructions of womanhood and sexuality. We will also consider provocative questions relevant to discussions of contemporary black sexual politics: Should we view these women as feminists? Are they merely representatives of cultural commodification and control of black women's bodies? Do these women best exemplify the reiteration of problematic characterizations? Are they positive models for demonstrating female empowerment, agency, or "fierceness?" This course explores the histories of representation of black female figures in popular culture, and in so doing, troubles contemporary considerations of black womanhood and sexuality. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AFR 321(F) SEM Trending Black: Race & Social Media in the 21st Century

The 21st Century ushered in new and exciting ways for people to communicate digitally. With the creation of social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more recently TikTok, connecting with the world is literally one click, or selfie away. Though much of the attention around social media is focused on people with race and educational privilege, people of color have created their own spaces to curate, articulate, and produce culture. Through the methods of rhetorical criticism, critical discourse analysis, cultural criticism and ethnography, we will investigate the ways Africana cultures, specifically in the United States, utilize social media to shape community and influence popular culture. This course will give students hands-on experience analyzing various texts, and a deeper understanding of rhetorical methodologies. [ more ]

AFR 323(S) SEM Comic Lives: Graphic Novels & Dangerous Histories of the African Diaspora

This course explores how the graphic novel has been an effective, provocative and at times controversial medium for representing racialized histories. Drawing on graphic novels such as the late Congressman John Lewis' March and Ebony Flowers' Hot Comb, this course illustrates and critiques multiple ways the graphic novel commingles word and image to create more sensorial access into ethnic traumas, challenges and interventions in critical moments of resistance throughout history. Students will practice analyzing graphic novels with the help of critical essays, reviews and film; the chosen texts will center on Africana cultures, prompting students to consider how the graphic novel may act as a useful alternate history for marginalized peoples. During the course, students will build comic creation and analysis skills through short exercises, eventually building up to the final project of a graphic short story that illustrates historical and/or autobiographical narratives. No art experience is required, only an openness to expanding one's visual awareness and composition skills. This course is often taught in collaboration with the Williams College Museum of Art's Object Lab program, which allows the class to have its own space and art objects that are directly related to the course topic. This class may feature Object Lab participation, film screenings, and collaborations with guest speakers. [ more ]

AFR 326(F) SEM Gender, Race, and the Power of Personal Aesthetics

This media/cultural studies course focuses on the politics of personal style amongst women of color in the US and around the globe in the digital era. We undertake a comparative, transnational exploration of the ways in which categories of difference such as gender, disability, sexuality, class, and ethno-racial identity inform normative beauty standards and ideas about the body. The class pays particular attention to the ways in which neoliberal capitalism shapes contemporary understandings of gendered bodies and the self. We examine an array of materials from across the disciplines including commercial websites, music videos, photography, histories, film, television, personal narratives, ethnographies, and sociological case studies. Departing from the assumption that personal aesthetics are intimately tied to issues of power and privilege, we engage the following questions, among others: What are some of the everyday functions of personal style among women of color in the US and globally? How do Latina/x, Black, Arab American, and Asian American personal aesthetics reflect the specific circumstances of their creation, and the unique histories of these racialized communities? What role do transnational media and popular culture play in the development and circulation of gendered, raced, and sexualized aesthetic forms? How might the belief in personal style as an activist strategy complicate traditional understandings of feminist political activity? And what do the combined insights of ethnic studies, feminist studies, cultural studies, media studies, queer studies and disability studies contribute to our comprehension of gendered Asian American, Arab American, Black, and Latina/x bodies? [ more ]

AFR 327 SEM Topics in Philosophy of Race: Hegel and Africana Philosophy

Last offered Fall 2022

How are individual and social subjects formed, and how do they connect to questions of race? What is the nature of consciousness and how can it be unhappy, false or double? What do we mean when we talk about racial capitalism? This course introduces philosophy students to these and related questions through a parallel reading that brings together 19th century German philosopher Hegel and a tradition of Africana philosophy running through Douglas, Du Bois, Fanon, Gilroy, Hartman and Wynter. While Hegel studies tends to occur in isolation from philosophers in the Africana tradition, many of the above explicitly refer to and take up questions in Hegel. This course argues that by reference to the historically specific modes of subjectivity and sociality that resulted from the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Haitian Revolution, for instance, we can better understand and address long-standing questions in European Social Philosophy. Topics to be considered include the nature of freedom (both individual and social), the master/slave dialectic and subject constitution, self-consciousness and double consciousness, the stages of history, and racial capitalism [ more ]

AFR 328(F) SEM Poetry of Indignation: Poetics and Transnational Liberation

Poetry is usually associated with beautiful, metered, and charged language. However, beyond its poeticity, poetry has also functioned as a tool of liberation and transnational construction of identities and solidarities. States have national poets, and, in many countries, national anthems were written by famous poets. From Abu al-Qasim al-Shabbi and Claude McKay to Pablo Neruda, poetry has acted as a space for life, rebellion, resistance, revolution, and the defense of a common humanity that transcends the barriers of language and national aesthetics. This course draws on a variety of materials from the Caribbean to Africa and from the Middle East to India to conceptualize a "poetics of indignation" against slavery, social injustice, colonization, authoritarianism, capitalism, and globalization. The students in this course will read poets, such as Okot p'Bitek, Derek Walcott, Tsitsi Jaji, Mahmoud Darwish, and Pablo Neruda, among many other poets, to examine how poetics changed and shifted across times and geographic boundaries while retaining a commitment to indignation, rebellion, and anger at almost the same recurring oppressive forces. [ more ]

AFR 330 STU Modern Folklore: Postcolonial Dance and Music in Africa

Last offered Spring 2019

"Folklore is a mixture of traditions, poems, songs, dances and legends of the people, it can be no other than the reflection of the life of the country and if that country develops, there is no reason why the folklore which is the living expression, should not develop as well. Modern folklore in present Africa is as authentic as the Africa of old." --Keita Fodeba, founding Artistic Director of Les Ballet Africain, Guinea, West Africa. This course will involve intensive dance and musical practice that is rooted in traditional and contemporary/forms from the African continent and the Diaspora. We will examine the international impact of countries who achieved independence from Europe in the late 1950's-1990s such as Les Ballets Africain, National Dance Company of Senegal, Bembeya Jazz, Ghana Dance Ensemble, and the national dance and music companies of Zimbabwe, Jamaica, and Cuba. Our study will include the impact of artists such as James Brown, Miriam Makeba, Michael Jackson, and Youssou N'Dour, as well as Hip Hop culture and the emergence of new forms of music and dance or modern folklore. [ more ]

AFR 333 SEM New Asian American, African American, Native American, and Latina/o Writing

Last offered Spring 2020

The most exciting and forward-thinking writing in the English language today is being done by formally experimental writers of color. Their texts push the boundaries of aesthetic form while simultaneously engaging questions of culture, politics, and history. This course argues not only for the centrality of minority experimental work to English literature but a fundamental rethinking of English literary studies so as to confront the field's imbedded assumptions about race, a legacy of British colonialism, and to make the idea of the aesthetic more open to ideas generated in critical race studies, diaspora studies, American studies, and those fields that grapple more directly with history and politics. In the critical realms of English, work by minority writers is often relegated to its own segregated spaces, categorized by ethnic identity, or tokenized as "add-ons" to more "central" or "fundamental" categories of literature (such as Modernism, poetics, the avant-garde). Recent work by Asian American, African American, Native American and Latino/a writers challenges our assumptions and preconceptions about ethnic literature, American literature, English literature, formal experimentation, genre categorization, and so on. This writing forces us to examine our received notions about literature, literary methodologies, and race. Close reading need not be opposed to critical analyses of ideologies. Formal experimentation need not be opposed to racial identity nor should it be divorced from history and politics, even, or especially, a radical politics. [ more ]

AFR 334 Ghosts: Race, Memory, and Haunting in the United States

Last offered NA

This course explores interdisciplinary scholarship, literature, and artistic work related to race, memory, and haunting in the United States. Across diverse historical moments and sites of cultural production, ghosts and other absent presences are conjured to mediate the meanings of race, gender, colonialism, enslavement, patriotism, and other keywords in American Studies. From plantations and abandoned prisons, to battlefields and sites held sacred by indigenous communities, the contemporary ghost tourism industry offers a blend of history, national mythology, and popular beliefs about paranormal activity to reshape national memory. During the 19th century, activities such as spirit photography, telepathic experiments, and seances engaged with ghostly phenomena. In the 21st century, digital technologies have the capacity to resurrect dead musicians and other cultural icons as "holograms" or "digital humans" that can interact with the living. In a series of self-designed, analytical essays, students will explore how haunting has played an important role in the formation of American identities, how various kinds of ghosts come to life through texts, material culture, performance, and technology, and how the past can be reimagined to generate new understandings of the present and the future. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AFR 335(S) SEM Sacred Custodians: Environmental Conservation in Africa

In this seminar we will explore environmental conservation in Africa. In particular we will look at African ideas, ethics, and approaches to environmental conservation. Are there African ideas, ethics, and activities that are uniquely conservationist in nature? We will explore well-known African leaders to understand what spurred them to become conservationists, how they interpreted and communicated environmental crises. For example, Wangari Maathai is a world-renowned female scientist who established the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. This movement focuses on addressing the problem of de-forestation. Ken Saro-Wiwa was an activist in Nigeria who fought for and alongside local communities against multinational oil corporations. We will examine these and other African conservation practices alongside popular images of environmental crisis that place blame for environmental degradation on Africans. Students will be invited to critically study histories of environmental management on the continent and the emergence, development, and impact of the idea of conservation. We will unpack the rich histories of conservation efforts in Africa, such as resource extraction, game parks, desertification, wildlife and hunting, traditional practices, and climate change. [ more ]

AFR 336(S) SEM The Walter Rodney Seminar

Born in Guyana in 1942, Walter Rodney is one of the more important Africana Studies thinkers of the twentieth century. His work marks an inseparable relationship between Africana Studies and Marxism. This course will examine written and audiovisual materials from Rodney himself, as well as situate his work in the context of everything from British colonization of the Caribbean to the Russian Revolution to African anticolonialism to North American Black Power. The course will also introduce students to Rodney and his interlocutors, such as the members of the Institute of the Black World, the Rastafari, and CLR James. Rodney's thought and life, then, will be a vehicle to think about the development of Africana Studies. [ more ]

AFR 337 SEM Queer in the City

Last offered Spring 2020

In this course we will examine the various ways scholars and filmmakers have used ethnography as a critical tool for understanding the intersections of race, place, space, gender and sexuality. We will foreground studies that examine unfamiliar sites of Black struggle, resistance, and survival. We will examine Black gender variant and sexual minorities and how they produce, reproduce and struggle for spaces and places of desire, community, pleasure, love, and loss. We will explore these stories through primarily ethnographic modalities. We will discuss the political and ethical ramifications of these ethnographic narratives paying particular attention to the usefulness and limitations of both 'Thin' and 'Thick' descriptions. We will use ethnography to center debates regarding the politics of representation of racialized queer space, place, and people through both filmic and written accounts. All students will be asked to discover and develop their ethnographic voices through various critical, creative, experimental and performative assignments. [ more ]

AFR 338 TUT Garveyism

Last offered Fall 2014

This course explores the life, work, political thought, and activism associated with the Jamaican Pan-Africanist Marcus Mosiah Garvey and the transnational movement--Garveyism--that Garvey ushered into the modern world. We will investigate the founding of Garveyism on the island of Jamaica, the evolution of Garveyism during the early twentieth century across the Americas and in Africa, Garveyism in Europe in the mid-twentieth century, and the contemporary branches of the Garvey movement in our own late modern times. The implications of Garvey's conflict with W. E. B. Du Bois and the subsequent cleavages in political thought and allegiances among their respective adherents will be addressed, along with various other core issues including: the relationship between race, nation, and empire; transnationalism; the meaning of power; notions of leadership; the limitations of understanding Garveyism by the phrase "Back-to-Africa"; the moral philosophy of respect, reparation, and redemption; prophetic political theory; Pan-Africanism; the impact of Garveyism on political theological movements such as the Nation of Islam and Rastafari; women in the Garvey movement; and Garveyite strategies for forging models of political solidarity in dark times. [ more ]

AFR 339 SEM The Banlieue in Literature, Music, and Film

Last offered Spring 2022

The banlieue looms large in the French collective imagination. From its origins in medieval law, the term banlieue at the end of the 20th century has taken on multiple, at times overlapping, but almost exclusively negative meanings. It designates a peripheral geographical space often in contrast to its city center, social exclusion, "urban culture"--as in Hip Hop-produced within that space, and last but not least the symbolic bias through which its inhabitants are viewed (Vieillard-Baron). In this course, we will examine various constructions of the banlieue in French music, a manifesto, film, blogs, and literature to focus on the analytical, contestatory and affirmative dimensions of these narratives. Two decades after the film La haine, and ten years after the riots, how are filmmakers, artists, authors, and scholars of the banlieue reimagining and reframing the banlieue? What do current depictions of banlieues in the French media tell us about the State, French politics, and the state of French politics? What do "banlieue films" and "banlieue lit" tell us about the banlieue? In this course, conducted in French, we will read, watch, and listen to various constructions of the banlieue in French music, film, and literature to focus on the contestatory and affirmative dimensions of these narratives. [ more ]

AFR 340 SEM Black Marxism: Political Theory and Anti-Colonialism

Last offered Spring 2021

The seminar involves a critical engagement with key Africana political leaders, theorists and liberationists. We will examine the Pan-African writings of: Cedric Robinson (Black Marxism); Walter Rodney (How Capitalism Underdeveloped Africa), Eric Williams (Capitalism and Slavery; From Columbus to Castro); Frantz Fanon (The Wretched of the Earth); Malcolm X (Malcolm X Speaks); Amilcar Cabral (Resistance and Decolonization; Unity and Struggle); C. L. R. James (The Black Jacobins). [ more ]

AFR 341 SEM Caste, Race, Hierarchy

Last offered Spring 2017

Caste in India looms large in global social thought as a kind of benchmark against which hierarchical social systems across the world are measured. This prominence has much to do with British colonial ideologies of rule, but it also has a deeper and different history: the Buddha compared caste to Greek slavery, early modern Jesuits related it to the system of European estates, and since the nineteenth century, anti-caste radicals from Dalit, or "untouchable," backgrounds have drawn a sustained comparison between the forms of oppression they face and those with which African Americans contend in the United States. Reciprocally, thinkers from W.E.B. DuBois to Toni Morrison have deployed the category of caste in their writings on race. What can the study of caste in postcolonial South Asia contribute to global debates over the persistence of "traditional" forms of social hierarchy? What are the stakes of bringing caste and race into the same conversation, and what are the implications of refusing to do so? In this seminar we will acquire a thorough grounding in the anthropological literature on caste and then investigate the politics of the caste-race comparison over the last hundred years. Assignments include weekly postings of 1-page critical response papers and either a research paper or an interview-based, ethnographic final project examining "caste" in one's own community. [ more ]

AFR 342 SEM Racial Capitalism

Last offered Spring 2017

This class will interrogate the ways in which capitalist economies have "always and everywhere" relied upon forms of racist domination and exclusion. Although the United States will be in the foreground, the subject requires an international perspective by its very nature. We will consider the ways in which the violent expropriation of land from the indigenous peoples of the Americas, paired with chattel slavery and other coercive forms of labor, made possible the rise of a capitalist world economy centered in Europe during the early modern period. We will then explore ways racial divisions have undermined the potential for unified movements of poor and working people to challenge the prerogatives of wealthy citizens, and served to excuse imperial violence waged in the name of securing resources and "opening markets". Ideas about gender and sexuality always undergird racial imaginaries, so we will study, for instance, the ways rhetoric about "welfare queens" has impacted public assistance programs, and claims about the embodiment of Asian women play into the international division of labor. We will also be attentive to the means - from interracial unionism to national liberation struggles - by which subjects of racial capitalism have resisted its dehumanizing effects. This is a reading intensive course that will challenge students to synthesize historical knowledge with concepts drawn from scholars working in the traditions of Marxist, decolonial, and materialist feminist thought, including: Angela Davis, Cedric Robinson, Anibal Quijano, Chandra Mohanty, David Roediger, Stuart Hall, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Silvia Federici [ more ]

AFR 343 TUT Representations of Racial-Sexual Violence from Enslavement to Emancipation

Last offered Spring 2023

This tutorial examines representations of and resistance to racial-sexual violence in American society, from colonial America to contemporary US culture. Interdisciplinary texts cover history, politics, literature, film, feminist studies, American studies, lgbtq and ethnic/black studies. Books include Southern Horrors; Intimate Matters; Scenes of Subjection; Trauma and Recovery; The Delectable Negro; At the Dark End of the Street; films include Birth of a Nation; Bush Mama; To Kill a Mockingbird. The primary focus is on racial and sexual vulnerability to violence and mobilization for freedom from the 18th-21st centuries. [ more ]

AFR 344 SEM Asian/African American Cultural and Political Theory

Last offered Fall 2021

Contrasted as "model minorities" or "incorrigible minorities" Asian Americans and African Americans have been pitted against one another in social standing and political objectives. However, throughout the twentieth century, African/Asian solidarity and alliances existed in political movements and literary and cultural productions. From Ho Chi Minh's anti-lynching writing, the founding conference of the WIDF (Women's International Democratic Federation) in China in 1945, through the Bandung Conference, coalitions against U.S. wars in Southeast Asia, and alignments with Chinese anti-imperialist endeavors, black and Asian peoples have joined in international political formations. Contributions to theory include the writings and activism of Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, Robert Williams, Yuri Kochiyama, Grace Lee and Jimmy Boggs, Ishmael Reed, and Amiri Baraka; films of Bruce Lee; music of Fred Ho; revolutionary praxis of Mao Tse Tung's Little Red Book and his writings on art and society; the Marxism of the Black Panther Party; the Afro-futurism of Sun Ra and Samuel Delany; and contemporary "Afro-pessimism." Such cultural works depict futurities and possibilities for Black and Asian diasporas. This seminar examines theory, politics, literature, film, and music produced from and linked to twentieth-century movements against capitalism, racism, colonialism, and imperial wars to think through how Black and Yellow Power have shaped solidarity to challenge white supremacy and racial capitalism. Requirements: One midterm paper (5-6 pp.) = 30%; final paper/project (10-12 pp.) with a creative option = 50%; short response paper and GLOW posts = 10%; participation (attendance and class discussion) = 10% Course cap: 19 Priority given to AMST majors, Africana concentrators [ more ]

AFR 346 LEC Modern Brazil

Last offered Fall 2021

Brazil has been the "country of the future" longer than it has been an independent nation. Soon after Europeans descended on its shores, Brazil was hailed as a land of resources so rich and diverse that they would inevitably produce great wealth and global power for its inhabitants. Although this has often contributed to an exaggerated patriotism, it has also fostered ambiguity-for if the label suggests Brazil's potential, it also underlines the country's failure to live up to that promise. This course will examine Brazil's modern history by taking up major themes from Independence to the present. Beginning with a "bloodless" independence that sparked massive civil wars, we will analyze the hierarchies that have characterized Brazilian society. The course will give particular attention to themes of race, gender, sexuality, and citizenship; national culture and modernity; and democracy and authoritarianism in social and political relations. [ more ]

AFR 348 TUT The Black Radical Tradition

Last offered Spring 2019

The black radical tradition is a modern tradition of thought and action begun after transatlantic slavery's advent. Contemporary social science and the humanities overwhelmingly portray it as a critique of black politics in the latter's liberal, libertarian, and conservative forms. This tutorial unsettles that framing, first by situating the black radical tradition as a species of black politics, and second through expanding the boundaries of black politics beyond the United States. Central to the black radical tradition's architecture are inquiries into the concepts of freedom, race, equality, rights, and humanism; meaning of "radical"; the national-transnational relationship; notions of leadership; status of global capitalism; the nexus of theory and praxis; and revolutionary politics. We begin with examinations of these central notions and debates, and then move to investigations of the political thought of four key late modern Afro-Caribbean and African-American thinkers within the tradition: Walter Rodney, Sylvia Wynter, Cedric Robinson, and Angela Davis. [ more ]

AFR 349 Race, Gender, and Labor

Last offered NA

This course draws on approaches from sociology, labor studies, and Black studies to examine the historical and contemporary intersections of race, gender, and labor. In particular, we will explore the racial, classed, and gendered dimensions of the labor movement, historic economic shifts that impacted and reorganized U.S. labor regimes, Black labor in slavery's afterlife as it relates to prisons, and global analyses of racialized gendered labor regimes for migrant and immigrant labor within the Global South and the U.S. We will begin the course by grounding ourselves in the Black feminist framework of intersectionality, which will guide our analyses of the intersections of race, class, and gender in labor formations. We will then focus on the monumental shift in labor relations that enslaved Black people's toppling of the plantation system in the US South brought forth, as well as the technologies of re-enslavement instituted as a reaction to Black people's emancipation. After that, we will move through different themes and time periods, considering how race, gender, and class intersect in regimes of labor exploitation and the successes and setbacks of labor movements. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AFR 350 SEM The Nile

Last offered Fall 2023

For millennia, the Nile River has sustained civilizations in eastern and northern Africa. It was on the banks of this river that the great Egyptian empires were founded that led to the building of some of humanity's most astounding structures and artworks. While the Nile seems eternal and almost beyond time and place, now in the 21st century, the Nile River is at a historical turning point. The water level and quality is dwindling while at the same time the number of people who rely on the river is ever increasing. This alarming nexus of demography, climate change, and economic development has led to increasingly urgent questions of the Nile´s future. Is the Nile dying? How has the river, and people´s relationship with it, changed over the last century? This course will consider the history of the Nile and and its built and natural environment. After a brief overview of the role of the river in ancient Egypt, we will explore the modern political and cultural history of the Nile. By following an imaginary droplet flowing from tributaries until it makes its way into the Mediterranean Sea, we will learn about the diverse peoples and cultures along the way. We will evaluate the numerous attempts to manage and control the Nile, including the building of big dams, and the continuous efforts to utilize the river for economic development such as agriculture and the tourism industry. At the end of the semester we will consider the relationship of the major urban centers with the Nile and whether the tensions among Nile riparian states will lead to "water wars" in East Africa and the Middle East. [ more ]

AFR 353 SEM Capitalism and Racism in the American Context and Beyond: A Global Approach

Last offered Fall 2023

American Studies emerged with the idea that transdisciplinarity is crucial for comprehending the concept of America. Building on this framework, this course foregrounds transepistemology as an equally important method for understanding the dynamics of America, both locally and globally, at the level of the world-system. In addition to tracing the consubstantial genealogy of racism and capitalism, we will examine their local manifestations, mainly in Asia, Europe, Africa and America, as well as their current geopolitical, social and economic outcomes, especially the reproduction of systemic inequalities and domination. Through an interdisciplinary approach and engagement with a variety of resources from economics, anthropology, sociology, critical race theory, comparative ethnic studies and decolonial thinking, this course will address the following: i) review the different forms of economic organization of human societies throughout history (with special focus on the work of Karl Polanyi); ii) trace the epistemological origins of capitalism and investigate what makes capitalism and its crises unique; iii) trace the genealogy of the concepts of race, racism and discrimination; iv) interrogate the intersection of racism and capitalism in different traditions of thought and epistemologies in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. For example, we will read key texts from "French theory", (Deleuze, Foucault, etc.), US Black tradition, (W. E. B. Du Bois and Cedric Robison, etc.), Chinese social sciences (Li Shenming, Cheng Enfu, etc.) and African economy and anthropology (Mahdi Elmandjra, Cheikh Anta Diop, etc.) and Latin American decolonial philosophy (Quijano, Dussel, Mignolo, etc.) By doing this, we will situate the rupture that capitalism and racism introduced at the level of global history, which is the first step to conceptualizing racism and capitalism. After showing that the development of capitalism and racism are historically linked, we will proceed to examine the manifestations of their interaction at local and global levels. Locally, we will focus on the effects of racism on the labor market: discrimination in hiring, wage discrimination, segregation, duality and stratification of the labor market, etc. We will also analyze how sexism and racism play out in the labor market in racialized communities. We will also reflect on the links between racism and politics and their effects on economic policies. From a more global perspective, we will analyze the roots of the global economic crisis and the resulting geopolitical issues at the international level and the racist dynamics they generate. Overall, as we will move through readings, we will situate the United States in a cross-regional perspective that would enable us to develop critical insights concerning links and convergences between capitalism and racism. [ more ]

AFR 354 SEM Black Literary and Cultural Theories

Last offered Fall 2016

This course will examine the writings of black twentieth- and twenty-first-century Anglophone and Francophone literary and cultural theorists in the African diaspora. We will begin with Sojourner Truth and W.E.B. Du Bois and end with current debates between the "Afro-Pessimists" and "Afro-Optimists." We will be reading writers from the United States, Britain, Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe, moving through the writings of the Harlem Renaissance, Négritude, Pan-Africanism, the Black Arts movement and Black Panthers, the Black Atlantic, and black feminism and queer studies. We will come to see that there is no easy separation between questions of politics (e.g., anti-colonialist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist) and those of aesthetics and poetics. [ more ]

AFR 356 SEM The Plantation and Its Afterlife

Last offered Fall 2017

This course is a meditation on the significance of the plantation in modern life. Rather than treating the plantation as solely a socio-economic formation that utilizes captive labor for the efficient production of goods, we will consider the plantation as a space that has defined, and continues to define, social, economic, and spatial relations. In so doing, we will explore numerous literatures and cultural productions about the plantation in Africa and its diaspora, including historical and sociological studies, fiction, visual art, and music. We will not only interrogate how the plantation form is reproduced over time, but also how it appears in collective memory, and how it enables political mobilization. [ more ]

AFR 357 SEM Racial and Religious Mixture

Last offered Spring 2020

The very term "mixture" implies that two or more distinct substances have been brought together. Distinctions of race and religion are social fictions; yet, the lived ramifications of these social fictions involve tense struggles over the boundaries of racial and religious communities. These boundaries are not just ideas but also practices. In the history of the Americas, mixed racial and religious identities and experiences have more often been the result of violent clashes than romantic encounters. Still, the romanticization of the New World as a geography that makes such mixtures possible reaches back to the earliest days of Spanish conquest in the Americas. This course critically reconsiders varying ways that racial and religious mixtures have been imagined, defined, challenged, negotiated, and survived under imaginative and legal rubrics of mestizaje, creolization, transculturation, passing, syncretism, religious hybridity, and mixed race studies. [ more ]

AFR 360 SEM The Political Thought of Frantz Fanon

Last offered Fall 2019

Martinican psychiatrist, philosopher, and revolutionary Frantz Fanon was among the leading critical theorists and Africana thinkers of the twentieth century. Fanon ushered in the decolonial turn in critical theory, a move calling on those both within and outside of Europe to challenge the coloniality of the age and to forge a new vision of politics in the postcolonial period. This course is an advanced seminar devoted to a comprehensive examination of Fanon's political thought. We will begin with an analysis of primary texts by Fanon and end by considering how Fanon has been interpreted by his contemporaries as well as activists and critical theorists writing today. [ more ]

AFR 361 SEM James Baldwin and His Interlocutors

Last offered Fall 2021

This seminar explores the life and writing of James Baldwin. Through an examination of both his fiction and nonfiction, we chart his interrogation and development of ideas surrounding, among other topics, race, courage, love, nation, revolution, and belonging. We also trace his impact on our national consciousness by engaging with authors whose own bodies of work intersect with his. This list includes, among others, Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Lorraine Hansberry, Barry Jenkins, Audre Lorde, Norman Mailer, Richard Wright, and Malcolm X. [ more ]

AFR 362 SEM Race and Abstraction

Last offered Spring 2015

Minority artists--writers and visual artists mainly and, to a lesser degree, musicians--face a difficult "double bind" when creating works of art: the expectation is that they, like their racially marked bodies, will exhibit their difference by means of concrete signifiers (details, tropes, narratives, themes) of racial difference. Thus, the work is judged primarily in terms of its embodied sociological content (material, empirical) and not by "abstract" standards of aesthetic subtlety, philosophical sophistication, and so on. At the same time, in the popular and academic imaginary, minority subjects and artists poets occupy a single abstract signifying category--homogeneous, undifferentiated, "other," marginalized, non-universal--while racially "unmarked" (white) artists occupy the position of being universal and individual at once. The irony, of course, is that, say, an African American poet's being read as an abstract signifier does not mean that the black subject or writer is seen as capable of engaging in abstract ideas. This course will ask questions about the problem of race and abstraction by looking at the work of various African American and Asian American writers, visual artists and musicians--including Will Alexander, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, David Hammons, Yayoi Kusama, Tan Lin, Nathaniel Mackey, and Cecil Taylor--as well as critics. We will pay particular attention to formally experimental works. This course will ask questions about the problem of race and abstraction by looking at the work of various African American and Asian American writers, visual artists and musicians--including Will Alexander, John Keene, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, John Yau, Cecil Taylor, David Hammons, and Yoko Ono--as well as critics. We will pay particular attention to formally experimental works. [ more ]

AFR 363 SEM Framing American Slavery

Last offered Fall 2020

Readings in American Slavery This course will delve into how and what historians have written about US slavery for the last century or so. Rather than marching through time, like we might in a survey course, we'll explore the nooks and crannies of slavery's history. We'll consider gender and sexuality, labor and capitalism, regional difference, maritime culture, and every day life. We'll compare histories produced well before the Civil Rights Movement to books written afterward. We'll consider the obstacles and challenges Black scholars faced in the academy and consider the significance of their work. Finally, we'll examine slavery's role in today's world, beginning with the institution's relationship with American universities and continuing on to the recent protests against monuments and statues. [ more ]

AFR 364 SEM Black Political Thought

Last offered Spring 2024

This seminar will introduce students to the study of Black Political Thought as a set of critical normative and diagnostic gestures that help theorize the Black experience. By thrusting students into the "problem space" of Black Political Thought, students will examine the historical and structural conditions, normative arguments, theories of action, ideological conflicts, and conceptual evolutions that help define African American political imagination. Students will take up the central philosophical questions that shaped the tradition from the early nineteenth century to the present by engaging historical thinkers like Anna Julia Cooper, W.E.B. DuBois, Frantz Fanon, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Ella Baker and contemporary theorists like Saidiya Hartman, Charles Mills, bell hooks, and Frank Wilderson--among others. Guided by a Black diasporic consciousness, students will explore the canon's structural and ideological accounts of slavery, colonialism, patriarchy, racial capitalism, Jim Crow, and state violence and, subsequently, critique and imagine visions of Black liberation. With a theoretical grounding in the "Black radical tradition," students will leave this course with the conceptual resources and philosophical tools needed to realize political theory's potential as an instrument they can employ in their daily lives to normatively and diagnostically evaluate political, economic, cultural, and social institutions. [ more ]

AFR 365 SEM Race and Psychoanalysis: Slavery and the Psyche

Last offered Fall 2022

This course explores slavery and the psyche through a constellation of Black diasporic literary, visual, and theoretical texts from the US, Caribbean, and Africa. Unwieldy and generative, the opacity of race within the field (and practice) of psychoanalysis shares a fraught intimacy with the co-constitutive terrains of violence and race that form the unconscious. Querying what escapes the hermeneutics of psychoanalysis and aesthetics in the fantasies race engenders, we will examine modernity's articulation of racialization through conceptualizations--both fantasmatic and real--of self, world, knowledge, and possibility. Course texts may include: Edwidge Danticat's The Farming of Bones, Adrienne Kennedy's Funnyhouse of a Negro, Bessie Head's A Question of Power, Arthur Jafa's APEX and Love is the Message and the Message is Death, Conceição Evaristo's Ponciá Vicêncio, Lars von Trier's Manderlay, Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep, Derek Walcott's "Laventille"; and, selections from Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, David Marriott, Kathleen Pogue White, Franz Fanon, Hortense Spillers, Nathan Gorelick, Jaqueline Rose, Jared Sexton, Melanie Klein, Jacques-Alain Miller, Melanie Suchet, and Jean Laplanche. Note: This course will reflect the Continental tradition in philosophy. Student should be familiar with the basic interventions of psychoanalysis. [ more ]

AFR 367(S) SEM Black History is Labor History

This seminar explores labor history in relation to black people, spanning the colonial period to the early twenty-first century. It racializes the history of work by tracing the long story of black labor in the U.S. from the plantation to the plant. Whereas the bulk of the course will analyze black labor and labor movements in the twentieth century, specifically focusing on the push for economic inclusion and mobility amid employment, societal and union-related racial discrimination, we will examine what involuntary black labor meant in the context of slavery and the construction of a capitalist economy. Likewise, we will devote attention to black workers with regard to such topics as antiunionism, deindustrialization, economic inequality, Fordism, informal economies, Jim and Jane Crow, labor radicalism and violence, New Deal and welfare, the rise of civil rights unionism, and slavery and capitalism, among other themes. [ more ]

AFR 369 TUT African Art and the Western Museum

Last offered Spring 2023

This tutorial provides a focused study of the issues associated with the exhibition of African objects within Western institutions from the formative period of the practice in the early 19th century to the modern era. Covering topics ranging from early collection and display methodologies to exhibition-based practice in the current digital era, this tutorial will provide an opportunity for robust discussion about the interactions that have occurred between the arts of Africa and the Western museum over the lengthy history of their engagement. Students will investigate the nature of the cross-cultural dialogues taking place and the politics of display at work in regional museum spaces that display African art towards fleshing out how exhibitions function through the strategic organization and display of objects. Further, students will explore how the dialogues created between objects, individuals, and space often speak to the voices and agendas that collide, collaborate, and even compete with each other within the environment of the museum. [ more ]

AFR 372 SEM Cuba, US, Africa, and Resistance to Black Enslavement, 1791-1991

Last offered Fall 2022

This seminar focuses on the entwined histories of liberation movements against racism, enslavement, and imperialism in the US, Cuba and Africa. Readings include: Hugh Thomas, Cuba: A History; Che Guevara: The Motorcycle Diaries; Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa; Laird Bergad, The Comparative Histories of Slavery in Brazil, Cuba, and the United States; Thomas Sankara, Women's Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle; Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro, How Far We Slaves Have Come! Students will read and analyze texts, screen documentaries, collectively compile a comprehensive bibliography, and present group analyses. The seminar is open to all students; however, priority is given to seniors majoring in American Studies. [ more ]

AFR 373 SEM Going to Ground: Considering Earth in the Arts of Africa

Last offered Fall 2015

Drawing its inspiration from the landmark exhibition Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa (National Museum of African Art, 2013), this seminar explores how earth has been conceptualized and integrated into African artistic thought as material, metaphor, geography, environment, and intervention, and how this interpretive flexibility has allowed it to become a symbol of power and presence in African art-making from prehistory to the present. The seminar will also focus on the ways in which earth has been used in contemporary art towards addressing the growing problems of pollution, unsustainable development, and the widespread depletion of earth-based natural resources in Africa. Over the course of this seminar, students will develop a knowledge base of earth-related issues that have been addressed in African artistic production, and engage with various cross-disciplinary methodologies to critically analyze the conceptual and aesthetic strategies deployed in these works. Students will also have the opportunity to interact with specialists from diverse disciplines and fields towards fleshing out their knowledge base. [ more ]

AFR 374(S) SEM Technologies of Race

This course is an introduction to theories, methods, sources, and approaches for interdisciplinary research and creativity in and through the interdisciplinary field of American Studies. We will focus on the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, and disability with modern media technologies, from early photography in the mid-19th century to contemporary trends in machine learning and artificial intelligence. Through a process of shared inquiry, course participants will investigate the ways that historical legacies of oppression and futuristic speculation combine to shape human lives in the present under racial capitalism. Whether analyses of the automation of militarized border control in Texas, or of the ways that obsolete, racist concepts are embedded in machine vision and surveillance systems, the readings in the course will chart out the key moments in the co-evolution of race and technology in the Americas. Students will gain a working competence in all four tracks of the American Studies major (Space and Place; Comparative Studies in Race, Ethnicity, and Diaspora; Arts in Context; and Critical and Cultural Theory). Finally, we will also explore alternative paths toward a future where technology might help to effect the abolition of oppressive structures and systems, rather than continue to perpetuate them. [ more ]

AFR 375 LEC History of American Childhood

Last offered Fall 2014

Over the course of American history both the experience of childhood and our understandings of childhood have changed radically. Children have been bought and sold as slaves, hanged as convicted witches, and purchased slaves themselves. A century ago many children were sent "out to work" at ages that our society now defines as too young even to be left alone in the house. Common experiences of modern middle-class American childhood--summer camp, secondary school, and organized youth sports teams--are recent additions to American life. Through reading works of history and autobiography we will explore American childhood and what attitudes toward specific groups of children reveals about American society. [ more ]

AFR 376 SEM Black Critical Theory, Black Avant-Garde

Last offered Spring 2024

What is the relationship between violence and what constitutes the Black avant-garde and Black critical theory? Is it possible to conceptualize the latter two without an investigation of Black rebellion and its relationship between Black artistic and intellectual production? Can one argue that Black critique is none other than Black experimentation in form, or that Black abstraction is the requisite effector for all modes of Black praxis and thought? This course will explore these questions through a study of Black continental and diasporic avant-garde texts in multiple mediums. Alongside, we will also consider the emergence of contemporary Black critical theory, chronicling its development as both experimental and critical. Through the works of historical subjects of experimentation also considered to be objects critiquing in experimental form, the course will approach Black avant-gardism and Black critical theory as a productive opportunity to think about Blackness as critique, as experimentation, and as theoria. This pairing of Black avant-gardes and Black critical theory takes "avant" at its root--indicating what precedes or takes precedent--and "garde" as what is preeminent, or what protects. As such, we will start with the question of whether blackness, as an ideological fiction produced through violent historical ideologies and practices, could ever, or ever not, be anything but avant-garde? [ more ]

AFR 377(S) LEC Policing, Punishment, and Protest in African American History

This seminar will examine the development of the criminal legal system in the United States from the early republic to the present. Topics of study will include legacies of racial slavery; convict leasing; dynamics of gendered state violence; police tactics and technologies; the Great Migration and its impact on policing in the urban North; prisoner rights movements; urban rebellions; law and order politics; the Wars on Crime and Drugs and the rise of mass incarceration. This course will pay particular attention to the distinct relationships between domestic regimes of policing and imprisonment and various Black political struggles. By placing these topics in conversation with the history of African American life and politics, this course seeks to highlight the ways in which the criminalization of Black people has circumscribed Black citizenship and inspired successive insurgent movements for reform of the American carceral system. [ more ]

AFR 379 LEC Black Women in the United States

Last offered Spring 2021

As slaves and free women, activists, domestics, artists and writers, African Americans have played exciting and often unexpected roles in U.S. political, social, and cultural history. In this course we will examine black women's lives from the earliest importation of slaves from Africa and the Caribbean through to the expansion of slavery, the Civil War, freedom, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movements, and up to the present day. Consistent themes we will explore are the significance of gender in African American history and the changing roles and public perceptions of black women both inside and outside the black community. We will read and discuss a combination of primary and secondary sources; we will also consider music, art, and literature, as well as more standard "historical" texts. [ more ]

AFR 381 TUT Media and Society in Africa

Last offered Fall 2022

The Media have long played important roles in African societies. As early as the second half of the 19th century, African intellectuals were using print technology to address the people. As radio technology was in its infancy during the first half of the twentieth century, Africans were gathering around re-diffusion stations and later around single receivers to listen to news and entertainment programing. In this tutorial, we will examine these histories of media and media technologies on the continent. Ultimately, we will explore the roles that media played in serving particular community needs and how communities also adapted new media technologies to fit local conditions. Media content has historically been determined based on standards beyond viewers', readers' and listeners' control. We will examine the influences that editors and political leaders on the continent have exerted on content as well as what forces they responded to. We will also further explore the media's role in major events on the continent, from governmental changes to the ending of apartheid in South Africa and the role that media have played in areas of conflict. [ more ]

AFR 382 SEM Contemporary Afro-Latin American Social Movements

Last offered Spring 2019

This seminar course will provide students with an introduction to diverse histories, political beliefs, and mobilization strategies of 20th and 21st century Afro-Latin American social movements, as well as their relationship with their respective governments. Primary documents, audiovisual texts and social science research will complement lectures and class discussions to prepare students to discuss the contributions and critiques of the movements within broader discussions of the politics of blackness in the African Diaspora. While the course focuses on contemporary experiences activism, each topic is introduced with a historical overview of African-descended peoples in Latin America. By the course's conclusion, students should be able to discuss a wide range of ideas, experiences, and strategies of black politics in the Latin America as well as the similarities in themes and characteristics that have shaped much of the experiences. Furthermore, students should be able to assess the ways in which black movements in Latin America have: challenged hegemonic narratives, approached politics of culture and multiculturalism, contested invisibility, utilized transnational diasporic politics, and (re)defined conceptualizations of citizenship and belonging. [ more ]

AFR 383 SEM The City in African American History

Last offered Spring 2024

This course will explore African American urban life in the twentieth century. In particular we will examine the complicated role that cities have played in African American history, serving simultaneously as sites of exclusion and exploitation, and as sites of community organizing and institution building. Through engaging with a variety of case studies, students will examine the ways that African American struggles for equality and self-determination have shaped, and been shaped by, the urban environment in the modern US. Topics of study will include the Great Migration; redlining, real estate, and residential segregation; crime, policing, and surveillance; suburbanization, urban divestment, and the "urban crisis"; municipal politics and policy making. [ more ]

AFR 385(S) SEM Assata Shakur and the War on Terror

Since the 1970s, various US policing units, ranging from local New Jersey police to the FBI, have considered Assata Shakur a terrorist. Importantly, most scholarship on terrorism traces contemporary terrorism discourse to the 1970s. This course therefore approaches the trajectory of Assata Shakur through state archives as a guide for understanding developments in counterterrorism. Attention to her story illuminates the relationship between counterterrorism and the persistent question of armed resistance. It also highlights debates on the nature of black people's positioning in the US: as a racial group facing discrimination or as an internal colony? Archival materials like Shakur's letters from prison discussing Islam, her autobiography, and her other writings are an anchor for the course, giving a throughline to additional readings that will allow us to dive into a range of issues to which she is connected: Black land ownership in the South; the politics of the Black Liberation Army and similar Third World formations abroad; the influence of Black Islam through the story of the Shakur family; the experiences of women in prison; the role of Cuba, Algeria, and asylum across the Third World. [ more ]

AFR 387 SEM Love is Lifeforce: June Jordan's Living Room

Last offered Spring 2024

This course is an immersive look at Black feminist poet June Jordan's intimate anti-imperialist work Living Room. Drawing on Jordan's belief that "poems are housework," and her vision of "living room" as form of accountable inclusive peace on earth, this course will include weekly opportunities for reflective writing* prompted by Jordan's work, real-time engagement with a wide range of community members beyond Williams who are inspired by Jordan's life and poetry. The mid-term assignment will be for each student to create a "breathing room" resource or peace practice that is shareable with other students and the world and the final assignment will be to facilitate a workshop for a community of your own accountability (with 1 or more real-time participants) drawing on at least one poem from Living Room. [ more ]

AFR 388 SEM "The Black Unicorn: Audre (Lorde) as Avatar"

Last offered Spring 2024

This course is a deep and expansive dive into Black lesbian feminist socialist warrior mother poet Audre Lorde's transoceanic poetic work The Black Unicorn. Guided by Lorde's vision that her poems would not only offer beautiful images to readers but teach readers how to "re-feel" their own capacity for being alive, this course will include weekly opportunities for reflective writing prompted by Lorde's work, and real-time engagement with a wide range of community members beyond Williams who are inspired by Lorde's work. Reflective writing, as I use it, is a technology for participants to use writing to gain clarity on their own internal life, which is different from writing to demonstrate knowledge or to create beauty in the world. The fall and spring sections of the course will focus on different poems in The Black Unicorn, offering students either a fall, spring, or year-long journey into this extraordinary collection. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AFR 390 SEM Race, Identity, Nature

Last offered Spring 2021

From 18th-century claims that climate determined character to the 21st-century proliferation of DNA tests underwriting claims to Indigenous ancestry, race, colonialism, identity, and "nature" operate as interconnected terrains of power. Anchored in the contexts of U.S. colonialisms, racialization, and accumulation, this course aims to expose students to the cultural politics of "nature" as a way of "doing" American Studies. Specifically, this course investigates formations of and struggles against U.S. colonialisms, racialization, and accumulation via the many symbolic and material iterations, negotiations, and contestations of the contingent relations between and among human and non-human natures. Organized around a significant research paper and weekly written responses, this course ultimately aims to foster students' critical writing, reading, analytical thinking, and comparative inquiry skills across such contexts and sites of contestation, and across texts of different genres and media. We will work with a wide range of primary sources, including published fiction and poetry, legal documents, newspaper articles, speeches, recorded songs, and films, photos, paintings and other visual culture. By the end of this course, students should be able to describe the historical foundations of dominant ideas, attitudes, and practices toward non-human natures, as well as analyze how ideas of "nature" mediate the ways in which colonial, racial, gender, and sexual categories and structures inform and are (re)produced by U.S. institutions and in public areas such as the law, public policy, and property. Finally, students should be able to interpret how racialized and colonized peoples' visions, representations, and practices of liberation with regard to relations with non-human natures and the materiality of land precede, contend with, and exceed normative political, economic, and social categories of governance and systems of dispossession and exploitation. [ more ]

AFR 394 SEM Cold War Archaeology

Last offered Spring 2024

In this advanced American Studies course, we will examine Cold War history and culture with attention to the intersection of racialization and nuclear paranoia. The concurrent unfolding of the struggle for Civil Rights and the national strategy of Civil Defense played out against the backdrop of a global ideological battle, as the United States and the Soviet Union fought each other for planetary domination. From the scientific fantasy of bombproofing and "safety in space," to the fears of both racial and radioactive contamination that drove the creation of the American suburbs, the affective and material dimensions of nuclear weaponry have, from the beginning, been entangled with race. Drawing on the critical and analytical toolkits of American Studies and media archaeology, students will dig beneath the surface of received narratives about the arms race, the space race, and race itself. Students will uncover generative connections between mineral extraction, the oppression of Indigenous populations, the destructive legacies of "urban renewal," and the figure of the "typical American family" huddled in their backyard bunker. Finally, this course will examine the ways in which the Cold War exceeds its historical boundaries, entangles with the ideology and military violence of the Global War on Terror, and persistently shapes the present through its architectural, affective, and cultural afterlives. [ more ]

AFR 396(S) SEM Relationality and Its Antagonisms

Relationality has been the defining approach, feature, and framework of ethnic studies since its inception in the late 1960s. Since then, notable scholars have applied multiple keywords, including difference, comparison, entanglements, cacophonies, and intimacies, to emphasize how processes of racialization and racial formation are not isolated and separate but inextricably linked and shaped by one another. Only from these distinct, uneven, yet shared positions of oppression, as scholars argue, solidarity across race, gender, class, sexuality, and location may emerge. At its crux, this seminar will underscore major tensions and antagonisms against frameworks of relationality. Tracing primary sources, cultural expressions, and literature within the traditions of ethnic studies and transnational/women of color feminisms, it will trace the shifts in approaches to relationality, especially as it relates to practices of reciprocity and community-building across difference. At the same time, it will turn to works that name relationality as what Frank B. Wilderson calls a "ruse," or trick, that subsumes the specific, exceptional position of blackness. Our units will include discussions of Afro-Pessimism, indigeneity, racialized settler colonialism as well as queer theory debates on queer presentism (i.e., a queer "no future") versus queer futurity. Studying the tensions that emerge from multiple, distinct, and contradictory planes of power, oppression, and temporalities, how do we assess, work through, and reconcile, if at all, relations deemed as "irreconcilable" across vectors of difference? [ more ]

AFR 405 SEM CAPSTONE: Africana Studies and the Disciplines

Last offered Spring 2024

Of the many things that distinguish Africana Studies from other fields of knowledge, most remarkable are its creative uses and critiques of disciplinary perspectives. In some instances, a scholar in the field might move between disciplines; in others, a scholar might integrate two or more disciplines into one point of view. Disciplinary creativity accommodates the array of information--written texts, music, visual art, film--that contributes to our understanding of the African Diaspora. This seminar will illuminate the disciplinary nuances and challenges of studying people of African descent. After outlining genealogies of Africana Studies and the field's complicated relationships to social science disciplines, students will closely read classic texts by some of the pioneers in the field and explore their uses of disciplinary perspectives. In the latter half of the course, students will have the opportunity to design and conduct their own research projects with the aforementioned disciplinary concerns in mind. [ more ]

AFR 410(S) SEM CAPSTONE: Black Epistemologies

How do we know what we know? This course examines approaches to this question of epistemology in Black studies in comparative perspective. We read Black epistemologies in relation to other disciplines' and thinkers' approaches. The course examines overlap and departure across lines of difference. The work of intellectual giant W.E.B. Du Bois is an anchor for the course, given his wide-ranging career over many decades. We read his statistical work in relation to that of his European contemporaries on statistics. We also think about his relationship to sociology and relatedly ethnography, the autobiographical character of critical race theory, and the historiography of the Black radical tradition in which scholars like Cedric Robinson have situated Du Bois. We look at contemporary engagement with his work to think on trajectories of Black epistemologies from the early twentieth century until today. [ more ]

AFR 440(F) SEM CAPSTONE: Performing Blackness

In modern parlance and scholarship, blackness is understood not as a biological but rather a socially constructed phenomenon. This course extends common perceptions by working from the foundational concept that blackness is not only social construction but also performance and lived experience. Using the lens of performance on racial identity foregrounds the active and shifting nature of race in contrast to the potentially passive, static connotation of construction. But what is this term performance that is now so widely used as to be an anathema? In this course, we explore performance broadly as entertainment, representation, social function, and lived experience. By the end of the course, students will analyze multiple performance types from theatrical and dance performance to performance of race in everyday life. They will also study and practice at least four core black performance studies methodologies: oral interpretation of literature, ethnography, written performance analysis, and embodied performance (i.e. movement, music and/or theatre). In this way, students will begin to understand performance as both subject matter and method. The course will be structured around discussions, written responses, and performance exercises that help students analyze and practice each methodology. At the end of the semester, students will create final creative research projects that articulate key theories of black performance studies and draw on at least one of the featured performance methodologies. While preference is given to Africana Studies concentrators, students are not required to have prior performance experience. [ more ]

AFR 450 SEM CAPSTONE: Sylvia Wynter, Black Lives, and Struggle for the Human

Last offered Spring 2021

How do we judge the value of life? What is the significance of death and arbitrary threats to our existence? Why probe modern notions of black and blackness? What defines optimism, pessimism, enslavement, freedom, creativity, and being human? Do black lives matter? This capstone seminar will explore these and related questions through an examination of the life and work of Jamaican novelist, playwright, cultural critic, and philosopher Sylvia Wynter. Methodologically interdisciplinary, the course shall examine written and audiovisual texts that explore Wynter's inquiries into the central seminar queries. We will study figures and movements for black lives whose geopolitics frame the milieu of Wynter's work. Our examination of intellectuals and activists, with their explicit and implicit engagements with Wynter, shall facilitate assessing the possibilities, challenges, and visions of black living. We will also explore the current implications of Wynter's thought for Africana political theory, Afro-futurism, social justice, human rights, and critiques of liberal humanism. In the latter half of the course, students will have the opportunity to design, conduct, and present their own final research projects. [ more ]

AFR 460 SEM Capstone: Documenting Black

Last offered Spring 2023

Documenting Black begins with a shared understanding that depicting the stories and lives of Black folks is its own important and necessary creative form. In this Africana Studies capstone seminar we will focus on the art of documentary production as a means through which Black lives are illustrated. We will also explore the historical and conceptual framing of Black experience in the field of documentary studies, consider documentary techniques and methodologies, and discover how artists and creatives have used the medium of documentary to interpret Black diasporic life. This course is a practicum that will culminate with students writing, designing, editing, and producing a documentary short of 3-5 minutes. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AFR 494(F, S) HON Honors Dossier

Candidates for honors in Africana Studies must do W31 for the winter study period and 494 the following spring. [ more ]