Courses

AFR 105(F)Materials, Meanings, and Messages in the Arts of Africa

This course introduces students to the wealth, power, and diversity of expressive forms that have characterized the arts of Africa and its Diaspora from prehistory to the present. Pulling extensively from the collections at the Williams College Museum of Art and other campus resources, students will not only experience firsthand the wide array of objects that have been produced within this vast geography, but will also come to recognize how multiple senses including sight, sound, smell, and touch play a key role in understanding how these objects work within their respective contexts. As tools of political control, social protest, divine manifestation, and spiritual intervention, these objects and their associated performances also challenge what we might typically consider art in the Western tradition and as such students will be pushed to think beyond such terms in their examinations of these rich creative traditions. [ more ]

AFR 113Musics of Africa

Last offered Spring 2019

This course introduces a selection of musical cultures from the geographical breadth of Africa. Following an introductory exploration of the fundamental aesthetic and social parameters governing African musical practice, we will engage in a series of case studies considering a diverse array of musical practices and related social and political issues in specific locales. Featured countries include Ghana, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Algeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This course samples a wide range of musical practices from the Ghanaian dance craze, azonto, to Ethiopian liturgical chants, to Shona mbira music in Zimbabwe. Performance analysis and critical reading and listing assignments are combined with a number of hands-on workshops and musical exercises. [ more ]

AFR 126(F)Black Literature Matters

Black literature remains central to struggles for freedom and equality across the African diaspora. In this course, we will examine why black literature matters: What are its aesthetic and political imperatives? How have black writers used certain literary forms in their constructions of identity, freedom, and citizenship? Through our exploration of these questions, we will discover the significant matters of African American literature from the Harlem Renaissance moment to the Black Lives Matter movement. By reading a broad range of texts---essays, novels, drama, music, and poetry---by such authors as Alain Locke, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Audre Lorde, Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Jesmyn Ward, and Kendrick Lamar, we will develop a critical vocabulary for evaluating and engaging with this body of literature. This course contributes to the DIfference, Power, and Equity requirement by centering on the relationship between black literature and black political movements from the 1920s to the present. [ more ]

AFR 129(S)Twentieth-Century Black Poets

From Langston Hughes to contemporary poets such as Angela Jackson and Claudia Rankine, African American poets have been preoccupied with the relations of poetry to other traditions. Vernacular speech, English poetry, jazz and other musical forms, folk humor, and African mythology have all been seen as essential sources for black poetry. This course will survey major poets such as Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, Countee Cullen, Robert Hayden, Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka, Jackson, and Yusef Komunyakaa, reading their poems and their essays and interviews about poetic craft. We will ask how black poetry has been defined and whether there is a single black poetic tradition or several. [ more ]

AFR 132Contemporary Africana Social and Political Philosophy

Last offered Fall 2018

This introductory seminar investigates the relationship between three major schools of thought in contemporary Africana social and political philosophy, namely the African, Afro-American, and Afro-Caribbean intellectual traditions. We will discuss a range of thinkers including Aimé Césaire, Angela Y. Davis, Édouard Glissant, Lewis R. Gordon, Kwame Gyekye, Paget Henry, bell hooks, Charles W. Mills, Nkiru Nzegwu, Lucius Outlaw, Oyèrónke Oyewùmi, Tommie Shelby, 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 136Slavery and the Making of a Literary Tradition

Last offered Spring 2018

How has the subject and iconography of slavery continued to preoccupy the American literary and cultural imagination? In this course, we will examine the transatlantic circulation of ideas regarding race, nation, citizenship, self-mastery, agency, and freedom in colonial and antebellum America and consider how these debates have continued to the present. We will read such authors as Phyllis Wheatley, Harriet Jacobs, Harriet Wilson, William Faulkner, Mark Twain, and Toni Morrison. Forms will include poetry, slave narratives, novels, advertisements, broadsides, pamphlets, and other ephemera. We will also view cinematic representations of slavery, such as WGN's Underground, the adaptation of Solomon Northrop's 12 Years a Slave, and Issa Rae's parody "Due North" in Insecure. [ more ]

AFR 140Black 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 ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AFR 164Slavery in the American South

Last offered Spring 2019

This writing intensive seminar will focus on slavery in the southern United States--one of the most difficult and challenging subjects in this country's history. After looking at several different approaches to North American slavery and examining in depth two of the key primary sources for the study of this institution, students will select an aspect of slavery for intensive research. The rich sources of the Chapin and Sawyer Libraries will be examined to show students the extensive body of materials available on campus for their research projects. Separate class sessions on approaches to research and available research materials held with Lori DuBois, Sawyer reference librarian, and Wayne Hammond, Chapin librarian. Instructor holds individual meetings with each student to help them with the selection of a viable research topic. [ more ]

AFR 167(F)Let Freedom Ring? African Americans and Emancipation

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 200(F, S)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(S)African Dance and Percussion

We will examine two forms that embody continuity of tradition or the impact of cultural shifts in generations. Lamban was created by the Djeli, popularly called Griots who historically served many roles in traditional society from the Kingdom of Ghana and Old Mali spanning the 12th-current centuries. This dance and music form continues as folklore in modern day Guinea, Senegal, Mali and The Gambia where it was created and practiced by the Mandinka people. Bira is an ancient and contemporary spiritual practice of Zimbabwe's Shona people. Both of these forms are enduring cultural practices while Kpanlogo from the modern West African state of Ghana represents the post-colonial identity of this nation's youth at the end of the 1950s. This course can be taken for academic and/or PE credit [ more ]

AFR 204Introduction 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 TShe Speaks in Color: Examining the 'Color Complex' in Toni Morrison's Writings

Last offered Fall 2016

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). 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 ]

AFR 206(F)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 new 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 T(F)"Out of Africa": Cinematic Por(Be)trayals of a Continent

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 TTime and Blackness

Last offered Fall 2018

The concept of time is one of the most examined, yet least theorized, concepts in Africana Studies. While the field is saturated with historical studies and literary analyses that take up issues of cultural memory, both of which involve thinking about time, time itself is 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 African American experience cannot be understood outside of the meaning of race, which itself is far from tangible. In this tutorial, "Time and Blackness," we will explore how African American writers across a number of genres understand time. We will read select texts of fiction as well as spiritual autobiographies, historical narratives, and sociological studies to understand how writers draw from--and create--paradigms of time to organize their work. The following questions will structure our investigation: What are the constituent elements of time in African American writing? How does race shape the ways a writer conceives of the experience of time? In examining writings across genres, is there something that we can call an identifiable African-American "timescape"? [ more ]

AFR 210Culture 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 211Race and the Environment

Last offered Fall 2018

In contemporary societies, race remains an enduring impediment to the achievement of equality. Generally understood as a socially meaningful way of classifying human bodies hierarchically, race manifests itself in a number of arenas, including personal experience, economic production and distribution, and political organization. In this course, we will explore how race emerges in local and global environmental issues, like pollution and climate change. We will begin with a review of some of the landmark texts in Environmental Studies that address "environmental racism," like Robert Bullard's Dumping in Dixie and David Pellow's Garbage Wars. We will examine how and to what extent polluting facilities like landfills, oil refineries, and sewage treatment plants are disproportionately located in communities of color; we will also pay attention to how specific corporations create the underlying rationale for plotting industrial sites. After outlining some of the core issues raised in this scholarship, we will turn to cultural productions--like literature, film, and music--to understand how people of color respond to environmental injustice and imagine the natural world. [ more ]

AFR 212(S)Jazz Theory and Improvisation I

The theory and application of basic techniques in jazz improvisation and performance styles, including blues forms, swing, bebop, modally based composition, Afro-Cuban, etc. Appropriate for students with skill on their instrument and some basic theoretical knowledge. Knowledge of all key signatures, major/minor keys and modes, intervals, triads and basic seventh chords and their functions within keys. Students should be able to play and demonstrate these concepts on their instruments-competence on an instrument is essential (vocalists and drummers will be encouraged to study the piano). Pianists and guitarists should be able to sight read chords on a jazz lead sheet. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

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

Last offered Spring 2019

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 214Jazz Theory and Improvisation II

Last offered Spring 2017

A continuation of MUS 104b, this course builds upon theoretical knowledge, performance and aural skills developed previously. Students will deal with more complex theoretical and performance issues, including the use of symmetric scales, strategies for chord reharmonization, pentatonic and hexatonic scale shapes, and Coltrane's "Three Tonic" harmonic system. [ more ]

AFR 215Ways of Knowing: Music, Movement, Memory

Last offered Fall 2017

This interdisciplinary seminar proceeds from the premise that the body knows. Ongoing colonial modernity is rooted in a racialized hierarchy: the "civilized" life of the mind vs. the "primitive" instincts of the flesh. According to this binary, the body is marked as irrational, sinful, outside of the archive. The body cannot know because the happenings of the body are ephemeral: unlike documents, they don't last. In this course, we will subject this logic to close scrutiny. As performance scholar Diana Taylor asks, "Whose memories, traditions, and claims to history disappear if performance practices lack the staying power to transmit vital knowledge?" In this course, we look to music, movement, and other repertoires as ways of knowing, remembering, and world-making. How does embodied knowledge travel across time and space? How have performance practices served as modes of what Ashinaabe cultural theorist Gerald Vizenor calls "survivance" (survival + resistance) for indigenous, nomadic, queer, and colored communities. Case studies include: the Middle Passage and the syncretic birth of the Blues in the Americas; nomadism, the nation-state, and the migration of Romani music; and the evolution of queer ball culture. Students will engage with a variety of texts (verbal, sonic, visual, kinesthetic) and respond to them critically not only through writing and discussion, but also through their own performance practices. [ more ]

AFR 216(S)Moving While Black

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. They will 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 dance 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 218(S)Gender and Sexuality in the Neo-slave Narrative

Hortense Spillers has noted that ex-slave Harriet Jacobs, "between the lines of her narrative, demarcates a sexuality that is neuterbound" and we live with the aftermath of her observation. "Ungendering," one of the transformations undergone by bodies subjected to the Middle Passage, is one of the keywords that forms the foundation for a conversation about slavery, blackness, gender, sexuality, and archive. Throughout this course we will wrestle with the questions: How does the designation "slave" rupture, reify, or expand our understandings of sexuality and gender? What conditions have necessitated the neo-slave narrative form? Texts include: slave narratives and neo-slave narratives in the forms of novels, visual art, and film. Course texts include: Octavia E. Butler's Kindred, Jewelle Gomez's Gilda Stories, Glenn Ligon's "Runaways", and Jordan Peele's Get Out. Critical theories of blackness, gender, and sexuality are also central texts in this course including that by Darieck Scott, Saidiya Hartman, Hortense Spillers, Matt Richardson, and others. Given that neo-slave narratives intervene in the sexual and gendered silences of slave narratives and the power relations that produced them, students who are hesitant to study sexual violence might consider taking another course. [ more ]

AFR 219Spiritualities of Dissent

Last offered Spring 2018

This course seeks to understand how protest fuels the creation and sustenance of black religious movements and novel spiritual systems in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We will examine the dissentive qualities of selected African-descended activists, community workers, scholars, spiritual/religious leaders and creative writers. By the end of this course, students will be able to thoughtfully respond to the questions, "What is spirituality?"; "What is dissent?"; and "Has blackness required resistive spiritual communities?" [ more ]

AFR 220Introduction to African American Literature

Last offered Spring 2019

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

Catalog details

AFR 221Giving God a Backbeat: Rap Music, Religion & Spirituality

Last offered Spring 2017

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 223(F)Politics of Performance/Performing Politics in Contemporary Africa

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 225Musics 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(S)Black France/France Noire

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 228Revolt 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 230Gender, 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(F)The African Anthropocene

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, poetry, novels, and web-based content. Topics include: humanism/post-humanism; migration and displacement; representations of conflict; and sustainable development. [ more ]

AFR 237Islam in the United States: From Black Muslims to the War on Terror

Last offered Fall 2017

Malcolm X is likely the most prominent and influential Muslim figure in the history of the United States. His story represents two fundamental themes in the history of Islam in America: conflict between Muslims over what is "authentic" or "orthodox" Islam; and the ways that American history, politics, and culture determine the contours of "American Islam". This course will explore these two themes through an array of topics in the history of American Islam. In so doing, we will examine the complex relation between religion, politics, and culture in the United States. Beginning with the story of Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam, and other African-American Muslim movements, we will try to understand: What made Islam so appealing to millions of African-Americans throughout the 20th century? And were these genuinely "religious" and "Islamic" movements, or just racial/political "black nationalist" movements in the guise of religion? What counts as legitimately "Islamic", and who gets to decide? We will then move into the latter half of the 20th century and the post-9/11 debates over authentic Islam. What happened to American Muslim communities and organizations after the waves of post-1965 immigration from Muslim countries? How have debates about Muslim identity shifted over time, from being configured in terms of black separatism, to transnational/diasporic identity, to the attempts at articulating an indigenous "American-Muslim" identity? How have national narratives around 9/11 and the "War on Terror" impacted these debates over identity and "true Islam"? And how have these debates intersected with gender, racial, and ethnic politics? Throughout the course, we will be studying historical and anthropological material, autobiographies, novels, documentaries, films, and social media. 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 race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, gender, language, and age. [ more ]

AFR 240Introduction to the Music of Duke Ellington

Last offered Spring 2015

This course will survey the career and compositional style of Edward Kennedy (Duke) Ellington (1899-1974). Students will learn to listen to and analyze music from throughout Ellington's five-decade career as a bandleader, composer, arranger, and writer. Particular emphasis will be placed on development of aural analysis skills, in terms of form, style, orchestration, and the ability to identify the individual sounds of key Ellingtonian soloists. Ellington's importance as a key figure in American cultural history, and relationships between his music and parallel stylistic developments and influences from both within and outside of the jazz tradition will be discussed. [ more ]

AFR 241The Banlieue in Literature, Music, and Film

Last offered Spring 2017

In this course 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 242(F)Introduction to the Music of John Coltrane

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(S)Asian/American and Black Literary and Cultural Thought

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 246(S)African American History, 1619-1865

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 248The Caribbean: From Slavery to Independence

Last offered Spring 2018

This class will begin with and foreground the current crisis in Puerto Rico, an island emblematic of the history of colonialism, racism, environmental destruction, and economic exploitation of the region. But as the Caribbean has suffered, so has it resisted. From the Haitian Revolution to the Manley `Revolt' in Jamaica, the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, the Cuban Revolution, and the Grenadian Revolution, the Caribbean has been at the forefront of radical change in the New World. Pioneering slave emancipation, independence from European empires, and unique experiments in socialism, communism, and Black Power, these small islands have been world leaders. But their innovative social and political experimentation--expressed in vivid artistic and musical forms--have all too often met with disdain and repression by their more powerful neighbors or former colonial rulers. This course will examine the audacious experiments of the Caribbean people from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries as well as the repression they have faced from abroad. We will pay attention to the rich cultural diversity of the region, using film, music, literature and art to examine diverse phenomenon, including voodoo, Santeria, and Rastafarianism. We will also explore the prospects for continuing change in the contemporary Caribbean, paying special attention to the environmental challenges they face amidst rising sea levels, drought, heat waves, and the effect of two hundred years of environmental destruction at the hands of rapacious foreigners, from slaveowners to cruise ship lines to bauxite and oil producers. [ more ]

AFR 250(S)Translating Black Resistance: Historical and Contemporary Challenges

"My ebony skin...is my naked soul; my skin is language, and the reading is all yours." The lyrics' excerpt authored by Afro-Brazilian artists Matumbi and Portugal eloquently convey/denounce how Black skin and the Black body may function as a canvas upon which multiple meanings are imposed or assigned/prescribed: as embattled territories constantly subjected to multiple (mis)interpretations. Conversely, Black skin/bodies become sites of resistance, expressing/becoming potent languages through which oppressive systems are challenged, and powerful anti-racist struggles/movements crafted/expressed or performed/reinvented. How have verbal and non-verbal communications functioned as core aspect of Afro-Diasporic confrontational praxis to intersecting racialized/gendered oppressions and annihilation? How may we challenge Eurocentric bodies of knowledge as a key component in political projects of Black erasures? The course will explore such issues by placing the politics of language, translation/interpretation, ideology, and identity at the center of historical and contemporary movements of resistance against deadly manifestations of anti-black racism and gendered/homophobic violence(s). We will engage with such collective Black resistance responses by analyzing music, film, poetry and other Black art forms in Latin America, and particularly Brazil, and we shall examine authors including Conceição Evaristo, Angela Y. Davis, Patricia Hill Collins, Joelzito Araújo, Paul Bandia, Brent Edwards, Lazzo Matumbi, and Randal Johnson. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AFR 251(S)Afro-Diasporic Crossroads: Translating and (Re)Imagining Black Experiences

For many centuries Black subjects have forged multiple forms/processes/modes of resistance, yielded in particular by the brutal forced migration of African men and women in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Afro-Diasporic subjects utilized, evoked, and preserved their cultural and historical/intellectual legacies, healing practices/sacred traditions - and (re)crafted the African Diaspora. This course will examine the crucial roles played by the politics of language and translation in Afro-Diasporic dispersions, intersections, and (re)connections. We will explore the concept of translation as reparation and the ethics of translation, while interrogating how language may be utilized as an effective tool for political control and conversely, a powerful means for Black Liberation. Grounded on Black Feminist Theory, we will engage with the often-overlooked significance of embodied Black knowledge in translation theories within and beyond the boundaries of written texts across African Diasporic settings. Particular attention will be placed on a critical analysis of the ways through which Black popular cultures travels across African Diasporic settings. Authors we shall explore in the seminar include Angela Y. Davis, Patricia Hill Collins, Rachel Harding, Paul Bandia, Brent Edwards, Omise'eke Tinsley, Marsha J. Hamilton and Eleanor S. Block. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

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

Last offered Fall 2017

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 and guided listening assignments, 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 256Politics 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 257Social 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 259(S)Bilad al-Sudan and Beyond: Arts of the Afro-Islamic World

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 ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AFR 261Haitian 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 275(S)Southern Literary Aesthetics

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 T(S)Black Europeans

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 283(F)Black Queer Looks: Race, Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary African-American Film

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 ]

AFR 299(F)Rastafari: Dread, Politics, Agency

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 301(F)Experimental African American Poetry

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)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 ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AFR 306Queer of Color Critique: Race, Sex and Urban Life

Last offered Spring 2015

This seminar is an introduction to queer of color critique, a field of scholarship that seeks to intervene in the predominantly white canon of queer studies. We will examine the history of this line of critique, beginning with Black and Chicana feminisms and extending into present day issues and activism highlighting intersectionality, exploring how and why QOCC became a necessary intervention into the then still emerging field of queer studies. Our texts include scholarly works as well as science fiction novels, plays, films, diaries, and graphic novels. Methodologically, we draw on many fields of study, including anthropology, literary studies, feminist studies, and ethnic studies. We focus primarily but by no means exclusively on US contexts, paying particular attention to the role that urban environments have served for queer communities of color. Topics include: feminisms of color, inter-racial desire and fetishization, orientalism and colonial fantasy, black queer science fiction, transgender subjectivities, and the political economy of sexual desire. A key feature of this course will also be the inclusion of numerous and diverse authors to appear on Skype or in person to answer questions about their work as we read it in class. [ more ]

AFR 307Contemporary 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 309 TScriptures 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 310Womanist/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 312Francographic Islands

Last offered Fall 2014

Utopia, paradise, shipwreck, abandonment, exile, death. Man's fascination and obsession with the island as place of discovery, beauty and imprisonment stretches across the centuries. In this class, we will read French literary and imagined islands alongside islands constructed by Francophone Caribbean, Indian Ocean and non-Western writers in French. What does the island symbolize in individual, community, national, and imperial imaginations? And how does the island become an agent in discussions of gender, race, modernity and history? Readings will include works by Paul Gauguin, Pierre Loti, Aimé Césaire, Michel Tournier, Ananda Devi, Maryse Condé, Patrick Chamoiseau and Edouard Glissant. Conducted in French. [ more ]

AFR 314Groovin' 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 315Blackness 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 316Sacred 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 317Black Migrations: African American Performance at Home and Abroad

Last offered Fall 2017

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 319Ethnographic 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 320Dangerous Bodies: Black Womanhood, Sexuality & Popular Culture

Last offered Spring 2015

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 ]

AFR 321Trending Black: Race & Social Media in the 21st Century

Last offered Fall 2017

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 Vine, 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 322(S)Race, Culture, Incarceration

This course explores racially-fashioned policing and incarceration from the Reconstruction era convict prison lease system to contemporary mass incarceration and "stop and frisk" policies of urban areas in the United States. Also explored will be political imprisonment in the United States. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AFR 323(S)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 Jeremy Love's Bayou and Ho Che Anderson's King: A Comic Biography, 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 and comic strips, 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 keep a journal with images, themes and reflections and will use Comic Life software and ipads to create their own graphic short stories based on historical and/or autobiographical narratives. [ more ]

AFR 325Television, Social Media, and Black Women 'Unscripted'

Last offered Fall 2017

Nene Leaks, Shonda Rhimes, Oprah Winfrey, Kerry Washington and now Lavern Cox and Melissa Harris-Perry 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 ]

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

This course focuses on the politics of personal style among women of color in an era of viral video clips, the 24-hour news cycle, and e-commerce sites dedicated to the dermatological concerns of "minority" females. With a comparative, transnational emphasis on the ways in which gender, sexuality, ethno-racial identity, and class inform standards of beauty, we will examine a variety of materials including commercial websites, histories, personal narratives, ethnographies, sociological case studies, and feminist theory. Departing from the assumption that personal aesthetics are intimately tied to issues of power and privilege, we will engage the following questions: What are the everyday functions of personal style among women of color? Is it feasible to assert that an easily identifiable "African American," "Latina," "Arab American" or "Asian American" female aesthetic exists? What role do transnational media play in the development and circulation of popular aesthetic forms? How might the belief in personal style as activist strategy challenge traditional understandings of feminist political activity? [ more ]

AFR 327(S)Sounds and Pressures: Music in the 1970s Caribbean

For the Caribbean the 1970s was a decade of cultural excitement and political tragedy. 1960s radical consciousness contributed to rapidly changing music styles that formed by the early seventies and blossomed on the world stage as the decade progressed. This was the period when Jamaican Reggae, Haitian Konpa, and Spanish Caribbean Salsa, asserted their presence in the mainstream. But the countries that birthed these popular music forms were locked in political crisis. In Jamaica, political violence escalated, Haiti faced a brutal dictatorship and Cuba was caught in the midst of Cold War strain. A common response to these challenges was massive emigration from the Caribbean to the United States. This course will examine the music produced in the 1970s Caribbean and its relationship to the forces of migration, national politics, and inter-regional contact. After a background on Cuban and Haitian music, the course will give greatest focus to Jamaican politics its relationship with Reggae, which reached further than any other Caribbean music form in the 1970s. It will explore the journeys of the music as it accompanied and oftentimes preceded the arrival of large numbers of Caribbean immigrants. In the process, the US imaginary of the Caribbean was reshaped by the popularization of Caribbean commercial music. [ more ]

Taught by: Matthew Smith

Catalog details

AFR 330Modern 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 331Blackness and Gender: The Drag of Black Masculinity

Last offered Spring 2019

In this seminar, we will study the evolution of Black masculinities through cultural, social, and political movements from 19th century to the present. This course engages Black feminist thought, Black masculinities studies, queer theory, and performance studies. We will examine the relationship and constitutive nature of masculinity and femininity. How is blackness always already gendered? How is gender always already racialized? What are the effects of these gendering and racializing practices on Black bodies, spaces, and places? We will trouble the relationship between manhood and masculinity by examining the ways in which masculinity can move across various kinds of bodies. By examining representations and presentations of Black masculinities, we will pursue questions such as: How has dominant society attempted to define Black masculinity? In what ways have Black people undermined these narratives and redefined themselves? How do racial stereotypes about Black men's sexuality inform representations of Black masculinities? Can we/should we be moving beyond heteropatriarchy and gender binaries? What is the future of Black Gender? By reading critical and creative texts, viewing films and engaging other kinds of media, students will hone their critical theorization skills. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AFR 333(S)New Asian American, African American, Native American, and Latina/o Writing

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 334Radical Theories of Political Struggle: Anti-Black Racism and the Obama Administration

Last offered Spring 2019

This seminar reviews contemporary theories of "anti-black racism"; their articulation or assimilation within current political movements and mobilizations; and the influence and impact such theories-expressed in and/or as activism-on social justice and civil rights. Critical race theory, Afro-pessimism, feminist/queer theory and the works of the incarcerated are studied. Theorists studied include: Frank Wilderson; Angela Davis; Derrick Bell; Cheryl Harris. Students write weekly mini-reflection papers on assigned readings and collectively make analytical presentations. [ more ]

AFR 336Blackness, Theater, Theatricality

Last offered Spring 2017

Representations of African American life have pervaded the various genres and tiers of American culture, embodying a carnival of competing attitudes and perspectives. Many oddities and ironies result from this curious history. For example, African Americans as theatrical figures enter American consciousness via the minstrel stage, where white entertainers wearing burnt cork lampooned Negroes to amuse white audiences. Eventually, black performers created their own versions of minstrelsy, black playwrights created dramas more sympathetic to black life, and representations of black life proliferated in every noteworthy medium. This course will consider how attitudes about blackness have informed or deformed theatrical representations of African American life. It will examine major texts by African American writers, considering both their social importance and their aesthetic experiments and innovations. It will range from politically oriented works of social realism such as Theodore Ward's Big White Fog and Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun to expressionistic protest works like Amiri Baraka's Dutchman and Slave Ship and Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls to August Wilson's earnest histories and the post-modern satires of Adrienne Kennedy and Suzan-Lori Parks. Alongside these, we will also consider a variety of comic traditions, ranging from minstrelsy to Spike Lee's film Bamboozled and characters created by comedians such as Jackie "Moms" Mabley and Richard Pryor. And how should we assess Porgy, a play by the white writer Dubose Heyward, which evolved into America's greatest opera, Porgy and Bess? This course will be an ongoing inquiry into the riotous theatricality of American blackness. [ more ]

AFR 337(S)Queer in the City

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 TGarveyism

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(S)Black Counterpublic Sphere in Early America

This course examines the emergence of black writing and chronicles the major movements of African American print culture from the early American republic to the antebellum era. We will investigate what Joanna Brooks identifies as a distinct tradition of black publication, or a black print "counterpublic" sphere, and determine how this counterpublic emerges around questions of agency, humanity, and the law. We also will consider its role in setting and sustaining communal and intellectual agendas for black people through our engagement with such questions as: how did print culture become central to liberation efforts in early America? And how did black people participate through print in the making of the early republic and the transatlantic exchange of ideas? We will discuss such authors as Briton Hammon, Phillis Wheatley, and Olaudah Equiano. Collaborating with Williams College Special Collections, we will analyze a broad range of literary forms and documents (e.g. pamphlets, orations, epistles, and sermons) and study the institutions that made early black print publication possible. [ more ]

AFR 341Caste, 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 342Racial 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 T(S)Representations of Racial-Sexual Violence from Enslavement to Emancipation

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 ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AFR 345Race and Feeling in Twentieth Century Literature

Last offered Spring 2018

Although we now take for granted that race is socially constructed, the terrain of racial feeling is less certain. In this course, we recognize that states of feeling are also socially constructed; they are marked and shaped by race and other categories. Questions concerning the circulation of feeling between individuals and their generative possibilities have preoccupied sociologists, psychologists, and literary theorists since the mid-1990s, and we will take up where they left off. In this course, we will study the ways in which literary representations of shame in African American literature offer insight into the interior lives of individuals who have been stigmatized by histories of disempowerment, trauma, and the real or imagined racialized gaze. We will analyze the influence of shame in works by such authors as James Weldon Johnson, Nella Larsen, Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Sherley Anne Williams, Phyllis J. Perry, Toni Morrison, and E. Lynn Harris, and we will engage the ways in which shame, and its correlative feelings --- guilt, pride, humiliation, and love --- emerge in texts through various formal and aesthetic choices. We will also engage such theorists as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Sara Ahmed, Sianne Ngai, Heather Love, Darieck Scott, Erving Goffman, and Melissa Harris-Perry to assist us in our inquiry into the intersections of race, feeling, and literature. [ more ]

AFR 346(S)Modern Brazil

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 347Negative Affects in African American Literature

Last offered Spring 2018

"My pessimism was stronger than my longing," wrote Saidiya Hartman in her genre-breaking Lose Your Mother in her search for the afterlife of kinship in the remains of a Ghanaian slave fort. In this course we will discuss a mixture of contradictory "bad" feelings burdening the individual and the collective; for example, how hope and desire compete in Hartman's statement with habituated disappointment and exhaustion. How do black subjects creatively overcome the racial foreclosure to write and recite violence, rage, refusal, anxiety, depression, idleness, grief, silence, etc.? And, further, how do we make sense of the sorts of affects that become negative when practiced by black subjects, such as love, empathy, and desire? Together, we will explore interventions by critical theorists of blackness, gender, and sexuality including Saidiya Hartman, Darieck Scott, Abdul JanMohamed, Christina Sharpe, Frantz Fanon, Ann Cvetkovich, Heather Love, and Lauren Berlant to assist us in confronting the sometimes perilous terrain of negative expression for black subjects. Primary texts will include work by Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Kara Walker, Jamaica Kincaid, and Richard Wright. This course will be driven by student discussion and collaboration. [ more ]

AFR 348 TThe 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 351Spirits of Rebellion: The L.A. Rebellion Filmmakers

Last offered Spring 2019

When Beyoncé unveiled the Lemonade visual album in 2016, her production captured the artistic spirit and gave new life to an earlier work: Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust (1991), a luminous film about three generations of the Gullah people and the first motion picture by a Black woman to obtain wide theatrical release in the United States. Many, however, are unaware of the decades-long cinematic movement to which Dash belongs. In this course, we will devote our critical inquiry to the creative output of the L.A. Rebellion, a group of Black cinematic artists trained at the UCLA Film and Television School between the 1960s and 1990s. Our visual journey will take us through a diverse set of filmmakers like Charles Burnett, Ben Caldwell, Barbara McCullough, Julie Dash, Zeinabu irene Davis, Haile Gerima, Alile Sharon Larkin, Billy Woodberry, among many, many others, and how they sought to not only redefine the Black image on-screen but also reimagine the infinite possibilities of Blackness. We will pay close attention to the heterogeneity of genres, styles, and techniques that they put into practice from narrative to neorealism to documentary to avant-garde/experimental to African and African American musical and storytelling traditions. We will explore the various social and political issues that were represented by their films including: racial and class oppression, woman of color feminisms, Black Power, Afrocentrism, anti-colonialism and decolonization, police brutality and mass incarceration, radical social movements and coalition building, and the importance of community-based art and film practices. Finally, we will touch upon some of the recent works that have been inspired by the L.A. Rebellion, including the aforementioned Lemonade and Barry Jenkins' Moonlight (2016). Our viewership will be supplemented with readings in Black social and cultural criticism. [ more ]

AFR 352Mystic Spirituality in Black Women's Social Justice Activism: Brazil-USA

Last offered Spring 2018

This course examines the meanings and manifestations of mystic spirituality in the lives and work of selected Black women artists/activists in the USA and Brazil. The writings of Lucille Clifton (poet), Rosemarie Freeney Harding (activist and counselor) and Makota Valdina Pinto (activist and Candomblé ritual elder) are key texts for our exploration of the uses of mystic sensibilities and Afro-Atlantic ritual traditions--such as dreams and visions, prayer, divination, sacred dance, healing rites and other forms of unmediated intimate encounter with the sacred--as resources for creativity, community organizing, self-care and as aspects of political and social critique in African American and Afro-Brazilian contexts. The methodology of the course blends historical, literary and womanist approaches in an investigation of the conjunctions of spiritual practice and activism in the experience of women in the Afro-Atlantic diaspora. [ more ]

AFR 355The Black Atlantic as Scriptural Formation

Last offered Spring 2017

"...I don't read such small stuff as letters, I read men and nations..." The unpacking of this provocative and unsettling statement ascribed to Sojourner Truth can be taken as a springboard for this seminar that explores the politics of the scriptural (or writing) as analytical window onto the complex formation of the circum-Black Atlantic (and its complex relationships to colonial and post-colonial Atlantic worlds). The isolation of selected Black Atlantic "readings" as cultural sites, rituals, performances, institutions, as different and conflicting types of politics and social orientation---from first contacts through slavery to the contemporary irruptions of protest and fundamentalist movements--will structure the seminar. [ more ]

AFR 356The 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(S)Racial and Religious Mixture

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(F)The Political Thought of Frantz Fanon

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 364(F)History of the Old South

During the course of the semester, we shall investigate two broad, interrelated topics: slavery in the antebellum South, and the impact of slavery on Southern civilization. Our approach will be primarily topical. In the first half of the course, we shall look at subjects like the foreign and domestic slave trade, patterns of work and treatment, the nature of the master-slave relationship, resistance and rebellion, and slave cultural, social, and family life. The second half of the course will concentrate on the influence of the institution of slavery on the mind, social structure, and economy of the Old South, and slavery's impact on Southern politics and the decision for secession in 1860-61. [ more ]

AFR 365History of the New South

Last offered Spring 2019

A study of the history of the American South from 1877 to the present. Social, political and economic trends will be examined in some detail: the rule of the "Redeemers" following the end of Reconstruction; tenancy, sharecropping, and the rise of agrarian radicalism; Southern Progressivism; the coming of racial segregation and the destruction of the Jim Crow system during the years of the Civil Rights movement; Southern politics during the depression and post-World War II years. [ more ]

AFR 368The Diasporic Impulse in African American Art

Last offered Fall 2018

Since the mid-20th century, growing numbers of African American artists have explored historical, symbolic, and ritual meanings shared by Blacks in the USA and people of African descent in other parts of the diaspora. Using specific visual, musical, literary, and kinetic themes, Black creatives--across genres--develop work that addresses explicit and implicit points of diasporic connection around issues of identity, indigenous/ancestral wisdom, cultural and political critique, and alternative religious orientations. Looking especially at the work of playwright August Wilson, painters John Biggers and Daniel Minter, dancer Katherine Dunham, and sculptor Elizabeth Catlett Mora, this course examines the symbolic and ritual vocabularies of African American art in diasporic perspective. [ more ]

AFR 369 T(S)African Art and the Western Museum

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 contemporary 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. In other words, students will explore how the dialogues created between objects and individuals often speak to the voices and agendas that collide, collaborate, and even compete with each other within the environment of the museum. [ more ]

AFR 370(F)The Caribbean and the World: 1945-1968

The ending of the Second World War in 1945 coincided with the dawn of a new nationalism in the modern Caribbean. The British territories were beginning their shift away from colonialism and charting a path toward independence that would arrive in the early 1960s. Their independent neighbors contended with US imperialism which greatly shaped questions of race, nationalism, and sovereignty. By the 1960s much of the region faced crises that grew out of the tensions of the postwar period. This course examines closely these transformations in the Caribbean. It is divided into three parts. The course begins with an examination of the ideas about race, state development and empire that dominated Caribbean intellectual discourse of the 1940s. Key texts for this period include the works of Caribbean intellectuals such as Roger Mais, Una Marson, CLR James, and Jacques Roumain who considered the possibilities of racial equality and democracy in the postcolonial Caribbean. The course then looks more closely at 1950s attempts to forge greater Caribbean unity during the early Cold War years. West Indian Federation and the circuits of travel within the Caribbean are given special focus. Finally, the course will discuss challenges of the postcolonial Caribbean by looking at the circumstances and wider responses to regional radicalism in the 1960s. The key events that will be examined in this section include the Duvalier dictatorship, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and black power in Jamaica in 1968. [ more ]

Taught by: Matthew Smith

Catalog details

AFR 371Women Activists and Social Movements

Last offered Spring 2011

This seminar examines the role of women in "liberation movements," it focuses on their contributions to civil and human rights, democratic culture, and theories of political and social change. Students will examine multi-disciplinary texts, such as academic historical narratives, memoirs, political analyses, in critical and comparative readings of mid-late 20th century struggles. Women studied include: Mamie Till Mobley, Anne Moody, Ella Baker, Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, Bettina Aptheker, Assata Shakur, Yuri Kochiyama, Denise Oliver, Domitilia Chungara. [ more ]

AFR 375History 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 378(S)Uncontrollable: Deconstructing Stereotypes of Black Womanhood in the Americas

In Black Feminist Thought Patricia Hill Collins powerfully illustrates how "portraying African-American women as stereotypical mammies, matriarchs, welfare recipients, and hot mommas has been essential to the political economy of domination fostering Black women's oppression." This course explores how similar social constructions of race and womanhood have evolved in Latin American countries affected by slavery and colonialism. We begin by revisiting Collins' seminal text, as well as the work of other feminist scholars, as a starting point from which to deconstruct controlling images of Black women in Latin American nations. We will then explore clips from films, television series, advertisements, and comic strips to analyze different iterations of stereotypes and their impact on Afro-Latin American women's life chances. The second component of this course will engage with Black women's resistance throughout Latin America. We will engage songs, poetry, and empirical data on Black women's resistance to examine they how have and continue to challenge stereotypes, educate the public, and construct their own narratives of black womanhood. [ more ]

AFR 379(F)Black Women in the United States

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 ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

AFR 380Freedom Dreams, Afro-Futures & Visionary Fictions

Last offered Fall 2018

In this course we will examine the various ways Black scholars, artists, & writers use science fiction and visionary fiction to imagine freedom and new world orders. We will focus on the role of history, particularly slavery, in the Black radical imagination. "Freedom" is the keyword throughout the course. We will grapple with the various and sometimes conflicting meanings and uses of freedom as it relates to blackness, gender, sexuality, class and ability. We will explore multiple forms of scholarship and cultural productions, including film, music, novels, short-stories, art, poetry, and other academic texts. All students will be asked to discover and develop their writerly voices through various critical, creative, experimental and performative assignments. [ more ]

AFR 382Contemporary 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 383Race and Ethnicity in Latin America

Last offered Spring 2018

Race and ethnicity have been central to the formation of national identities in Latin America, as well as to the creation of transnational networks that include Latin Americans. This seminar will critically examine familiar characterizations of Brazil and other countries as "racial democracies" and look at the historical roots and political impact of both "positive" and "negative" stereotypes of race relations in the region. To do this we will explore the rise and decline of slavery, the changing constructions of indigenous and Afro-Latin American identities at national and transnational levels, and to the emergence of new Black Movements and other racial and ethnic activism in Colombia, Guatemala, Brazil, and elsewhere. [ more ]

AFR 385(F)Civil War and Reconstruction

An examination of one of the most turbulent periods in American history, with special emphasis on the changing status of Afro-Americans during the era. During the war years, we shall study both the war itself and homefront conditions: military, naval, political, economic, and especially social aspects will be examined in some detail. Our study of Reconstruction will concentrate on the evolution of federal policy toward the Southern states and the workings out of that policy in the South, particularly as it relates to the freedmen. [ more ]

AFR 386(S)Democratic Vistas

This seminar will focus on the ways in which texts create nuanced representations of democratic ideals and practices as well as, of course, representations of the failures of democratic ideals and practices. Our goal will be to explore how literature encourages readers to think about democracy, and what impact that can have on our lives as readers and citizens. To this end, we will study work across five genres--poetry, fiction, non-fiction, photography, and film--to arrange and enhance our sense of how plot, structure, figuration, and allusion occupy themselves with the challenge of the Democratic Vista: which is to say with visions of what democracy is, has been, and has the potential be. Among the texts and authors likely to be studied are Robert Hayden, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Don DeLillo, Jamaica Kincaid, Ishion Hutchinson, Natalie Diaz, Octavia Butler, Colson Whitehead, Morgan Parker, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyahm Teju Cole, and contemporary films such as Ryan Coogler's BLACK PANTHER and Boots Riley's SORRY TO BOTHER YOU. [ more ]

Taught by: Rowan Phillips

Catalog details

AFR 405CAPSTONE: Africana Studies and the Disciplines

Last offered Spring 2019

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 410Black 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 419Going 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 440(F)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(S)CAPSTONE: Sylvia Wynter, Black Lives, and Struggle for the Human

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 465Race 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 476CAPSTONE: Black Radicalism

Last offered Fall 2018

Amandla! Black Power! Venceremos! A Luta Continua! Ever since the end of slavery--brought about by the Haitian Revolution, slave rebellions, maroons, Quilombos, Civil War and various other means of resistance--transatlantic people of African descent have demanded radical change in the organization of modern societies. Their struggles and ideas have changed the ways we think and study--through the formation of Africana/African-American/Black-Studies--and the ways in which we express ideas--through the creation of rich traditions of music, dance, theater, poetry, carnivals, sculpture, and art that have acted as global conduits of cultures of resistance. In this Senior Seminar, we will study the most tumultuous period of Black radicalism in the 1960's, focusing on the Black Panther Party, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, the Third World Women's Alliance/Angela Davis, and Caribbean and African radical movements, with an eye to examining their relevance to Black radical movements today. [ more ]

AFR 494(S)Honors Dossier

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