Africana Studies

Africana studies at Sarah Lawrence College embrace a number of scholarly disciplines and subjects, including anthropology, architecture, art history, dance, economics, film, filmmaking, history, Islamic studies, law, literature, philosophy, politics, psychology, religion, sociology, theatre, and writing. Students examine the experience of Africans and people of African descent in the diaspora, including those from Latin America, the Caribbean, North America, and beyond. Study includes the important cultural, economic, technological, political, and social intellectual interplay and exchanges of these peoples as they help make our world.

Students will explore the literature of Africans and peoples of African descent in various languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, French, and English. The dynamics of immigration and community formation are vital in this field. Students will examine the art and architecture of Africans and the diaspora, along with their history, societies, and cultures; their economy and politics; the impact of Islam and the Middle East; the processes of slavery; the slave trade and colonialism; and postcolonial literature in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The program also includes creative work in filmmaking, theatre, and writing.

Africana Studies 2022-2023 Courses

First-Year Studies: Global Kinships: An Anthropological Exploration of Connectedness

FYS—Year

A common feature of human societies is the enforcement of rules that determine social relations, particularly regarding kinship. With whom may one be sexual? Whom may a person marry? Which children are “legitimate”? To marry a close relative or someone of the same gender may be deemed unnaturally close in some societies. And marriage across great difference—such as age, race, nation, culture, or class—can also be problematic. Social rules govern the acceptance or rejection of children in particular social groups, depending on factors such as the marital status of their parents or the enactment of appropriate rituals. And configurations of gender are always key to family arrangements. Kinship has always been plastic, but the range and speed of transformations in gender and kinship are accelerating due to globalization and to new medical and digital technologies. New medical technologies create multiple routes to conceiving a child, both within and without the “mother’s” womb. New understandings of the varieties of gender and new techniques in surgery permit sex/gender confirmations and changes. Self-administered DNA tests permit individuals to learn about their geographical roots and, sometimes, to discover close blood kin whom they did not even know they had. Digital media permit searches for babies to adopt, surrogates to carry an embryo, blood kin separated through adoption, and siblings sharing the same sperm-donor father. Globalization permits the movement of new spouses, infants, genetic material, embryos, and family members. Kin who are separated by great distance easily chat with each other in virtual family conversations on Skype. In this First-Year Studies seminar, we will look at many sites of gender and kinship through a variety of conceptual approaches, including theories of race, gender, queerness, the postcolonial, and anthropological kinship studies. Our topics will include transnational adoption between Sweden and Chile, the return of adoptees from China and Korea to their countries of birth, commercial surrogacy in India, polygamy in East and West Africa, cross-class marriage in Victorian England, incest regulation cross-culturally, African migrations to Europe, and same-sex marriage. Questions to explore will include: Who are “real” kin? Why do we hear so little about birth mothers? Why were intelligence tests administered to young babies in 1930s adoption proceedings? What is the experience of families with transgender parents or children? What is the compulsion to find genetically-connected kin? How many mothers can a person have? How is marriage connected to labor migration? Why are the people who care for children in foster care called “parents”? How is kinship negotiated in interracial families? Our materials for this class include ethnographies, scholarly articles, films, memoirs, and digital media. In the fall semester, students will alternate biweekly individual conferences with biweekly small-group research and writing activities. In the spring semester, students will have biweekly conferences.

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Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches in Anthropology

Open, Seminar—Fall

How does a chronic illness affect a person’s orientation to the everyday? What are the social and political forces that underpin life in a homeless shelter? What is the experiential world of a deaf person, a musician, a refugee, or a child at play? In an effort to answer these and like-minded questions, anthropologists in recent years have become increasingly interested in developing phenomenological accounts of particular “lifeworlds” in order to understand—and convey to others—the nuances and underpinnings of such worlds in terms that more orthodox social or symbolic analyses cannot achieve. In this context, phenomenology entails an analytic method that works to understand and describe in words phenomena as they appear to the consciousnesses of certain peoples. Phenomenology, put simply, is the study of experience. The phenomena most often in question for anthropologists include the workings of time, perception, emotions, selfhood, language, bodies, suffering, and morality as they take form in particular lives within the context of any number of social, linguistic, and political forces. In this course, we will explore phenomenological approaches in anthropology by reading and discussing some of the most significant efforts along these lines. Each student will also try her or his hand at developing a phenomenological account of a specific subjective or intersubjective lifeworld through a combination of interviewing, participant observation research, and ethnographic writing.

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On Whiteness: An Anthropological Exploration

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

Putih, Blanken, Blankes, Wazungu, Caucasian, Blanc, White, Oyibo, Onye ocha, Brancos, Blancos...all these words, in different parts of the world, have denoted particular populations as white. Who counts as white people varies, however, and has as much to do with behaviors and perceptions as with pigmentation. Settlers in overseas colonies, for example, ensured their ongoing privileged whiteness through particular behaviors, including racial segregation and the creation of leisurely pursuits and manners that mimicked the metropole. Whiteness is a complicated and messy category of particular relevance at this historical moment, and we will approach it in several ways. First, we will consider the discipline of anthropology as the source of an analytical toolkit. Having mastered that, we can conduct a more critical exploration of the discipline of anthropology and its practitioners’ work on questions of white and nonwhite. We will then turn to the examination of particular sites where whiteness has been generated and contested. These include the Dutch colonies of South Africa and Indonesia and British-occupied Kenya, followed by contemporary and more local expressions of whiteness—including white nationalism and popular culture in postwar Great Britain and shifting notions of whiteness in the United States. In all of our explorations, we will examine the constructions of whiteness as it articulates with gender, class, sexuality, and popular culture and also with broader political contexts. Our resources will include anthropological texts, film, memoir, and fiction. The structure of the seminar is discussion-based. All students will participate in the discussions, both by speaking and by listening to each other.

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Specters of the Subject: Hauntologies of Ghosts, Phantasms, and Imaginings in Contemporary Life

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

“The future belongs to the ghosts,” remarked the philosopher Jacques Derrida in 1996. His interlocutor, Bernard Stiegler, phrases the main idea behind this statement: “Modern technology, contrary to appearances, increases tenfold the power of ghosts.” With the advent of the internet, various forms of social media, and the ubiquity of filmic images in our lives, Derrida’s observations have proven to be quite prophetic, such that they call for a new field of study—one that requires less an ontology of being and the real and more a “hauntology” (to invoke Derrida’s punish term) of the spectral, the virtual, the phantasmic, the imaginary, and the recurrent revenant. In this seminar, we consider ways in which the past and present are haunted by ghosts. Topics to be covered include: specters and hauntings, figures and apparitions, history and memory, trauma and political crisis, fantasy and imagination, digital interfaces, and visual and acoustical images. We will be considering a range of films and video, photography, literary texts, acoustic reverberations, internet and social media, and everyday discourses and imaginings. Through these inquiries, we will be able to further our understanding of the nature of specters and apparitions in the contemporary world in their many forms and dimensions. Students will be invited to undertake their own hauntologies and, thus, craft studies of the phenomenal force of specters, hauntings, and the apparitional in particular social or cultural contexts.

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Gendering in African Postcolonies

Sophomore and Above, Large seminar—Spring

This seminar explores ways in which gender operates in myriad African contexts during colonial and postcolonial periods. We will interrogate concepts of gender and of the postcolonial, identifying the ways in which colonial relations endure beyond the period of occupation. We will begin by historically looking at local articulations of gender in Nigeria (female political power), Sudan (boy wives) and Kenya (intersexuality). Reading European colonial’s narratives about gender in African contexts will tell us much about their own gender systems and their (mis)understandings of African societies. Readings will describe contested attempts by European government officials and missionaries to abolish practices that they consisered “barbaric,” such as the use of traditional medicinal practices, “paganism,” and circumcision. As we look at the period from the end of formal colonial rule to the present, we will analyse ongoing transformations in gender systems as they articulate with global issues. Of particular interest will be the ways in which Western feminist and queer-rights discourses impinge on African systems of gender and sexuality, resulting in a new kind of colonial relationship. The class will be discussion-based. Our texts will be archival documents, ethnographies, films, historical accounts, and fiction. Our writers will include Mariama Baa, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Ifi Amadiume, Ann Stoler, Gayle Rubin, and many more.

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Global Queer Literature: Dystopias and Hope

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this seminar, we will study queer texts and films, considering their particular articulations of queer life and its possibilities. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century until the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, first-nations narratives, postcolonial novels, and contemporary Bollywood films. We will end the course by looking at science fiction that explores life in spaces that some consider dystopian futures but are already becoming the present for many. As this arc indicates, an underlying theme of the course will be the maintaining of the creativity and vitality of everyday life while drowning in literal and discursive trash. Across the globe, queer lives have already been lived in materially and discursively toxic contexts. Engaging with text and films produced across the world—set in places such as South Africa, India, Argentina, and even galaxies yet undiscovered—we will think through the lessons that the creation of a queer life illuminate for us. Queer life within the context of this seminar refers to the multifarious ways in which marginalized and non-normative bodies and peoples create social and political lives. Carefully considering the contexts and possibilities that the characters encounter, we will explore how “queer” is a term that translates and mutates in interesting ways across time and place. In paying attention to the specificities of the texts, “queer” itself is thus a term that we will reckon with. Taking seriously questions of race, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to those hegemonic structures produces or reveals—not only in past literary texts but also as a way of imagining a hopeful future. As we encounter air and water that is more polluted, toxic even, than at any time in which homo sapiens have walked the Earth, the only response may seem to be pessimism. Rejecting pessimism, we will ask what queer futures and hope we can imagine at a moment of planetary crisis. Potential texts: Sultana’s Dream, Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain (1905); Lihaaf, Ismat Chugtai (1942); The House of Hunger, Dambudzo Marechera (1978); The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi (1990); Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee (1999); Bloodchild, Octavia Butler (1994); Animal’s People, Indra Sinha (2007); Moxyland, Lauren Beukes (2008); The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy (2017); Happy Together (film, 1997); Margarita With a Straw (film, 2014); and Pumzi (film, 2009).

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West African Dance

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This yearlong course will use physical embodiment as a mode of learning about and understanding African diasporic cultures. In addition to physical practice, master classes led by artists and teachers regarded as masters in the field of African diasporic dance and music, along with supplementary study materials, will be used to explore the breadth, diversity, history, and technique of dances derivative of the Africa diaspora. Afro Haitian, West African, Orisha dances (Lucumi, Afro Cuban), and social dance are some genres that will be explored. Participation in year-end showings will provide students with the opportunity to apply studies in a performative context.

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Hip-Hop

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In this open-level course, teaching and facilitating the practice of hip-hop/urban dance technique and performance, the class will examine the theory, technique, and vocabulary of hip-hop dance. The course will facilitate the student’s development and ability to execute and perform hip-hop/urban dance steps.

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Political Economy of Women

Open, Seminar—Year

What factors determine the status of women in different societies and communities? What role is played by women’s labor, both inside and outside the home? By cultural norms regarding sexuality and reproduction? By religious traditions? After a brief theoretical grounding, this course will address these questions by examining the economic, political, social, and cultural histories of women in the various racial/ethnic and class groupings that make up the United States. Topics to be explored include: the role of women in the Iroquois Confederation before white colonization and the factors that gave Iroquois women significant political and social power in their communities; the status of white colonist women in Puritan Massachusetts and the economic, religious, and other factors that led to the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692; the position of African American women under slavery, including the gendered and racialized divisions of labor and reproduction; the growth of competitive capitalism in the North and the development of the “cult of true womanhood” in the rising middle class; the economic and political changes that accompanied the Civil War and Reconstruction and the complex relationships between African American and white women in the abolitionist and women’s rights movements; the creation of a landless agricultural labor force and the attempts to assimilate Chicana women into the dominant culture via “Americanization” programs; the conditions that encouraged Asian women’s immigration and their economic and social positions once here; the American labor movement and the complicated role that organized labor has played in the lives of women of various racial/ethnic groups and classes; the impact of US colonial policies on Puerto Rican migration and Puerto Rican women’s economic and political status on both the Island and the mainland; the economic/political convulsions of the 20th century, from the trusts of the early 1900s to World War II, and their impact on women’s paid and unpaid labor; the impact of changes in gendered economic roles on LGBT communities; the economic and political upheavals of the 1960s that led to the so-called “second wave” of the women’s movement; and the current position of women in the US economy and polity and the possibilities for more inclusive public policies concerning gender and family issues. In addition to class participation and the conference project, requirements include regular short essays on the readings and approximately a half-dozen longer essays that synthesize class materials with the written texts.

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History of Political Economy and Economic History

Open, Seminar—Year

In this yearlong seminar, the fall semester will be devoted to the study of the theoretical debates on the history of economic and legal thought. It will be shown that the study of economics is incomplete without an understanding of the relationship of the economy to law and politics. These theoretical debates will be linked to transformations in capitalism in a number of different geographic contexts, especially the United States, Europe, and Africa. The dominant approach in contemporary economics is the neoclassical school. This course will introduce students to the origins, foundational tools and questions, and analytical constructs at the heart of both neoclassical and other schools of thought in economics. In the fall, the first part of the course will deal with what is called classical political economy (primarily Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx). Next, given that property, contracts, and torts are at the core of markets, the course will integrate the path-breaking insights from the linked American Legal Realist and Original Institutional Economics traditions to understand the legal institutional foundations of markets. The final part of the course will deal with the perspectives of some of the major founders of the neoclassical school (Léon Walras, William Stanley Jevons, and John Bates Clark) and their debates with institutional economists during the interwar period. Finally, the contemporary New Institutional Economics framework, with its foundations in neoclassical economics, will be compared with the insights of the original institutional economists and legal realists. The spring semester will be devoted to the study of two major topics: business history (including the study of colonialism, race, and slavery) and monetary history. The goal of the spring semester is to enable students to reflect on the applicability (or otherwise) of the theoretical perspectives discussed in the fall.

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Documentary Filmmaking: The Personal Is Political II

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this documentary course, students will locate themselves in larger movements for change in order to produce a three-to-five minute film. The projects may be grounded in portraiture, historically informed, and even the experimental and will exist through a lens of social change and personal experience. Students will work in teams to produce their films, building trust among each other as collaborators and practicing filmmaking as essentially interdependent creative work. Students will be required to make their work public and create social-engagement strategies for their final films. Given these unprecedented times—as we are presented with new opportunities to shift our understanding of self, community, and the roles that we can play in pursuing a just future—this course is for those who are committed to using filmmaking as a tool for change. This semester-long collaboration is equal parts media creation and an understanding of the power of artists in movements for justice.

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Documentary Filmmaking: The Personal Is Political I

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this documentary course, students will locate themselves in larger movements for change in order to produce a three-to-five minute film. The projects may be grounded in portraiture, historically informed, and even the experimental and will exist through a lens of social change and personal experience. Students will work in teams to produce their films, building trust among each other as collaborators and practicing filmmaking as essentially interdependent creative work. Students will be required to make their work public and create social-engagement strategies for their final films. Given these unprecedented times—as we are presented with new opportunities to shift our understanding of self, community, and the roles that we can play in pursuing a just future—this course is for those who are committed to using filmmaking as a tool for change. This semester-long collaboration is equal parts media creation, screenings, and an understanding of the power of artists in movements for justice.

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The Making of Black America: Sports History From Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali

Open, Lecture—Fall

By the 20th century, African Americans had produced a distinctive ethos and aesthetic of pleasure—not only in music and dance but also in sports, including the Negro Leagues and boxing clubs. In Harlem, an early Black professional basketball team played its games on a dance floor. Excluded from the early white professional basketball leagues, African Americans developed their own styles and strategies in street ball. They introduced those styles to Black college leagues. As African Americans finally entered the NBA, they transformed the American game with their strategic thinking. Similar dynamics developed in Negro League baseball, football, and boxing clubs. Weekly film screenings complement the readings in this lecture.

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Gender, Education, and Opportunity in Africa

Open, Seminar—Year

This class is focused on the study of how class, gender, ethnicity, race, and religion influence differential access to education for African children and adults. During the term, we will study several contentious debates related to education in Africa; namely, the impact of colonialism and religion on the development of African education, the role of gender and social class in excluding children from school, tensions between traditional education and formal schooling, and the classroom experiences of African children. Our studies will be focused around three major themes: social constructions of gender, discourses related to education and development, and the impact of educational opportunity on African peoples’ lives. A basic concept undergirding our discussions will be the assumption that gender, as a category, is socially constructed and, therefore, operates in different ways depending on the society in question. Because this is primarily a history class, we will interrogate both how constructions of gender have changed over time and how notions of gender have been affected by outside influences (e.g., religious, political, economic). Through the use of primary documents, historical texts, life histories, novels, and policy reports, we will also discuss methodologies for researching the educational experiences of African women and girls. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will also take the opportunity to investigate how infectious disease affects access to education, as well as the economic benefits that are believed to be derived from formal schooling.

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Ideas of Africa, Africa Writes Back

Open, Seminar—Fall

The continent of Africa has variously been described as the “birthplace of humanity,” the “Motherland,” a country, a continent, “Mother Africa,” and a “heart of darkness.” All of these descriptions reflect representations of Africa, but how accurately do they reflect reality? The goal of this class is to study the intellectual history of what we know—or think we know—about modern Africa. Why is it that some of the most prominent images of Africa today are either negative (e.g., Africa as a diseased, hungry, war-ravaged continent) or romanticized (e.g., Africa as a mother figure, birthplace of civilization, or a lush nature preserve)? A central theme of our discussions will be that ideas have a history that is as powerful as radioactive isotopes. In other words, ideas maintain a shelf life even when their origins have long become obscured. Unfortunately, this has profound implications for Africa’s place in a modern, globalized world, where image can be as important as reality. Through the use of historical documents, novels, political biographies, philosophical treatises, travel narratives, current news sources, and blogs, we will study how the image of Africa has changed over time. We will trace the “heart of darkness” narrative and analyze why it has become such an enduring trope of modern Africa. Ultimately, our purpose will be to interrogate various descriptions of Africa over time and analyze where they originated from, why they exist, and whether they are accurate.

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DIGGING: The Blues Ethos and Jazz Aesthetics in Black America

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

By the 20th century, African Americans produced distinctive ethos and aesthetics of pleasure in music and dance. Artists like Paul Robeson, Bessie Smith, Ma’ Rainey, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Lester Young, and Duke Ellington were paradigmatic in that cultural production. In turn, the Blues ethos and Jazz aesthetics influenced the African American imagination in social, political, economic, and cultural life. Students in this seminar are encouraged to research music, dance, art, theatre, film, sports, or architecture.

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Gendered Histories of Sickness and Health in Africa

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

How does an individual’s gender expression determine how s/he/they receive health care in Africa? In what ways does gender influence who provides health care, the kind of care that they offer, or the social determinants of peoples’ health? In the 19th, 20th and early-21st centuries, African citizens, refugees, and internally displaced persons have had to cope with a range of health care challenges. These include: high levels of disability as a result of car accidents and work-related injuries; disruptions to health care services and food provision stemming from war or political unrest; lack of supplies and access to quality care, resulting from neoliberal economic policies; and, most recently, the challenges of food insecurity due to seasonal locust infestations. These concerns paint a bleak picture of the status of health and health care provision in Africa. Epidemics like ebola and cholera complicate conditions for people seeking to improve the quality of their health. In addition, pandemics like HIV/AIDS and now COVID-19 have transformed demographics and gender relations in both predictable and unexpected ways. Despite these challenges, millions of African men, women, and children find ways to survive and respond creatively in order to address their needs for health and wellbeing. This class is organized around the understanding that the idea of “good health” is a useful critical lens through which to analyze gender-related questions. How do women, men, and LGBTQ+ individuals organize, navigate, and seek care in order to attain good health? What historical, political, and economic factors influence the provision of quality health care? How have African citizens, governments, faith communities, activists, and indigenous healers responded to the challenges associated with disease and the goal of maintaining good health? Because the African continent is massive and every country is complex and diverse, this class will use case studies from countries like Rwanda, South Africa, Nigeria, Tunisia, Ethiopia, and Kenya to answer these questions. In addition, students will be able to choose other African countries to study in depth in order to gain as broad a picture as possible of this complex and important topic. While we will primarily focus our inquiries by using historical works, we will actively monitor innovations in African countries resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic with the goal of developing a deeper understanding of what it takes to maintain a sense of “good health” in Africa.

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First-Year Studies: Literature Is Not a Luxury: African American Women’s Writing

FYS—Year

“For women, then, poetry is not a luxury,” Audre Lorde writes. “It is a vital necessity of our existence.” Poetry, Lorde continues, helps to bring about an understanding of what is, as well as to imagine what might be. This understanding of literature as shedding new light on existence and as sketching new possibilities held a profound political importance for the tradition of Black women’s writing, in which literature was called upon to demonstrate the worthiness of Emancipation as well as of civil rights. This seminar seeks to study that tradition, its political importance, and its artistic achievements by studying the long history of Black women’s writing in America across a variety of forms and genres. Over the course of the first semester, we will focus especially on the gendered and sexual conditions of slavery by authors who experienced it and by modern writers imagining it—reading works by authors such as Phyllis Wheatley, Harriet Jacobs, Toni Morrison, Natasha Trethewey, and more. Over the course of the second semester, we will turn to the post-Emancipation era, focusing especially on the evolving meanings of gender and sexuality amidst Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, and the contemporary—reading authors such as Ida B. Wells, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, and more. Along the way, we will do short creative and critical assignments to better acquaint ourselves with the methods of research, of thought, and more. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet weekly or every other week, depending on students’ needs and the progress of their conference projects.

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Movement and Migration: Modern Caribbean Women’s Writing

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

Though discussions of immigration in the United States have recently focused on the transnational movement of people from Central and South America, this country, in general, and the Eastern Seaboard, in particular, have long been porous to the movement of Black people from the Caribbean. From the 16th-century importation of Africans enslaved in Barbados to the Carolinas, through the immigration of African Americans to Haiti after Haitian Independence, up to the contemporary seasonal migration of Jamaican farmworkers to Upstate New York, Black people have long moved between the United States and the Caribbean. How might we understand the gendered, racial, and classed dimensions of migration differently if we focused on the recent history of Caribbean arts and letters? This course seeks to answer this question by studying anglophonic 20th- and 21st-century Caribbean women’s writing on migration between the metropole (be it New York City, London, or elsewhere) and the Caribbean. Reading across forms (novels, poetry, and so on) and genres (historical fiction, epics, etc.), we will attend to the writings of authors such as Edwidge Danticat, Jamaica Kincaid, Dionne Brand, M. Nourbese Philip, and more. Along the way, we’ll read recent works of theory and scholarship to advance our understanding of the texts and the subjects. In so doing, we will seek to understand how modern Caribbean women’s writing continues to influence Black studies and Black thought across the globe. Short assignments may include close readings, historical papers, and more.

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Black Trans Studies

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

The publication of the first issue of Trans Studies Quarterly in 2014 both announced a field and institutionalized already existing knowledge production. In the years since, trans studies, in general, and Black trans studies, in particular, have continued to expand, yielding new ways of thinking about identity, state violence, and the political production of life, among other things. This course seeks to acquaint students with recent developments in Black trans studies. We begin with writing about early American history to study the ways in which the understandings of gender by enslaved Africans differed from European colonial genders. We continue through the 19th century to read narratives of slavery alongside recent scholarship on such narratives in Black trans studies. And, finally, we turn to the 20th and 21st centuries, focusing on artistic production by Black trans authors in mediums such as film, visual art, and literature. On top of our central focus on the relationship between race and gender, we will pay special attention to resistance, incarceration, and visibility—engaging with cultural producers such as Janet Mock, Tourmaline, Rivers Solomon, CeCe Macdonald, Danez Smith, and more. Along the way, short critical assignments will help us to engage more closely and more deeply with research methods, cultural criticism, and individual cultural works.

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Rising Autocrats and Democracy in Decline?

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Fall

At the end of the Cold War, many Western writers wrote triumphantly about the global victory of democracy and capitalism. In the last five years, we have been bombarded with news of autocrats, both at home and abroad, undermining democracy. We hear that democracy is dying while markets and inequality reach new heights. COVID-19 has reinforced many of these trends but also created new opportunities for shifting some of our current trajectories. This seminar will address the connections between liberal democracy and market capitalism as they have reinforced and contradicted one another. It will explore the role of social movements in bringing about change and the alternative ideals they have offered. To understand the challenges that states face, we begin with inequality in the United States and the election and reelection campaign of Donald Trump. We then look backward and forward for a deeper understanding of political and economic regime change in a range of states. In this moment of great significance for the future of American democracy, we will pay particular attention to the United States but will also consider a set of powerful states outside the OECD, which have defined themselves as the BRICS: Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa. To understand present-day challenges and opportunities, we will discuss the rise of neoliberalism, as well as state experiments with social democracy and the redistribution of wealth. We will explore the increase in populist leaders and popular uprisings. As we evaluate the present, we will consider a range of popular responses to these challenges, as well as alternative frameworks for the future.

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International Perspectives on Psychology

Open, Lecture—Fall

What does psychology look like outside of the United States? How does psychology operate across multiple cultures? In this course, we will attempt to answer these questions as we explore multiple international perspectives of psychology. First, we will begin with an examination of the history of psychology as a field. Next, we will grapple with arguments for and against international psychology. Our course will explore the development of psychology in multiple parts of the world. Our readings will focus on tracing the roots of specific schools of psychology, such as liberation psychology and South African psychology, and examining case studies in India, Aotearoa/New Zealand, the former Soviet Union, and El Salvador. Readings may include perspectives from theorists such as Martin-Baro (liberation psychology), Sunil Bhatia (decolonizing psychology), Frantz Fanon (postcolonial theory and psychology), and Lev Vygotsky (cultural-historical psychology). Lastly, we will explore the role of international organizations and mental health, such as the WHO and the UN. In conference work, students will be encouraged to explore international perspectives of psychology beyond the examples discussed in class. This course is open to students interested in psychology, mental health, international relations, politics, regional studies, and anthropology.

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Technology and Social Identity

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this course, we will explore the nature of agency—or the motivation behind and responsibility for action—and the role of technology in shaping personal social identity. We begin by discussing how to treat nonhumans as actors in their own right before exploring key concepts that include Donna Haraway’s cyborg and Bruno Latour’s hybrid agent—concepts that allow us to consider how humans utilize nonhumans in their environment (assistive technologies for people with disabilities, animals, clothing, etc.) to enact social identity and become inseparable from them. This lays a foundation for us to explore how social identities like race, gender, ability, and socioeconomic status are made and unmade in interactions with technology. We will consider how identities are shaped by institutions, embodied in individuals, and conceived as lifelong projects. In past conference projects, students have explored deaf identity and cochlear implants, responsible pet ownership and leashes, bicycles in urban space, and hacking culture on video-game servers.

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Readings in Latin American Literature

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

This course is meant for students who have a solid command of Spanish and are capable of conducting language work at an advanced level. The main purpose of the class is to develop and consolidate a reading capacity that will allow the in-depth study of literary texts in the original language and from all over the Spanish-speaking world. An important segment of the seminar will be devoted to the examination of the most relevant works inscribed in the tradition of so-called “magical realism,” exploring its roots in Africa and the Indigenous cultures of Latin America. This includes fiction by Rosario Castellanos, María Luisa Bombal, Gabriel García Márquez, Cristina Peri Rossi, Alejo Carpentier, and Lydia Cabrera, among others. We will then proceed to examine the connections between the fantastic as a genre and the complexities of politics, both historically and in the most recent literary manifestations. In the course of study, we will also cover fundamental moments of the Latin American poetic tradition from its origins to the present day. Women writers will be one of the main areas of literary analysis, as their productions have resulted in a radical reversal of the canon—as is also the case with LBGTQ+ and Afro-Caribbean authors.

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First-Year Studies: Fiction Workshop: Writing and the American Racial Imaginary

FYS—Year

In what ways have American writers and artists rendered the felt experience of race and racial inequality? How might we understand race and racism not only as social forces but also as imaginative ones? And how might we productively grapple, contend, and engage with our own positions as artists and citizens within these historical and imaginative legacies? In other words, how might we fruitfully think about what Claudia Rankine and Beth Loffreda have recently called—in their anthology of the same name—“the racial imaginary”? Over the course of this yearlong creative writing workshop, students will be asked to explore the American racial imaginary by examining writing in a variety of genres and disciplines—from short stories to personal essays and poetry, as well as academic criticism and historical scholarship—in the interest of producing and workshopping their own original writings. Students will have biweekly individual conferences with the instructor and biweekly group conferences devoted to workshopping, watching films, or attending lectures through the Writing Colloquium or the MFA program’s series of guest lectures.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: W/E: The Making of the Complete Lover, West/East

FYS—Year

The known universe has one complete lover, and that is the greatest poet. —Walt Whitman

This class will aim to provide a writer’s introduction to poetry, as seen through the cultural lenses of what’s been called the “East” and what’s been called the “West.” While keeping faith with the sacred jazz ethic of improvisation, we’re likely to spend our class time: (a) discussing questions like what is a poem, what is taste, what is the “East,” and what is the “West,” and how have those constructs influenced writers and readers; (b) getting to know each other as readers and writers and working collaboratively; and (c) doing writing exercises as practicum. In weekly conferences, we’ll discuss college and look at your drafts—mostly of poems, along with some critical writing about our shared texts—particularly Edward Said’s Orientalism and Dionne Brand’s A Map to the Door of No Return. Along the way, I’ll ask you to participate in readings at each term’s middle and end; compile an anthology and a chapbook; work with a partner and introduce his/her work; and contribute to a collective zuihitsu, a Japanese form combining what's been called “poetry” and what‘s been called “prose.” (We’ll be reading two versions of Narrow Road to the Interior: Basho’s from the 17th century and Kimiko Hahn’s from 2006.) The only prerequisites are a passion for reading that equals your passion for writing, the courage to give up spectatorhood for active participation, and a willingness to undertake whatever might be necessary to read and write and think better on our last day of class than on our first.

Faculty