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 2021-2022 Courses

Ethnographic Research and Writing

Advanced, Seminar—Year

Javanese shadow theatre, Bedouin love poems, and American community life are but a few of the cultural realities that anthropologists have effectively studied and written about. This is no easy task, given the substantial difficulties involved in understanding and portraying the concerns, activities, and lifeworlds other than one’s own. Despite those challenges, ethnographic research is generally considered one of the best ways to form a nuanced and contextually rich understanding of a particular social world. To gain an informed sense of the methods, challenges, and benefits of just such an approach, students in this course will try their hands at ethnographic research and writing. In the fall semester, each student will be asked to undertake an ethnographic research project in order to investigate the features of a specific social world, such as a homeless shelter, a religious festival, or a neighborhood in Brooklyn. In the spring, she or he will craft a fully realized piece of ethnographic writing that conveys something of the features and dynamics of that world in lively, accurate, and comprehensive terms. Along the way, and with the help of anthropological writings that are either exceptional or experimental in nature, we will collectively think through some of the most important features of ethnographic projects, such as interviewing others, the use of fieldnotes, the interlacing of theory and data, the role of dialogue and the author’s voice in ethnographic prose, and the ethnical and political responsibilities that come with any attempt to understand and portray the lives of others.

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Telling Lives: Life History in Anthropology

Open, Seminar—Fall

Through studying life-history narratives (one person’s life as narrated to another), autobiographical memoir, archival documents, and more experimental forms in print and on screen, we will explore the diverse ways that life courses are experienced and represented. Throughout our readings, we will carefully examine the narratives themselves, paying attention to the techniques of life-history construction and familiarizing ourselves with ethical, methodological, and theoretical challenges. We will consider a number of questions about telling lives: What is the relationship between the narrator and his or her interlocutor(s)? How does a life-history approach inform debates about representation? What can the account of one person’s life tell us about the wider culture of which he or she is a part? How can individual life narratives shed light on issues such as poverty, sexuality, colonialism, disability, racism, and aging? The selected texts attend to lives in various parts of the world, including Australia, Great Britain, the Caribbean, East Africa, and the United States. Students will also analyze primary sources and create a life history as part of their work for the course.

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Children in Imperial Projects

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

At the close of the 1920s, a Miss Wilson presented a paper at a London conference addressing, “The Education of European Children in Contact With Primitive Races.” In her talk, she described the life of rural white Kenyan settler children growing up with African playmates and expressed her concerns about the morally deleterious effects of such play on these future imperial leaders. This particular case illustrates discourse about the role of privileged white children in imperial regimes; but children of diverse social classes, races, and nationalities across the globe were all implicated in processes of imperial expansion and European settler colonization over (at least) the past three centuries. What was believed about children, done to children, and required of children was central to the success of imperial projects. In this seminar, we will examine a series of cases to understand the diverse roles, both intentional and unintentional, of children in imperial processes. In addition to the white sons and daughters of European settler colonists in Africa and Southeast Asia, we will look at the contrary things that were said and done about mixed-race children (and their mothers and fathers) at different historical and political moments of empire. We will learn, too, about the deployment of “orphans” in the service of empire. In the metropole, particularly British cities, orphan boys were funneled into the military and merchant navy, while children of both sexes were shipped across the globe to boost white settler populations, provide free labor, and relieve English poor-houses of the responsibility of taking care of them. The ancestors of many contemporary citizens of Canada, Australia, and South Africa were exported from metropolitan orphanages as children. In our intellectual explorations, we will deploy approaches from sex-gender studies, postcolonial studies, and critical race theory. Questions that we will explore include: Why did settler authorities in Australia kidnap mixed-race indigenous children and put them in boarding schools when such children in other colonies were expected to stay with their local mothers out of sight of the settlers? How did European ideas about climate and race frame the ways in which settler children were nursed in the Dutch East Indies? How did concepts of childhood and parental rights over children vary historically, socioeconomically, and geographically? How did metropolitan discourses about race, class, and evolution frame the treatment of indigent children at home and abroad? The materials for this class include fiction, memoirs, scholarly texts, ethnographic accounts, historical documents, and visual images.

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Faking Families

Open, Seminar—Spring

In her study of transnational adoptees, Eleana Kim noted the profound differences between discourses about the immigration of Chinese brides to the United States and those describing the arrival of adopted Chinese baby girls: the former with suspicion and the latter with joy. Two ways that families form are by bringing in spouses and by having children. We tend to assume that family-building involves deeply personal, intimate, and even “natural” acts; but, in actual practice, the pragmatics of forming (and disbanding) families are much more complex. There are many instances where biological pregnancy is not possible or not chosen, and there are biological parents who are unable to rear their offspring. 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. Western notions of marriage prioritize compatibility between two individuals, who choose each other based on love; but, in many parts of the world, selecting a suitable spouse and contracting a marriage is the business of entire kin networks. There is great variability, too, in what constitutes “suitable.” To marry a close relative or someone of the same gender may be deemed unnaturally close in some societies; but marriage across great difference such as age, race, nation, culture, or class can also be problematic. And beyond the intimacies of couples and the interests of extended kin are the interests of the nation state. This seminar, then, examines the makings and meanings of kinship connections of parent and spouse at multiple levels, from small communities to global movements.

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Black England: From Tudors to Two-Tone

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

In 1596, Elizabeth Tudor wrote to lord mayors of major English cities that there were “of late divers blackamoores brought into this realm, of which kind of people there are already here to manie…….those kinde of people should be sente forth of the land.” A common myth about England is that it was a homogeneously white nation until Jamaicans and South Asians emigrated to Britain after World War II. Another myth is that there were no slaves held in England. As the above quotation indicates, free Black people were already settled there in the 16th century; and they were already the object of scapegoating for increasing poverty in the land at that time. The 17th century brought African slaves to England and, by the 19th century, the great ports of London, Bristol, and Liverpool were populated by West Africans (free and unfree); Lascars (Muslim sailors from east of the Cape of Good Hope); and seamen from Shanghai and Guangzhou, who created the first European China Town in the London Docks. In this class, we will investigate the multiracial nature of England from the Tudor era to the late 20th century. We will consider temporal moves between free and unfree lives and the role of free Africans in the abolition movement. Articulations of race, gender, and sexuality will be central, particularly as they play out in family formations and economic activities. We will wrestle with the absence of people of color in discourses about the English past and with contemporary constructions of racist stereotypes, such as the 19th-century trope of the Chinese opium den. Finally, we will engage with cultural explosions in music (reggae, ska, two-tone), film (Young Soul Rebels, Bend it Like Beckham, The Stuart Hall Project), and literature (Fathima Zahra, Aizaz Hussain, Paul Gilroy) created by second- and third-generation children of Commonwealth immigrants, particularly as they articulate with antiracism movements. Our hands-on class materials will be multidisciplinary (anthropology, history, literature) and multimedia, with a particular focus on visual images, audio, maps, and archival documents.

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Global Modernism, Internationalism, and the Cold War: 1930s, 1960s, 1990s

Open, Lecture—Year

This course is an introduction to diverse trajectories of modern and contemporary art from contexts that include Russia, Mexico, Iran, China, Japan, Argentina, India, Nigeria, Brazil, Ethiopia, Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan, as well as Europe and North America. The course ties these trajectories together via the theme of “internationalism” and its shifting geopolitical stakes over the course of the 20th century. The course follows the creation of modern internationalism in institutions like the League of Nations, the United Nations, UNESCO, and the Non-Aligned Movement; to a shift from diplomatic internationalism to economic “developmentalism” and “globalization” led by institutions like the World Bank and the IMF; and related cultural internationalisms promoted by MoMA, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Venice and São Paulo Biennales, and even the Stalinist state and Chinese Communist Party. Lectures will examine topics like Mexican muralism and Rockefeller internationalism; Négritude and its influence on African postcolonial modernisms; the infamous “weaponization” of abstract expressionism during the Cold War; debates on socialist realism in the Second and Third Worlds; the arrival of postcolonial diasporas to London and Paris and, relatedly, developments in “calligraphic modernism” spanning from North Africa to East Asia; and finally the proliferation of post-medium and new media strategies around the world toward the end of the century. Taking a chronological journey through global modern and contemporary art, the course focuses on three key decades to examine how artists navigated the shifting pressures and opportunities of internationalism throughout the 20th century. We will ask: How did modern artists think about national identity and nationalism in the colonial and postcolonial periods? What were the stakes of abstraction versus realism in different Cold War contexts? Can modernism exist in a totalitarian state? How have “First World” ideologies informed how modernist history has been written in the past? How are global modernists expanding the canon today? And on whose terms? While the course will include canonical readings on modern and contemporary art from the West, we will also read work by thinkers including Hannah Arendt and Rabindranath Tagore on nationalism; Mark Mazower and Vijay Prashad on the shifting politics of internationalism; Geeta Kapur and Ferreira Gullar on postcolonial avant-gardes; and primary documents, including UNESCO conference proceedings and artist manifestoes. The course lays a particular focus on recent work on global modernism by scholars that include Chika Okeke-Agulu, Iftikhar Dadi, Kellie Jones, Joan Kee, Ana María Reyes, and Reiko Tomii. These readings will illustrate current debates and shifts in the field, opening onto questions of art historical method and ways of looking, especially as they pertain to contested and formerly marginalized domains of art history. Writing assignments will focus on New York-area collections; the course will include a guided field trip to MoMA.

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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

Component—Spring

This yearlong course will use physical embodiment as a mode of learning about and understanding of 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

Component—Fall

An 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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First-Year Studies: Working USA: American Workers in the Globalized Political Economy

Open, FYS—Year

Globalization, neoliberal political institutions, and information technology have created foundational changes in the structure and content of work, both in the United States and around the globe. These changes have also had an enormous impact on workers’ traditional modes of organizing and on their ability to pursue their economic and political interests. Today, only 6.7 percent of private-sector workers in the United States belong to unions. Partly as a result, inequality in the United States today rivals that of the pre-Depression 1920s, our (already modest) welfare state is in retreat, and political discourse and policy have become increasingly reflective of the interests of the wealthy. This course will explore the state of US workers (both native-born and immigrant) from the Civil War to the present. We’ll examine the major changes in the structure of the US economy (e.g., from small, competitive firms to huge, transnational oligopolies) and the implications of those changes on workers’ lives and the possibilities for organizing. We’ll explore the history of workers’ attempts to organize and the obstacles to their success, including divisions by race, gender, nativity, and sexual orientation/identity. We’ll examine recent efforts—such as worker centers, social movement unionism, and nonprofit organizing—to improve the conditions of workers outside a traditional union framework. And, time permitting, we’ll compare the state of the US labor movement with that of workers in selected countries. Requirements for the course include frequent short papers and periodic group presentations on the readings and a yearlong conference research project. 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 the students’ needs and the progress of their conference projects. Required texts will include: Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor by Steven Greenhouse, The Southern Key: Class, Race, and Radicalism in the 1930s and 1940s by Michael Goldfield, To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice by Michael Honey, and Making the Woman Worker: Precarious Labor and the Fight for Global Standards 1919-2019 by Eileen Boris.

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Intermediate French I (Section I): Contemporary French and Francophone Culture

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course will offer a systematic review of the most fundamental aspects of French grammar. The emphasis of the class will be on developing oral proficiency by working on specific grammatical structures and conjugations, as well as idiomatic expressions. We will also work on writing skills through in-class short essays and exercises with the primary goal of strengthening students’ grammatical agility. We will meet twice a week for two hours. We will use recent and contemporary French and francophone popular culture (songs, film, cartoons, fashion, etc.) as a gateway to explore underlying trends and tensions that have been at work in the francophone world since the 1960s. Some of the questions that we will discuss this semester include colonization and its aftermath in France and Belgium, as well as in several sub-Saharan African countries; the complex issue of race and slavery as part of France’s past in the Caribbean; the presence of Islam in France as a result of immigration from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia; the history of feminism and gender; and the question of ecology and climate change. Each week will be organized around a song, a film, and a text that echo each other around a common theme. We will memorize lyrics and write and act dialogues, as well as short essays. This course will be an excellent preparation for the spring 2022 Intermediate I course, which will focus on reading and writing more elaborate texts. In addition to conferences, a weekly conversation session with a French language assistant(e) is required. Attendance at the weekly French lunch table and French film screenings are both highly encouraged. The Intermediate French I and II courses are specially designed to help prepare students for studying in Paris with Sarah Lawrence College during their junior year.

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Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development

Open, Lecture—Year

Where does the food that we eat come from? Why do some people have enough food to eat and others do not? Are there too many people for the world to feed? Who controls the world’s food? Will global food prices continue their recent rapid rise? And if so, what will be the consequences? What are the environmental impacts of our food production systems? How do answers to these questions differ by place or by the person asking the question? How have the questions changed over time? This course will explore the following fundamental issue: the relationship between development and the environment, focusing in particular on agriculture and the production and consumption of food. The questions above often hinge on the contentious debate concerning population, natural resources, and the environment. Thus, we will begin by critically assessing the fundamental ideological positions and philosophical paradigms of “modernization,” as well as the critical counterpoints that lie at the heart of this debate. Within this context of competing sets of philosophical assumptions concerning the population-resource debate, we will investigate the concept of “poverty” and the making of the “Third World”; access to food, hunger, grain production and food aid, agricultural productivity (the Green and Gene revolutions), biofuels, the role of transnational corporations (TNCs), the international division of labor, migration, globalization and global commodity chains, and the different strategies adopted by nation states to “develop” natural resources and agricultural production. Through a historical investigation of environmental change and the biogeography of plant domestication and dispersal, we will look at the creation of indigenous, subsistence, peasant, plantation, collective, and commercial forms of agriculture. We will analyze the physical environment and ecology that help shape, but rarely determine, the organization of resource use and agriculture. Rather, through the dialectical rise of various political-economic systems—such as feudalism, slavery, mercantilism, colonialism, capitalism, and socialism—we will study how humans have transformed the world’s environments. We will follow with studies of specific issues: technological change in food production; commercialization and industrialization of agriculture and the decline of the family farm; food and public health, culture, and family; land grabbing and food security; the role of markets and transnational corporations in transforming the environment; and the global environmental changes stemming from modern agriculture, dams, deforestation, grassland destruction, desertification, biodiversity loss, and the interrelationship with climate change. Case studies of particular regions and issues will be drawn from Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the United States. The final part of the course examines the restructuring of the global economy and its relation to emergent international laws and institutions regulating trade, the environment, agriculture, resource extraction treaties, the changing role of the state, and competing conceptualizations of territoriality and control. We will end with discussions of emergent local, regional, and transnational coalitions for food self-reliance and food sovereignty, alternative and community supported agriculture, community-based resource management systems, sustainable development, and grassroots movements for social and environmental justice. Films, multimedia materials, and distinguished guest lectures will be interspersed throughout the course. One farm/factory field trip is possible in each semester if funding permits. The lecture participants may also take a leading role in a campus-wide event on “food and hunger,” tentatively planned for the spring. Please mark your calendars when the dates are announced, as attendance for all of the above is required. Attendance and participation are also required at special guest lectures and film viewings in the Social Science Colloquium Series, which are held approximately once per month. The Web Board is an important part of the course. Regular postings of short essays will be made there, as well as followup commentaries with your colleagues. There will be in-class essays, a midterm quiz, and a final exam each semester. Group conferences will focus on in-depth analysis of certain course topics and will include debates and small-group discussions. You will prepare a poster project each semester on a topic of your choice that is related to the course and which will be presented at the end of each semester in group conference, as well as a potential public session.

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Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

In this seminar, we will begin by examining competing paradigms and approaches to understanding “development” and the “Third World.” We will set the stage by answering the question: What did the world look like 500 years ago? The purpose of this part of the course is to acquaint us with and to analyze the historical origins and evolution of a world political-economy of which the “Third World” is an intrinsic component. We will thus study the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the rise of merchant and finance capital, and the colonization of the world by European powers. We will analyze case studies of colonial “development” to understand the evolving meaning of this term. These case studies will help us assess the varied legacies of colonialism apparent in the emergence of new nations through the fitful and uneven process of decolonization that followed. The next part of the course will look at the United Nations and the role some of its associated institutions have played in the post-World War II global political-economy, one marked by persistent and intensifying socioeconomic inequalities, as well as frequent outbreaks of political violence across the globe. By examining the development institutions that have emerged and evolved since 1945, we will attempt to unravel the paradoxes of development in different eras. We will deconstruct the measures of development through a thematic exploration of population, resource use, poverty, access to food, the environment, agricultural productivity, urbanization, industrialization, and different development strategies adopted by Third World nation-states. We will then examine globalization and its relation to emergent international institutions and their policies; for example, the IMF, World Bank, AIIB, and WTO. We will then turn to contemporary development debates and controversies that increasingly find space in the headlines: widespread land grabbing by sovereign wealth funds, China, and hedge funds; the “global food crisis”; and the perils of climate change, as well as the potential of ”a new green deal.” Throughout the course, our investigations of international institutions, transnational corporations, the role of the state, and civil society will provide the backdrop for the final focus of the class: the emergence of regional coalitions for self-reliance, environmental and social justice, and sustainable development. Our analysis of development in practice will draw upon case studies from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, and North America. Conference work will be closely integrated with the themes of the course, with a two-stage, substantive research project. Project presentations will incorporate a range of formats, from traditional papers to multimedia visual productions. Where possible and feasible, you will be encouraged to do primary research over fall study days. Some experience in the social sciences is desired but not required.

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The Rise of the New Right in the United States

Open, Seminar—Spring

Why this course and speaker series/community conversations now? The rise of the New Right is a critically important phenomenon of our time, shaping politics, policies, practices, and daily life for everyone. The insurrection at The Capitol on January 6, 2021, is only one egregious expression of long-term ideas and actions by a newly emboldened collective of right-wing ideologues. The violent challenges to the realities of a racially and ethnically diverse America is not a surprise. Nor is the normalization of White Power politics and ideas within mainstream politics and parties. The varied nature of the New Right’s participants—their ideologies, grievances, and goals—requires deep analysis of their historical roots, as well as their contemporary manifestations. The wide range of platforms and spaces for communicating hate, lies, and calls for violence against perceived enemies require their own responses, including the creation of platforms and spaces that offer analysis and alternatives. Seriously engaging the New Right, attempting to offer explanations for its rise, is key to challenging the authoritarian drift in our current political moment and its uncertain evolution and future. To do so requires our attention; it also requires a transdisciplinary approach, something inherent to our college and to geography as a discipline, be it political, economic, cultural, social, urban, historical, or environmental geography. The goal of this new seminar, one that is accompanied by a facilitated speaker series and community conversations, is to build on work in geography and beyond and to engage a wide array of thinkers from diverse disciplines and backgrounds, institutions and organizations. In addition to teaching the course itself, my hope is that it can be a vehicle to engage our broader communities—at the College and in our region, as well as reaching out to our widely dispersed, multigenerational alumni. Pairing the course with a facilitated/moderated speaker series, livestreamed in collaboration with our Development and Alumni offices, offers the chance to bring these classroom conversations and contemporary and pressing course topics, grounded in diverse readings and student engagement, to a much wider audience and multiple communities. In this class, we will seek to understand the origins and rise of the New Right in the United States and elsewhere, as it has taken shape in the latter half of the 20th century to the present. We will seek to identify the origins of the New Right and what defines it, to explore the varied geographies of the movement and its numerous strands, and to identify the constituents of the contemporary right coalition. In addition, we will explore the actors and institutions that have played a role in the expansion of the New Right (e.g., courts, state and local governments, Tea Party, conservative think tanks, lawyers, media platforms, evangelical Christians, militias) and the issues that motivate the movement (e.g., anti-communism, immigration, environment, white supremacy/nationalism, voter suppression, neoliberal economic policies, anti-globalization, free speech). This is a reading-intensive, discussion-oriented large seminar in which we will survey a broad sweep of the recent literature on the New Right. While the class focuses most specifically on the US context, conference papers based on international/comparative case studies are welcome. Students will be required to attend all associated talk and film viewings, write weekly reading memos, engage colleagues in biweekly online essays and conversation, and write a brief final paper that links the themes of the class with their own interests, creative products, research agenda, and/or political engagement. Transdisciplinary collaborative activities across the College and community are encouraged. Film, performance, written commentary, workshops, and other forms of action can provide additional outlets for student engagement.

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First-Year Studies: Literature, Culture, and Politics in US History

Open, FYS—Year

This is an interdisciplinary course in which we use literature and other cultural texts to illuminate a history of ideas, culture, and politics in the United States. The course is premised on a series of assumptions: First, the public words and stories that Americans choose to tell reflect ideas, concerns, presumptions, and intentions about their time period; they do, both intentionally and unintentionally, “political work” in revealing the world in the way that they shore up, modify, or work to change power structures. Second, this course assumes that you, the reader, have some sense of context for these stories (or that you will work to acquire one) and, hence, have some sense of how the stories reflect the material world that they seek to change; novels, stories, memoirs, and critical essays all derive from a single vantage point and, therefore, need to be understood as one voice in a larger conversation coming from a particular time and a particular place. Third, these readings are largely primary sources  that are always paired with a secondary-source chapter, article, or introduction; this pairing presumes a desire on your part to grapple with the material of this moment yourselves, to write history as well as read it. Themes of particular significance will include the construction of national identity, class consciousness, the experience and meaning of immigration, slavery and particularly race, and the political significance of gender and sexuality. Conference projects in the fall will focus on history and literature to 1900; in the spring, on history and literature up to just yesterday. 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 student needs and the progress of their conference projects.

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Rethinking Malcolm X, Black Panthers, and Young Lords: A Radical Historiography

Open, Large Lecture—Year

This yearlong history lecture examines four dimensions of the 1960s Black Revolt: Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, and the Black Arts Movement. The new scholarship on Malcolm X and Black Power re-examines important primary sources, including Malcolm X’s siblings. The trajectory of the Black Panther Party (BPP) has its roots in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Lowndes County and Greene County, Alabama. In turn, Malcolm X, SNCC, and BPP leaders inspired the Puerto Rican Young Lords. Finally, the Black Arts Movement links those groups to the Black Cultural Revolution.

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The Strange Career of the Jim Crow North: African American Urban History Since the Atlantic Slave Trade

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year

For decades, students sought the origins of Jim Crow in the South; however, Jim Crow was born in New York City. Thus, recent history has focused serious attention on the rise of the Jim Crow North, beginning with northern slavery and the Atlantic Slave Trade in important port cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. Some historians think that those northern roots amount to a serious gap in the knowledge of how racial oppression took shape in American democracy.

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Class, Race, Gender, Work: Readings in US Labor History

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Year

This course explores American labor systems and labor struggles from the colonial era to the present. Core topics include slavery and peonage, as well as wage work; the enduring legacy of settler-colonial regimes; and intersections of class, racial, and gender hierarchies. Along the way, we will focus especially on the complex relationship between mechanisms of oppression and collective forms of resistance: from slave rebellions to insurgent political parties, from bread-and-butter unionism to revolutionary workers’ movements, from community-based organizing to prison uprisings, and from fights against gendered violence to campaigns for sexual freedom. Readings include fiction, journalism, historical documents, and scholarship that invite us to reimagine both the past and possibilities for the future. Class discussion of research methods, analytic paradigms, and conference projects figures prominently in the syllabus.

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Social Protest and Cultural Critique: A Cultural and Intellectual History of the United States

Advanced, Small seminar—Year

“I pray you, then,” W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in his 1903 The Souls of Black Folk, “receive my little book in all charity, studying my words with me, forgiving mistake and foible for the sake of the faith and passion that is in me, and seeking the grain of truth hidden there.” In this yearlong course, we will study the words of American activists, who used story, memoir, and cultural criticism to create social change. From Thomas Paine’s brash Common Sense and a (seemingly) conservative seduction novel intended to protect young women, Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple, in the late 18th century, through narratives of enslavement meant to awaken somnolent Americans to the moral tragedy in their midst, to critiques of the ills of capitalism in the 19th century, to revealing the profound injustices meted on immigrants, as well as migrants, in the early 20th century, to James Baldwin and other critics of racial prejudice in the 1960s, to the feminists of the Women’s Liberation Movement, we will analyze the “faith” and seek the “grain of truth” in these passionate cries for social justice.

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Nationalism

Open, Large seminar—Fall

This course provides a broad historical and theoretical inquiry into the phenomenon of nationalism—one of the most enduring ideological constructs of modern society. Indeed, the organization of the globe into a world of bordered territorial nation states—each encapsulating a unique social identity—is such a taken-for-granted feature of contemporary geopolitics that it is easy to forget that nations did not exist for most of human history and that nationalism dates back only to around the 1700s. And yet, despite many predictions of its imminent demise at different moments in history—Albert Einstein quipped famously that nationalism was an “infantile disease” that humanity would eventually outgrow—nationalism remains perhaps as powerful an ideological force as ever in the United States, as elsewhere. This course will examine a range of foundational questions about the emergence of nations and nationalism in world history: What is a nation, and how has national identity been cultivated, defined, and debated in different contexts? Why did nationalism emerge when it did? Who does nationalism benefit, and how do different social groups compete for control over national identity and ideology? How and why did nationalism become such a vital feature of anticolonial political movements beginning in the late-19th century? Is nationalism fundamentally a negative force—violent and exclusionary—or is it necessary for forging cohesive social bonds among diverse and far-flung populations? The course will begin with the emergence of nations and nationalism in Western Europe but will then move on to explore its evolution and ensuing spread to all parts of the globe, exploring a number of case studies along the way. The course will conclude with a brief survey of the state of nationalist politics today, with a particular emphasis on Brexit and white nationalism in the United States.

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Revolutions in Cuba: Local Origins, Global Fault Lines

Open, Seminar—Fall

Beginning in 1959, rebels in Cuba toppled a dictatorship, defied the United States, and shocked the world. Six decades later, the Cuban Revolution’s contested legacy is enough to tilt the balance in US presidential elections—a symbol of tyranny for some and of hope for others. This course looks beyond simplistic narratives of a singular “Cuban Revolution.” Rather, it considers longstanding tensions between radicalism and conservatism in Cuban history, tracing their interplay with global movements such as antislavery, decolonization, and Marxism. Beginning with the antislavery movement in the broader Caribbean, course topics will include the contours of US imperialism, the rise of mambo and the Mafia, the politics of Cuban/West African religious practice, the limits of guerrilla warfare, radical economic reforms in practice, postrevolutionary contradictions in gender equality, LGBTQ rights and prostitution reform, and Cuba’s military role in Africa. We will conclude with the recent rise of Cuban hip hop as a new social movement. Throughout the course, we will assess when the Cuban Revolution began—and did it ever end? Did revolutionary leaders empower movements for gender, racial, and labor rights—or limit them? Did they conform to international currents of totalitarian rule—or foster new forms of democratic solidarity within the so-called “Third World”? Analyzing scholarship, testimonials, music, artistic movements, poetry, novels, and film, we will use the tools of history to construct competing narratives of revolution in Cuba and trace fault lines and possibilities of Global South solidarity.

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Reconstructing Womanhood I: Writers and Activists in the United States, 1830–1930

Open, Seminar—Fall

“But if you ask me what offices they may fill, I reply—any. I do not care what case you put; let them be sea-captains, if you will,” Margaret Fuller wrote in Woman in the 19th Century in 1845. Not 10 years later, Fanny Fern’s autobiographical protagonist tells her daughter, when asked if she would write books when a woman, “God forbid,” because “no happy woman ever writes.” In this small seminar, we will discuss what US women writers imagined they could be and why they wrote (happy or not). We will read both major and forgotten works of literary activism from women writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, focusing on issues of gender and gender convention; race, racial prejudice, and enslavement; immigration, migration, and national identity; class and elitism; and sex and sexuality.

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Gendered Histories of Sickness and Health in Africa

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

How does an individual’s gender expression determine how s/he or 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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Decolonization and the End of Empire

Open, Large seminar—Spring

Among the most salient features of the new international order that was ushered in by the end of World War II and the creation of the United Nations in 1945 was the emergence of an unprecedented global wave of decolonization that would last for roughly three decades. As many leaders of the international community consigned the “age of empire” to the dustbin of history, the world witnessed, in rapid succession, the dissolution of European overseas imperial configurations and the consequent formation of myriad new nation states across Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. This seminar provides an in-depth historical inquiry into the global phenomenon of decolonization in the post-World War II era. The course will adopt a comparative and transnational lens, exploring—through a wide range of both secondary and primary sources—the complex historical processes that attended decolonization in the British, French, Italian, Dutch, and Portuguese imperial domains. Particular attention will be paid to the following questions: Why did European imperialism end when it did, and how did the politics of anti-colonial nationalism vary across the different empires? How did nationalist movements and local elites negotiate the end of imperial rule, and what challenges did they face in their attempts to build postcolonial societies? What role did international organizations such as the United Nations play in constructing the new decolonized world order? How did the Cold War impact decolonization? How did decolonization work within nascent frameworks in post-World War II international law, particularly concerning the legal status of postcolonial national citizens as well as migrants? And finally, to what extent has decolonization led to a truly “decolonized” world order? Or, to what extent have older imperial discourses, ideologies, and cultural prejudices persisted into the era of postcolonial independence and self-determination? Conference work for this seminar will take the form of small-group work: Each group will undertake research relating to the experience of decolonization in a different European imperial context (British, French, Italian, Dutch, or Portuguese).

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At Home in Another Country: Afropean Communities in the 20th Century–21st Century

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course examines the intertwined developments of 20th- and 21st-century globalization and transnational immigration from Africa to Europe. We’ll begin with an introduction to the major themes and theories underpinning “African” and “European” histories to unpack the creation of an Afropean identity and community. While many historians interested in “modern European immigration” focus on the last 15 years as the starting point for mass migration to Europe, we will go further back in time and focus on a critical catalyst as a result of World War II. Throughout the course of the semester, we will use four nation-state case studies—Britain, France, Germany, and Italy—to isolate particular moments of Afropean agency, as well as the relationship of race and class, gender, sexuality, and nationalism. In order to do that, we will focus on conceptions of citizenship and how Afropeans were able to politicize their identity to vie for inclusion within various societies. Delving into sports, activism, music, literary works, and film, we will examine the impact of African migrants in contemporary Europe. By exploring transformations in Africa, the Atlantic world, and Europe, students will consider new ways of conceptualizing cultural and sociopolitical change in our current society.

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Reconstructing Womanhood II: Writers and Activists in the United States, 1930–1990

Sophomore and Above, Small seminar—Spring

“You must not tell anyone,” my mother said, “what I am about to tell you,” begins Maxine Hong Kingston’s 1976 memoir of a girlhood among ghosts. This course will be a continuation of the work of the fall, as well as a stand-alone seminar. In this semester, we will explore the stories that women writers have not always told—focusing, in particular, on women writers from outside the mainstream of the time, women who chronicled and critiqued an American world that sought to silence them in some way. As in the fall, we will focus around issues of gender and gender convention; race, racial prejudice, and the legacy of enslavement; immigration, migration, and national identity; class and elitism; and sex and sexuality.

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Gender, Education, and Opportunity in Africa

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Spring

In modern Africa, equity in education—whether in relation to gender, ethnicity, race, class, or religion—remains an important arena of debate. As formal colonial rule ended on the continent and more African nations gained independence, education became synonymous with modernity and a leading indicator of a country’s progress toward development. Gender and class biases played (and continue to play) a powerful role in determining who received access to formal education. Even though traditional education was believed to be “accessible to all,” the demands of traditional education were often arduous, painful, and in direct conflict with Western schooling. While African governments and multilateral organizations like the United Nations and UNICEF emphasize the importance of more children attending school, disruptions as a result of political conflict, civil war, or infectious disease (including tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and now COVID-19) undermine families’ abilities to keep children in school. This class studies the history of education in Africa, focusing on a wide variety of training, classroom experiences, and socialization practices. In particular, we will investigate the influence of gender in defining access to educational opportunity. An awareness of the significance of both formal and nonformal education has been reflected within the realms of African politics, popular culture, literature, and film. Because of this, we will use a range of sources to investigate how gender influences access to educational opportunity. We will begin by questioning prevailing constructs of gender and determine how relevant Western gender categories have historically been for African societies. By focusing our readings on countries as diverse as Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Senegal, and South Africa, students will develop a broad overview of educational policy changes and practices across the continent and leave the class better able to analyze debates about education in Africa.

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Crime, Punishment, and Freedom in African American Literature

Open, Seminar—Fall

African American literature has been intertwined with crime and punishment since at least the 17th century. One of the earliest textual sources about American slavery, the John Punch case, is a tribunal transcript detailing the crime of a Black man and his punishment of slavery. In the following 200 years, the slave narrative as a genre came to cohere around the climactic crime of stealing the property that is one’s self. After emancipation, African American writers decried public portrayals of Black people as criminal in prison literature, lynching narratives, and more. What, exactly, is the relationship between African American literature and crime? To answer this question, we will read African American literature chronologically, written by authors like Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Angela Davis, and Toni Morrison. In so doing, we aim to better understand both crime’s role in constituting African American literature and African American literature’s portrait of crime. Short assignments throughout the class (including critical and creative responses and short, close readings) aim to help us better understand the texts in the moments in which they were produced and to develop the skills necessary to approach these texts critically.

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Conscience of the Nations: Classics of African Literature

Open, Seminar—Fall

One way to think of literature is as the conscience of a people, reflecting on their origins, their values, their losses, and their possibilities. This course will study major representative texts in which sub-Saharan African writers have taken up the challenge of cultural formation and criticism. Part of what gives the best writing of modern Africa its aesthetic power is the political urgency of its task: The past still bears on the present, the future is yet to be written, and what writers have to say matters enough for their work to be considered dangerous. Political issues and aesthetic issues are, thus, inseparable in their work. Creative tensions in the writing between indigenous languages and European languages, between traditional forms of orature and storytelling and self-consciously “literary” forms, register all of the pressures and conflicts of late colonial and postcolonial history. To discern the traditionalist sources of modern African writing, we will first read examples from epic, folk tale, and other forms of orature. Major fiction will be selected from the work of Tutuola, Achebe, Beti, Sembene, Ba, Head, Ngugi, La Guma, Dangaremgba, and Sarowiwa; drama from the work of Soyinka and Aidoo; poetry from the work of Senghor, Rabearivelo, Okigbo, Okot p’Bitek, Brutus, Mapanje, and others. Conference work may include further, deeper work on the writings, writers, and genres that we study together in class; aspects of literary theory, particularly aspects of postcolonial and womanist theory relevant to readings of African literature; or readings of more recent writers out of Africa whose work draws on and develops the “classical” works that will be the foundation of our work together.

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Cold War Black Feminism

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

When Black feminist writing boomed in the 1970s, the United States was squarely in the middle of the Cold War. Accordingly, Audre Lorde decried the United States invasion of Grenada, June Jordan railed against the Vietnam War, and Assata Shakur penned her autobiography in asylum in Cuba. Yet, Black feminism has primarily been considered a domestic affair. How might we better understand Black feminist literature by reading it in the context of the Cold War? This course aims to answer this question first by reading proto-Black-feminist authors writing in the early Cold War and then returning to the famous authors of Black feminism to consider their portrait of international affairs. Authors may include Ann Petry, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, Pat Parker, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Angela Davis, and others. Along the way, we will read recent scholarship to understand the historical context in which those texts were written. In so doing, we aim to better understand the Cold War’s effect on Black feminism and what those canonical texts of Black feminism can tell us about American foreign policy. Short assignments may include brief historical essays, short close readings, and response papers.

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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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African American Poetry After Emancipation

Open, Seminar—Spring

The sharp rise in African American literacy during Reconstruction gave rise to an increase in African American textual production and, especially, poetry. How did African American poetry respond to the conditions of emancipation and seek to exceed those conditions? This course aims to answer this question by taking the long view of African American poetry, beginning with Reconstruction and Nadir-era poets like Paul Laurence Dunbar and Charlotte Grimke. We will then follow their influence upon Harlem Renaissance poets like Langston Hughes and Jessie Redmon Fauset, Black arts and Black feminist poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Amiri Baraka, and 21st-century poets like Terrance Hayes, Danez Smith, and Eve Ewing. This course aims to introduce students to the broad array of postemancipation poetry, so we will read across a variety of poetic forms in historical context. In so doing, we aim to better understand African American poetry, its relationship to history, and the ways in which poetry aims to describe Blackness as exceeding the juridical category of emancipation. Short assignments will include poetry recitation, pastiche, close readings, descriptions of form, and more.

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Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man in Context

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

Since the publication of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man in 1951, scholars and artists have asked the book to speak to each moment in American history. Even today, the novel resonates with our most salient political problems: police violence, cross-racial activism, and so on. Yet, from its portrait of the Communist Party to its depiction of the 1943 Harlem Riot, Ellison’s novel told a historically specific tale. How and why has this novel transcended time and space? To answer this question, this class will first read Ellison’s sources: Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Wright, W. E. B. Du Bois, and others. Then we will study Ellison’s early work and that of his contemporaries, such as novelist Ann Petry, musician Louis Armstrong, and the painter Romare Bearden. Then we will read Invisible Man slowly, carefully, and closely. From there, we will read academic works and artistic responses by scholars like Fred Moten and poets like Terrance Hayes. In so doing, we aim to better understand the changing meanings of Ellison’s novel, its importance to American history, and the evolution of Africana studies as a discipline. Along the way, our creative and critical assignments will better acquaint us with the various research methods and writing styles of literary criticism.

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Existentialism

Open, Lecture—Spring

Does life have a purpose, a meaning? What does it mean “to be”? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be a woman (or to be a man)? What does it mean to be black (or to be white)? What makes us into who we are? What distinguishes each of us? And what, if anything, is in common to all of us? These and other questions are raised by existentialist philosophy and literature, mostly through interrogation of real-life experiences, situations, and “fundamental emotions” such as anxiety, boredom, loneliness, and shame. In the first half of this class, we will get acquainted with the core tenets of existentialist thought by reading two of its most influential figures: Jean-Paul Sartre (France, 1905-1980) and Martin Heidegger (Germany, 1889-1976). In the second half, we will analyze texts by authors who set out to expand or challenge these core tenets on the grounds of their experiences of oppression. These authors are Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, and Jean Améry. Group conference will meet weekly and play a central role in this course. In it, we will mostly read literary texts or watch films that are relevant to the work of the above-listed authors. Conference material will include stories by Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, and Ralph Ellison and films like The Battle of Algiers (1967) and Monsieur Klein (1977).

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Critical Race Theory: Philosophical Perspectives

Open, Lecture—Spring

What is race? In what ways have prominent political movements—such as liberalism, Marxism, and feminism—failed to fully address the significance of racism? How should the relationship between racial and gender identity be conceptualized? How do processes of racialization differ across the globe? Is the assertion of racial identity in conflict with universal humanism—or are these, in fact, necessarily connected? In this course, we will look at some of the major themes, debates, and questions within critical race theory from a historical and global perspective. In the first half of the course, we will engage with thinkers from the African continent and the Caribbean who centered issues of Black consciousness and decolonial, antiracist solidarity. We then look at some of the major historical forbearers of critical race theory within the United States before turning to contemporary debates. Some of the figures that we will be reading include Paulette Nardal, Léopold Senghor, Frantz Fanon, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Angela Davis, and Kimberlé Crenshaw. By foregrounding the plurality of critical-race theoretical traditions, this course provides students with the theoretical tools to critically engage problems central to current political realities and discourse. Group conferences will meet every week, and discussion will be a central part of the course.

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Women Philosophers in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Open, Seminar—Year

Western philosophy originated in Ancient Greece more than 2,000 years ago, addressing fundamental questions about being and time, about the human condition, about ethics and politics, about science and religion. Despite the fundamental and universal nature of these questions, philosophy was practiced (at least publicly) mostly by men for the majority of those 2,000 years. It was not until the 20th century that this convention began to be significantly challenged, both practically (by the fact that more and more women entered the forefront of philosophical discussion) and theoretically (by questioning the validity and scope of this male-dominant tradition). This yearlong course is a survey of 20th-century continental philosophy that, countering the aforementioned tradition, focuses exclusively on the work of women in philosophy. Among the authors we may read are Sarah Ahmed, Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Talia Bettcher, Judith Butler, bell hooks, Luce Irigaray, Melany Klein, Julia Kristeva, Audre Lorde, Maria Lugones, Simone Weil, Sylvia Winter, and Virginia Woolf. Some of these philosophers are feminists or consider the issue of sexual difference as central to their work or to philosophy in general; some are not. More importantly for our purposes, surveying their thought will be our means of acquiring a comprehensive view of the key developments in continental philosophy of the 20th and 21st centuries and the relations between them, including phenomenology, existentialism, psychoanalysis, critical theory, structuralism and poststructuralism, feminism, black feminism, and trans-feminism, decolonial and queer theories. During the fall semester, in addition to biweekly individual conferences, first-year students will have a biweekly group conference, in which we will discuss the nature of academic work in general and practice research, reading, writing, and editing skills.

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Decolonizing Philosophy

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this course, we will think about the various strategies for reforming the philosophical “canon” with decolonial aims in view. Some of the questions that will guide our discussions throughout the semester are: How does academic decolonization differ from political decolonization? What are the connections between philosophy as an academic discipline and the historical reality of colonialism? Does decolonial theory require a break with the Western tradition of thought? And, if not, what are the advantages and disadvantages of remaining in dialogue with the Western “canon”? What are the various decolonizing strategies, and what goals do they enact? In the first half of the course, we will read a variety of key texts within decolonial theory that propose very different answers to these questions. Some of the thinkers we will look at include Walter Mignolo, Marisa Belausteguigoitia, Audre Lorde, Kwasi Wiredu, Lewis Gordon, and Nadia Yala Kisukidi. The second half of the course then moves on to put into practice one strategy for decolonizing philosophy in order to allow us to engage these questions more concretely. This strategy involves reading “canonical” texts of European phenomenology—including texts by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger—through the lens provided by decolonial thinkers such as Paulin Hountondji, Frantz Fanon, and Mariana Ortega. Beyond equipping students with the tools to think critically about canon formation and the meaning of academic decolonization, this course will familiarize students with seminal texts in Latinx and Africana traditions of decolonial theory, as well as with critical and decolonial phenomenology.

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African States in the International System: Imperialism, Resistance, Development, Intervention

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course will engage key questions in international relations, development studies, and politics from the perspectives and experiences of African states and societies. We will begin with the African continent’s introduction to international politics and economics through trade in goods and slaves to imperialism and colonialism. We ask not just what Europeans wanted but also how Africans responded and resisted. We will also investigate present-day campaigns to address colonial-era human-rights violations. With the end of colonial rule, independent African states became full, but subordinate, members of the international system. As the Cold War reached new heights, states were pressed to choose between capitalism and communism, to ally with the West or the Soviet Union. We will explore the forms of economic and political development that states and social actors pursued. What sorts of aid did they receive? What conditions were attached to that aid? What room was there for democracy? What role did institutions like the World Bank play in aggravating or alleviating conditions of poverty? We will bring our discussion of international aid and development up to the present by discussing China’s dramatically expanded role on the continent, providing loans, building infrastructure, and engaging in trade. We will conclude the fall semester by considering the extent to which China presents a different model of development and international politics or just an updated version of earlier models.

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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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Crossing Borders and Boundaries: The Social Psychology of Immigration

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Immigration is a worldwide phenomenon, whereby people move into another nation with the intention of making a better life for themselves and/or residing there temporarily or permanently. While anchored in a multidisciplinary perspective, this seminar explores the crucial role of psychology in understanding the processes associated with our conceptualizations of immigrants and immigration. The course begins with some theoretical perspectives on immigration, as well as a brief historical overview of sociological and social psychological research on immigrants. We then examine the identity of the immigrant, stressing the profound distinctions between forced and voluntary immigrants. We will analyze the processes through which “illegality” is constructed by reflecting on the lives of undocumented immigrants. We will look at how the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and culture shape the psychological experience of immigrants. Seeking to extend our analysis to immigration’s impact on the host population, we conclude the course by discussing several social psychological issues, such as intergroup relations, discrimination, and modes of adaptation.

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Urban Health

Open, Seminar—Fall

This community partnership course will focus on the health of humans living within physical, social, and psychological urban spaces. We will use a constructivist, multidisciplinary, multilevel lens to examine the interrelationship between humans and the natural and built environment, to explore the impact of social group (ethnic, racial, sexuality/gender) membership on person/environment interactions, and to explore an overview of theoretical and research issues in the psychological study of health and illness across the lifespan. We will examine theoretical perspectives in the psychology of health, health cognition, illness prevention, stress, and coping with illness; and we will highlight research, methods, and applied issues. This class is appropriate for those interested in a variety of health careers or anyone interested in city life. The community-partnership/service-learning component is an important part of this class. We will work with local agencies to promote health-adaptive, person-environment interactions within our community.

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Emerging Adulthood

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

We have time, energy, questions, and few responsibilities. We want to push the envelope, resist compromise, lead revolutions, and turn the world upside down. Because we do not yet know quite how to be, we have not settled and will not let the dust settle around us. —Karlin & Borofsky, 2003

Many traditional psychological theories of development posit a brief transition from adolescence to adulthood; however, many people moving into their 20s experience anything but a brief transition to “feeling like an adult,” pondering questions such as: How many SLC alums can live in a Brooklyn sublet? What will I do when I finish the Peace Corps next year? In this course, we will explore the psychological literature concerning emerging adulthood, the period from the late teens through the 20s. We will examine this period of life from a unified biopsychosocial and intersectional perspective.

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The Sociology of Sports

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

This is a course about sports as practice, and practice is used here in a multiple sense. As an embodied activity, sporting practice is felt and experienced in and through the body, which is its primary but not sole “habitus”—a term that French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu popularized when elaborating on his notion of “cultural capital.” In this course, taking the sporting body and Bourdieu’s concept of habitus (taste, habits, skills, dispositions) as our point of departure, we will examine sports and its habitation of worlds that reach far beyond the individual (body) in both time and space. We will examine sports along multiple axes: as a collective and/or individuated activity; as a source of leisure and recreation; as a source of profitable employment; as a site of identity and nation-building projects; and as a space that engenders transnational mobilities and interconnections, as well as ruptures. In its commoditized contemporary form, sports is, more often than not, controlled by big money and/or the state and is part and parcel of what Debord refers to as the “society of the spectacle,” a site of production, consumption, and entertainment. The complex relationship between sports as experienced through the body and as a set of disciplinary practices will allow us to think through the relation of the individual, the collective, and institutionalized power, linking these to questions of body politics. Taking the internal dynamics and meaning of sports seriously, we will engage sports as a contradictory field—as both a productive space and a space of consumption. Our readings will include scholarly works, sports journalism, films, documentaries, and other primary sources. Possible conference topics include sports and politics; analysis of particular sports events (e.g., the Olympics, women’s basketball, the World Cup); (auto)biographies and/or oral histories of athletes; sports and protest; “fitness,” health, and the body; gender, race, sexuality, (dis)ability, and sports; nationalism(s), national “styles,” and sports; and the phenomenology of sports.

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Diversity and Equity in Education: Issues of Gender, Race, and Class

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

The education system is a central institution in the socialization of young people and the maintenance of the modern nation state. Schools support meritocratic models of society by providing opportunities for social mobility. Paradoxically, schools also reproduce gender, racial, and class inequality. In this course, we will examine the roles that schools play in the transmission of culture, formation of identity, and reproduction of social structures. Paying special attention to gender and its intersection with other social categories, we will look at practices and policies that shape students’ performance as they strive for competence, achievement, and acceptance. We will also analyze the larger political and economic contexts that shape both schools and the communities in which they are situated.

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Edgy Memoirs

Open, Seminar—Fall

There are memoirs that people write when they’ve had a great acting career or been president of a large country. We read these for their historic/cultural value. Our interest is in the story of their lives. But another kind of memoir tries to tell another kind of truth. Those are more personal stories of dysfunction, addiction, oppression, and overcoming the odds. These stories may take us on alcoholic journeys or tales of abuse into scary families and scarier souls. They can also be funny, uplifting, and redemptive. In this workshop, we attempt to uncover that kind of truth; but this isn’t a class in autobiography; rather, it’s a class in telling a story. What differentiates these stories from other tales of grief and woe is that they are, quite simply, well-told. We will read memoirs by authors such as Michael Ondaatje, Kathryn Harrison, Garred Conley, Cathy Hong Park, David Sedaris, Nick Flynn, James McBride, and Jeanette Taylor, as well as memoirs by recent Sarah Lawrence graduates such as T Kira Madden and Anna Qu. And we will attempt to write one of our own. The emphasis will be on how to tell our stories. Exercises and prompts will be designed to help jumpstart you.

Faculty