This course is designed both to introduce students to key issues, themes, and methods in African American Studies as well as to pique interest in an effort to encourage further study of the discipline; thus, the course is comprised of important texts, but also of those which have proven to have "high appeal" in the past. I have presumed very little knowledge on the students' parts of either African American or ethnic studies more generally.
Each week is focussed around a literary text through which we explore a central issue in interdisciplinary fashion. For example, during the unit on slavery we study a variety of slave narratives, and use these texts as entry points into a discussion of the historical period and cultural moment which informed their creation.I have selected both traditional and non-traditional texts, but have attempted to provide the students with a solid foundation in those which they might be most commonly expected to know following an introductory course in African American studies.
Unit 1: African Folk Roots and The Oral Tradition
Unit 2: Images of Slavery and Freedom
This unit will examine both the institution of slavery from a historical perspective through lectures, and will illustrate the construction of slave narratives as abolitionist material as well as a distinct literary genre. It will also, through contrasts of the selections from group one and group two, assess the nature of freedom for "free" Blacks during slavery. The particular selection of the narratives will depend upon student preparation.
Unit 3: Post-Emancipation Turning Points: Race Ideologies Defined
This period represents a turning point in African American intellectual history as Washington and Du Bois vied for the position of "race leader"--each espousing rather different beliefs about the means to equality--while Ida B. Wells, among others, emphasized the relationship between gender, sexuality, and lynching as an increasingly institutionalized system of oppression. The primary texts will illustrate the most salient aspects of each figure's philosophy, while the secondary material will provide historical context for the period so that students may understand clearly the cultural moments out of which these varying philosophies were produced.
Unit 4: The Great Migration and the Development of Black Urban Centers
This unit focusses on the forces that pushed Blacks out of the South following Reconstruction and into Northern urban environments. The contrast of Osofsky and Spears is intended to demystify "the ghetto" for largely unfamiliar students by showing differences between Chicago and Harlem both during the period and, by extension, in the present. Dunbar's novel will be used 1) to address the issue of migration from a cultural perspective, 2) as an important document of literary naturalism in African American letters which is related to Zola, Dreiser, and Crane, for example, and 3) to serve as a precursor to the literature produced during the Harlem Renaissance.
Unit 5: The Harlem Renaissance
This unit explores the complexity of the Harlem Renaissance as a cultural moment by considering it from literary, musical, historical, and artistic perspectives. The New Negro contains works by most of the major authors involved in the Renaissance and will serve both as the "bible" of the movement, and as the introductory text to a number of writers. The music and art sessions will demonstrate the pervasiveness of the "Renaissance philosophy," as well as will illustrate the individual and differing responses of each artist to the period. Finally, the motivations and legacies of the explosion in artistic activity will be addressed through use of the historical texts as both secondary and primary sources.
Unit 6: Love and Hate
This literary unit is designed to reveal to students the range of responses to what does or should constitute a "black aesthetic in the United States, and to acquaint them with the dialogue surrounding the issue as it has been expressed at different historical moments by prominent African American authors. Each writer espouses distinct beliefs ranging from protest (Wright) to affirmation (Hurston) to transcendance (Ellison).
Unit 7: Civil Rights
This unit explores the Civil Rights era in fiction and documentary history, again in an effort to demonstrate the complexity of the moment and the range of responses by African American intellectuals and artists. Walker's novel, although difficult for many students, is particularly useful in its examination of the relationship between art and politics, as well as of political ideologies, during the period.
Unit 8: Black Male Mythologies
This unit is designed to cause a critical evaluation of the mythologies promoted about black males in recent years, primarily in order to disrupt stereotypes produced by media images. Black men are generally depicted as at a crisis point--a point which instills irrational fear and promotes racism. This unit is intended to make students conscious of their own subconscious adherence to systems of oppression rooted in unfamiliarity.
Unit 9: Out-chorus
This text has been selected as the culminating piece because of its remarkable ability to encompass virtually all the themes of the course. Morrison's use of the folktale of the Flying Africans recalls the first unit's attention to the importance of oral tradition in African American culture, as well as emphasizes the presence of Africanisms and folk tradition in Black American culture nationally (Unit 5). Her use of flight as a literary motif echoes patterns extending from slave narrative (Unit 2) to contemporary Black literature (Unit 6), while her use of song carries on the theme of music as central to African American culture (Units 1,2,5,7, and 8). Morrisons exploration of the vengeant nationalism of the Seven Days to the transcendent love expressed by Pilate provides commentary on debates about race ideologies that have characterized African American intellectual history (Units 3 and 6). Finally, her use of a male protagonist, as well as her serious consideration of male-male and male-female interaction, provides important commentary on contemporary gender relations (Unit 8).