This class explores the intersections and divergences that make up the history of race, ethnicity, and migration in the Americas. It begins by exposing the central presuppositions made in Enlightenment European knowledge, revealing that putatively universal claims about the potential of humanity need be understood as only intended for the few and not everyone. Weekly assignments cross disciplines, genres, and media, and will involve political theory, slave narratives, experimental poetry, film, and music. As a class that is equally literary and historical, these texts are organized in such a way as to allow for in-depth examinations as well as broader historical and theoretical accounts.
Our focus this year (2019-2020) is slavery and its legacies in the United States, with a particular focus on the institutions, movements, and aesthetics that shaped (and reshaped) race, ethnicity, and migration. In “provincializing” the U.S., we seek to consider how the modern concept of race was forged in the crucible of Enlightenment knowledge, the transatlantic slave trade and domestic slavery, and the humanitarian/sentimental abolition movement. The second half of the year will consider texts that critique the concept of race, often, as in the case of authors like Octavia Butler and N.K. Jemisin, by imagining futures and worlds where Black identity is radically reconfigured, reoriented, and revalued.