Fall 2020 Class Schedule
101-6 – First-Year Seminar: Black Women's Fiction
Thanks to the 1980s and 90s, Black women writers have become well known in popular US culture. Specifically, Toni Morrison's historical Nobel Prize in Literature (1993), the adaptations of novels by Alice Walker, Toni Cade Bambara, and Zora Neale Hurston into film, and the advent of Oprah Winfrey's book club mark moments where Black women's fiction moved out of the margins of popular reading culture. While these works became best known at the end of the twentieth century, there is a much longer literary history attributed to Black women writing very layered, intriguing, and beautifully-written fiction, both short and long.
In January 2020, Time said this of Zora Neale Hurston's short fiction, most of which was written in the 1940s: "Hurston's short fiction is ripe with imagery and narratives that blend the real and the idyllic, the whimsical and the serious, the natural and the cultural." Known best for her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston also produced several short stories. This course will explore the long tradition of Black women's fiction, beginning in the nineteenth century and ending in the present moment, primarily through the short story genre.
In this synchronous class, we will survey a wide range of Anglophone Black Diaspora women authors and primarily concentrate on those from the US. We will interrogate themes, symbols, and forms in short fiction works that extend across the Black Feminine Literary tradition. We will ask how these authors similarly and differently explore Black feminine identity as it intersects at the juncture of unique social, economic, and sexual contexts. What are the unique issues of Black womanhood that they explore? Of what do they attend, outside of Black womanhood? Our authors will include at least Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, and Edwidge Danticat. Assignments will include, at least: regular online discussions, in-class discussion leading, and an individual final project.
210 – Survey of African American Literature
In this course, students will gain wholistic knowledge of the long arc of African American literature. Beginning from the era of U.S. slavery in the 18th century through the contemporary moment, the course will introduce to students critical snapshots of expressive writings by and about African Americans. We will read the work of enslaved people like Phillis Wheatley and Frederick Douglass; post-Emancipation writers like Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. Du Bois; mid-20th century thinkers like James Baldwin and Richard Wright; late-20th century writers such as Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Rita Dove; and contemporary authors including Joshua Bennett and Ta-Nehisi Coates. In short, the aim of this course will be to explore how black people in the U.S. meditated on black life and sociality, and indeed black death and anti-blackness, through literature and the intersections of class, gender, and sexuality.
215 – Introduction to Black Social and Political Life
This course is a survey of the contours of Black life from the perspective of the social sciences. What is the Black community, geographically speaking? Is that different from the social or political Black community? What is the current condition of the Black family and has it changed or stayed the same over time? How much wealth is in the Black community, and how does that compare with the wealth of White or Latinx people? What are key concerns of Black politics, and how unified or fractured are Black political demands? What does Black identity look like among Black youth? What does Black youth culture portend for Black futures? This course answers these questions using insights from sociology, political science, psychology, anthropology, economics, history, and related fields. By studying the social relations, political agency, and economic practices of African Americans and other Black folk in the diaspora, we will develop a more complex understanding of the forces, opportunities, and constraints operating within Black communities.
236 – Introduction to African American Studies
This course will introduce students to the field of African American Studies. We will investigate how African American studies came to be a discipline in the academy and the shape(s) it took in its initial formulations. We will explore the ways various community members, activists, students, teachers, scholars, artists, musicians, poets, and filmmakers have contributed to thinking about the African American experience both historically and contemporarily. Finally, we will consider current Black struggles for freedom, for justice, and for humanity.
245 – The Black Diaspora and Transnationality
This course serves as an introduction to critical theories of race, gender, and sexuality across the African Diaspora. We wil discuss critical writings and analyze literary texts, films, and musical practices about queerness in the African diaspora.
360 – Major Authors: James Baldwin
This course will introduce students to the writings of James Baldwin. Born in 1924, Baldwin wrote all throughout the mid-20th century during the height of the Civil Rights Era. His writing spanned genres (essays, novels, poems) as well as decades (from the 1940s up to his death in 1987). Through writing and language, Baldwin did profound work toward justice. On Toni Morrison's account, "No one possessed or inhabited language for me the way" Baldwin did; he gave us "a language to dwell in." This course will thus be a study and meditation with and within Baldwin's language. We will ask what Baldwin's language gifts us as we navigate race and racism, gender and sexism, history, and intimacy. We will read his most notable nonfiction essays, including selections from Notes of a Native Son and The Evidence of Things Not Seen; his longform essayistic sermon The Fire Next Time; his short stories, namely "Sonny's Blues" and "Going to Meet the Man"; and his novel If Beale Street Could Talk.
363 – Racism in Western Modernity
The year 2020 has seen the recognition and highlighting of what have been described as the two pandemics Covid-19 and Systemic Racism. That both these pandemics become connected when we recognize the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black and Brown populations in the US and other white dominated societies; as well as the impact of police killings and violence on Black populations particularly, require a reckoning with what we understand as race and racism. How and why are race and racism so significant in the formation of western white dominated societies like the US? The aim of this course is enable students to understand both historically and conceptually, what is involved in the meaning and developments associated with systemic racism. On a global scale, since the 16th centuries Western societies have historically been largely responsible for developing economic institutions, religious identities, international laws and nation-states mobilized through ?race' and socially shaped by racism. Yet at the same time, western cultures have globally represented themselves as exemplars of liberalism, democracy, civilization and universalism as if these ideals and institutions were devoid of race and racism. One of the key objectives of the course is to help students develop an effective conceptual and historical understanding of the racialized processes and discourses involved in constructing western modern societies as white dominated formations.
380-0-21 – Topics: Black Feminist World-Making
What might the world like if it were made in the image of black feminist visionaries? How and why should we invite those imagined futures into our political and social realities? In this course, students will survey a range of writing in Black feminist and queer-of-color theory, paying special attention to the world-making potential of radical thinking. Students will read foundational texts including those by Kimberlé Crenshaw, Cathy J. Cohen, and Angela Y. Davis, alongside more recent contributions from scholars including Jennifer C. Nash, Jasbir Puar, and Simone Browne to understand the shape and contour of contemporary black feminist world-making. Additionally, students will examine the veil between literature and theory and consider the ways in which these two genres of writing bleed into and reinforce one another. This course is reading intensive with weekly writing assignments and a large summative writing assignment.
380-0-22 – Topics: The Viral Underclass: How Journalists Cover Outbreaks, Depict Humans as Viruses, and Make News Go Viral
What are viruses? Are they living or dead? How does news media affect their influence on the world? And why do we say news "goes viral?" Designed for Medill and non-Medill students alike, The Viral Underclass will study how viruses intersect with race, sexuality, disability, economics and the news media. Historically and contemporarily, the course will look at how actual viruses and infectious diseases (such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Hepatitis C and the novel coronavirus) have been covered in the global press. We will consider how certain groups of humans have been depicted as viruses themselves, such as how Jewish/disabled/queer/Roma people were described by the German and US press circa WW II; how African Americans were described in the US press circa Jim Crow; and how Muslim, Mexican and migrant people are described in press and social media now. We will also consider why popular news "goes viral." Students will work in research groups to study viruses and virality in the news throughout the term. Syllabus and books will be posted the week before class; for now, please plan to watch the film "Parasite" the week before class, even if you've seen it before. (Cross listed for Medill Journalism, Gender and Sexuality Studies, American Studies and African American Studies).
380-0-23 – Topics: Black Protest Literature
It feels obvious that protest has been crucial to American popular culture over the last decade. While this may seem like an uptick, histories and mythologies of protest riddle narratives of American founding and citizenship?protest as a right, protest as fundamental to progress, protest as American. This course concentrates on the history of specifically Black protest, mostly from within the US context, but also in the global context. Truly, the US has always been in the global context, although from within its boundaries, it can seem exceptional. However, international instances of Women's Marches and anti-police violence protests in conjunction with US social and political strife, highlight cross-national and -cultural social and political oppressions and preoccupations through which visible US politics constitute.
During this synchronous class, we will explore a history of Black protest fiction, essay, poetry, and art, particularly in the United States, but always with an eye to the international context. The class will concentrate on the unique spaces carved through these works and reflect on how this history resonates now. We will consider how significant movements such as nineteenth-century Abolition, Civil Rights, Black Feminism, Prison Abolition, and Black Queer Civil Rights influenced more recent calls for action by #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName. We will consider the relationship between Black protest's history and the current moment both within the US and outside of it.
460 – Black Social and Political Thought
This seminar has two major components and goal. The first is a genealogy of the intellectual work of Black scholars, artists, and activists and as it emerged within specific political economic conjunctures (ie, Slavery~Jim Crow~Civil Rights~Black Power~PIC). We will engage Black writers, thinkers, or artists on their own terms, in their own words, and within the context of the realities they faced. The impetus for this is to help Black Studies scholars in-training to better understand how they will either build upon or depart from existing paradigms. As a compliment to another core seminar in NU's Black Studies Ph.D. program titled, "Theorizing Blackness and Diaspora" this seminar focuses a particular attention on a genealogy of Black political thought as generated by the U.S. nation state and its discontents.
The second component is dialectical. As we peruse a genealogy of Black political thought, the intent is also for us to conceptualize inter-generational connections, leitmotifs, or tropes. This represents a method to theorize how Black political thought challenges western modernity's epistemological contours and assumptions. This second component endeavors to sift through the conjunctural examples and weave elements together in ways that forces us to think of Black political thought as a haunting nemesis of white political thought or the modern world as we know and feel it. This second component of the seminar is also designed to legitimate Black Studies as a distinct interdiscipline or specialization that unsettles the truth sanctioning protocols of Euro-colonial thought or its traditional disciplines. To study Black political thought in a Black Studies seminar should be distinct from studying that same topic in a Political Science, History, or Sociology seminar. If it's not, then we simply dilute the significance of the work we do in this field.
480-0-20 – Topics: Decolonial Black Political Thought
The global impact of the Black Lives Matter movement during 2020 is of extraordinary significance. The New York Times recently described it in the US as the largest social movement in US history; while the Guardian newspaper recently described it in the UK as the biggest social movement since abolitionism. What remains rarely discussed however is that at the heart of BLM are forms of Black mobilizing, Black identifications, Black protesting, Black politics and Black theorizing that have long traditions, often returning to the same kinds of issues of race and Blackness time and time again. What is particularly noteworthy about the BLM protests during 2020 is that in their global highlighting of systemic racism, white supremacy, colonialism, abolitionism and decolonization, they are evidence of the kinds of movements the world has not seen since the anti-colonial movements and civil rights movements in Africa, the US, UK, Brazil, Columbia, Jamaica, Trinidad, (i.e. the African Diaspora), since the period of late 1950s - early 1970s. It is against this background that the course asks mot only ?what is Black political thought?' but also, ?what is its relationship to the anti-colonial idea of decolonization and the post-colonial idea of decolonialism? In this course we will explore the political meaning of Blackness, whiteness and what is involved political ontology? Central to this approach is the idea that the historical formation of the modern liberal-democratic capitalist western societies is colonial, founded on white sovereignty, and that since the decolonization of western colonialism, the post-slavery, post-civil rights, post-apartheid and postcolonial modern world remains an object of decolonialisms. We will discuss how to understand the decolonial strategies in the lineage of Black political thought. This is the background to understanding what the course describes as the ?decolonial turn' in the meaning of Black Political Thought. In seeking to explicate this lineage the course explores ontological conceptions of Blackness as ways of understanding the radical dimensions of black political thought. In short, this course argues for understanding the decolonial significance of Black political thought in various manifestations.
480-0-21 – Topics: Black Studies, Native Studies, and Asian Settler Colonialism
This course examines the conversations between within and across Ethnic Studies and Native American and Indigenous Studies. What are the central paradigms of Black Studies, Native Studies, and Asian American Studies and how do they conceptualize relationships among race, indigeneity, diaspora, immigration, and White supremacy, and settler colonialism? Beginning with recent books that theorize Black and Indigenous people, we draw into this conversation theories of Asian settler colonialism from the Pacific that disrupt binarisms of White/Black; settler/native; Black/Indigenous. What methods do these texts prioritize? What are their central questions? And how can we draw from research to better illuminate shared politics of liberation? This is a combined undergraduate and graduate course?advanced undergraduates only.Back to top