In the decades leading up to the Civil War, it was illegal for slaves to learn how to read or write. It was illegal for them to testify in court, except against each other or to confess a crime. In the North, free African Americans often did not fare much better: there they were susceptible to southern kidnappers as well as northern white abolitionists who co-opted their stories for publication. In spite of these impossible conditions and forced silences, these decades also saw the emergence of new forms of African American authorship. Out of necessity, such authorship often developed in secret or appeared in unexpected places, adapting existing literary genres and crafting new ones altogether. This course will explore the rich and varied spaces in which to locate African American authorship during the antebellum period (roughly 1830-1860): slave narratives, criminal confessions and legal testimony, protest pamphlets, newspapers and other periodicals, speeches, and fiction. Texts from this period often document legal developments such as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the Dred Scott Decision; we will pay particular attention to the ways these texts also imagine alternative legal histories and radical political futures.
Possible readings include: David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, Confessions of Nat Turner, materials from the Colored Conventions Project, Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, selections from Frederick Douglass’s The North Star (black abolitionist newspaper), selected poetry of Frances E.W. Harper, and William Wells Brown’s novel, Clotel, or the President’s Daughter.
Multicultural, Identity, Pluralism, and Tolerance (IP) courses examine the social construction of collective identities, the emergence of representative voices from varying social and cultural standpoints, and the effects of prejudice, intolerance, and discrimination. The purpose of courses in this category is to analyze the general principles underlying tolerance, or the lack of it.
Literature, 1789 to the present courses focus on literary work produced over more than two centuries -- from the period of British romanticism and the early republic of the United States up to now -- in order to foster familiarity with key works in British and American literary history. Literary history illustrates how literary works reflect, address, and resist the social and political environments in which they are produced as well as other works that have preceded them.
Empire, Race, and/or Ethnicity courses focus on ways that race matters in literature, media, and culture. Recent courses have examined such matters as native American literature and film; nineteenth-century writings by slavers and enslaved people in the U.S. and British colonies; fiction and filmmaking in post-apartheid South Africa; Latinx science fiction and environmental justice, and the novels of Toni Morrison.
English Minor courses offer students centuries of cultural experience and representation in poetry, prose, drama, film, TV, new media, and folk artifacts. The English minor can focus and extend the values of a liberal arts education, while also providing extensive training in writing, speaking, and critical thinking.