Secret Agency: Navigating Race and Identity in Passing Fictions
While nineteenth-century America touted itself as a place where people could reinvent themselves as self-made, prosperous, fully enfranchised citizens, it was also the period when categories like race, gender, and class became most restrictive and “natural.” Especially in the wake of mid-century evolutionary theory, countless white scientists, politicians, and social reformers sought out biological explanations for racial difference to justify the systematic oppression of people of color. This course examines how American writers—Herman Melville, William Wells Brown, Frances E. W. Harper, Mark Twain, and Pauline Hopkins—participated in or worked against such constructions of identity. The class features texts about racial passing, where the major characters perform, reveal, and conceal particular parts of their identities to evade social constraints and increase their agency. Considering conventions like the tragic mullata archetype, detective fiction, and sentimentalism, we will explore the fluidity of identity and questions about the relationships among fiction, form, and personhood.
Ged Ed (A&L); Major I: 1789+; Major II: 1789+, Empire/Race/Ethnicity
Arts & Letters (A&L) courses create meaningful opportunities for students to engage actively in the modes of inquiry that define a discipline. Courses are broad in scope and demonstrably liberal in nature (that is, courses that promote open inquiry from a variety of perspectives). Though some courses may focus on specialized subjects or approaches, there will be a substantial course content locating that subject in the broader context of the major issues of the discipline. Qualifying courses will not focus on teaching basic skills but will require the application or engagement of those skills through analysis and interpretation.
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.