English 250

Research Seminar: The Transnational and Comparative Turns in American Ethnic Literature

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Spring 2011 Lee, Steven S.
Lee, Steven
W 3-6 108 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

McKay, C.: Banjo; Anzaldua: Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza; Yamashita, K.: I Hotel; A Course Reader


The study of race and ethnicity across national boundaries has become an academic norm. It is now widely accepted that nation-based methods and approaches risk limiting our understanding of ethnic literatures and histories. Thus, in African American Studies, there has been an emphasis on trans-Atlantic research; in Asian American Studies, trans-Pacific research; and in Chicano/Latino Studies, Hemispheric research. This seminar will provide a survey of these various turns, themselves part of a broader "transnational turn" in American Studies. We will focus on their distinct spatial configurations and historical contexts, recognizing, for example, that "transnational" as it applies to the U.S.-Mexico borderlands is different from "transnational" as it applies to Asian American-Pacific Rim networks. At the same time, we will explore the extent to which these turns can be understood as parts of a shared effort to reconceptualize ethnic studies as a whole. We will see how transnationalism addresses class-based critiques of identity politics and multiculturalism, and how it opens new, often comparative horizons for race and ethnicity--for instance, by highlighting the anti-colonial legacy of American minority writing. However, we will also explore what has been lost amid these turns, and identify topics and questions which still demand nation-based approaches. In short, we will seek a critical, not simply celebratory understanding of transnationalism; and, in turn, of the possible futures for American ethnic literary studies.

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