English C136

Topics in American Studies: Black Reconstruction

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2011 Wagner, Bryan
Wagner, Bryan
MWF 2-3 220 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America; Frances Harper, Iola Leroy; Langston Hughes, Selected Poems; Charles Chesnutt, Portable Charles W. Chesnutt; Jacob Lawrence, The Great Migration; W. E. B. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk; Bryan Wagner, Disturbing the Peace; Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns


“Among the revolutionary processes that transformed the nineteenth-century world, none was so dramatic in its human consequences or far-reaching in its social implications as the abolition of chattel slavery,” the historian Eric Foner has written. And nowhere was this revolutionary process more dramatic, more all-encompassing, than in the United States -- the only society in the history of the world where ex-slaves were granted citizenship rights and meaningful political representation directly on the heels of emancipation. Reconstruction was an exceptional event in world history, to be sure, but one that swelled with the main currents of its time. It was an experiment in statecraft that tried to remake society all at once, turning a traditional situation where individuals were restricted by inherited relations of dependency into a modern scene based upon the liberty to contract. This course aims to grasp Reconstruction, in all its complexity, as a narrative problem. We will be thinking in the abstract about the nature of historical transition, and in particular about the role of violence in times of transition, while we look to some of the major literary and historical works from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries that turned Reconstruction into a story to be passed down. We will observe how these works sustain their most parochial commitments -- blood, family, race, nation -- by adapting the moral vocabulary of the market, and we will try to understand how those commitments became variously inflected as romance, tragedy, and farce. We will pay close attention to the formal strategies (marriage plots, framing devices, and analepses) that propel these narratives from slavery to freedom as well as to the developing conditions (the stratification of the book trade, the professionalization of historical research, the emergence of the cinema) that determined how those strategies could be employed.

The readings for this course have not yet been finalized but will include works by Albion Tourgée, Frances Harper, George Washington Cable, Charles Chesnutt, Sutton Griggs, William Dunning, Woodrow Wilson, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Carter Woodson, and W. E. B. Du Bois.

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