English R1B

Reading & Composition: U.S. Autobiography as Ethnography

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Spring 2012 Rana, Swati
MWF 9-10 31 Evans

Book List

Du Bois, W. E. B.: The Souls of Black Folk; Kingston, Maxine Hong: The Woman Warrior; Mukerji, Dhan Gopal: Caste and Outcast; Rodriguez, Richard: Hunger of Memory

Other Readings and Media

Course Reader


How should we read the “I” under the burden of representation?  What is the relationship between singular life and group consciousness?  How does the act of self-documentation produce a social record?  In this course, we will explore these questions through readings in texts that are both autobiographical and ethnographical.  We will trace the familiar contours of the life story and explore how these works depart from them, incorporating historical, sociological, lyric, or fictive elements.  What are the demands placed upon the representative subject who is responsive to a given social identity or political exigency?  And what formal innovations do these demands produce within the space of the autobiography?  We will focus on the gap between author and persona, biography and its emplotment, the autonomous and constituent subject—and upon the coincidence of these categories as well.  Where relevant, we will investigate controversies surrounding the reception of these texts.  Our challenge will be to take a broad view of autobiography, to understand how it shapes the politics of ethnic representation in the United States.  These texts will provide the occasion to develop critical thinking, writing, and research skills.  The first half of the course will be devoted to exercises in argumentation and exposition, several short writing assignments, as well as self-editing and peer revision.  In the second half of the course, you will propose a question to investigate and develop a research prospectus and annotated bibliography.  Your work will culminate in an oral presentation and a final research paper of approximately ten pages.

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