English 135AC

Junior Coursework: Literature of American Cultures: Race, Ethnicity, and Disability in American Cultures

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2007 Schweik, Susan
Schweik, Susan
MWF 1-2 2040 Valley LSB

Other Readings and Media

Adams, M et al.: Readings for Diversity and Social Justice; Lai, H. et al.: Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island; Craft, W. and E.: Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; Cable, G.W.: The Grandissimes; Morrison, T.: Sula; Dreger, A.: One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal; Dorris, M.: The Broken Cord; Fadiman, A.: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down; Moraga, C.: Heroes and Saints and Other Plays


"This course will analyze the categories of ?disability,? ?race? and ?ethnicity? critically. ?Disability? as an identity category is always raced, whether we attend to that intersection or not, and people defined in racial terms are also always placed on axes of disability and ability, well and ill, normal and abnormal, malformed and well-formed. Much work on that ambiguous umbrella term ?disability? treats disabled people as ungendered (that is, male), unraced (that is, white), without nationality (that is, native-born American but barely a citizen), and unsexualized (that is, heterosexual, but only in default). My aim in this course is to set up situations in which you can think about several of these categories simultaneously in the context of American cultures present and past.

To this end, we will take four historical examples as case studies. Each illustrates how racism and ableism have intertwined in American (dis)ability cultures. First we will examine immigration history (with some emphasis on Angel Island and Chinese immigration). Second, we will focus on how American writers have remembered two women of color who performed in freak shows and on how race, disability and gender issues intersect on the freak show (or today the talk show) stage. In the third unit, on slavery, we will begin to unearth a history of disability in American slavery and in the Jim Crow South. In the fourth module, we will discuss eugenics and the tight connections between race and disability in eugenic models of degeneration. The final section of the course will move into the present, first giving you some exposure to contemporary activist history that counters and undoes the dynamics we have been exploring, and then ending with three particular texts to anchor our analysis of the politics of representation of disability, gender, sexuality, class, race and ethnicity: Native American novelist Michael Dorris?s controversial memoir of raising his son who had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, The Broken Cord, Anne Fadiman?s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, and Chicana writer Cherrie Moraga?s play about farmworkers?organizing and the health effects of pesticides, Heroes and Saints.

A variety of guest speakers, including performance artists and disability movement activists, will visit us. We?ll view a series of films, including the silent eugenics film The Black Stork, or Are You Fit to Marry, a U.S. public health film on immigration from the 1930s, and several contemporary documentaries on subjects ranging from the medical separation of conjoined twins to contemporary disabled womens? global organizing. Written requirements: two midterms, informal journal writing, and a final project that students can tailor to their own interests. "

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