English 190

Research Seminar: Inventing Nature and Constructing Race


Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
10 Fall 2019 McWilliams, Ryan
TTh 3:30-5 31 Evans

Description

Scholars have recently argued that race and nature were "invented" around the turn of the nineteenth century. We'll begin by unpacking their counterintuitive arguments: what does it mean to argue that fundamental conceptual categories exist only because of a particular ideological history? Additionally, we'll ask whether the so-called "invention of nature" and "construction of race" merely temporally overlapped, or if they share a genealogical history.

To address these questions, we'll explore ways that natural scientists, political thinkers, and creative writers have looked to the nonhuman world in their efforts to codify human difference. In the first half of the course, we'll transition from enlightenment scientists, who believed that environmental factors such as climate determined racial identity, to their successors who argued that race was biological and immutable. In the second half of the course, we'll consider African American and Native American writers who ground their characters' senses of self in natural spaces, yet articulate dynamic (and often subversive) relationships between identity and environment.

Required Texts: Charles Chesnutt, Conjure Tales and Stories of the Color LIne; James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers; William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses; Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God; Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia; Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony

Readings posted online will include excerpts from some of the following: William Apess, Comte de Buffon, Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, William Cronon, Frederick Douglass, Camille Dungy, Hosea Easton, Michel Foucault, Alexander von Humboldt, Jennifer James, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Jamaica Kincaid, Carolus Linnaeus, Mary Louise Pratt, Britt Rusert, Ezra Tawil, Laura Dassow Walls, Phyllis Wheatley, Andrea Wulf.

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