English C136

Topics in American Studies: American Culture in the Age of Obama

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2021 Saul, Scott
TTh 3:30-5 + one hour of discussion 204 Wheeler

Book List

Lim, Eugene: Dear Cyborgs; Obama, Barack: Dreams from My Father; Ward, Jessmyn: Salvage the Bones; Whitehead, Colson: The Underground Railroad

Other Readings and Media

We will be engaging with a wide variety of music, theater, and other media, including many if not most of the following:

Janelle Monáe, “Many Moons” (2008); The ArchAndroid, Suites II & III (2010)

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: An American Musical (2015) 

George Saunders, “Escape from Spiderhead” (2010)

Key & Peele (2012-2015), selected sketches

Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins, 2016)

Kendrick Lamar, “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” (2012); To Pimp a Butterfly (2015); Flying Lotus with Kendrick Lamar, “Never Catch Me”

Beyoncé, Lemonade (album and film) (2016)

John Keene, “Rivers” and “Cold” from Counternarratives (2015)

Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele, 2017)


This course traces, across many forms of American culture, what might be called “the Obama effect.” Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates has suggested that the election of Obama prompted a renaissance of black writing, in part by stimulating “curiosity about the community he had so consciously made his home and all the old, fitfully slumbering questions he’d awakened about American identity.”

In this course, we’ll examine how a wide range of imaginative writers, in a wide spectrum of genres, took on those questions, often offering “counternarratives” to conventional myths of American innocence, achievement, and glory. We’ll also explore works of music, film, and theater that, like Obama’s autobiography, rewrote the romance of America—whether, say, by adding hip-hop accents to the story of the country’s founding (Hamilton), turning a story of interracial romance into a horror tale (Get Out), or creating an Afro-futurist, queer-inflected story of slave revolt (Janelle Monáe’s Metropolis saga).

Along the way, we’ll consider two of the social movements that coalesced and gathered force during Obama’s presidency: Occupy and Black Lives Matter. We’ll investigate how these movements challenged the limits—political, economic, moral—of the “age of Obama” through art and political action, and looked to create new forms of radical community while protesting inequality and state violence.

This course is cross-listed with American Studies C111E.

Discussion Sections

101 No instructor assigned yet.
Wednesday 3-4 200 Wheeler
102 No instructor assigned yet.
Wednesday 2-3 B1 Hearst Field Annex

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