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Race, Across Time and Space

ENGL 705.301

How might we think about race as a paradoxically fungible yet persistent feature of human history?  This co-taught, interdisciplinary seminar examines race as a global phenomenon with long and diverse histories.  Conceptions of race have repeatedly been marshaled, decried, dismissed, and repurposed across time and space.  From ancient empires, medieval religious conflicts, and early modern accounts of “barbarians” and “strangers” to the longue durée of colonial settlement and slavery, and from the revolutions and uprisings of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries to more recent accounts of physiognomy, eugenics, and IQ tests, the phenomenon of race has traveled globally through the centuries, interacting dynamically with conceptions of caste, color, class, language, region, and religion.

            Our seminar will develop new methods and frameworks for investigating race that can account for vast timescales; overlapping ideologies and cultural practices; multi-directional flows of populations, goods, and ideas; and multi-lingual, multi-disciplinary, and often elusive archives.  We will begin our study with a conventional genealogy of race as arising from the age of Atlantic Revolutions and scientific thinking in Europe and the United States before complicating our understandings of the phenomenon as one shaped over centuries of contact and interchange.  By considering the concept from the perspectives of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, we will discover how racial dynamics were neither simply produced nor controlled by Europe or the United States, allowing us to generate different histories, theories, and methodologies for studying race across time and space.

            Our seminar will track and interact with the 2013-14 Sawyer Seminar sponsored by the Mellon Foundation in conjunction with the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at Penn.  Monthly Sawyer Seminars and invited speakers will supplement our collective endeavor.                      

Requirements       Students are expected to do all of the reading, to attend every class, and to participate actively during seminar discussion.  In addition to a short response paper (4-5 pages) summarizing and extending one of our class discussions, a final paper (12-15 pages) designed for a conference presentation is required.  This final essay will determine 50%, the short response paper 25%, and your seminar attendance as well as class participation the remaining 25% of your grade.