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Race, Across Time and Space

ENGL 705.401
crosslisted as: COML 606.401
instructor(s):
T 12-3:00

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 from the early modern to the contemporary period. 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 New World discovery, colonial settlement, and the age of Transatlantic revolution to more recent accounts of physiognomy, eugenics, and DNA sequencing, ideas of race have traveled globally through the centuries, interacting dynamically with conceptions of color, caste, religion, region, language, law, culture, and biology. 

Recent scholarship in a number of disciplines and subfields has deepened, complicated, and productively confused our traditional approaches to study of race. Our seminar will develop new methods and critical frameworks that help us to account for vast timescales; overlapping histories, areas, and ideologies; multi-directional flows of people, goods, and ideas; and multi-lingual, multi-disciplinary, and often elusive archives. We will begin our seminar with a conventional genealogy of race as arising from the time and space of Transatlantic revolution, the practice of slavery, and the nineteenth-century intensification of scientific and biological 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 Asia, Africa, 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. 

Instructors' permission is required to enroll in this seminar. Please email both Professors Eng and Loomba to obtain course permission.