Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Law, Property, Bodies: Race in the 1850s

ENGL 353.401
crosslisted as: AFRC 352
instructor(s):
TR 10:30-12:00 pm
fulfills requirements:
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Sector 5: 19th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Pre-1900 Seminar Requirement of the Standard Major

Our course is an exploration of the creative writing that took up legal issues of ownership and property especially related to slavery in the 1850s.  This period is a landmark in our nation’s history in several areas pertinent to our concerns: 1) in the legal formation of racial identities; 2) in the juridical conception of “raced” rights; 3) and in the literary production of racial narratives by writers of both African and European descent in the United States.  Our authors are Frederick Douglass (“The Heroic Slave”), Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin), William Wells Brown (Clotel), Martin Delany (Blake), Harriet Wilson (Our Nig), Harriet Jacobs (Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl), Henry Box Brown (Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown), Herman Melville (“Benito Cereno”), James Whitfield (America and Other Poems, excerpts), and Frances Watkins Harper (Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects, excerpts). Readings include legal cases (Somerset v. Stewart; The Slave, Grace; Dred Scott v. Sandford), slave ship revolts (The Amistad; The Creole), critical race theory, and feminist legal theory. We will have an introduction to archival work and also to twentieth- and twenty-first-century visual and literary artists who look back to the 1850s (e.g., Glenn Ligon and Elizabeth Alexander). The requirements are: a short paper (based on class presentation); a midterm examination (essay-type); and either a final project (based on coursework) or a paper (8-10 pages).