AMST 381 Beyond the Harlem Renaissance: Black Modernisms and the Great Migration

Last offered Spring 2013

Cross Listed as AFR380, ENGL381
Courses on "the Harlem Renaissance" have long been standard fare in college curricula, but this rubric is too narrow to encompass the dramatic changes in early 20th century African American culture that made possible the careers of writers like Alain Locke, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Nella Larsen, and Zora Neale Hurston. Instead, we'll begin with a question: how did the term "urban" became a euphemism for African American culture? A hundred years ago, many informed commentators scorned the notion that African American populations might become other than what they had been for centuries--overwhelmingly rural and Southern. The massive social phenomenon that changed this status, by which millions of impoverished workers sought new lives in the industrial cities of the North, Midwest, and West Coast, is arguably the most significant event in African American history in the 20th century, and has become known as "the Great Migration." (Or, the "Great Migrations"--scholars like to pluralize everything these days--it's complicated!) "Black modernisms" should take the plural, too: as we'll see, the concept of modernism in Euro-American culture depended on a racialized theory of history and civilization that consigned people of color to the past (or, occasionally, the future), even as it was irrevocably shaped by influences of, appropriations from, and collaboration with peoples of color who saw modernity as a chance they were determined to claim for themselves. What became known as "the Harlem Renaissance" was the most famous U.S. example of such a cultural movement, but we'll explore it in a longer and more aesthetically, politically, and regionally diverse context. The artists and critics we'll examine, in addition to those mentioned above, may include Hubert Harrison, Jean Toomer, Marita Bonner, Richard Bruce Nugent, Bessie Smith, Richard Wright, David Levering Lewis, Cheryl Wall, and Brent Hayes Edwards.
Class Format: seminar
Requirements/Evaluation: class participation, frequent short writing assignments, a midterm take-home exam, and a final project
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Prerequisites: a 100-level ENGL course, or a score of 5 on the AP English Literature exam, or a score of 6 or 7 on the Higher Level IB English exam, or permission of instructor
Enrollment Preference: English majors and Africana Studies concentrators
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Distribution Notes: meets Division 1 requirement if registration is under ENGL; meets Division 2 requirement if registration is under AMST or AFR
Divisional Attributes: Division I
Other Attributes: AFR Interdepartmental Electives,AMST Arts in Context Electives,AMST Comp Studies in Race, Ethnicity, Diaspora, ENGL Literary Histories C
Enrollment Limit: 25
Expected Enrollment: 25
Class Number: 3622
AMST 381 SEM Blk Modernisms&Great Migration Division 1: Languages and the Arts Vincent J. Schleitwiler
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