AMST 218
Black and Brown Jacobins Spring 2025
Division II Writing Skills Difference, Power, and Equity

Class Details

What does it take to be free in the free world? In this class we explore the dark side of democracy. The title is inspired by C.L.R. James’ famous book, Black Jacobins, about the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). This revolution was the most successful revolt of the enslaved in recorded history. But the irony is that their oppressors were the leaders of the French Revolution across the Atlantic. Those who proclaimed “liberty, egality, fraternity” for themselves violently denied them to others. There is a similar dismal irony to the American Revolution, as captured by the title of Frederick Douglass’ famous 1852 speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” Not even the Civil War could resolve this issue, as demonstrated by the failure of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow. To revisit this history, we will read W.E.B. Du Bois’ great book, Black Reconstruction in America. Alongside a selection of readings by canonical postcolonial writers and current political theorists, James and Du Bois provoke us to ask what it would take for the democratic world to be truly free.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 15
Expected: 15
Class#: 3351
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Mandatory in-class free writing, three five-page position papers, and three mandatory in-class debates
Prerequisites: None
Enrollment Preferences: AMST majors or prospective majors, then sophomores
Distributions: Division II Writing Skills Difference, Power, and Equity
WS Notes: "Black and Brown Jacobins" is a writing-intensive course focused on persuasive argumentation. Each day in class will begin with 5-10 minutes of free writing in response to a prompt. At the end of each unit, students must complete a position paper (three in total). These papers will be accompanied by in-class debates in which students will be asked to argue both sides of the prompt they have been given.
DPE Notes: "Black and Brown Jacobins" calls into question the success of modern democracy from the perspective of minoritized groups, in particular Black Americans and Afro-Caribbeans. Students will grapple with the legacy of enslavement in the Americas, the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), the American Civil War and Reconstruction (1861-1877), Jim Crow, and our current era of mass incarceration. The question driving this course is, what does it take to be free in the free world?
Attributes: AMST Comp Studies in Race, Ethnicity, Diaspora
AMST Critical and Cultural Theory Electives
AMST pre-1900 Requirement

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