Office Hours: Wednesdays 1:30-3:30 or by appointment Tuesdays-Thursdays
We will read historical monographs to explore how scholars have utilized the “new cultural history” as a means to complicate, deepen, and personalize African American history. In doing this, we will also interrogate the usefulness of this methodology in comparison to other historical methods, especially social history, the traditional approach to African American history. African American cultural history includes such themes as popular culture, the construction and reconstruction of race, the formation of social identities and institutions through the dynamic confluence of gender, race, sexuality, and power, and “the personal,” or subjective experience, as an aspect of history. There are two major forms of cultural history methodology, and we will study historians’ use of both. The first form is the use and investigation of cultural productions such as film, music, photography, and fiction as primary texts in historical analysis. The second form is the reading of traditional primary historical texts “against the grain” and through theory to discover new insights on lived experience, the construction of social institutions and deployment of power, and the interpretation of quotidian behaviors and commonplace items as symbols of the creation and contestation of identity and social place.
Class participation: Informed discussion and constructive critique are the first principles of every seminar. Arrive at class prepared to participate fully and intelligently in the class discussion. Bring the week’s reading assignment with you, as well as your notes and thoughts on particular passages, issues, and questions regarding that reading and the historiography of which it is a part. You are responsible for ensuring that the issues important to you are included in our conversation. Engage enthusiastically and politely in discussion with the professor and your fellow students.
Reading journal: You are required to keep a journal of formal (i.e. typed, punctuated, and legible) notes and reflections on the readings. Through this exercise, you will continue to learn and practice the mature historian’s skill of reading, comprehending, and evaluating the significance of secondary literature. To do this, you will seek to “unpack” the book, laying bare its constitutive elements, including the initial questions guiding the author, primary and secondary sources and theoretical underpinnings, thesis, structure, your assessment, and any further questions the book raises for you or the field. See the detailed outline of a journal entry on Blackboard. You must prepare and submit a journal entry for at least 10 of the 13 required books. Journal entries are due in class on the day we discuss the book.
In-class presentations: You will each sign up to be responsible for providing the historiographical background and impetus for discussion of at least one week’s reading (and probably two or more, depending on the class size). Your presentation will be based loosely on your historiography paper (see below). Tell us how this text relates to others on similar topics and/or time period, the particular issues it raises and questions it provokes, and how the text is built. You may include information about the book’s reception gleaned from reviews. You are encouraged to bring in additional materials relevant to the text such as images, music, theory, or interesting primary sources. Finally, you will lead the engagement of your fellow students in discussion of the issues you think most important.
Historiography papers: You are to write a paper on the assigned text and at least 2 other texts relevant to it in subject matter and/or time period. Examples of texts historiographically relevant to the assigned reading are provided. You may either use these options or identify other texts relevant to the assigned monograph to build a set of 3-4 books for your paper. For example, in assessing a book like Smith’s Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit, you might address the historiography of African American music, the historiography of African Americans and race politics in Detroit, the historiography of postwar American popular music and race politics, or another related historiography. In some cases, it may be useful, and therefore permissible, to include readings listed elsewhere on the syllabus. However, your paper must include the required reading for the day it is due.
You are required to meet with Professor Chapman to discuss your choice of topic and books for this assignment at least one week prior to the day you will submit the paper and present your thoughts in class. Note that a historiography paper is a mature assessment of the production of the history of a certain topic or era. It goes well beyond the recitation of the individual authors’ arguments and evidence to analyze the scope, depth, success, traditions, and new directions of a field of historical inquiry. A historiography paper often grows from a basic historiographical question such as, “How has the use of cultural methods facilitated the continued exploration of African American history?” or “What have historians argued about the relationship between race politics and African American popular music?” or “How have historians addressed the question of slave agency in studies of American slavery, and what does this tell us about the institution’s effects on African Americans?” Such questions ask not simply “What happened, who did it, and when?” but more broadly “How have historians’ thoughts about this period/event/institution/issue developed and changed, and how have those changes come about?”
Martin A. Berger, Seeing Through Race: A Reinterpretation of Civil Rights Photography
Jayna Brown, Babylon Girls: Black Women Performers and the Shaping of the Modern
Anastasia Curwood, Stormy Weather: Middle-Class African American Marriages between the Two World Wars
Tera W. Hunter, To ’Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War
Lawrence Jackson, The Indignant Generation: A Narrative History of African American Writers and Critics, 1934-1960
Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom
Andrew W. Kahrl, The Land Was Ours: African American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South
Robin D. G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression
Jennifer Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery
Hannah Rosen, Terror in the Heart of Freedom: Citizenship, Sexual Violence, and the Meaning of Race in the Postemancipation South
Nikhil Pal Singh, Black Is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy
Stephanie Smallwood, Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora
Shane Vogel, The Scene of Harlem Cabaret: Race, Sexuality, Performance
Week 1: Aug 28
Reading: 1) Kathleen Brown, “Brave New Worlds: Women’s and Gender History,” William and Mary Quarterly. Third Series, Volume 50, Issue 2 Early American History: Its Past and Future (April 1993): 311-328. (JSTOR)
2) James F. McMillan, “Social History, ‘New Cultural History,’ and the Rediscovery of Politics: Some Recent Work on Modern France,” The Journal of Modern History. Volume 66, Issue 4 (December 1994): 755-772. (JSTOR)
3) Geoffrey Eley, “What Is Cultural History?” New German Critique, No. 65, Cultural History/Cultural Studies. (Spring-Summer, 1995), pp. 19-36. (JSTOR)
Assignment: Write a 1-2 page assessment of cultural history using these three historiographical articles to answer the following questions: What is cultural history? What are its main characteristics? What has this methodology added to the field of historical inquiry in general? How has this methodology become useful to American history in particular?
Racialized Values: The Economics of Slavery, Jim Crow and Post-Civil Rights Discourses
Week 2: Sept 4
Reading: Jennifer Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery
Historiographical Options: Kathleen Brown, Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs; E. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom; Sharpe, Ghosts of Slavery: A Literary Archaeology of Black Women’s Lives; White, Ar’n’t I a Woman: Female Slaves in the Plantation South; Bush, Slave Women in Caribbean Society; McLaurin, Celia, A Slave; Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, "African-American Women's History and the Metalanguage of Race," Signs 17, no. 2 (Winter 1992): 251-274; Kimberle Crenshaw, "Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color," Stanford Law Review 43, no. 6 (July 1991): 1241-1299; Jennifer C. Nash, "Re-Thinking Intersectionality," Feminist Review 89 (2008): 1-15.
Week 3: Sept 11
Reading: Stephanie Smallwood, Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora
Historiographical Options: Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey along the Atlantic Slave Route; Gomez, Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South; Hall, Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century; Stuckey, Slave Culture: Nationalist Theory and the Foundations of Black America; Sobel, The World They Made Together: Black and White Values in Eighteenth-Century Virginia; Rediker, The Slave Ship: A Human History; Harms, The Diligent: Worlds of the Slave Trade Week 4: Sept 18
Reading: Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom
Historiographical Options: Johnson, Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market; Nash, The Forgotten Fifth; Dubois, Avengers of the New World; Williams, Capitalism and Slavery; Dunn, Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies; E. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom; Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness Week 5: Sept 25
Reading: Tera W. Hunter, To ’Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War
Historiographical Options: Schwalm, A Hard Fight for We: Women’s Transition from Slavery to Freedom in South Carolina; Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow; Mitchell, Righteous Propagation: African Americans and the Politics of Racial Destiny after Reconstruction; Hahn, A Nation under Our Feet; Bates, Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics in Black America, 1925-1945; Honey, Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights; Clark-Lewis, Living In, Living Out: African American Domestics and the Great Migration; MacLean, Behind the Mask of Chivalry
Week 6: Oct 2
Reading: Andrew W. Kahrl, The Land Was Ours: African American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South
Historiographical Options: O’Malley, Face Value: The Entwined Histories of Money and Race in America; Weems, Desegregating the Dollar; Green, Selling the Race: Culture, Community, and Black Chicago, 1940-1955; Manring, Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima; Chambers, Madison Avenue and the Color Line; Moreton, To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise Sexing Racial Modernities
Week 7: Oct 9
Reading: Hannah Rosen, Terror in the Heart of Freedom: Citizenship, Sexual Violence, and the Meaning of Race in the Postemancipation South
Historiographical Options: Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America; Crystal Feimster, Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching; Danielle McGuire, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance; Mitchell, Righteous Propagation: African Americans and the Politics of Racial Destiny after Reconstruction; Dray, At the Hands of Persons Unknown; Edwards, Gendered Strife and Confusion: The Political Culture of Reconstruction; Giddings, Ida, A Sword among Lions; Armstrong, Mary Turner and the Memory of Lynching; Hall, Revolt Against Chivalry; MacLean, Behind the Mask of Chivalry Week 8: Oct 16
Reading: Jayna Brown, Babylon Girls: Black Women Performers and the Shaping of the Modern
Historiographical Options: Daphne Brooks, Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom; Chapman, Prove It On Me: New Negroes, Sex, and Popular Culture in the 1920s; Cheng, Second Skin: Josephine Baker and the Modern Surface; Krasner, A Beautiful Pageant: African American Theatre, Drama, and Performance in the Harlem Renaissance, 1910-1927; Hazel V. Carby, “The Sexual Politics of Women’s Blues,” Cultures in Babylon: Black Britain and African America (New York: Verso, 1999) (This chapter was first published as an article under the title “It Jus’ Be’s Dat Way Sometime: The Sexual Politics of Women’s Blues” in Radical America, 20:4  and has been reprinted in several collections.)
Week 9: Oct 23
Reading: Shane Vogel, The Scene of Harlem Cabaret: Race, Sexuality, Performance
Historiographical Options: Colbert, The African American Theatrical Body: Reception, Performance, and the Stage; Krasner, A Beautiful Pageant: African American Theatre, Drama, and Performance in the Harlem Renaissance, 1910-1927; Mumford, Interzones: Black/White Sex Districts in Chicago and New York in the Early Twentieth Century; Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture and the Making of the Gay Male World; Stewart, Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity Week 10: Oct 30
Reading: Anastasia Curwood, Stormy Weather: Middle-Class African American Marriages between the Two World Wars
Historiographical Options: Martin Anthony Summers, Manliness and Its Discontents: The Black Middle Class and the Transformation of Masculinity, 1900-1930; Wolcott, Remaking Respectability: African American Women in Interwar Detroit; Chapman, Prove It On Me: New Negroes, Sex, and Popular Culture in the 1920s; Chateauvert, Marching Together: Women of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Mitchell, Righteous Propagation: African Americans and the Politics of Racial Destiny after Reconstruction; Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920; Taylor, The Veiled Garvey: The Life and Times of Amy Jacques Garvey; Shaw, What a Woman Ought to Be and To Do: Black Professional Women Workers during the Jim Crow Era Radicalism, Reinvention and Retrenchment
Week 11: Nov 6
Reading: Robin D. G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression
Historiographical Options: Gore, Radicalism at the Crossroads: African American Women Activists in the Cold War; McDuffie, Sojourning for Freedom: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism; Makalani, In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism from Harlem to London, 1917-1939; Naison, Communists in Harlem during the Depression; Maxwell, New Negro, Old Left: African American Writing and Communism between the Wars; Dawson, Blacks In and Out of the Left; Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class Week 12: Nov 13
Reading: Lawrence Jackson, The Indignant Generation: A Narrative History of African American Writers and Critics, 1934-1960
Historiographical Options: Von Eschen, Race Against Empire: Black Americans and Anti-Colonialism, 1937-1957; Maxwell, New Negro, Old Left: African American Writing and Communism between the Wars; Von Eschen, Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War; Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy; Savage, Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War, and the Politics of Race, 1938-1948; Gaines, "From Center to Margin: Internationalism and the Origins of Black Feminism" in Materializing Democracy: Toward a Revitalized Cultural Politics, eds. Russ Castronovo and Dana D. Nelson, 294-313 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002); Denning, The Cultural Front Week 13: Nov 20
Reading: Martin A. Berger, Seeing Through Race: A Reinterpretation of Civil Rights Photography
Historiographical Options: Raiford, Imprisoned in a Luminous Glare: Photography and the African American Freedom Struggle; Hamlin, Crossroads at Clarksdale: The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta after World War II; Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision; Smith, Photography on the Color Line: W. E. B. Du Bois, Race, and Visual Culture; Smith, American Archives: Gender, Race, and Class in Visual Culture; Allen, ed. Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America; Wood, Blind Memory: Visual Representations of Slavery in England and America; Willis, ed. Picturing Us: African American Identity in Photography; Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in 19th Century America Week 14: Dec 4
Reading: Nikhil Pal Singh, Black Is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy
Historiographical Options: Sexton, Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism; Iton, In Search of the Black Fantastic: Politics and Popular Culture in the Post-Civil Rights Era; Rushdy, The End of American Lynching; Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination; Mills, Blackness Visible: Essays on Philosophy and Race; Neal, Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic; Melamed, Represent and Destroy: Rationalizing Violence in the New Racial Capitalism