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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : English Literature

Postgraduate Course: Slavery and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century African American Literature (PG Version) (ENLI11234)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course will introduce students to the beginnings of African American literature in the writings authored by enslaved and free women and men which were published in the US from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. First generation US Black writers obtained the ability to read no less than to write against body-and-soul destroying odds: the acquisition of literacy was not only denied enslaved people on pain of torture and death, it was scarcely less off-limits to emancipated individuals suffering from inequalities in every area of their lives as lived within the US as a white supremacist nation. Working to do justice to the experiences of Black women, men, and children who were repeatedly exposed to unimaginable acts of physical, psychological, imaginative, and emotional suffering that typically defeated all forms of literary expression, early Black writers pioneered experimental techniques in order to arrive at alternative literary modes in which to begin to put flesh on the bones of otherwise erased Black stories. Working to give voice to the voiceless across their writings, they developed a self-reflexive relationship to language in order to work with symbolism, allegory, and imagery to produce diverse texts across numerous genres, including: slave narratives, spiritual confessions, prison narratives, poetry, plays, essays, letters, diaries, novels, short stories, songs, and folktales. Their social, political, historical, cultural and artistic legacies live on today in African American twentieth and twenty-first century literary and performative traditions. This course is jointly taught with undergraduate students.
Course description The beginnings of the African American literary tradition coincides with the founding of the United States as an independent nation and as a result constitutes a hard-hitting testament to its status as a paradoxical site of Black slavery and white freedom. This course will consider an array of literary forms authored by enslaved and free writers including: spirituals, work songs, folk tales, novels, short stories, poems, political tracts, slave narratives, spiritual confessions, speeches, letters, prison narratives, and diaries. The key themes within the early African American literary tradition and which will be the focus of this course are the following: antislavery radicalism; identity politics: bodily trauma; racial conflict; gender inequalities; sexual depredations; psychological illness; family separation; ancestral and genealogical legacies; authorship as activism as well as a source of imaginative creativity; audience reception; publication histories and print cultures; authenticity; Black-white power dynamics within abolitionist discourse; survival by any means necessary; death. A key concept for the course will be a definition of resistance as encompassing any and all forms of dissidence and as ranging from the act writing your story into existence on through to poisoning slaveholders, feigning pregnancy, using sexual power, undertaking armed combat and engaging in physical militancy. In this course that not only looks at literary but also oral modes of expression we will also consider the visual iconography of slavery. This typically ranges from dehumanizing memorialisations of Black women and men on their knees to unapologetically grotesque reimagings of Black subjects according to white racist stereotypes and grotesque caricatures. This course will also come to grips with the surviving material culture implicated in the histories of slavery and freedom by considering the bodies of evidence presented by objects of torture (shackles, whips, muzzles, yokes). This course will also confront the popular entertainment industry enjoyed by whites which included the buying and selling of atrocity postcards representing the lynchings of Black women, children, and men and distributed among mass audiences. In no less powerful ways, the horrifying legacy of lynching continues in a 21st century era in which white authority figures, including police officers, continue to murder and be acquitted of the murder of Black people.
On the basis of students' preparatory reading of literary texts and visual culture materials, seminars will be used to discuss the literary, historical, philosophical, psychological, social, cultural, political and imaginative implications of the development of an early African American narrative tradition. In order to fully prepare for these seminar discussions, students will be required to meet in advance in smaller 'autonomous learning groups' to produce material which will be presented to the class in a variety of forms (written reports posted to the course vle, informal contributions to class discussion, or more formal verbal presentations during the seminar). Active preparation for and participation in class discussion is required, and will be assessed as a part of the student's overall performance on the course.
The structure of reading and analysis on the course is broadly comparative: students will be asked to explore the similarities and differences between the set texts, and examine the various types of analysis made possible by the critical and theoretical modes of reading to which they are introduced. The guided examination of the similarities and differences between the range of texts and approaches studied will help students to develop the analytical skills and knowledge that will be assessed in their essays. Due to the vast number of still unexamined texts within the early African American literary tradition - 'new' texts are being unearthed all the time - there is plenty of scope for students to undertake original research and develop new theoretical models that will shed light on key formal and thematic dimensions of these works as written by Black authors and which still remain vastly under-researched.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Construct original, clear and coherent arguments about African American literature's and oral culture's depictions of slavery and freedom.
  2. Analyse literary and oral texts using recognised and newly emerging literary critical methodologies to substantiate and illustrate those arguments.
  3. Extrapolate, evaluate and assess ideas from a range of non-literary sources in order to bring them to bear on their analyses of race and representation in US literature.
  4. Evaluate the ways in which representations of slavery and freedom as well as the construction of race and identity have developed over the centuries and live on in a current era.
  5. Orally present the results of research undertaken individually and as part of a small group, respond thoughtful the research undertaken by others, and critically evaluate the importance of such material for an understanding of the chief themes of the course.
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills As an outcome of having studied this course, students will benefit from having developed a range of personal and professional skills commensurate with the range of SCQF Level 11 characteristics:
Knowledge and understanding: students will have had the opportunity to demonstrate their critical understanding of a range of the principal theories and concepts of literary analysis in relation to their reading and discussion of the course material;
Applied Knowledge, Skills and Understanding: in their work for class discussion, presentations and formal assessment tasks, students will have been able to practice the application of these theories and concepts in their construction of arguments about the course material;
Generic Cognitive Skills: in completing assessed essays and class presentations, students will have practiced identifying, defining, conceptualising and analysing complex problems and issues germane to the discipline;
Communication: through participating in these tasks students will also have demonstrated the ability to communicate ideas and information about specialised topics in the discipline to an informed audience of their peers and subject specialists;
Autonomy and Working with Others: students will also have shown the capacity to work autonomously and in small groups on designated tasks, develop new thinking with their peers, and take responsibility for the reporting, analysis and defence of these ideas to a larger group.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserProf Celeste-Marie Bernier
Tel: (0131 6)50 4114
Course secretaryMiss Kara McCormack
Tel: (0131 6)50 3030
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