Course Descriptions:

Early America and the Age of Revolutions

This course is a literary-historical examination of comparative American writing in a revolutionary era that began with the U.S. American Revolution in 1776, continued with the storming of the Bastille in France in 1789, and culminated with a series of slave revolts and military strikes that erupted in Saint Domingue in 1791 and led to what we now call the Haitian Revolution. Students examine the origins, meanings, and legacies of these political struggles for freedom and equality in writings by a diverse array of authors that may include, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, René de Chateaubriand, Victor Séjour, Harriet Martineau, Charles Brockden Brown, Victor Hugo, Leonora Sansay, William Wells Brown, and William Wordsworth.

Intro to Modern Caribbean Studies

The Caribbean is often located in the popular imaginary as a tropical paradise of palm trees replete with resorts designed for tourist consumption. Modern Caribbean Studies helps to refocus understandings of the West Indies beyond this stereotype by highlighting it as a place with myriad and complex histories, cultures, and forms of thinking. The Caribbean, for example, is comprised of a distinctly heterogeneous population, which is the result of contact between Europeans, indigenous Americans, Africans, and Asians. Colonialism, slavery, indentured servitude, and other forms of forced migration and unfree labor were largely responsible for producing the diverse societies we continue to see in the greater Caribbean region today. This introductory course on Caribbean Studies, thus, comparatively situates the geographical and sociocultural aspects of the Caribbean beginning with an overview of the region’s history. The course then encourages students to understand the modern Caribbean through a variety of topics, such as gender and sexuality; migration and diaspora; the legacies of slavery and colonialism; globalization and inequality; race and racism; and tourism and empire. The course also introduces students to the variety of artistic, intellectual, and religious traditions found in the Caribbean today, including the musical styles of calypso, konpa, zouk, reggae, merengue, and salsa. Literature, film, philosophy, social movements, and politics may also be primary features of the course.

Revolt and Rebellion in the Literatures of the Americas

What does it mean to rebel against authority, to run-away from home, to “light out” to sea, or to revolt against the law and/or tradition? Throughout this course, we examine the meaning of revolts and rebellion, both literal and figurative, in the literatures of the Americas. We look at texts that sought to inspire revolt or drastic change in their time period, literature that describes revolts from the past and revolts likely to occur in the future, as well as texts that were themselves a revolt against or a departure from tradition. Our study of what C.L.R. James has called “mariners, renegades and castaways” takes us from New Orleans to Nantucket, from Haiti to Cuba, from the state of Missouri to the department of Martinique, and from the Dominican Republic to the Mississippi River, as we attempt to expand our understanding of the geographic locale we commonly call “America,” as well as attempt to come to terms with the place of revolutionary thought and its consequences in the history of the Americas. By examining the different metaphorical twists and turns that the representation of rebellion takes on in fiction, whether it is through the use of disguise, running away, taking off to sea, hiding, fighting, talking back, or sparking insurrection, we will gain insight into an author’s understanding of race, nation, class, gender, political authority, and above all, freedom. 

American Colonialism and Postcolonial Theory

In this course, students explore the content and historical contexts of postcolonial theory beginning with colonial America. Through the examination of different foundational texts and the authors who have defined colonial and postcolonial theory, students engage with the major issues that preoccupy postcolonial thinkers such as identity and alterity, nationalism and cultural imperialism, hybridity and origins, as well as diaspora. The relationship between postcolonial theory, capitalism, Marxism and postmodernism is also explored, as we examine the complexity and contradictions within the field of postcolonial theory itself.

Early Caribbean Literature and Culture

This course examines eighteenth- and nineteenth-century writing (in translation, where applicable) by people of color from the Anglophone, Francophone, and Hispanophone Caribbean islands. Haitian independence in 1804 ushered in a vibrant and diverse print culture that included poetry, plays, newspapers, and historical writing. From the pages of La Gazette Royale d’Hayti (1811-1820), to the poems of Jean-Baptiste Romane (1807-1858), to the historical writings of Louis-Félix Boisrond-Tonnerre (1776-1806), to the operas of Juste Chanlatte (1766-1828), there arose a distinct nineteenth-century literary culture in Haiti. Beginning with national literary developments in Haiti, this course expands to consider writing from Barbados, Cuba, Trinidad, Jamaica, Antigua, and Bermuda. These writings, both fictional and non-fictional, help us to think about whether and/or how a coherent Caribbean literary tradition was developed in the early modern world across geographical, linguistic, national, and indeed, imperial lines.

Colonialism, Contact, and the Atlantic World

This course takes as its starting point two global phenomena--the Atlantic slave trade and colonialism--and asks students to analyze subaltern consciousness and modes of resistance, as well as the broader literary imagination of the Atlantic World with respect to the fact of slavery and what David Brion Davis has called the meaning of America. Using contemporary theoretical understandings of colonial contact, creolization, hybridity, and alterity, students probe both the meaning and consequences of the discovery and subsequent colonization of the Americas. Because this contact was wholly transatlantic and thus necessarily transnational, we read texts from a variety of literary traditions, including the traditions of early modern and eighteenth-century England, early America, the West Indies, and eighteenth-century France.  Texts may include, Shakespeare's The Tempest, Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, Equiano and Mary Prince's slave narratives, Voltaire's Candide, and Herman Melville's Typee, as we probe the effects of colonialism and slavery on writings from or about the so-called "New World."

Digital Caribbean Studies

Increasingly, we access, share, and create information in digital forms, and this has been referred to as a digital revolution. But how does — or how should — this revolution in the way we teach, learn, and conduct research also change the way we do scholarly work in the classroom? The digital humanities investigates how new media and digital tools are changing the way we produce knowledge in the humanities, by enabling us to share not only information, but sound, visualizations, and even performances using new platforms. This class provides an introduction to some of these formats and tools, along with immediate critical reflection and discussion about their value to the academy. Since information technology has become one of the key ways in which the peoples of the Caribbean and its diasporas both communicate with one another and gain access to global conversations, alongside this exploration of digital tools, in general, this class likewise studies how the internet can help people in marginalized spaces to engage with crucial social problems and to express their political ideals and aspirations. As the creators of the Digital Caribbean website have attested, “the Internet is analogous in important ways to the Caribbean itself as dynamic and fluid cultural space: it is generated from disparate places and by disparate peoples; it challenges fundamentally the geographical and physical barriers that disrupt or disallow connection; and it places others in relentless relation.” This class therefore both introduces students to the digital humanities and to the Caribbean as an apt space for exploring the potential of the internet to confront and disrupt some of the structures of dominance that have traditionally silenced marginalized voices

The Harlem Renaissance and the Literatures of the Americas

What, when, and where was the Harlem Renaissance? Traditional notions of this time in literary history have conceived of it as a brief but vibrant creative outpouring of literature, music, art, and political ideas in early twentieth-century African American culture. In this course we will examine the meaning and significance of the Harlem Renaissance as traditionally understood; however, we will also explore the connection between the Harlem Renaissance and the larger black diaspora or the many cultural locations from which the meaning of race in America was contemplated and expressed through the arts in this time period. Thus, rather than studying the Harlem Renaissance solely as a US African American phenomenon, we'll also explore the interrelationships among a number of its core works, along with several others not generally studied in this context. In seeking to understand the writings of the Harlem Renaissance as intimately connected to the larger region and literature of the Americas, we'll investigate how all of the texts we examine are engaged in a larger dialogue on the meanings of race, gender, and nationalism in the early twentieth century, both in the United States and beyond. This course will include works by Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Jessie Fausett, Nella Larsen, Aimé Césaire, W.E.B. Dubois, René Maran, Jacques Roumain, Countee Cullen, and Zora Neale Hurston.

History of Abolition in the Americas

This course introduces students to the long history of attempts to abolish chattel slavery in the Americas. By reading primary documents that include speeches, newspaper articles, novels, poetry, and religious tracts, we examine the rise of abolitionist movements in Great Britain, France, the Caribbean, and the United States. In many respects, transatlantic abolitionists invented the modern concept of human rights, an ideological tool indispensable to all of our social justice movements in the present, but laden with its own ethical and social complications. By looking at abolition as a global phenomenon that extended well beyond the geographical borders of the United States, we discuss a whole range of actors and their philsophies regarding one of the most profound events of human history. By covering issues ranging from gradual emancipation in New England in the late eighteenth century, to the abolition of slavery in the French Caribbean in 1793/1794, to its reinstatement in 1802, to the end of the US Civil War in 1865, to the legal abolition of slavery in Cuba and Brazil in the 1880s, we detail the origins and ideological underpinnings of antislavery and abolitionist movements across the Atlantic World. In so doing, we pay special attention to the different methods by which abolitionists in the Atlantic World defined the goals of anti-slavery activism, as well as the various meanings of liberty and independence produced within their discourses.

The Haitian Revolution & Transatlantic Print Culture

The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) was an event of monumental world-historical significance. In this seminar, we study the collection of slave revolts and military strikes beginning in August of 1791 that resulted in the eventual abolition of slavery in the French colony of Saint-Domingue and its subsequent independence and rebirth in January of 1804 as Haiti, the first independent and slavery-free nation of the American hemisphere. In the only class at UVA devoted entirely to considering Haiti's war of independence, we cover topics such as enlightenment thought, natural history, the workings and politics of the printing press, and representations of the Haitian Revolution in art, literature, music, and in various kinds of historical writings and archival documents. Students also develop an understanding of the relevant scholarship on the Haitian Revolution as they consider the relationship of this important event to the way it was written about both as it unfolded and in its long wake leading up to the present day.