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Course Offerings At Michigan

Blacks, Indians, and the Making of America

This seminar will explore the intersections of Native American and African American histories and communities in the context of America’s development as a European colony and as an independent nation. We will build upon material students have previously encountered in American Studies and Ethnic Studies to develop a nuanced appreciation of the historical interrelationship between Blacks and Indians and the conjoined role that these groups played in the formation of the American nation.

We will begin our course of study by analyzing conceptual frameworks for the complicated and multifaceted relationships that comprise the shared history of Native and Black peoples in the United States. Next we will discuss key historical moments and issues in Black and Native histories, with a focus on the themes of colonialism, slavery, racialization, community formation, and national identity. In the third and final unit of the course, we will move into an examination of the contemporary manifestations of this shared past, the current political implications of Native and Black relationships, and the construction and experience of Black Indian identities.

Images from a 2005 trip to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and the Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Cincinnati, OH with students in both this course, as well as Re-envisioning American Slavery (click to enlarge):

The newsletter of the department of American Culture ran an article about this trip to Cincinnati: “American Culture on the Road”.

The students in this class also wrote a booklet about African American History at the Chief Vann House.

“Minority groups urged to work together”: A 2005 article in the Michigan Daily about a Native Heritage Month event held by the Native American Student Association and organized by Alyx Cadotte, a student in this class and current UM alumna. Tiya spoke about the need for reconciliation between Native American and African American communities.

Images of African American Women

This seminar introduces students to the experience of African American women through the study of representation in the past and present. Beginning with the imagery of jezebel and mammy constructed during the slavery era, we will trace the changing yet interrelated portrayals of Black women in American society. We will study processes by which stereotypes about race and gender intersect to define and confine African American women. We will also examine the myriad ways that Black women have challenged and transformed these images.

Because our class is keenly interested in ways in which black women challenge, reject, redirect, and transform stereotypical images, during the 2004-2005 year we kept close watch on the controversy surrounding hip-hop artist, Nelly’s, “Tip Drill” video. In 2004 students at Spelman College in Atlanta launched a spirited and public debate about Nelly’s representation of black women in the video. In January of 2005 Essence magazine began a campaign to reveal the behind-the-scenes dynamics of the music industry and to transform the African American entertainment media into a forum that is respectful of black women. Students in the Winter 2005 class made the decision to research and write about the “Tip Drill” controversy as a collaborative final project. The writings, opinions, and web-page designs presented below are the collective work of students in this seminar undertaken in the second half of our semester.

Rationale: Why Is This Issue Important To Us?
What Is a “Tip Drill”?
The Black Female Body: History and Today’s Media
The Economics of “Tip Drill”
“Tip Drill”: A Public Response

Narratives of Gender, Race, and Nation

The topical focus of this course is the interplay among the experiential and structural categories of race, gender, nation, class, and sexuality in narratives of Native American and African American historical experience. In particular, we will read and discuss various reconstructions of the story of Tituba in the Salem Witch Trials (by historians Elaine Breslaw and Mary Beth Norton, and novelist and literary critic Maryse Conde), the story of Muskogee Creek identity formation in the 19th and 20th centuries (by historians Claudio Saunt and David Chang and novelist and literary critic Craig Womack), and the story of Margaret Garner’s killing of her enslaved child (by historian Stephen Weisenburger, novelist and literary critic Toni Morrison, and various literary critics).

While this course will serve as an opportunity for us to closely consider significant happenings in this nation’s past, the attainment of “content” knowledge is not the central aim. Rather, the core purpose of this seminar is to encourage graduate students to develop an awareness of critical reading and writing practices at the intersections of history and literature. In essence, students will consider how they read and write as scholars, what stories they are crafting and refuting as they do their work, and how they might strive to consciously employ writing to translate and fulfill their individual intellectual projects.

Toward this end, we will explore the power of story in personal and cultural meaning production through the work of literary, cultural, and feminist critics. We will identify and articulate our own default mechanisms of reading and then practice the application of a particular interpretive lens — the women of color feminist concept of “intersectionality” — as a reading method. We will consider the varying ways that a range of historians and historical fiction writers (who are themselves scholars), construct narratives of the same events in the past — with what methods, toward what intellectual ends, and with what degrees of “success.” And finally, we will track our own challenges and think through strategies as crafters of narrative in our scholarly work.

Native American Women's History

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This combined lecture/discussion course is an exploration of the histories and lives of Native American women. The temporal and geographical sweep of the class is broad, covering Native women’s lives at key moments in four centuries (with a focus on the 20th), across multiple regions (Northeast, Midwest, South, Southwest, Plains, West Coast), and in several Native American nations. The course addresses a number of central themes, such as: concepts of family and intimate relationships; spiritual understandings and notions of tradition; gender roles and cross-cultural gender difference; processes of colonialism, conceptions of land and effects of land dispossession; cultural negotiation, change, and continuity; public representation and misrepresentation; and personal, familial, and tribal perseverance. The course also attends closely to the biographies and contributions of Native women pathbreakers, envoys, intellectuals, essayists, memoirists, poets, short-story writers, stage performers, and filmmakers. Student writing assignments for this course include reading response papers that may be creative (rather than expository) in form, along with a final research paper that is based on primary sources.

   Spring 2010 Class

Re-envisioning American Slavery

This senior seminar will build upon and expand CAAS students’ understanding of the system, experience, and legacy of slavery in the United States. The study of slavery is a dynamic sub-field in African Diaspora studies that is always creating new questions and knowledge. We will take part in that creation by reading classic and recent work by scholars, public intellectuals, and creative writers who view slavery through insightful critical lenses. While analyzing this work, we will grapple with the questions: What were the many ways that people experienced and challenged slavery? And what does the memory of slavery mean in American culture today? Our readings will include diverse works such as Randall Robinson’s The Debt, Jennifer Eichstedt and Stephen Small’s Representations of Slavery: Race and Ideology in Southern Plantation Museums, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred.

Images from the 2009 class in front of the Ypsilanti Historical Museam (click to enlarge):

Women of Color: History and Myth

This course is an introduction to the lives of women of color in the United States and its former and present territories in the Caribbean and Pacific Islands. To structure our analysis of an inherently broad subject, we will employ the thematic frameworks of history and myth. First we will focus on the relationship between women of color and the discipline of history by examining certain past events in the lives of women and their communities and the ways those events have been represented in the historical record. We will then explore how accepted histories become national myths, and we will discuss ways that myths and stereotypes have cultural power and influence in American society, as well as ways that myths and stereotypes shape the identity formation and life experiences of women of color. And finally, we will address the means by which women intellectuals of color disrupt and rewrite historical / mythical narratives, thereby re-envisioning and transforming their own identities, their group identities, and the American social landscape. Our study of African American, Afro-Caribbean, Arab American / Muslim, Asian American / Pacific Islander, Chicana, Latina, and Native American women will be comparative and interdisciplinary, with a focus on historical, autobiographical, fictional, and cinematic texts.

Writing Alternative (Hi)stories: Graduate Seminar

This course identifies, explores, and practices alternative methods of researching, conceptualizing, and writing about the American past. In the space of our seminar, such methods will include: centering marginal subjects and populations, asking new questions of familiar sources, writing consciously for various publics, and engaging in narrative and experimental writing. The core purpose of the class is to encourage graduate students to develop critical reading and writing practices that support potent historical story-making. In essence, students will consider how we read and write as scholars--what stories we recognize, ignore, select, craft, and refute as we do our work. At the root of these explorations are two foundational questions: why do we tell stories of the past as human beings, and how should we tell them as socially conscious scholars? This first query raises still more questions about the meaning of story to human identity, community, and purpose; the second question compels us to consider how humanities scholars manage the cultural responsibility of storytelling.

In this seminar we will consider the varying ways that historians and fiction writers have constructed narratives of the past -- with what methods, toward what intellectual and cultural ends, and with what degrees of “success.” We will track their approaches, challenges and strategies as close readers and then practice the craft of alternative historical writing with our own scholarly projects. Some of the authors whose work we will discuss include: Annette Gordon Reed, Marcus Rediker, William Cronon, Martha Hodes, James Goodman, Jean O’Brien, Toni Morrison, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Craig Womack.

Courses In Development:

Books That Changed America
Black Hair
African American and Native American Women’s Writing

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