Special Course Descriptions
Black Studies

AMS 300/BLS 394-10 Investigating the Enigma of American Slavery

This seminar will address the question: How do we, in the present moment, investigate and come to terms with the history and legacy of slavery in America? Slavery's existence within a society founded on liberty has presented a paradox since the nation's founding era. Historians have grappled with that paradox, and so have American families whose roots stretch back into slavery, and who find themselves struggling with a vexing legacy in very personal and painful ways. The course will investigate numerous "portals" for entering and trying to comprehend the world of slavery - including letters, plantation ledgers, court records, archaeological artifacts, oral histories, plantation architecture, photographs, and newspaper accounts - evidence that presents ambiguities and outright contradictions we must try to resolve. Roughly half the course will be devoted to an in-depth study of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, the people they held in slavery, and their descendants. These two founders continue to loom large in the American consciousness; yet they had vastly different responses to slavery. The seminar will also examine the documents of lesser-known plantation families; study memoirs and novels addressing slavery and its aftermath; and view portions of films that have shaped popular views of slavery, such as "Birth of a Nation" and "Gone With the Wind," as well as more recent films addressing slavery's legacy. We will make a field trip to Wye House (the Eastern Shore plantation where Frederick Douglass lived as a child, and which he described memorably in his autobiographies) to see the landscape and the surviving built environment of slavery. The course will have a strong writing component. For many sessions, students will be given primary-source documents to analyze and interpret. For AMS majors, the class will count as the junior colloquium. Students in any department and year are welcome to enroll, however. The instructor, Henry Wiencek, is the author of two nationally acclaimed books on the history and legacy of slavery that have won numerous prizes, including the National Book Critics' Circle Award for Biography and the Best Book of the Year prize from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. His work, as the historian Joyce Appleby has written, shows Americans how to "integrate the unpleasant truths [of slavery] into our self-understanding as a people." He is spending the year at Washington College as a Patrick Henry Visiting Fellow, while completing a book about slavery at Jefferson's Monticello.

BLS 394 11-Topic: Race and Philosophy

This special topics course will focus on philosophical constructions of race and their uses for social domination and social liberation. Other key concepts examined in this course will include oppression, assimilation, and separatism. Readings will be drawn from authors like Kant, Hume, Gould, Du Bois, Appiah, West, King, Garvey, Booker T. Washington, Collins, hooks, and Crenshaw.

There is no prerequisite for this course.

* DRA 394 11/BLS 394 13/ENG 394 13 Poetry of Performance

Participants are expected to "personally perform" a specific number of selected poems in class and in public venues such as the annual Kent County Poetry Festival. This course examines aspects of recitation and the oral traditions of poetry emphasizing America's long history of memorizing and reciting favorite poems. The influences of Native American, African, European and other traditions on the performance of poetry will be considered, as well as the growing popularity of "spoken word", the dialect poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, the blues and jazz poetry of Langston Hughes and Ted Joans, the improvisational recitation of the Beats, the influence of Amiri Baraka and the Black Arts Movement, the Nuyoricans and contemporary Slam Poetry. Class assignments will entail students reading, examining and reciting their own work and the works of assigned poets.