Here’s the syllabus for one of my fall courses. I’ve taught it before, but this is a fairly substantial fiddling with some of what I’ve done in the past. It’s a topic also that I’ve really changed my pedagogical orientation on: when I started teaching the class, I saw myself as exposing students to what I knew to be the consequences of this history, of teaching about the sources and causes of racism and of the imagined placement of Africa within global society. The more I’ve taught (and thought about) this subject matter, the less certain I’ve become about that.
This is one of the reasons I feel such antipathy for the way that “political bias” gets described by David Horowitz and his allies. A syllabus is like a picture: there are things inside the frame and things outside the frame. A syllabus has to have exclusions and inclusions, and both have to be principled, have to have some reasoning behind them. A syllabus, any syllabus, has an argument to it. Even Introductory Macroeconomics has a “politics”, in that it assumes that the subjects covered under the heading of macroeconomics are productively studied and understood through the lens of economics as a discipline, and proceeds from that assumption. But one would hardly want a professor teaching that course to feel obligated to accomodate that political objection, any more than I should design this syllabus around accomodating someone who thinks that representations or cultural history are completely irrelevant things to study regardless of what they’re about.
Good teaching isn’t about draining out all of the argument, all of the framing, all of the pointedness of a course, about eschewing “bias” to the point of becoming bland, neutral and terrified of giving offense to any viewpoint or orthodoxy. It’s about being exploratory, open to new thoughts and new angles, about evolutions to your teaching, and about welcoming all responses from all students. A strong Afrocentrist would certainly not be happy with the implied argument of my syllabus, but I’d want that person to feel welcome in the course, and provisioned with plenty of materials that allow them a legitimate “angle of attack” on the subject as I set it out. I wouldn’t be happy with anyone who was an obstructionist in the way they approached the class, of course, and that’s another important issue. A class can be open to all points of view, but it has to involve a willingness to play with ideas and consider challenges, whatever it is that you bring with you to the subject matter.
History 86 Image of Africa
This course is about the history of representations, of images both visual and textual, of the way Africa has been imagined, depicted, fantasized about in European cultures, among African-Americans, and in U.S. popular culture.
One of the common assertions of multiculturalism and identity politics is that images of this kind are crucial in influencing how people think and act in the world, that they are a continuing source or cause of discrimination and inequality. This course is intended to skeptically examine such assertions, to open up the debate. Nothing should be taken for granted or as a given in this course: how and whether representations mattered in the past or still matter in the present should be considered an open and complex question. We will look at how images and constructions of Africa have taken the shape that they have over time, and what they have meant and still mean to their audiences.
2 short (3-4 pp.) papers
1 long (15-20 pp.) paper, with some research required
Participation in discussion and an informed engagement with assigned materials
All students are required to make one contribution over the course of the semester to a weblog page tracking images or representations of African in popular culture and the media.
Trope, representation, social construction
The missionary in the cannibalâ€™s cookpot: a historical tour of an image
Intertextuality is hard!
Medieval monstrosities and early modern European ideas about the world
Comparative frameworks for â€œthe strangerâ€
The problem of origins in history
The evolving context of Europe and Africa, 1750-1920
Race and the idea of the â€œsavageâ€: religion and science in the 18th and 19th Centuries
Causality: what drives changes in representations over time?
Reading: Z.S. Strother, â€œDisplay of the Body Hottentotâ€, in Linfors, ed., Africans on Stage: Studies in Ethnological Show Business
Explorers and the production of representations
Readings: Mungo Park; Henry Morton Stanley; Carl Mauch; Richard Burton (Blackboard)
Colonialism, ethnography, photography
Readings: Christraud Geary, In and Out of Focus
Also: Search eBay with the keywords â€œAfrica postcardâ€.
Images in motion: the Denver African Expedition
Reading: Robert J. Gordon, Picturing Bushmen. Chapter 1-3, 5, 7 and Conclusion. Also be sure to look at the photographs referenced in the text.
Exhibitionary culture I
Reading: Lindfors, Africans on Stage. Chapter Three and Four
Exhibitionary culture II
Reading: Lindfors, Africans on Stage, Chapter Seven, Eight and Nine
King Solomonâ€™s Mines
Reading: H. Rider Haggard, King Solomonâ€™s Mines
Reading: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes
Paper #1 due at beginning of class. NO LATE PAPERS.
Showing of Sanders of the River (7pm)
Comics and Boysâ€™ Own Adventures
Reading: Kai Friese, â€White Skin, Black Maskâ€, Transition 80: 1999, pp. 4-17. (Read online at JSTOR) ; Herge, Tintin au Congo
Theories of Colonialism and Representation
Edward Said, Orientalism, pp. 1-91; pp. 285-328
Said as Model; Alternatives to Said
Mitchell; Richards; McClintock; Prakash, Bhabha: â€œcolonial discourseâ€
Thomas, Porter, Cannadine, Scott: lived complexities of empire
Gary Taylor on cultural adaptation; Susan Blackmore on memes
Africa in America; the diaspora discovers itself
The problem of Oladauh Equiano
TOPIC SELECTION FOR LONG PAPER due.
Reading: Wilson Jeremiah Moses, Liberian Dreams, Introduction, pp. 24-38, pp.58-67; pp.87-114; pp.122-124; pp.130-140; pp.150-168
Liberia and Garveyism
Reading: Ibrahim Sundiata, Brothers and Strangers
Travels to Africa
Readings: Kennedy, Black Livingstone; Hughes, Big Sea; Lamming, Passages; Harris, Native Stranger; Charles Patterson, â€œWhat is Africa to Me?â€, Transition 1964
Paper #2 due at the beginning of class.
Molefi Kete Asante, Afrocentricity
Kelefa Sanneh, â€œAfter the Beginning Again: The Afrocentric Ordealâ€, Transition 2001, 10:3 (read online at JSTOR)
Tejumola Olaniyan, â€œReturn of the Native Sonâ€, Transition, 72: 1996. (read online at JSTOR)
Alexis Sindhuhije, â€œWelcome to Americaâ€ Transition 78:1998. (read online at JSTOR)
Paulla Ebron, Performing Africa, Chapter Seven
Coming to America (clips)
Shaft in Africa (clips)
Richard Pryor clip
Henry Louis Gates, Wonders of the African World (video viewing)
Various responses to Gatesâ€™ series
Africa in US Popular Culture, 1940-present: a visual overview
One-paragraph prÃ©cis of long paperâ€™s argument and outline due at beginning of class
Michael Crichton, Congo
Barbara Kingsolver, Poisonwood Bible
Alexander McCall Smith, Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency
â€œSecond contactâ€: African recirculations of Western images (visual presentation)
Chickens and eggs: the causality of the representation
The hidden mechanisms of cultural reproduction
The redemption of images and the making of consciousness
December 17th: FINAL PAPER DUE. No late papers, no extensions.