Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

This class meets twice a week, usually devoting one session to lecture by one of the instructors, and one session to discussion sections, each coordinated by one instructor. Performances, rehearsals, field trips, and guest lectures may alter this scheme as necessary.

Subject Description

Black Matters is an interdisciplinary course that examines the notion of "blackness" as it transforms or circulates in time, as it is interpreted and behaves from different geographical locations, and as it manifests itself both because of and despite its temporal and geographical contexts. Focusing on the twentieth century—mainly the period from 1950 to 2000 (give or take a few years)—the course attempts to put into practice the ways in which the various subjects of history, literature, music, and theater arts are always in conversation with each other regarding "blackness" as both a unifying and sometimes divisive (but always important) matter of inquiry. Such focused attention on the multiple ways in which "blackness" can be and has been understood during the short span of fifty years will allow us to explore ways of debunking sustained myths and stereotypes surrounding "blackness" as a racial category or as a marker of identity in general. In this course, the work of debunking will be a process that begins with listening to lectures, participating in class discussions, creating a performance, writing perceptive and persuasive analysis papers, and attending field trips. Overall, we hope that in the course of this semester, we will all come to learn the stakes involved in studying the matter of "blackness" and why those very stakes continue to matter to related studies in aesthetics, gender, class, race, ethnicity, culture, and politics.


Participation and Attendance

The success of this class depends on the active participation of all students. Classroom participation (20%) represents a substantial portion of the grade, and will be evaluated in terms of preparation, participation in large and small group discussion, active listening and response to contributions from others in the class, collaboration, and overall contributions to the class experience during the term.

Needless to say, if you do not attend a class it is impossible for you to contribute to it. You may miss two classes without penalty, for any reason. Each absence beyond that will count for 2/3 of a letter grade taken off of your final grade (i.e., B to C+). More than six absences may mean no credit for the course (missed classes due to college athletics, religious holy days, or serious illness must be cleared with us). Two late arrivals to class will count as one absence, so please do try to be on time.


Everyone will write two 7-9 page essays (20% each), one of which must be revised in consultation with us and with the Writing Advisor. Writing assignments should be handed in on paper in person at the beginning of the class in which they are due. Brief extensions will be granted for good reasons explained well in advance; computer malfunctions are never an acceptable excuse for a late submission, so save your work often. Adherence to standards of academic honesty is required; if you have any questions about how to go about your writing or cite your sources, don't hesitate to ask. A selection of valuable information can be found under the Writing Resources section of the class website.


Students in the class will stage a performance (20%) of Slave Ship: A Historical Pageant in session #17 in the Kresge Little Theater. Your grade on this component of the class will reflect your participation in planning, rehearsal, and performance.


Working in small groups, students in the class will develop and execute a presentation (20%) during the last week of the semester on topics of their choosing inspired by the novel Caucasia and other materials explored in the final weeks of the term. Your grade on this component of the class will reflect your participation in planning, collaboration, and the presentation itself.

There are no midterm or final examinations in this class, but you must receive a passing grade on every portion of the class in order to pass the class as a whole.


Buy at Amazon Morrison, Toni. Sula. New York, NY: Vintage International, [1974] 2004. ISBN: 9781400033430.

Buy at Amazon Senna, Danzy. Caucasia. New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 1998. ISBN: 9781573227162.

Buy at Amazon Smallwood, Stephanie. Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Slavery to American Diaspora. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007. ISBN: 9780674023499.

Readings should be completed by the beginning of the class under which they appear, unless otherwise stated.