ENGL471 - African-American Literature: 1910 to 1945

In this age of Netflix, iPhones, Candy Crush, and the Human Genome Project, perhaps the early twentieth century hardly strikes us as “modern.”  Indeed, horse and buggies and model Ts are a far cry from Justin Bieber’s electric Tesla or the highly sophisticated drones that have become a staple of our cultural imaginary.  Yet, the idea of the modern gained particular traction during the era of World Wars, modernism, the Great Depression, and the emergence of the United States as a global superpower.  But becoming “modern” in the realms of art, science, and technology often outpaced the progress that African Americans were making toward full citizenship.  This course will examine the ways in which black artists engaged, critiqued, and refigured the idea of the “modern” between 1910 and 1945.  How, we will ask, did black cultural actors put art in the service of becoming modern citizens, and what, likewise, was art’s influence on what constituted modern black citizenship?  Working across genres, we will examine novels, poetry, plays, essays, short stories, and music—looking and listening for themes such as race, gender, migration, the folk, patriotism, diaspora, sound, vision, science, technology, and the “new.” Our journey will take us from the post-bellum/pre-Harlem period through the Harlem Renaissance and African American Modernism and Naturalism.  


Two lower-level English courses, at least one in literature; or permission of ARHU-English department.