The syllabi for “The Harlem Renaissance” and “American Literature to 1865” are now posted under the Teaching tab. I am not entirely satisfied with either of these courses. I had to design both of these from scratch and make some quick decisions about which texts to include, taking into account which texts the students might actually read, and what I felt confident that I could teach competently given the workload involved. (The composition courses are both full at 25 students, and the other two are capped at 30 and 35).
The Harlem Renaissance is not as dude-heavy as it looks. But I should have front-loaded it with more women writers and critics earlier. Partly the list is reflective of what’s in The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader. An early informal poll of the class shows that few of them know much about African-American Literature, so week by week we’ll be building their knowledge of African-American history and literature and the Renaissance from scratch. We’re also covering more women performers in the first few weeks, talking about Florence Mills, Bessie Smith and Josephine Baker, among others. Maybe I could have put a full novel by Jessie Fauset or Nella Larsen on the list (we’re reading the excerpts in the Reader), but I talked to some students who took the last Harlem Renaissance class and they seemed to get a kick out of Black No More, so I decided to go with that as the novel selection.
The list of texts in “American Literature to 1865” is very selective. My strategy there is to go deeper into a few longer texts instead of reading several short texts superficially. Again, this is experimental so we’ll see how it goes. I wanted to do Hawthorne and Melville and Stowe (among others), but any of those would have required a month long reading commitment. I got good responses from Whitman in last semester’s composition classes, so I thought we’d dive in and read as much of Leaves of Grass as we can manage. I’m hoping that Whitman will allow us to tie in other literary and historical themes from the period, including Native American history, transcendentalism, industrialism, westward expansion, the Civil War, etc.
And yes, we are reading two slave narratives (Douglass and Jacobs), so I’m looking forward to the evaluations at the end of the term complaining that this course was “all about slavery.”