African American Women's History: Demarginalizing Race & Gender

In this seminar we place African American women’s lives in the interpretive center of our inquiry into U.S. history. Our study is framed by the social and political move-ments to which African American women’s participation laid claim, and the ways in which this participation enabled (and enables) them to assert power in American public life. Tracing black women’s experiences as slaves, abolitionists, club women, freedom fighters, laborers, professionals, and artists, we will analyze the intersection of race and gender in American history. Drawing on an array of primary sources including letters, speeches, photographs, as well as black women’s print culture, music, and secondary sources, we will pay particular attention to: (1) the social construction of African American womanhood (2) the meaning of freedom for black women living in the shadow of slavery, and the strategies they employed to gain civil rights (3) black women’s changing economic status during the interwar period (4) black women’s roles in the ascendancy of black nationalism (5) the relationship between corporeal representations of black women in the media, including the historicization of black women’s beauty practices and the black female body as a site of political struggle. Designed to provide experience in the production of a scholarly paper based on primary sources, this course exposes students to the tools and techniques of historical research.