English 595--Master’s Colloquium: Theorizing “Race”

Europe Supported By Africa & America
By William Blake


Course Description

It is easy to believe that "race" and discourses on "race" exist in the West only from the Enlightenment on or that pre-modern European culture is pre-racial, because its foundational discourse is based on religion and not biological-scientific taxonomic systems of bodily difference.  Medievalists and classicists have preferred "ethnicity" as the descriptive category most appropriate to their period despite the evidence of trends that, today, would be identified as race-related.  This colloquium will trace discourses on race, beginning with Icelandic sagas and moving through a broad range of texts from the colonial to the post-colonial periods, to ask ourselves what "racial thinking" is.  We will contextualize “race” across a vast expanse of time in order to consider the following (not listed in order of priority or procedure): (1) war, conquest, and empire-formation; (2) language communities, citizenship, and "civilization"; (3) religion, sacred mythology, and ecclesiastical apparatuses; (4) blood, reproduction, and genealogy; (5) the body and physiognomy (color, biology, etc); (6) sex and gender; (7) slavery, labor, and economic systems; (8) nation-formation, "nationalisms", state-formation; (9) disciplinary systems of knowledge-power (climatology, geography, ethnography, etc).  


This course will also use postcolonial theory as a tool for reading the literatures of “racialized” groups who, in spite of their differences, bear common distinctive markers as a result of their shared experience of colonialism.  While these authors have absorbed the influences of imperial culture, their works demonstrate that they have also resisted its influence by asserting their differences.  We will test contemporary definitions of “race” against earlier texts and documents to see how established theories of "race" might be revised, augmented, or replaced.  




Edward Said         Orientalism
Ashcroft, Griffiths, Tiffin The Empire Writes Back
Gloria Anzaldua "Mestiza Consciousness"
Chandra Mohanty      "Under Western Eyes"
Chela Sandoval  "U.S. Third World Feminism"
bell hooks  "Homeplace, A Site of Resistance"
Anne McClintock  

"The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term 'Post-Colonialism'"

Magnusson & Pisson The Vinland Sagas
Marco Polo     The Discovery of the World
Christopher Columbus excerpts from The Four Voyages
Aphra Behn   Oroonoko
Thomas More     Utopia
John Jacques Rousseau "The Social Contract" & "A Discourse on the Origins of Inequality"
Thomas Jefferson    excerpts from Notes on the State of Virginia
Herman Melville Typee, A Romance of the Sea
Paule Marshall Praisesong for the Widow
Wilson Harris Palace of the Peacock
Toni Cade Bambara     Salt Eaters
Maryse Conde      I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem
Toni Morrison  "Recitatif"
Cherrie Moraga Loving in the War Years
Epeli Hau'ofa  Tales of the Tikongs