This course is a consideration of the African cultural roots of contemporary African-American aesthetic practices, and the ways these can influence or direct our critical thinking about and readings of contemporary African-American Literature and African Diaspora literatures. The question “What Is Africa To Me?” can be sensed hovering over works as diverse as August Wilson’s plays, Toni Morrison’s fictions, Ntozake Shange’s essays, and Kamau Brathwaite’s poetry. This course however focuses on the gendered ways in which Africa is ‘re-membered’, as legacy and metaphor, in twentieth century Black literature and culture by women writers of the “old” and “new” diasporas. With reference to a wide range of African American and Continental African cultural texts such as Quilts, Paintings and Collages, Sculpture, Music and Cookery Books, this course will focus on the literature and cultural production of Black Women. Juxtaposing Toni Morrison’s Beloved with the Sculpture of Alsion Saar; Ntozake Shange’s If I Can Cook, You Know God Can with Jessica Harris’ Cookbooks, or Paule Marshall’s Praisesong for the Widow with Faith Ringold’s Quilts, we will explore the ways in which women cultural workers in the latter half of the century offer their texts as a means of embodying ways of knowing and being that have withstood histories of dispersal. In addition, by considering works by women whose diasporic journeys have their origins in more recent Atlantic crossings, we will consider the nature of the conversation about legacies of “Africa” between US based African-Americans and a more recent migrant generation of “Afropolitans” such as Akosua Busia, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Taye Selassie, NoViolet Bulawayo and Yaa Gyasi whose parents at least were born on the African continent though they have spent their lives elsewhere.
Field ClassCountry: Mauritius
Date: October 19, 2017
In the morning we will visit the Natural History in Mahebourg, approximately 1 hour’s travel from port. This museum traces the history of Mauritius since it was founded by the Dutch, the arrival of the French and slaves, the sugar cane plantation, the battle of Vieux Grand Port between the British Empire and the French to conquer Mauritius, the abolition of slavery, and the arrival of the indentured laborers from India.
We will have lunch near the beach to visit the Le Morne World Heritage site commemorating the site of slave resistance and end the day taking part in preparations for Diwali, the Hindu festival of Lights which falls on the day we spend on the island.
This field trip being designed for this class, promises to be an intensive and experiential way of understanding both the Trans-Atlantic and the Indian Ocean slave trades and migrations. It will pull together the entwined histories of the British and Dutch empires that the students have seen evidence of in both Accra and Cape Town that have influenced also the history of this island. It will look forward to Cochin, India, where the indentured servants who arrived on this island and also in Cape Town originated. Finally, as it is a newly refurbished museum, it will also open up debates on the question of history, memory, and representation that runs throughout the texts we are reading.
1. Understand the significance of the geography of the island to events of African, European, and Asian history.
2. Identify and discuss the African and Indian contributions arising out of the forced migrations of slavery and indentured service to the cultural life of Mauritius manifest in manifold cultural representations.
3. Consider the complexities of memorializing painful pasts.