Sem/African AM Lit (Harlem Renaissance) (CSAP/LSE)

The Harlem
Renaissance & Other Modernisms

While the period of intense
artistic activity centered in Harlem that reached its zenith in the 1920s is
often seen as a relatively isolated, racially-defined phenomenon, this course
will examine the origins, development, and legacy of “The Harlem
Renaissance” in the context of radically changing social institutions and
cultural concepts in the United States and transnationally during the first
four decades of the 20th century. In examining how the writing, practices, and
performance of the “New Negro” articulated with emergent concepts of
nation, race, cultural pluralism, gender, sexuality, and class, the course will
closely investigate the influences of

  • The Great Migration
  • Small presses, “upstart” New York publishers,
    and journals
  • Boasian anthropological theory and practice
  • “Primitivism” in art and literature
  • Visual and performance (music and drama) art
  • White Patrons (Hurston:
    “Negrotarians”) and Black Elites (Hurston: “Niggerati”)
  • Garveyism

As a framework, we will
begin with an examination of the material, scientific, philosophical,
aesthetic, cultural, and political backgrounds and concerns of the various and
often conflicting sets of disciplines and theories that have been contributed
to the notion of modernism such as

  • The theories of Darwin, Einstein, and Marx
  • Decadence and Aestheticism
  • Symbolism and Impressionism

We will also examine the
tensions between emergent “anti-colonial” nationalisms and
transnational modernisms such as

  • The “Lost Generation” and Anglo-American
  • The Gaelic Renaissance and Irish Modernism
  • Negritude

Although all signal a break,
of sorts, from previous practices, these modernisms differ in their vision of
the role of the artist in society, which is also a fundamental topic of debate
among the writers and artist of the Harlem Renaissance. In particular, we will
focus on such debates in terms of the work of Zora Neale Hurston, Countee
Cullen, and Langston Hughes.

In comparing these
modernisms, we will consider them not as isolated movements but in terms of
transnational mobility and transcultural exchange, ultimately focusing on the
profound influence that representations of Africa and Africans had on not only
concepts on modernism but on the representational system of the European
Enlightenment against which modernism was constructed.

Goals: In addition to
gaining familiarity with the major literary works of the literary and artistic
movement known as the Harlem Renaissance, students will develop a deeper
appreciation of how this movement 1) was a “nodule point” in the
development and articulation of not only other modernisms but European
Enlightenment in general and 2) and how it shaped the way literary and cultural
critics have continued to conceptualize notions such as nation, race, culture,
class, gender, and sexuality.

Requirements: Ashort paper
every other week that concentrates on interpretive problems or questions raised.
Discussion leading and presentation of research. A 15-20 page seminar paper.


The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader, David Lewis, ed.

The New Negro, Alain Locke, ed.  (1925)

Anita Patterson, Race, American Literature, and Transnational
(2008). Electronic Format, MyLibrary.

Course Reader: additional
primary material and secondary articles/book chapters.