Studies: Life Writing


“The human” may seem like an obvious term. However, it defies definition, and is continually being challenged. Understandings of who and what constitute the human are complex and politically charged. Whether individuals or groups are granted human status can determine whether they live or die. This course explores how individual life narratives, especially when situated in relation to collective traumas, can expose ways in which some people are excluded from the category of the human, or deemed “subhuman.” These narratives also can challenge—on ethical and legal grounds, as well as through appeals to emotion—violence-inducing human/inhuman divides. In exploring understandings of the human and struggles for human rights by those denied those rights or even the status of human altogether, the course works through four different historical examples. (1) Holocaust narratives; (2) narratives about life in occupied Palestine;  (3) accounts of Hurricane Katrina; and (4) life writing accounts (social media campaigns such as #BlackLivesMatter as well as film) that contest police violence against Black Americans.


Texts (tentative listing) in addition to a Course Reader:

Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz; Art Spiegelman, Maus; Atef abu Saif, The Drone Eats with Me; Norma Hashim, editor. Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Child Prisoners Speak; Rachel Corrie, My Name Is Rachel Corrie; Dave Eggers, Zeitoun; Tia Lessin and Carl Deal (dirs), Trouble the Water; Ryan Coogler (dir), Fruitvale Station; Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me; Claudia Rankine, Citizen; Patrisse Cullors, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir.


A term paper of 10-12 pages (50%). A few short writing assignments and several quizzes (15%). A presentation + short essay (20%). Group journals (15%). Attendance is mandatory; missed classes will negatively impact your grade.