The Americas

*NOTE: All readings listed in the course descriptions below are subject to change.



FALL 2019


Alexandra Watson

The Americas: Contact Zones

This course will approach the idea of America in a broad sense, both geographically and temporally, with attention to how each text constructs, deconstructs, and/or reconstructs ideas of America. We will assess the ways in which an author’s identity and context shape their representation of encounters with their cultural “others.” We will practice relying on the insights that close reading of these texts give us, rather than making unfounded assumptions about these identities and contexts.

We’ll explore thematic oppositions—coloniality and indigeneity; darkness and lightness; freedom and bondage; belonging and alienation; assimilation and cultural preservation; subservience and resistance--while observing how these concepts influence one another and thus resist binaries. We’ll read literature by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Phillis Wheatley, Herman Melville, José Martí, and Nella Larsen; and critical texts by W.E.B. Du Bois, Franz Fanon, Toni Morrison, and others.

Our reading list will not be comprehensive or fully representative of “The Americas”--this is not a literature survey course, but a writing course with some thematic threads across its readings.

In this class, we will read, discuss, and write about texts that describe physical and psychological violence, including sexual and racial violence. We will discuss the relevance of texts and research we encounter to contemporary controversies. Working through discomfort is often essential to deep intellectual engagement with texts and peers, especially as we come across new concepts, contexts, and perspectives. We will talk about how to work through and reflect on this discomfort in class discussions. If you have concerns about your engagement with the readings at any point, please come talk to me during student hours.



Linn Cary Mehta

The Americas: Contact, Colonialism, Revolutions 

This course breaks away from traditional distinctions separating Caribbean, North, South and Central American literatures. Through its literature, the Americas emerge not as colonial subjects but as active historical and aesthetic agents. Emerging as the geographical site of modernity, American literature is characterized by diversity and innovation. In addition to poetry and essays, short stories and a novel, this multicultural curriculum includes works ranging in scope from fictional accounts to autobiographies, as well as indigenous genres such as creation myths, slave narratives, and New World declarations of independence. We will discuss both linguistic and cultural translation, and the interaction of cultures. Readings will be in English, though students are encouraged to read in the original language. Bilingual students (especially Spanish) are welcome.

Readings will include:

Anzaldúa, Gloria. From Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987) 
Apess, William, "An Indian's Looking-Glass for the White Man" (1833)
Bolivar, Simón Bolívar. The Jamaica Letter (1815)
de la Cruz, Sor Juana. Poems, Protest, and a Dream: Selected Writings (Penguin)
Darío, Rubén. From Prosas profanes y otros poemas (1896)
Dickinson, Emily. Selected Poems (c. 1860)
Esteban Echeverría, “El Matadero” (“The Slaughterhouse”, 1838)
Gates, Henry Louis, ed. The Classic Slave Narratives (Signet)
Gómez de Avellaneda, Gertrudis. Sab (Texas Pan-American Series)
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Young Goodman Brown and Other Stories (Dover)
Martí, Jose. “El Poeta Walt Whitman” (1887)
Melville, Herman. Bartleby and Benito Cereno (Dover)
L’Ouverture, Toussaint. Memoir of Toussaint L’Ouverture (1803)
Poe, Edgar Allan, The Gold-Bug and Other Tales (Dover)
Tedlock, Dennis, tr. Popol Vuh (The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life)
Thoreau, Henry David. Civil Disobedience (1849)
Wheatley, Phillis. Poems on Various Subjects (1773)
Whitman, Walt. “Song of Myself” (1855)


Jennifer Rosenthal

The Americas: Imagining America in New York City

Discover New York City! Beginning in the 19th century and moving to the present day, this course employs NYC as a lens through which we focus our exploration of the ways race, class, gender, and religion play parts in defining America. Our readings alternately imagine and challenge the idea that NYC is a locus of freedom and the American dream, a place that welcomes immigrants and refugees. Traveling back in time, we explore the city that Walt Whitman idealized as inclusive and democratic and that Frederick Douglass, escaping slavery, knew as a place of precarious freedom. Moving forward, we explore Edith Wharton’s city of the 1880’s Gilded Age, Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes’ city of the 1920’s Harlem Renaissance. We explore Alan Ginsberg’s city of the 1950’s Beats and the contemporary city of international immigrants and newcomers. In plays, poems, novels, and short stories – and in excursions throughout the city – we explore the diverse and startling ways NYC becomes home for our authors and for us. Writers may include Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, Horatio Alger, Edith Wharton, Edgar Alan Poe, Isador Zangwill, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Alan Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, Oscar Hijuelos, Bernard Malamud, and Teju Cole.

Textbook costs: you may borrow required texts from the Barnard/FLIP library, or you can purchase your own copies at Book Culture. If you purchase the books, the total cost for books and for excursions should not exceed $50.