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Black Studies: Course Descriptions, 2013-

A guide to our history, our present, our future, solely for our wellbeing.

Contemporary African Writing (LIT2383.01) Spring 2019

Faculty: Phillip B. Williams
 

‘In your text, you treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving.’ —How to Write About Africa, Binyavanga Wainaina This class is an introductory survey of writing from Africa within the last few decades. The history of Africa has been captured in poetry, novels, plays, and short stories from writers of countries rich with literary traditions often ignored and vilified in the West. Individual experiences have been lumped into unrecognizable sameness that belies the truth about African writing: it has existed in complexity and diversity for a long time despite colonial and neocolonial attempts to erase and deny said existence. This class seeks to remedy that ignorance by looking closely at how African writers portray their own lives with critical rigor and imagination. Writers of interest may include but are not limited to Chimamanda Adichie, Nnedi Okorafor, Akwaeke Emezi, Wole Soyinka, Ladan Osman, Binyavanga Wainaina, and Uzodinma Iweala. 

Black Music: Black Music Division – A Retrospective (MHI2238.01) Spring 2019

Faculty: Michael Wimberly

In the early 70s Bennington music faculty members Bill Dixon and Milford Graves guided Bennington students through a black aesthetic, an awakening using music, words and deeds. Their compositions, teachings, and innovative approach to creative music boldly addressed a multitude of issues in the wake of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. This ever-evolving course reflects on social, political and cultural content created as an outcry from artists such as Nina Simone, Beyoncé Knowles, Jimi Hendrix, The Last Poets, Public Enemy, Kendrick Lamar, Anohni and many others. Students will investigate how these movements instigated an awakening in the artistic community that inspired a revolution that continues to resonate today. Researching Bennington’s archives, documentaries, photos, video, recorded, and written words, along with videotaped musical performances from the 2017 installation of Black Spring presented in the USDAN Gallery, students will formulate a collective memory installation through a campus invited presentation.

Visual Cultures of the Americas, 1500-Now (AH4119) Spring 2019

Faculty: Vanessa Lyon

Recognizing the sheer impossibility of a survey of American art, properly conceived, this micro-historical intermediate course selectively explores the arts, architecture, material, and visual cultures of North and Latin America—from Canada to the continent of South America, dwelling at length in the U.S. Through close looking, field trips, and transdisciplinary reading and research, we’ll seek to re/insert politics, race, ethnicity, class, and gender in the art historical study of indigenous, Colonial, and modern (American) art. Our exploration of painting, photography, and sculpture will be enriched by the originality and variety of ‘decorative arts’ and ‘native crafts.’ 

Hip Hop Archaeology (MS2105) Fall 2018

Faculty: Brian Murphy

Hip hop music producers have long practiced “diggin’ in the crates”—a phrase that denotes searching through record collections to find material to sample. In this course, we will examine the material and technological history of hip hop culture, with particular attention to hip hop’s tendency to sample, remix, mash-up, and repurpose existing media artifacts to create new works or art. We will use a media archaeological approach to examine the precise material conditions that first gave rise to graffiti art, deejaying, rapping, and breakdancing, and to analyze hip hop songs, videos, and films. Hip hop archaeology is a critical and artistic practice that seeks to interpret the layers of significance embedded in the artifacts of hip hop culture. How does hip hop archaeology remix the past, the present, and the future? How do the historical, political, and cultural coding of hip hop artifacts change as they increasingly become part of institutional collections, from newly established hip hop archives at Cornell and Harvard to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture?

Books:

  1. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America
  2. Born to Use Mics: Reading Nas's Illmatic

Sun Ra: Space is the Place (MPF 2146) Fall 2018, Fall 2015, Spring 2014

Faculty: Michael Wimberly

SUN RA…SPACE IS THE PLACE takes a look at the life of Herman Poole Blount, founder and creator of the Sun Ra Arkestra. Considered a prolific composer of jazz and a pioneer of electronic music, Herman Blount aka Le Sony’r Ra or Sun Ra, was quite controversial for his electronic music and unorthodox lifestyle. He claimed he was of the “Angel Race” and not from Earth, but from Saturn, after experiencing an alien abduction. Sun Ra’s music touched on the entire history of jazz, from ragtime to swing, bebop to free jazz, electronic music and space music. This course examines Sun Ra’s musical timeline with a greater focus on song lyrics, poetry, and his early beginnings and influences. Students will view landmark and related Sun Ra films for its poetic content, as well as present midterm and final projects inspired from the collection. 

Books:

  1. Space Is The Place, The Lives And Times Of Sun Ra 
  2. Sun Ra Interviews and Essays

Westworld/Our World (AH4115) Spring 2018

Faculty: Vanessa Lyon

Westworld, HBO's "science fiction western thriller" television series, drives a broadly-conceived visual culture/cultural studies course in which we identify and analyze various aesthetics and genres, histories and visions, typologies and allegories on screen and off; both inside and outside the show's narrative. Possibilities include: feminism, sexploitation, and the oppositional gaze; artificial intelligence/cyborgs; Afrofuturism; American Indian and indigenous rights and representation; remakes; tv westerns; queerness and speculative fiction; Du Boisian double consciousness, etc.

Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (LIT2277) Spring 2018

Faculty: Benjamin Anastas

All novels are about certain minorities," Ralph Ellison insisted in a 1955 interview with The Paris Review. "The individual is a minority. The universal in the novel--and isn't that what we're all clamoring for these days?--is reached only through the depiction of the specific man in a specific circumstance." If this is true, then the enduring power of Ellison's Invisible Man (1953) lies in both the specifics of its depiction of African-American life in America and the literary and philosophical traditions that Ellison embraced in order to tell this story. We'll read Ellison's only complete novel slowly and carefully for the full seven weeks of this class, alongside influences like Dostoevsky, Richard Wright, James Joyce, Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and T.S. Eliot. We'll also explore the vernacular traditions (Jazz and Blues) that help animate the novel's language and ideas.

Zappa meets P-Funk (MHI2107) Spring 2018

Faculty: Michael Wimberly

Frank Zappa, (1940-1993) was one of the most innovative musicians of the 20th century. He led the sixties California psychedelic music scene and then went on to compose mind bending jazz and classical compositions. He was a prolific composer and also a hero of free speech by speaking out against proposed censorship laws in the ’80’s. George Clinton, (1941 - ), was the principal architect of the genre of music that has come to be known as P-Funk, via his ensembles Parliament and Funkadelic. He is cited as one of a triad of most influential innovators in funk music alongside James Brown and Sly Stone. His music fused diverse genres such as Motown, The Beatles, Soul, Psychedelia, Classical and many more. Clinton has influenced several generations of musicians since such as The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Prince, Primal Scream, LL Cool J, Digital Underground and Primus. He is widely cited as a major influence on the development of hip hop music ranking 2nd on the list of most widely sampled artists. Students will work through deep listening, reading, viewing of images, creative writing, scores and paraphernalia.

Toni Morrison and Afro-Diasporic (Re)Mything (LIT2256.01) Fall 2017, Fall 2016

Faculty: Phillip Williams

Toni Morrison is one of America’s most cherished, studied, and criticized writers. Using antebellum and contemporary American history as her thematic and temporal foundation, Morrison has written about race, gender, class, and sexuality with a keen eye on mythology and fable. In this class, we will read through many of her novels, including but not limited to Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, and A Mercy, in search for how history and craft form her timeless stories. To supplement the novels we will read several essays by leading Morrison scholars; essays that explicate traditional Afro-Diasporic spiritual traditions such as Yoruba, Santeria, and Ba Kongo; as well as short stories that invite a deeper understanding of how Afro-Diasporic spirituality and Black American fables inform Morrison’s considerations.

Miles Runs the Voodoo Down: Rock Drumming through a Jazz Lens (MIN4027) Fall 2017

Faculty: Brian Chase

Using the classic Miles Davis track as a reference point, this performance based course will focus on the jazz tradition as establishing the foundation for contemporary drumming styles, particularly that of rock, as well as rhythm-and-blues and modern jazz. Class time will be organized into two main emphases, that of drumming technique and method, and that of drumming history and stylistic trends. Students are required to spend significant individual practice time on the instrument in order to integrate the material into his/her playing. In addition, exercises in writing about music (i.e. music criticism) will be assigned to develop a language for discussing the technical and conceptual aspects of artistry. The material presented in this class is aimed to be universally applicable to drummers both advanced and beginner, and is geared toward developing each student’s individual ability while learning in a group setting.

Black Studies: Black Music Division (MUS2149) Fall 2017, Fall 2016

Faculty: Michael Wimberly

In the early 70s Bennington music faculty members Bill Dixon and Milford Graves guided Bennington students through the black esthetic lens with music, words and deeds. Their compositions, teachings, and innovative approaches to creative music boldly addressed a multitude of issues inspired by the Civil Rights Movement. This 7 week course explores social, political and cultural content by artists such as Nina Simone, Erykah Badu, Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix, The Last Poets, Public Enemy, Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper. Students will investigate how the movement instigated an awakening in the artistic community through researching various Bennington archives, documentaries, photos and performances. Students are strongly encouraged to take as many of the three Black Studies courses as possible (Karthik Pandian’s Black Studies: Black Film Division and Black Studies: Black Video Division)

Black Studies: Black Spring I (FV4318.01) Spring 2017

Faculty: Karthik Pandian
 

Students who have taken Black Studies courses in the Fall 2016 term will use this course to realize an exhibition in the Usdan Gallery based on their work and research into the past, present and future of black lives at Bennington College. While the centerpiece of the exhibition will be the collaborative video produced in Black Studies: Black Video Division course, it will be contextualized by archival materials, props, costumes and other artifacts from the shoot. This class will collaborate with Michael Wimberly’s “Black Studies: Black Music Division” on sound work for the installation.

Introduction to Contemporary African American Poetry (LIT2505.02) Spring 2017

Faculty: Phillip Williams

African American poetry has a rich tradition that begins in the 1700s with Jupiter Hammon, moves through the early 1900s with the Harlem Renaissance, and finds itself in the radical politics of the Black Arts Movement (BAM) during the 1960s. We will explore this lyrical moment post the BAM Era in order to excavate current prosodic expressions of the human condition from three African-American poets: Terrance Hayes, Harryette Mullen, and Natasha Trethewey.

Books:

  1. Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000 (American Poets Continuum)
  2. Does Your House Have Lions?
  3. Patient.
  4. Thrall: Poems

Latin American and Caribbean Feminisms in Perspective (ANT4106) Spring 2017

Faculty: Laura Nussbaum-Barberena

This course will explore feminisms from Latin America through theoretical, analytical, methodological, testimonial and ethnographic literature. The course will weave contemporary writing from Latin America and the Caribbean with decolonized/global South/women of color feminist theory and critique. Specifically, we will explore the growing recognition of localized, yet interconnected feminisms throughout the region. Through the written work of these communities, we will explore how these diverse feminisms emerge with regard to a community’s race, culture, class, nationality, sexuality and spatial locations, throughout the region. Course readings will also explore how feminists respond the dominance of Western feminisms. We will examine the seminal theoretical work which informs them. As an anthropology course, we will approach feminist perspective through examinations of the historical construction of the hierarchies and structural forces to which contemporary feminisms respond.

Black Studies: Black Film Division (FV2309.01) Spring 2016, Fall 2016

Faculty: Karthik Pandian

This film history course examines the Black American independent cinema of the 1960s-80s. We will screen landmark works by filmmakers such as Charles Burnett, Haile Gerima, Kathleen Collins and Julie Dash along with videos by contemporary artists. Screenings will be followed by discussions exploring the key thematic and formal preoccupations of black filmmakers of the era as well as their relevance to the experience of race today.

“Is it not also a fact that some can see the inclusion of Black music as a division as a possible precedent for a black art division, a black drama division, a black dance division, etc.?” – Bill Dixon, Bennington College Faculty Member in his 1974 Statement of Intent for the Black Music Division”

Class, Race, and Gender: Rewriting the Rules of the Game (APA4155.01) Fall 2016

Faculty: Mohammad Moeini Feizabadi

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” —Edmund Burke
“Institutions are the rules of the game.” —Douglass C. North

In this course, first we will try to answer several questions: why is our society so polarized, and what are the roots of social conflict? Why do social groups confront each other at all, and how? Can we understand what causes violence? As Marxists have long argued, is  ‘class’ the only explanatory factor? What about race and gender? By focusing on 3-dimensional matrix of class, gender, and race (including ethnicity) we will explore how social structures that nurture social conflict, polarization, and violence are shaped, how they function, and why they are sustained. Our focus will be on the intersectional nexus of class, race, and gender, as we cannot understand the issues tackled in this class if these three factors are studied in isolation from each other. In addition to the relationship between violence and conflict and these various social identities, we will also study how social ills such as inequality, unemployment, segregation, and discrimination reinforce the very same social structures that have produced them in the first place and engage the question of a dialectical reproduction of social structures.

In the second part of the course, we will examine the ways we can attempt to rewrite the rules of the game, and how we might conceivably transform social engagement on a macro as well as micro level by challenging and confronting the predominant quotidian norms that govern social interaction, cooperation, and competition.

Not Quite Passing: Understanding Racial Identity in America (LIT2254.01) Fall 2016

Faculty: Brando Skyhorse

In this class, students will confront the idea of “passing,” which is what happens when someone tries to get something tangible to improve their daily quality of life by occupying a space meant for someone else. Passing can happen in any context (you can pass for another gender, social class, or sexual orientation), but most often occurs in the context of race. This course will explore the idea of racial passing by studying the books of Allyson Hobbs, Nella Larsen, Claudine Chiawei O’Hearn, as well as numerous articles and essays. Students will be expected to write three short papers, one final paper, and participate in one oral presentation over the course of the semester.

Echoes of Africa: Subjectivities, Dreams and Impressions (HIS4112.01) Fall 2016

Faculty: Maboula Soumahoro

What is Africa? This is a significant intellectual question that this course will seek to explore. Can the continent be confined to its physical and geographical materiality? Is the African continent a discourse, a project, a memory, or a desire? Each developed, envisioned or expressed by its inhabitants as well as the members of its diaspora? Surveying both specific historical periods and contemporary times, students attending this course will be invited to examine, journey through, and interpret the various historical, political, and cultural elements, figures, and movements that have contributed to shaping global visions and understandings of the African continent. Drawing from a variety of sources (books, scholarly articles, music and films), this survey will cover the Americas through systematic comparative analyses. Students will be encouraged to reflect on a variety of articulations of blackness and africanness among people of African descent through different historical periods and locations.

Historic Preservation in the United States: An Intersectional Approach (EDU2216.01) Spring 2016

Faculty: Lydia Brassard

2016 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the U.S. National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as well as the U.S. National Park Service Centennial. Over the last half-century, the effects of the NHPA and the expansion of the National Park Service have radically reshaped urban cities and communities across the nation. An outcome of the accelerated preservation projects and policies in the late 1960s and 1970s was that previously ignored and marginalized locales became potential candidates for local, state, and federal registries. This course will be an anthropological investigation into the productive tensions that emerge from the unstable, but useful category of heritage preservation, through which individual, community, and national attachments and imaginaries – economic, cultural, political – are produced, undermined, reproduced, and resisted.

Given that representations and interpretations of history are political and have longstanding consequences with regard to both perpetuating, and undoing social inequality, the course’s guiding question is: How have race, class, and gender intersected in the field of historic preservation in the United States over time? This question will be considered at the local and national level as it relates to historiography, funding, grassroots organization, legislation, and the labor market, and will be complemented by similar inquiries in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.

Readings for this course are at intersection of anthropological literature on cultural heritage production, gender, and place, with a particular focus on the urban context. 

Race, Class, and Apartheid (POL4207.01) Spring 2016

Faculty: Paul Voice

This class examines the South African system of Apartheid, seeking to understand its origins, practice, and consequences. We will read from a wide range of sources including scholarly and political texts to understand how race and class structured South African society and how the transition to a post-Apartheid society has confronted the past. We will frame this discussion by engaging with South African literature, art, film, and music.

FUNK . . . as Rhythmic Counterpoint (MPF4111.01) Spring 2016

Faculty: Bruce Williamson, Michael Wimberly

This course explores approaches to interlocking patterns within a rhythm section by looking at funk based genres such as Afro-pop performed by artists Fela Kuti, Amadou & Mariam, Youssou N’Dour, Oumou Sangare etc, some Brazilian funk + American artists such as James Brown, Sly Stone, P-Funk and Prince, etc.

Composing, notating and arranging rhythmic grooves for the rhythm section will give the student a valuable experience while exploring and performing this syncopated music. Interested horn players will be asked to also play a rhythm-section instrument and compose horn arrangements.

The Black Aesthetic (LIT4267.01) Spring 2016

Faculty: Wesley Brown

This course will focus on the history and practice of the black aesthetic, as it has been defined by African Americans from three incarnations: slave narratives, the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s and 30’s and the Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s and its evolution thru the end of the 20th Century. There will be assigned readings from various literary critics, scholars and artists on the concept of the ‘black aesthetic’ and how their work has helped to define the complexities of black life.

The goal of the class is to introduce students to the ‘black aesthetic’ tradition and its crucial role in the continuing conversation of race in the 21st Century. Texts will include New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement, edited by Lisa Collins & Margo Crawford, and Afro-American Poetics: Revisions of Harlem and the Black Aesthetic by Houston Baker. Additional readings (e.g., excerpts from books and articles) will be assigned and handed out as the semester progresses.

Peoples and Cultures of Africa (ANT2118.01) Spring 2015

Faculty: Miroslava Prazak
 

Why is there so much famine? Why so many civil wars? Why so much misunderstanding? To place current events in Africa in a meaningful framework, this course explores indigenous African cultures, drawing on ethnographic examples from selected ethnic groups representing major subsistence strategies, geographical and ecological zones, and patterns of culture. We will explore how cultural practices and ecology influence each other and affect the lives of Africa’s farmers, herders, and workers. We will also examine new social and cultural practices that influence the survival of societies. Consequently, we will locate indigenous coping strategies within their historical context, in order to understand their role in contemporary society, and to answer another question: What are the social strengths of African societies?

Hip-Hop Dance in Context (DAN2308) Spring 2015

Hip-Hop Dance in Context is a dynamic multi-dimensional mind body training experience that actively explores the genealogy of African American social dance formations from authentic Jazz to Hip-Hop.

Students will gain a contextual/historical knowledge of American social dance formations; investigate personal voice; explore embodied pluralisms and tonal fluidity; and engage in the rich complexities and depth in both physical and intellectual realms.

Come experience this intense, amazing, thought provoking journey…learn first-hand the rhythms, moods, character, dynamics, creative expression and improvisation of an American dance continuum. Prepare to be exhausted, challenged, enlightened, opened, exhilarated and transformed by experiencing Hip-Hop dance in a way never before explored.

The class will explore the cultural contexts of hip-hop dance and its related forms through reading, discussions, film screenings, and experiential learning in the dance studio.

Power and Place: A United States Perspective (SS2107) Spring 2015

Faculty: Lydia Brassard

What makes a neighborhood “sketchy”? This interdisciplinary course will consider the social processes through which contemporary spatial imaginaries are produced, reproduced, and reconfigured in the context of the contemporary United States. Broadly linked to questions of power, knowledge, and representation, this course will critically examine the spatial dimensions of citizenship and social identities, focusing on the way in which language and discourse become material through global and domestic policies. Understanding that spaces and places are embedded with coded assumptions about belonging and desirability that are nationally and historically specific will provide students with a foundation for understanding and critiquing practices of U.S. imperialism and other issues relating to global inequality. 

Drawing on history, geography, anthropology, and philosophy, the semester’s readings will include an array of topics including settler colonialism, various forms of migration, and the politics of military bases abroad. Students with an interest in social inequality, education, and public history will find this course of interest. 

Books: 

  • An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States 
  • How Racism Takes Place
  • Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia
  • Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History
  • Space Invaders: Race, Gender and Bodies Out of Place

The Jazz Age Revisited (LIT2304) Spring 2014

Faculty: Benjamin Anastas

"It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire," F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his epitaph to the Jazz Age. It was something else too: a social and literary revolution, fueled by new communications technology, music, popular entertainment, the end of racial segregation, and a creative renaissance in a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan called Harlem. Modernism, the Bohemians of Greenwich Village and Montparnasse, the lawlessness of the Prohibition era are all a part of the cultural backdrop. We'll read the leading lights of the literary scene in New York and in Paris (Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes) and their counterparts in booming Harlem: Countee Cullen, Jean Toomer, James Weldon Johnson, and Nella Larsen.

Exploring Race: Beyond Black and White (MHI4695) Fall 2013

Faculty: Michael Wimberly

Exploring Ideas About Race: Beyond Black and White aims to develop a personal and group exploration of the burgeoning field of the philosophy of race. The course will explore three primary questions about race—What is race? What is racism? And what should we do about both?—while engaging in a critical discourse, a discourse that requires respect, self reflection, and a willingness to challenge firmly held beliefs.

Performance Project: Revisit (DAN4218) Spring 2013

Faculty: Souleymane Badolo

Students will begin working with materials and images from Souleymane Badolo's own movement style, working both inside and outside the Burkina Faso tradition. We will then develop new materials based on more recent research ranging from divination practices to "The Godfather of Soul," James Brown. This project will encompass different ways of thinking about movement. We will work collaboratively to develop six sections of movement material that can be randomly ordered for each performance.

Dance Now/Africa (APA2157.01) Spring 2019

Faculty: Souleymane Badolo
 

A great deal of what we know of Non-Western dance makers is through written critiques, reviews, and social media. Contemporary dance artists in West and East Africa are essentially unknown in the United States. Dance as an art form is situated in a context of politics, history and the environment. In this course, we will look at, not only the critiques and reviews, but also the words, gestures, visual and sonic designs and films of the West and East African choreographers themselves. Students will have the opportunity to speak with (and in a few instances meet with) the living African dance makers. Students will be expected to write response papers after studying various choreographers that explore the sources that influenced their work, both artistically, but also drawing from their history, politics and the cultural and ecological environment. Additionally, students will use all available resources to identify and research another current dance-maker in West or East Africa and present their research to the class for a final project.

Tribes, Traditions & Modern Practices of African Dance (DAN2135) Spring 2019

Faculty: Souleymane Badolo

In this course, we will focus on the specific dance in many areas of Africa including: Zimbabwe, South Africa, Ghana, Benin, Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire. We will study the movement history and meaning behind these different cultural styles and work to understand the many different stories that inform them. Students will be expected to research the use of costume and instruments. Furthermore, through movement, we will explore the different traditional and modern practices.

Black Queer Writing and Theoretical Approaches (LIT2327) Fall 2018

Faculty: Phillip Williams

This class serves an introduction to Black queer writing and the theories that feed into and are inspired from said writing. We will read poetry, fiction, and essays by writers who revolutionized and made possible Black queer expression in the United States. What is the necessary vocabulary for Black writers left out of white academic and creative circles? When white gender and sexuality theory has no interest in Blackness or the Black experience, who stepped to the plate and gave voice to those often ignored and vilified for their unique experiences? Authors such as Essex Hemphill, Audre Lorde, Pat Parker, E. Patrick Johnson, Loraine Hansberry, Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Melvin Dixon, Reginald Shepherd, Thomas Glave, L Lamar Wilson, R Erica Doyle, and Alexis Pauline Gumbs are just a handful of writers we will read together in class.

Race, Class, Environment (SCT4102) Fall 2018

Faculty: John Hultgren

What is the relationship between racism, economic inequality, and environmental degradation? Are these modes of injustice the consequence of a single overarching structure (e.g. capitalism or colonialism) against which resistance should be aimed? Are they formed by overlapping, but relatively autonomous, structures that nonetheless form a Gordian knot of oppression? Or are they the result of cross-cutting social processes and institutions that must be grappled with in historically contingent ways? The goal of this class is to equip students with the theoretical and conceptual tools through which to critically examine the empirical relationship between race, class, and the environment. To do so, we'll engage with a broad and eclectic body of literature, including: critical race theory, labor history, Marxist and post-Marxist theory, whiteness studies, post-colonialism, environmental political theory, and environmental justice studies. 

The course will be divided into three units. We will begin by exploring race, class, and the environment individually, focusing on each concept's origin, its historical permutations, and its intersection with a range of social forces. We will then turn to several sites that can help us think through the complex relationships that exist between race, class, and the environment in our current world: home, work, wilderness, food, water, and climate. The final third of the class will give students the opportunity to pursue a research project of their own choosing.

Black Nature Writing (LIT2278) Spring 2018

Faculty: Phillip Williams

In this class you will investigate the many faces that nature bears in the poetry of writers of African-descent. You will read poems from the Antebellum period through the contemporary period, poems that defy the myth that Black poets solely write about an urban experience in predictable ways. For Black poets, nature serves as a catalyst for contemplating freedom, complicating thoughts on injustice, and considering how better to use the earth to sustain a life that "civilization," as dictated by Western beliefs, has annihilated. This class focuses heavily and mostly on poetry but there will also be a smattering of essays and fiction to help us better understand how a "tree" means different things in the Black imagination than it does in Eurocentric pondering. Some writers we may read are James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Edward P. Jones, Natasha Trethewey, Jericho Brown, Camille T. Dungy, Tracy K. Smith, June Jordan, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Derrick Austin, Ed Roberson, Rita Dove, Ruth Ellen Kocher, Ross Gay, and many more.

All Movies Matter: Representation in Entertainment (DRA2143) Spring 2018

Faculty: Shawtane Bowen

Examining racial and minority representation (gender, sexual orientation, age, etc.) in the media and entertainment. From Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer", Mickey Rooney in "Breakfast at Tiffany's", and Matt Damon in "The Great Wall" to Zoe Saldana in "Nina", Zoe Saldana in "Avatar", or Zoe Saldana in "Guardians of the Galaxy", this class explores how people of diverse backgrounds are portrayed in mainstream Hollywood and asks the question, what is appropriate, what is right, and does it matter? In addition to analyzing established works, we will also create our own pieces in an effort to determine best practices for improving representation in TV and Film.

Contemporary African Dance I (DAN2124) Spring 2018

Faculty: Souleymane Badolo

Students are guided through a series of isolations, progressions, and concepts that demonstrate neo-traditional African dance styles combined with Solo Badolo’s own movement approach. Cultural, philosophical and aesthetic concepts are shared to assist in understanding and embodying the technique. With emphasis placed on grounded movement, articulation (head, torso, legs, arms) and polyrhythms, students experience fast moving, high impact, cardiovascular dance. In addition to learning fundamental movement vocabulary, each student will develop a practice that facilitates whole body awareness, attention to breathing, and an acknowledgment of self as a citizen of the world.

Caribbean Arts, Theory, and Literature (SCT4151.01) Spring 2018

Faculty: Michael Wimberly, Heather Vermeulen

It’s estimated that over 10.5 million Africans were enslaved and forcibly transported across the Atlantic Ocean from the 16th to the 19th C., the majority to South America and the West Indies. How did enslaved peoples and their descendants maintain or re-forge a sense of identity in the wake of this foundational violence and the erasures of names, religious traditions, languages, and kinship ties that the slave trade sought to enact? This seminar examines the Caribbean as a geographic space and place conditioned by diaspora, as well as an ever-changing imaginary, or even, a practice. Focusing on African Diasporic cultural production emerging from the Caribbean, we will also explore Caribbean Latinidad. Attention to the imbrications of race, gender, sexuality, class, and empire will be central to our interpretive endeavors. Other key questions include: What is “the Caribbean”? Where is “the Caribbean”? When is “the Caribbean”? In what ways does the region’s history of colonization and slavery shape or haunt its contemporary visual art, literature, and music? Potential artists, theorists, and authors include: María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Édouard Glissant, Thomas Glave, M. NourbeSe Philip, Félix González-Torres, Patrick Chamoiseau, Jamaica Kincaid, Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, Ana-Maurine Lara, José Muñoz, Stuart Hall, Shani Mootoo, Grace Jones, Dionne Brand, Ebony Patterson, Antonio Benítez-Rojo, Jafari Allen, Bob Marley, Krudas Cubensi, and Firelei Báez.

Books:

  1. Cereus Blooms at Night
  2. In Another Place, Not Here
  3. In Extremis: Death and Life in 21st-Century Haitian Art
  4. My Garden
  5. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History
  6. Texaco

Afro-Futurism and Black Horror (LIT4289) Fall 2017

Faculty: Phillip Williams

In this class we will read stories, novels, and essays that interrogate the execution and historicity of Black horror and and the Afro-future, using Black horror as the foundation for deeper intellectual and aesthetic delving into Afro-futuristic texts. We will engage with the question: How does Black horror reflect and shatter historical notions of horrific acts against Black people and does Afro-futurism imagine Black people in a safer world or a world that is differently horrific? We will read texts by Octavia Butler, Tananarive Due, Nnedi Okorafor, Walter Mosely, Samuel Delany and others. If time permits we will also watch snippets from films that deal with horror and the future to discuss what difference if any exists across genres exploring similar themes of the monstrous, the inhuman, the hopeful, and the unknown. 

Books:

  1. Beloved
  2. The Devil in Silver: A Novel
  3. The Man in My Basement: A Novel
  4. The Prey of Gods
  5. Wild Seed

Miles Davis (1926-1991): Jazz Pioneer (MHI 2226) Fall 2017, Fall 2015

Faculty: Bruce Williamson

This course will study the 40-year career of legendary jazz trumpeter and innovative band leader Miles Davis. We will examine his beginnings in the Be-Bop movement as a sideman with Charlie Parker, his two famous quintets (one with John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, the other with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock), his collaborations with arranger Gil Evans, and his fusion recordings (jazz with rock, funk and world music) of the 70s and 80s (from the Bitches Brew recording to bands with guitarists Mike Stern and John Scofield). We will study how his playing style and ever-changing conceptual vision of jazz influenced countless musicians to follow. There will be listening, reading, and writing assignments pertaining to the various musical eras and their social context in American Culture. 

Richard Wright and James Baldwin (LIT2193.01) Spring 2017

Faculty: Benjamin Anastas

As writers we were about as unlike as any two writers could possibly be,” James Baldwin wrote of his early mentor and sometimes rival Richard Wright. “We were linked together, really, because both of us were black.” Now that both writers have been canonized, we can read their major works together, side by side, and identify the resonances and irreconcilable differences that make Black Boy and Go Tell it On the Mountain, Another Country and Native Son, just as memorable for readers in our time as they were when they were published. We’ll survey the careers of both American masters as they quarreled with history and found their own principled solutions to America’s race problem.

Books:

  1. Another Country
  2. Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth
  3. Giovanni's Room
  4. Go Tell It on the Mountain (Vintage International)
  5. Native Son (Perennial Classics)
  6. Notes of a Native Son
  7. The Fire Next Time
  8. Uncle Tom's Children (P.S.)

Black Studies: Black Music Division (MHI4102.01) Spring 2017

Faculty: Michael Wimberly
 

This seven-week course encourages students who have taken Black Studies: Black Film Division or Black Studies: Black Video Division courses in the Fall 2016 term to take Black Studies: Black Music Division course spring term. Students will use this course to collaborate and realize an exhibition in the Usdan Gallery based on their work and research into the past, present and future of black lives at Bennington College. While the centerpiece of the exhibition will be the collaborative video produced in Black Studies: Black Video Division course, it will be contextualized by archival materials, and other artifacts, including sound bites, original inspired songs, scores and foley produced this spring term.

Black Studies: Black Spring II (FV4320.02) Spring 2017

Faculty: Karthik Pandian
 

Students who have taken Black Studies courses in the Fall 2016 term will use this course to realize physical and digital documentation of their work and research into the past, present and future of black lives at Bennington College. Participants in this practical course will archive and disseminate the work of Black Studies engaging technologies of print media, video and web distribution.

The Body Remembers: Embodiment, Representation, and the Racial Imaginary (APA4240) Spring 2017

Faculty: Lydia Brassard

This course will engage the socio-historical processes and technologies through which the gendered and racialized black body circulates in the public realm. Toggling between the present, past and future, students will engage with specific visual and material representations of black bodies and their attendant consumption, including “runaway slave” listings; the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings; RuPaul’s Drag Race; and Jim Crow-era memorabilia among others in order to consider the multitude of societal frameworks that render certain bodies as both spectacle and invisible.

This interdisciplinary course will utilize visual art; cultural criticism; performance studies; and anthropological texts and exhibits in order “… to lay bare the questions hidden by the answers” (James Baldwin). Curator and artist, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, will be in residency in May 2017, and will be a guest lecturer for two class meetings.

Paris Noir (FRE4802) Spring 2017

Faculty: Maboula Soumahoro

Because of its location in the Atlantic world, Paris occupies a specific place within the African Diaspora and Africana studies. The course is an invitation to reflect upon the widely accepted imagination developed around the City of Lights: a space of ancient and refined cultural, intellectual, artistic, and culinary traditions. However, seeking to go beyond the myths and the idealized past and present, this course offers a journey through Black Paris from the 18th century to nowadays.

Gender, Race, and Fashion in Western Portraiture: 1500-1950 (AH4106.01) Fall 2016

Faculty: Vanessa Lyon

 For elite early modern sitters, portraits were a valued means of constructing a public image, securing a spouse, memorializing the dead, and emphasizing political and dynastic relationships. Taking as our point of departure period notions of likeness, otherness, and verisimilitude, we will investigate the problems of portrayal through various thematic subgenres as they alter and re-imagine themselves over the course of five centuries. Inasmuch as the idealized presentation of conventional, Petrarchan, i.e. white, feminine beauty is one of portraiture’s tacit tropes, we will ask how contemporary notions of gender and race—of sexual difference, physiognomy, performance, self-display, and skin-color, among other variables—inflect representation, identity, and artistic choice. Independent research will culminate in a scholarly paper and short presentation.

Black Studies: Black Video Division (FV4317.01) Fall 2016

Faculty: Karathik Pandian

This intermediate video production course imagines the past, present and future of black lives at Bennington College. Through archival work on the history of the Black Music Division, research into contemporary issues of race on campus and speculative explorations of the future of these issues and the aesthetic problems they pose, students will work collaboratively to realize a substantial video project by the end of the term. Historical, theoretical and experiential research will inform our formal explorations of blackness in lighting, cinematography, performance and duration. Our work in moving image will intersect with black music, black dance and other forms of creative expression. Together we will explore the history of black collectivity, use this history to put pressure on the present and to imagine possible futures. The collaborative work from this course will be featured in an exhibition in the Usdan Gallery in the Spring of 2017,  contextualized by the research that we undertake.

Black Studies: Black Film Division (First 7 Wednesdays 6:30pm – 9:30pm) is a 2-credit corequisite and students are also strongly encouraged to take Michael Wimberly’s Black Studies: Black Music Division (Second 7 Wednesdays 6:30pm – 9:30pm) as well.

“Is it not also a fact that some can see the inclusion of Black music as a division as a possible precedent for a black art division, a black drama division, a black dance division, etc.?” – Bill Dixon, Bennington College Faculty Member in his 1974 Statement of Intent for the Black Music Division

US-Africa Relations (POL4252.01) Fall 2016, Fall 2013

Faculty: Rotimi Suberu

US foreign policy toward Africa has been characterized variously as one of indifference, neglect, selective/constructive engagement, disengagement, reengagement, and so on. This course probes the US‐Africa relationship in the light of the seeming reprioritization of that interaction by the United States since 9/11. Topics, readings, assignments, and presentations will explore alternative paradigms for analyzing US‐Africa relations, the historical evolution of the relationships, the strengths and weaknesses of specific US Africa‐oriented policies and programs (including the Africa Command, the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and Power Africa), US interventions in African conflicts, and US relations with selected African states, including the anchor states of South Africa, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Kenya.

Understanding Historically Black Colleges and Universities (EDU2215.02) Spring 2016

Faculty: Karen Gross

The higher education landscape is far from homogenous and is fraught with problems, many of which are chronicled virtually daily in the media. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the first of which was founded in 1837, are struggling to survive despite their government supported, and some would say noble, history. They are having enrollment challenges; they have comparatively low graduation rates; they are fiscally fragile, many with tiny endowments; they have governance dilemmas. But, many believe these institutions (or most of them) should be saved because they are our best hope for providing low income, diverse students a quality educational opportunity and a pathway designed to narrow the serious, ever-growing achievement gap among rich and poor students. The uncertain future of HBCUs has implications for educators, politicians, policy makers and those concerned with race in America.

Students will be researching selected HBCUs (both their past and their present, including through use of the new College Scorecard); they will learn about the current state of these institutions through readings and interviews with HBCU students, graduates, administrators and professors (past and present). Students will then prepare actual, implementable “action plans” that proffer strategies for preserving and improving at least some of these institutions. These plans will be circulated to relevant audiences.

Hearing Horace: The Music of Horace Silver (MPF4107) Fall 2015

Faculty: Bruce Williamson

This will be a performance-oriented ensemble that will focus on the songs of jazz composer and pianist Horace Silver (1928-2014). As a young musician, Silver played with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Art Blakey. He formed his own hard-bop group in the 1950s and from then on he was a mentor to talented up-and-coming jazz artists such as trumpeters Donald Byrd, Woody Shaw & Randy Brecker plus saxophonists Benny Golson, Junior Cook, Joe Henderson & Michael Brecker. We will select examples from his long and productive career, including Song For My Father, Sister Sadie, Doodlin’, Filthy McNasty, Nica’s Dream and Senor Blues.

Incarceration in America (APA2108) Spring 2015, Spring 2017, Fall 2014, Spring 2014

Faculty: Annabel Davis-Goff

7 million Americans are under correctional supervision. The United States of America has the highest documented rate of incarceration in the world. Too many people are in prison, and in many cases the current system doesn’t work. It is inefficient, inhumane, and does not accomplish rehabilitation. It also costs too much – financially as well as in terms of human suffering – the current $74 billion spent each year does not include either other incalculable associated costs or the far greater future resulting social and financial consequences.

There are alternatives and they work better and cost less. We will listen to experts on several aspects of incarceration, and will explore and discuss such questions as alternatives to incarceration programs, race and incarceration, drugs and incarceration, incarceration and the mentally ill, collateral consequences, probation, and children of incarcerated parents.

Recent African American Poetry (LIT4118) Spring 2015

Faculty: Michael Dumanis

This Honors Seminar will intensively explore the work of established and emerging African American poets of the past forty years. We will begin with a brief overview of African American poetry from the eighteenth century to the Black Arts Movement of the 1970s, then proceed to discuss a different poet each week. Along the way we will consider whether a distinctive "Black Aesthetic" exists in American poetry; the role jazz and blues motifs play in African American literature; the ways different African American poets treat themes of legacy, history, culture, and community; and the effects of race, gender, sexual orientation, and class on constructions of African American identity. Poets to be discussed could include Ai, Kamau Brathwaite, Jericho Brown, Lucille Clifton, Terrance Hayes, Yusef Komunyakaa, Nathaniel Mackey, Dawn Lundy Martin, Shane McCrae, Harryette Mullen, Claudia Rankine, Tracy K. Smith, Natasha Trethewey, and Kevin Young. There will be two major papers.

The Ferguson Report: A Living Document (MOD2152) Spring 2015

Faculty: Crina Archer

In August of 2014, a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed, 18-year-old black man, in Ferguson, Missouri. According to a recent study, Brown's race rendered him 21 times more likely to be killed by a police officer's bullet than had he been a young, white man. Broad public criticism of the shooting and of a grand jury's failure to indict the officer intensified at the local and national levels, prompting the Department of Justice to launch an investigation of the policing practices in Ferguson. 


In this course, we will read the resulting report, released in March 2015, which details the mechanisms and motivations of "unlawful law enforcement" and the impact of predatory and racially discriminatory policing practices on the Ferguson community. Our challenge will be to read this document as a report focused on one American city, but also to place it within a larger context of racial injustice and the use of force. Students will be working with annotation tools to contribute their own supporting materials and context (such as text comments, videos, or links to online sources), in the hopes of collectively creating a living version of the Ferguson Report.

African Music Ensemble (MHI4134) Fall 2014, Spring 2014

Faculty: Michael Winberly

African Music Ensemble explores the music, drumming and songs of West Africa and Mozambique. This performance ensemble will explore traditional bala (West African xylophone), djembe, dundunba, kpanlogo, n'todje, shakere, and songs in Wolof, Manding, Yoruba. 

Contemporary African I/Burkina Faso (DAN2307) Fall 2013

Faculty: Souleymane Badolo

Rooted in Contemporary African dance; dancing over/under/inside and outside the tradition. This is a course in Souleymane Badolo's own movement style. We always begin class with a warm-up that involves both physical and mental preparation. We listen to internal rhythms and the beat of the music, learn about how to use the body in the space it occupies, and find ways of physically incorporating new information - answering questions the body may have.

Politics and Governance in Africa (POL4237) Fall 2013

Faculty: Rotimi Suberu

Among regions of the world, Africa is more or less unique for its large number of fragile and unstable states, poor governance, explosive social and demographic pressures, and recent hopeful economic and political transitions. This course surveys the big questions, enduring challenges, and leading theories of contemporary African politics and governance. Themes to be explored include contending scholarly perspectives on Africas developmental puzzle, the impacts of Western colonialism and major international actors and institutions, neo-patrimonial personalized rule and the criminalization of state authority, current patterns of state-society relations, the resource curse, the drivers of warfare and political violence, ongoing struggles for good democratic governance, and illustrative country case studies.

Hearing Herbie (MPF4242) Fall 2013

Faculty: Bruce Williamson

This will be a performance-oriented ensemble that will focus on the songs of jazz keyboardist Herbie Hancock. We will select examples from the various styles he explored during his long and productive career: soul-jazz songs such as "Watermelon Man" & "Cantaloupe Island", modal-jazz songs such as "Maiden Voyage" (and others he wrote while playing with Miles Davis in the mid-60s), songs written for larger ensembles (from albums "Speak Like A Child", "The Prisoner" & "Mwandishi"), funk-jazz classics such as "Chameleon" plus songs from his numerous Grammy-winning recordings (such as "River: The Joni Letters"). 

Creole Identities/ Identites Creoles (FRE4719) Spring 2013

Faculty: Clint Bruce

This course examines literary and cultural expressions of Creole identities in several regions of the French-speaking world, especially the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, and Louisiana. Forged primarily in former slave societies, where populations of diverse origins created new identities and languages, Creole cultures resist easy categorization. Theorist Édouard Glissant argues that the process of creolization provides a vital, intercultural paradigm for our globalized world. In that spirit, we will explore (1) how larger cultural issues are treated in French depictions of "Creoleness" and, conversely, (2) how texts from Creole cultures challenge dominant assumptions about identity and language itself. The texts studied in the class span from the colonial era to the twenty-first century; they include two novels, short fiction, historical documents, poetry, theater, folktales, songs, and film.