History | Wenches, Witches, and Welfare Queens: Images of Black Women in U.S. History
A300 | 13273 | Myers
Above class open to undergraduates and Education MA's only
A portion of the above class reserved for majors
Above class meets with GNDR-G302
Black women’s history is a revealing witness to two intertwined
categories of identity that have profoundly shaped the course of
American history: race and gender. Study of this field demands that
students confront racial identity as something formed in dialogue
with other aspects of identity including gender, class, religion,
sexuality, regional loyalties, and national affiliation.
Over the semester, students will become familiar with the major
issues in black women’s history and develop a historical perspective
on race and gender as things which are socially constructed as
opposed to unchanging, natural, or rooted in physical difference.
Thus, in addition to analyzing the various historical conditions
under which black women have labored for self-definition and
autonomy, we will seek to understand the ways in which raced and
gendered identities and stereotypes, including those of the Wench,
Witch, Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire, and Welfare Queen, have been
invented, opposed, and reinvented in the American context.
Engaging with some of the newest literature in African-American
Women’s History, we will examine how black women grappled with
issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality and struggled to create
lives that reflected their own understanding of liberty, power,
equality, rights, and citizenship. Using primary documents and
secondary sources, we will study the past through the words of those
who lived it and sharpen our ability to evaluate, analyze, and
interpret primary source materials and the arguments of leading
historians in the field of black women’s history. Topics for
discussion will include African life and culture; Caribbean and
colonial bondage; antebellum enslavement and resistance; the lives
of free black women; gender and family life; labor and sexuality;
religion and activism; migration; the creative arts; Civil Rights
and Black Power; affirmative action; education, health care and
poverty; crime; and identity politics.
Attendance is mandatory and the course will require 50-75 pages of
reading per week. Class time will focus largely on discussions based
on the readings, as well as informal lectures, and students will be
evaluated through their participation in discussions in addition to
their performance on a combination of short response essays and
lengthier research papers.
While there is no official prerequisite for this course, this is an
upper-level class and the lectures and readings presume a prior
knowledge of basic American history. It is thus recommended that
students take H105 and/or H106 (US History Survey, Part I and Part
II) before taking this class.