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EN392 Race, Ethnicity, and Migration in the Americas

Kendrick Lamar, "Humble" (2017) 









 A yearlong advanced module for 2nd and 3rd year students.

Tutor: Prof. Jonathan Schroeder 



This class explores the intersections and divergences that make up the history of race, ethnicity, and migration in the Americas. We begin by examining how Enlightenment European scholars explained what a human is, what differentiates humans from animals and inanimate matter, and what differentiates humans from one another. Two hypotheses will organise this inquiry into these “theories of the human”: first, that they reveal patterns of explanation and representation that served as conditions of possibility for the formation of race, ethnicity, and migration as putatively distinct concepts; and second, that they helped to justify ongoing practices of conquest and expansion both within and outside Europe.

In turning to the Americas, we will focus on the institutions, movements, and aesthetics that shaped (and reshaped) race, ethnicity, and migration. Though most of our readings concern the United States, these readings will often be situated in relation to a series of wider histories and geographies—for example, Brazilian and Caribbean slaveries, British humanitarianism, transpacific sentimentalism—of which the U.S. is but a part. In “provincializing” the U.S., we thus seek to mark out what is empirically, conceptually, and aesthetically distinct about it, and what belongs to wider patterns that are not defined by its political and geographic borders.

Our readings proceed in a roughly chronological manner, beginning by attending to the formation of the ethnic population in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, then to the formation of race in the nineteenth-century Americas, then to the emergence of migration as an important category in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, and concluding with a consideration of the multiethnic United States since 1945.

Just as race, ethnicity, and migration are fuzzy concepts that often bleed into one another, each unit does not differ completely from one another, but rather in emphasis. The syllabus incorporates many different genres of writing, from political theory and legal history to slave narratives and experimental poetry, but this diversity is intended to allow us to toggle back and forth between in-depth case studies and wider overviews. It will be our task to move between these scales in order to reveal how these texts illuminate one another, and reveal not only connections, but flaws, incompatibilities, inconsistencies, and omissions as well.



Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Aunt Lute. 2012.
James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room. Penguin. 2007.
Bartolomé de las Casas, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies. Penguin. 1992.
Sui Sin Far, Mrs. Spring Fragrance. Broadview. 2011.
N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season. Orbit. 2016.
Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Bodley Head. 2017.
Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Bartleby, and Other Stories. Penguin Classics. 2016.
M. NourbeSe Philip, Zong! Wesleyan University Press. 2011.
Jean Toomer, Cane. W.W. Norton. 2011.

Please make sure to purchase the edition specified above. It is important to be able to get on the same page. Other readings can be found on Tabula; please contact me if a reading is not available.


Formative Work: Term 1 consists of one 1000-word formative response paper.

Assessed Work: Assessment consists of four 1000-word assessed response papers and a final project (either a 4000-word essay or a digital project).


Attendance: Attendance will be taken and entered on Tabula each week. You can find the handbook policy on attendance here:

Participation: Participation in seminar is strongly encouraged. Please be courteous to other students and give them room in the class as well. Debate is highly encouraged. If you do not feel comfortable speaking up for any reason, you are always welcome to notify me to let us know what I can do to make our space more welcoming.

Electronic Reading Devices: Mobile phones may not be used during classtime and must be set so that they are completely inaudible. Laptops and tablets are only to be used for reading and notetaking in class. Printing out readings and bringing them to class is encouraged, so long as it is not too costly. Read attentively and mark up your readings no matter what you use to read them.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism is unacceptable. Please familiarise yourself with University rules on plagiarism:




Week 1: Introduction

  • Ibram X. Kendi, “Prologue” (1-14) in Stamped from the Beginning (2016)
  • Charles W. Mills, “Introduction” and “Overview” (1-40) in The Racial Contract (1997)


Week 2: European Theories of the Human I: Body, Mind, Environment

  • Hannah Arendt, from “Labor” (79-101) in The Human Condition (1958)
  • Susan James, “Passion and Error,” (159-182) in Passion and Action: The Emotions in Seventeenth-Century Philosophy (1997)
  • Ludmilla Jordanova, “Earth Science and Environmental Medicine: The Synthesis of the Late Enlightenment” (119-46) in Images of the Earth (1979)

Recommended Reading

  • Remainder of Part 3 (101- 135) of Arendt (1958); "Dispassionate Scientia" (183-208) in James (1997)
  • Vladimir Jankovic, "Exposed and Vulnerable" in Confronting the Climate: British Airs and the Making of Environmental Medicine (2010)
  • Justin E.H. Smith, “From Lineage to Biogeography” (140-59) in Nature, Human Nature, & Human Difference: Race in Early Modern Philosophy (2015)

Week 3: European Theories of the Human II: Population, Mobility, History

Note: Class meets on Tuesday 16 October this week—time TBD

  • Oliver Goldsmith, The Traveller, or a Prospect of Society (1764; 1-28)
  • Michel Foucault, “Lecture Eleven” (239-64) in Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France 1975-1976
  • H.M. Hopfl, “From Savage to Scotsman: Conjectural History in the Scottish Enlightenment,” Journal of British Studies (Spring 1978), 19-40
  • Hagar Kotef, “The Problem of ‘Excessive Movement’” (87-111) in Movement and the Ordering of Freedom: On Liberal Governances of Mobility (2015)

Recommended Reading

  • Lynn Festa, "The Great World Without" (1-13) in Sentimental Figures of Empire in England and France (2006)
  • Thomas McCarthy, "Introduction" (1-18) in Race, Empire, and the Idea of Human Development (2009)

Friday, 19 October: FORMATIVE RESPONSE #1 DUE


Week 4: European Conquest and Settlement

  • Bartolomé de las Casas, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1992; 3-130)
  • Kendi, “Cotton Mather” (15-78)

Recommended Reading

  • Ira Berlin, "Introduction: The Charter Generations" and "The Emergence of Atlantic Creoles in the Chesapeake" (15-46) in Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (1998)
  • Winthrop Jordan, "Part One: Genesis, 1550-1700" (3-98) in White Over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro, 1550-1812 (1968)
  • Anthony Pagden, Lords of All The World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain, and France (1986)



Week 5: The Emergence of Race I: Hierarchizing Matter

  • James Grainger, The Sugar Cane (1764; v-vii and 1-162)
  • Andrew Curran, “The Natural History of Slavery, 1770-1802” (167-215) in The Anatomy of Blackness: Science and Slavery in an Age of Enlightenment (2011)

Recommended Reading

  • Martin Bernal, “Black Athena, Volume 1: A Summary of the Argument” (22-38) in Black Athena: The Afro-Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilization Vol. 1 (1987)


Week 7: The Emergence of Race II: Visible Skin Difference

  • Herman Melville, Benito Cereno (55-137) in Billy Budd, Bartleby, and Other Stories
  • Greg Grandin, “Introduction” (17-35) in The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World (2014)
  • Thomas Jefferson, on slavery (226-240) in Notes on the State of Virginia (1785)
  • Kendi, “Thomas Jefferson,” Chapters 7-12 (79-160)

Recommended Reading

  • Roxann Wheeler, The Complexion of Race: Categories of Difference in Eighteenth-Century British Culture (2000)
  • Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (2008)
  • Francisco Bethencourt, Racisms: From the Crusades to the Twentieth Century (2013)

Week 8: Resistance

  • David Walker, Walker’s Appeal…To the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829; 86 pp.)
  • Edward E. Baptist, “Introduction: The Heart” (15-38) in The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (2016)
  • Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, “Introduction” (1-7) and “Chapter 7: A Motley Crew in the American Revolution” (211-247) in The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (2013)

Recommended Reading

  • Sylviane Diouf, Slavery's Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons (2014)

Week 9: Humanitarianism

In-Class: Glenn Ligon, The Runaways (1993)

  • William Wells Brown, Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Written by Himself (1847; 98 pp.)
  • Kendi, “William Lloyd Garrison” (161-262)
  • Walter Johnson, “Reading Bodies and Marking Race” (135-161) in Soul by Soul: Life Inside an Antebellum Slave Market (1999)
  • Karen Halttunen, “Humanitarianism and the Pornography of Pain in Anglo-American Culture,” The American Historical Review 100, no. 2 (1995): 303-334

Recommended Reading

  • Kyla Schuller, “Introduction: Sentimental Biopower” (1-34) in The Biopolitics of Feeling: Race, Sex, and Science in the Nineteenth Century (2018)
  • Text of the the Fugive Slave Act of 1850

Week 10: Comparative Contexts

  • M. NourbeSe Philip, Zong! (2008; 1-211)
  • Vincent Brown, “The Soul of the British Empire” (157-200) in The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery (2010)
  • J.M.W. Turner, Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On) (1840) 

Recommended Reading

  • Brazil: Carl Degler, “The Roots of Difference” (205-264) in Neither Black Nor White: Slavery and Race Relations in Brazil and the United States (1986)
  • Haiti: Susan Buck-Morss, “Hegel and Haiti,” Critical Inquiry (2000), 821-65
Friday, 7 December: ASSESSED RESPONSE #1 DUE



Week 11: Immigration and Citizenship

  • Sui Sin Far, first half of Mrs. Spring Fragrance (1912; ~110 pp.)
  • Bonnie Honig, “Immigrant America? How Foreignness ‘Solves’ Democracy’s Problems,” Social Text (Autumn 1998), 1-27; plus responses by Anne Norton and Carole Pateman (7 pp.)
  • Claire Jean Kim, “Animals, Nature, and the Races of Man” (24-62) in Dangerous Crossings: Race, Species, and Nature in a Multicultural Age (2015)

Recommended Reading

  • Lisa Lowe, “Immigration, Citizenship, Racialization: Asian American Critique” (1-36) in Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (1996)
  • Adam McKeown, “Global Migration, 1846-1940,” Journal of World History (2004), 155-189
  • June Mei, “Socioeconomic Origins of Emigration: Guangdong to California, 1850-1882,” Modern China (Oct. 1979), 463-501

Friday, 11 January: ASSESSED RESPONSE #2 DUE


Week 12: Aliens and Illegals

  • Mrs. Spring Fragrance (finish)
  • Mae Ngai, “Introduction: Illegal Aliens: A Problem of Law and History” and “The Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 and the Reconstruction of Race in Immigration Law” (1-56) in Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (2004)
  • June Howard, “World-Making Words, by Edith Eaton and Sui Sin Far” in The Center of the World: Regional Writing and the Puzzles of Place-Time (forthcoming)

Recommended Reading

  • David Scott FitzGerald and David Cook-Martìn, Culling the Masses: The Democratic Origins of Racist Immigration Policies in the Americas (2014)
  • Edlie L. Wong, “Boycotting Exclusion: The Transpacific Politics of Chinese Sentimentalism” (175-223) in Racial Reconstruction: Black Inclusion, Chinese Exclusion, and the Fictions of Citizenship (2015)

Week 13: Diaspora and Belonging I

  • Jean Toomer, Cane (1923)
  • Jennifer Wilks, “Writing Home: Comparative Black Modernism and Form in Jean Toomer and Aimé Césaire” (101-123) in Paris, Capital of the Black Atlantic: Literature, Modernity, and Diaspora (2013)

Recommended Reading

  • Mel Y. Chen, “Introduction: Animating Animacy” (1-20) in Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (2012)

Week 14: Diaspora and Belonging II

In-Class: Kendrick Lamar, “Alright

  • Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) – Youtube; Genius lyrics
  • James Baldwin, “Notes of a Native Son,” in Notes of a Native Son (1955; 19 pp.)
  • Anne Anlin Cheng, “The Melancholy of Race” (3-30) in The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief (2000)

Recommended Reading

  • Robert Hayden, “Middle Passage” (1945) and “O Daedalus, Fly Away Home” (1943)

Friday 1 February: ASSESSED RESPONSE #3 DUE



Week 15: Borderlands

In-Class: Selections from ASCO: Elite of the Obscure: A Retrospective, 1972-1987

  • Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1-91; 1987)
  • Wendy Brown, “Waning Sovereignty, Walled Democracy” in Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (7-42; 2010)



Week 17: Black Power

Screening: Wed. Feb. 20, 6-8PM in Oculus 1.02: The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (dir. Göran Olsson, 100 min., 2011)

  • Larry Neal, “The Black Arts Movement,” The Drama Review (Summer 1968): 28-39
  • Kendi, “Angela Davis” (381-496)
  • Robin D.G. Kelley, “‘Roaring from the East’: Third World Dreaming” (60-109) in Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (2002)


Week 18: White Power

Screening: Wed. Feb. 27, 6-8PM in Oculus 1.02: American Psycho (dir. Mary Harron, 102 min., 2000)

  • Charles W. Mills, “Revisionist Ontologies: Theorizing White Supremacy” (97-118) in Blackness Visible: Essays on Philosophy and Race (1998)
  • Matthew Frye Jacobson, “Becoming Caucasian, 1924-1965” (91-136) in Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (1998)
  • Carol Anderson, “Rolling Back Civil Rights” (158-221) in White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (2017)

Recommended Reading

  • Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism (2018)

Week 19: Intersections I

In-Class: The Attendant (dir. Isaac Julien, 7 min., 1993)

  • James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room ([1956]; 156 pp.)
  • Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks ([1952]; 1-60)

Week 20: Intersections II

Screening: Wed. March 13, 6-8pm in Oculus 1.02: Paris is Burning (dir. Jennie Livingston, 1990, 78 min.)

  • "Introduction" and “The Combahee River Collective Statement” (1-27) in How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, ed. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor  ([1977]; ~5 pp.)
  • Judith Butler, “Gender is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion” (381-395) in Dangerous Crossings: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives (1997)



TERM 3  

Week 21: Futurisms I
In-Class: Clips from Space is the Place (1973), The Brother from Another Planet (1984), et al.

  • N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season (2016) (Get a headstart over break)
  • Alondra Nelson, “Afrofuturism,” Social Text (2002): 1-15
  • Samuel R. Delany, “Racism and Science Fiction” in Darkmatter (1999)

Recommended Reading

  • Ytasha Womack, Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture (2013)

Week 22: Futurisms II

  • The Fifth Season (finish)
  • Kendi, “Epilogue” (497-512)

Week 23: Module Review



Meetings: Thursdays 9-11a (Group 1) & 4:30-6:30p (Group 2) in Humanities 5.07
Office Hours: Tuesdays, 2-4p, and by appointment, in Humanities 5.09