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EN392 Race, Ethnicity, and Migration in the Americas

Tutor: Prof. Jonathan Schroeder

A yearlong advanced module for 2nd and 3rd years

Seminars: Thursdays 9:30 - 11 & 4:30 - 6


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 allegedly 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 slavery, 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 in kind 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 they are arranged to let us zoom in and out between in-depth case studies and general overviews of the field. It will be our task to compare different scales of reading in order to reveal how texts illuminate another by revealing connections, incompatibilities, inconsistencies, and omissions.


This module provides numerous opportunities for practicing critical and historical writing. As such, you will have the opportunity to write two 1000-word formative response papers and four 1000-word assessed response papers. For your final, you will have the option to choose between writing a 5000-word essay or a digital project. More information will be sent out via handout and explained in class.


  • Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Aunt Lute. 2012.
  • 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. Jemison, The Fifth Season. Orbit. 2016.
  • Ibram X. Kendri. 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.
  • David Walker, Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. Hill & Wang. 1998.

Please buy copies of the editions specified above. Other readings can be found on Tabula.


  • Mobile phones are not allowed in class and should not be used at any point to read your assignments.
  • Please bring hard copies of the required texts into class. For longer readings, however, tablets and laptops are fine, though reading from a hard copy is generally preferred.



Week 1: Overview

– 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, “Labor” (79-135) in The Human Condition (1958)– Susan James, “Passion and Error,” and “Dispassionate Scientia” (159-207) 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:

– Vladimir Jankovic, 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

– Oliver Goldsmith, The Traveller, or a Prospect of Society (1764)
– Michel Foucault, on savagery and barbarism (193-97) and “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:

– Thomas McCarthy, Race, Empire, and the Idea of Human Development (2009)

Formative Response paper #1 due

Week 4: European Conquest and Settlement

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

Recommended Reading:

– Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (1998)
– Winthrop Jordan, 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 (166-260; 1764)
– 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)
– 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:

– Martin Bernal, “Introduction” (1-14) in Black Athena: The Afro-Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilization Vol. 1 (1987)
– Mel Y. Chen, Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (2012)


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) and “Night of Power” (299-319) in The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World (2014)
– Thomas Jefferson, on slavery and blackness (90-99) in Notes on the State of Virginia (1781)
– Kendi, “Thomas Jefferson,” Chapters 7-9 (79-119)

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)

Formative Response paper #2 due

Week 8: Resistance

– David Walker, Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829)
– Kendi, “Thomas Jefferson,” Chapters 10-12 (120-160)
– 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)

Week 9: Humanitarianism

– William Wells Brown, Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave (1847)
– Walter Johnson, “Turning People into Products” and “Reading Bodies and Marking Race” (117-161) in Soul by Soul: Life Inside an Antebellum Slave Market (1999)
– Kendi, “William Lloyd Garrison” (161-262)
– Kyla Schuller, “Introduction: Sentimental Biopower” (1-34) in The Biopolitics of Feeling: Race, Sex, and Science in the Nineteenth Century (2018)

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

Recommended Reading:

– Karen Halttunen, “Humanitarianism and the Pornography of Pain in Anglo-American Culture (303-334; 1995)
– Text of the the Fugive Slave Act of 1850
Assessed Response paper #1 due
Week 10: Comparative Contexts
– M. NourbeSe Philip, Zong! (2008)
– 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, The Slave Ship (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



Assessed Response paper #2 due 


Week 12: Immigration and Citizenship

– Sui Sin Far, Mrs. Spring Fragrance (1912)
– Bonnie Honig, “Immigrant America? How Foreigness ‘Solves’ Democracy’s Problems,” Social Text (Autumn 1998), 1-27, plus responses by Norton and Pateman
– Edlie L. Wong, “Fictions of Free Travel” (240-262) in Neither Fugitive Nor Free: Atlantic Slavery, Freedom Suits, and the Legal Culture of Travel (2009)

Recommended Reading:

– 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

Week 13: Aliens and Illegals

Mrs. Spring Fragrance (finish)
– Mae Ngai, “Introduction” and Chapters 1-2 (1-90) in Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (2004)
– 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)

Recommended Reading:

– David Scott FitzGerald and David Cook-Martìn, “Introduction” (1-48) in Culling the Masses: The Democratic Origins of Racist Immigration Policies in the Americas (2014)

Week 14: Belonging and Diaspora

– Jean Toomer, Cane (1923)

Week 15: Borderlands

– Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1-91; 1987)
– Wendy Brown, “Desiring Walls” in Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (107-34; 2010)
ASCO: Elite of the Obscure: A Retrospective, 1972-1987


Assessed Response paper #3 due



Week 17: White Ethnicity, White Supremacy

– Matthew Frye Jacobson, “The Political History of Whiteness” (13-136) from 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 18: Black and White Strangers

– James Baldwin, “The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy” (269-90)
– Norman Mailer, “The White Negro”

Week 19: Black Power

– “The Combahee River Collective Statement” (1974)
– Robin D.G. Kelley, “‘Roaring from the East’: Third World Dreaming” (60-109) in Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (2002)
– Kendi, “Angela Davis” (381-496)
– Screening: I Am Not Your Negro (dir. Raoul Peck, 95 min., 2016)

Week 20: Memories of Slavery

– Screening: Daughters of the Dust (dir. Julie Dash, 1991, 113 min.)
– In-Class Screening: The Attendant (dir. Isaac Julien, 10 min., 1993)

Assessed Response paper #4 due


Week 21: Alien Futures?
– N.K. Jemison, The Fifth Season (2016)
– Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (1-60)

Week 22: Alien Futures?

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

Week 23: Module review