Department of African American Studies

  • Chair

    Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

  • Departmental Representative

    Tera W. Hunter

  • Director of Graduate Studies

    Wendy L. Belcher

  • Professor

    Wallace D. Best, also Religion

    Anne A. Cheng, also English

    Eddie S. Glaude Jr., also Religion

    Tera W. Hunter, also History

    Imani Perry

    Stacey Sinclair, also Psychology

  • Visiting Professor

    Cassandra Jackson

  • Associate Professor

    Wendy L. Belcher, also Comparative Literature

    Joshua B. Guild, also History

    Naomi Murakawa

    Chika Okeke-Agulu, also Art and Archaeology

  • Assistant Professor

    Anna Arabindan-Kesson, also Art and Archaeology

    Ruha Benjamin

    Kinohi Nishikawa, also English

    Keeanga Y. Taylor

  • Lecturer

    Nijah N. Cunningham, also Council of the Humanities, English

  • Associated Faculty

    Bruno M. Carvalho, Spanish and Portuguese

    Jacob S. Dlamini, History

    Paul Frymer, Politics

    William A. Gleason, English

    J. Nicole Shelton, Psychology

    Leonard Wantchekon, Politics, Woodrow Wilson School

    Judith L. Weisenfeld, Religion

The Department of African American Studies offers the African American studies concentration for undergraduates with a strong interest in studying the complex interplay between political, economic, and cultural forces shaping the historic achievements and struggles of African-descended people in the United States and their relationship to others around the world.

Information and Departmental Plan of Study

Students in this field are expected to understand the basic themes and ideas that structure interdisciplinary work in African American studies. The concentration provides students an opportunity to focus their studies in one of three subfields:

1) Global Race and Ethnicity: In this track, students use the prevailing analytical tools and critical perspectives of African American studies to consider comparative approaches to groups, broadly defined. Students will examine the intellectual traditions, socio-political contexts, expressive forms, and modes of belonging of people who are understood to share common boundaries/experiences as either: (1) Africans and the African Diaspora outside of the United States and (2) non-African-descended people of color within the United States.

2) African American Culture and Life: In this track, students encounter the theoretical canon and keywords, which shape the contemporary discipline of African American studies. Accessing a range of interdisciplinary areas, situated primarily in the United States, students will learn to take a critical posture in examining the patterns and practices that order and transform black subjects and black life.

3) Race and Public Policy: In this track, students use and interrogate social science methodologies in examining the condition of the American state and American institutions and practices. With an analysis of race and ethnicity at the center, students will examine the development of institutions and practices, with the growth and formation of racial and ethnic identities, including changing perceptions, measures, and reproduction of inequality.

The program's curriculum reflects the complex interplay between political, economic, and cultural forces that shape our understanding of the historic achievements and struggles of African-descended people in this country and their relation to others around the world.  With a combination of courses and interdisciplinary research opportunities, students who complete the African American studies concentration will be equipped with the critical and analytical skills that will prepare them for a range of professions. They will be highly qualified to pursue graduate work in the field or its cognate disciplines, and prepared to enter a society in which race continues to be salient.

Early Concentration

Early concentration is open to spring semester sophomores who have completed the prerequisite for entry into the department by the end of the fall semester of sophomore year. It allows students to make an early start on independent work and is especially useful for students planning to study abroad junior year.

Admission to the Program

Prerequisite for entry into the African American studies concentration is the successful completion on a graded basis of the core course, AAS 201 Introduction to the Study of African American Cultural Practices.

Program of Study

Concentrators are required to complete 10 courses: AAS 201; a junior seminar; and eight additional African American Studies courses. Of the eight African American Studies courses, students are required to take two survey courses, one with pre-20th century emphasis (AAS 353, AAS 366), the other with emphasis on the 20th century to the present (AAS 359, AAS 367). All students are required to complete four courses in their chosen subfield and one course in each of the two remaining subfields. See the departmental website for the lists of courses by subfield. Students are permitted to take two approved cognate courses in other departments. Concentrators will complete the junior and senior independent work and a departmental comprehensive examination.

Independent Work

Junior Year. During the fall term all juniors will participate in a colloquium with a member or members of the faculty. Students are expected to produce a research paper at the conclusion of the colloquium. The paper should be related to the topic of the junior seminar. In the spring term, juniors will complete independent work that includes independent reading and the writing of the junior paper working with a faculty adviser.

Senior Year. During the senior year each student, with the guidance of a faculty adviser, must complete independent work, which consists of writing a thesis. The senior thesis will then serve as the basis of the senior comprehensive exam.

Senior Departmental Examination

The comprehensive examination in the department consists of an oral examination based on the senior thesis and related topics.

AAS Program Certificate

The Department for African American Studies offers students concentrating in another department the opportunity to earn a certificate in African American studies. Undergraduate students may apply for formal admission to the certificate program at any time once they have taken and achieved a satisfactory standing in the core course, AAS 201, Introduction to the Study of African American Cultural Practices.

In addition to taking AAS 201, students seeking a certificate will be required to take two courses in the African American Culture and Life subfield. These two survey courses must be selected from the history (AAS 366, AAS 367) and literature (AAS 353, AAS 359) series, one of which must be a pre-20th-century course. Students will take two additional courses in AAS or approved cognates for a total of five courses required. They are strongly urged to choose additional courses either in the Race and Public Policy subfield, or in the Global Race and Ethnicity subfield. Students are encouraged to make race central to their senior theses. Please consult the listing for the Program in African American Studies for additional information.



AAS 201 Introduction to the Study of African American Cultural Practices Spring SA An interdisciplinary examination of the complex array of African American cultural practices from slavery to postmodern times. Close readings of classic texts will seek to provide a profound grasp of the dynamics of African American thought and practices. Two lectures, one preceptorial. I. Perry
AAS 202 Introductory Research Methods in African American Studies (also
SOC 202
) Not offered this year SA
The purposes of this course are to assist the student in developing the ability to critically evaluate social science research on the black experience and to do research in African studies. To accomplish these goals, the course will acquaint students with the processes of conceptualization and basic research techniques, and some of the unique issues in conducting research on the black experience. A variety of appropriate studies will be utilized. One three-hour seminar. Staff
AAS 211 The American Dance Experience and Africanist Dance Practices (See DAN 211)
AAS 221 Inequality: Class, Race, and Gender (See SOC 221)
AAS 230 Topics in African American Studies (also
ENG 231
) Fall LA
This course examines the selected non-fiction writings of one of America's most influential essayists and public intellectuals: James Baldwin. Attention will be given to his views on ethics, art, and politics - with particular consideration given to his critical reflections on race and democracy. E. Glaude Jr.
AAS 262 Introduction to the Evolution of Jazz Styles (See MUS 262)
AAS 312 Special Topics In Urban Dance (See DAN 322)
AAS 317 Race and Public Policy (See WWS 331)
AAS 321 Black Power and Its Theology of Liberation (also
REL 321
) Not offered this year HA
This course examines the various pieties of the Black Power era. We chart the explicit and implicit utopian visions of the politics of the period that, at once, criticized established black religious institutions and articulated alternative ways of imagining salvation. We also explore the attempt by black theologians to translate the prophetic black church tradition into the idiom of black power. Our aim is to keep in view the significance of the Black Power era for understanding the changing role and place of black religion in black public life. E. Glaude Jr.
AAS 325 African American Autobiography (also
ENG 393
REL 366
) Not offered this year LA
Highlights the autobiographical tradition of African Americans from the antebellum period to the present as symbolic representations of African American material, social, and intellectual history and as narrative quests of self-development. Students will be introduced to basic methods of literary analysis and criticism, specifically focusing on cultural criticism and psychoanalytic theory on the constructed self. One three-hour seminar. Staff
AAS 327 20th Century Master (also
ENG 379
GSS 368
) Fall LA
This special topics course will focus on artists and intellectuals whose corpus reflects and illuminates 20th century African American life. Lorraine Hansberry, the first African American female playright to have a play open on Broadway, explored a series of critical themes in her work, including: race, migration, colonialism, gender and social class. In addition to having a distinguished career as a playright, Hansberry was an activist and advocate for gender and racial justice. Students will study her published and unpublished plays, essays and poetry, as well as relevant social and cultural history and literary criticism. I. Perry
AAS 340 Shades of Passing (also
ENG 391
AMS 340
) Not offered this year LA
This course studies the trope of passing in 20th century American literary and cinematic narratives in an effort to re-examine the crisis of identity that both produces and confounds acts of passing. We will examine how American novelists and filmmakers have portrayed and responded to this social phenomenon, not as merely a social performance but as a profound intersubjective process embedded within history, law, and culture. We will focus on narratives of passing across axes of difference, invoking questions such as: To what extent does the act of passing reinforce or unhinge seemingly natural categories of race, gender, and sexuality? A. Cheng
AAS 346 The American Jeremiad and Social Criticism in the United States (See REL 367)
AAS 351 Law, Social Policy, and African American Women (also
GSS 351
) Spring SA
Journeying from enslavement and Jim Crow to the post-civil rights era, this course will learn how law and social policy have shaped, constrained, and been resisted by black women's experience and thought. Using a wide breadth of materials including legal scholarship, social science research, visual arts, and literature, we will also develop an understanding of how property, the body, and the structure and interpretation of domestic relations have been frameworks through which black female subjectivity in the United States was and is mediated. I. Perry
AAS 353 African American Literature: Origins to 1910 (also
ENG 352
) Fall LA
A survey of literary materials produced within the African American experience, from the 18th century through the contemporary period, with special emphasis on genre, theme, and context. The course will investigate dominant and marginalized literary histories and the importance of gender, region, and sensibility. Two lectures, one preceptorial. C. Jackson
AAS 359 African American Literature: Harlem Renaissance to Present (also
ENG 366
) Spring LA
This course explores the relationship between cultural production and historical phenomena (such as the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Civil Rights Movement, for example) in 20th- and 21st-century African American literature. Additionally, we will consider the place of African American literature and cultural production in a diasporic context that encompasses decolonization, multiculturalism and globalization. Primary texts include novels, short fiction, drama, essays, poetry and performance culture. Staff
AAS 362 Race and the American Legal Process: Emancipation to the Voting Rights Act (also
WWS 386
POL 338
) Fall SA
This course examines the dynamic and often conflicted relationships between African American struggles for inclusion, and the legislative, administrative, and judicial decision-making responding to or rejecting those struggles, from Reconstruction to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. In tracing these relationships we will cover issues such as property, criminal law, suffrage, education, and immigration, with a focus on the following theoretical frameworks: equal protection, due process, civic participation and engagement, and political recognition. I. Perry
AAS 364 Race, Drugs, and Drug Policy in America (See HIS 393)
AAS 366 African American History to 1863 (also
HIS 386
) Spring HA
An examination of the history of African Americans from 1619 to 1863. Issues to be discussed include the African origins of African Americans, the slave trade, slavery, the construction of black culture and institutions, free blacks, resistance, the abolitionist movement, and emancipation. Two lectures, one preceptorial. T. Hunter
AAS 367 African American History from Reconstruction to the Present (also
HIS 387
) Not offered this year HA
An analysis of the social, political, legal, and cultural dimensions of the African American experience in the United States throughout critical historical moments such as Reconstruction, suffrage, the Great Migration, war, the Great Depression, the New Deal, the Civil Rights era, the black power movement, and contemporary racial politics. Two lectures, one preceptorial. J. Guild
AAS 368 Topics in African American Religion (also
REL 368
POL 424
) Not offered this year EM
Assesses the value of religion and its impartations of the historical, ethical, and political in African American life. Courses will also critique African American religion from a broader contextual basis by establishing commonalities and differences across historical and cultural boundaries. Two lectures, one preceptorial. Staff
AAS 373 History of African American Art (See ART 373)
AAS 389 Women Writers of the African Diaspora (See ENG 389)
AAS 392 Topics in African American Literature (also
ENG 392
) Not offered this year EM
A historical overview of black literary expression from the 19th century to present day. Will emphasize a critical and analytical approach to considering the social, cultural, and political dimensions of African American literature. Two lectures, one preceptorial. Staff
AAS 397 New Diasporas (See ENG 397)
AAS 454 Seminar. History of Photography (See ART 454)
AAS 477 The Civil Rights Movement (also
HIS 477
) Not offered this year HA
This interdisciplinary course examines the evolution of African American social and political mobilization from World War II through the 1970s. Through an analysis of historical scholarship, oral history, sermons, works of literature, film and music, it explores the various ways that African Americans articulated their political demands and affirmed their citizenship using the church, grassroots organizations, workers' rights, feminism, education, war, the federal bureaucracy, and the law as tools for political action. The course also considers the ways these movements have been remembered, memorialized, and appropriated in more recent times. J. Guild, I. Perry