African American Studies

Program Offerings

Offering type

The Department of African American Studies (AAS) offers an undergraduate major in the study of the historic achievements and struggles of African-descended people in the United States and their relationship to African and African-descended people around the world. Drawing on methodologies from the humanities and social sciences and spanning areas of inquiry across different fields, the AAS major emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary research and analysis to its scholarly mission.

Students in AAS are trained in the methods, themes and ideas that inform interdisciplinary scholarship, with a particular focus on race and racial inequality. The major allows students to focus their studies in one of three subfields:

African American Culture and Life (AACL)

Global Race and Ethnicity (GRE)

Race and Public Policy (RPP)

With a combination of courses and interdisciplinary research opportunities, students who complete the requirements for the AAS major are equipped with the analytical and research skills that are desirable in a range of professions. Majors are also highly qualified to pursue professional or graduate degrees in a number of fields.

For the final year, AAS also offers the certificate in African American Studies for students majoring in another department. Students may apply for formal admission to the certificate program at any time once they have taken and achieved satisfactory standing in any AAS course.

Goals for Student Learning

Coursework in AAS prepares students to conduct independent work in their junior and senior years. The goals for student learning through coursework and independent work are to

  • build a comprehensive base of knowledge of African-descended peoples in the United States and in the diaspora, and explore how this background facilitates a critical approach to dominant knowledge formations;
  • understand what interdisciplinary research and analysis entails in an educational context of disciplinary knowledge formation, and explain why interdisciplinarity is essential to the study of African-descended peoples in the United States and in the diaspora;
  • identify methodologies from the humanities and social sciences that may be applied to one’s area of inquiry, and propose how these methods might be revised or combined to address interdisciplinary research questions;
  • hone skills in primary-source research, analytical interpretation, critical thinking and ethical reasoning as components of interdisciplinary study in AAS; and 
  • demonstrate these skills through written and verbal communication, with the option of pursuing other means of communication such as performance, media-making and creative writing as they relate to the scholarly mission of AAS.


Admission to the Program

Prerequisite for entry into the AAS major is the successful completion on a graded basis of one course survey course. Course survey courses are identified in the program of study.

Program of Study

Majors are required to complete nine (9) courses: two (2) core survey courses, AAS 300 Junior Seminar: Research and Writing in African American Studies, and six (6) additional African American Studies courses. All majors are also required to participate in the senior colloquium.

Students complete two (2) core survey courses listed below.  At least one (1) of these must be a Pre-20th Century course. Students are strongly encouraged to complete both survey courses by the end of junior year.

Pre-20th Century

  • AAS 244 Introduction to Pre-20th Century Black Diaspora Art (Pre-20th Century)
  • AAS 353 African American Literature: Origins to 1910 (Pre-20th Century)
  • AAS 366 African American History to 1863 (Pre-20th Century)

 20th Century and Beyond

  • AAS 245 Introduction to 20th Century African American Art
  • AAS 359 African American Literature: Harlem Renaissance to Present
  • AAS 367 African American History Since Emancipation

At the end of their fall semester, juniors declare a subfield to pursue, choosing from the following:

  • African American Culture and Life (AACL)
  • Global Race and Ethnicity (GRE)
  • Race and Public Policy (RPP)

Four (4) courses must be taken in the chosen subfield, with two (2) additional courses as follows:

  • If the chosen subfield is AACL or RPP, then the two (2) additional courses must be selected from the GRE courses. 
  • If the chosen subfield is GRE, then one (1) must be an AACL course and one (1) must be an RPP course. 

Students are permitted to take up to two (2) approved cognate courses in other departments. See the department website for the lists of courses and approved cognates by subfield. Majors will complete junior and senior independent work, participate in a senior colloquium and a departmental comprehensive oral examination based on feedback from the senior thesis.

With a combination of courses and interdisciplinary research opportunities, students who complete the African American Studies major 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.

Students who pursue the certificate in AAS must complete two core survey courses as listed above and three additional courses in AAS, cross-listed by AAS, or from our approved cognates list. Of these additional courses, one must be in the GRE subfield.

Departmental Tracks

The AAS Program of Study is organized into three thematic subfields. Majors can take courses in each subfield and choose one as a primary area of inquiry.

  1. African American Culture and Life (AACL): Students encounter the intellectual tradition and cultural practices that inform the emergence and development of African American Studies as a field of study in the academy. Focusing on aesthetic repertoires and historical dynamics situated primarily in the United States, students learn how to examine the patterns and practices that have defined and transformed Black people’s lives. Courses in the AACL subfield are typically cross-listed with English, History, Religion, and American Studies.
  2. Race and Public Policy (RPP): Students deploy and interrogate social science methodologies to examine the workings of the American state apparatus and other social and political institutions. Fostering critical approaches to empirical research and analysis, students examine the formation and development of racial and ethnic identities in the United States, with a particular focus on different perceptions and measures of inequality. Courses in the RPP subfield are typically cross-listed with the School of Public and International Affairs, Sociology, and Politics.
  3. Global Race and Ethnicity (GRE): Students take up comparative methodologies in studying inter- and intraracial group dynamics in a global frame. Comparison yields an understanding of the aesthetic repertoires and historical dynamics of African and African-descended people in the diaspora outside the United States, as well as non-African-descended people of color within the United States. Courses in the GRE subfield are typically cross-listed with Comparative Literature, Art & Archaeology, and African Studies.

Independent Work

During the fall semester, junior majors enroll in AAS 300: Research and Writing in African American Studies. This course introduces students to the theories and methods of research design in the field of Black studies. During the spring semester, juniors conduct independent research and writing toward the completion of the junior paper (JP). Juniors work closely with a faculty adviser, who is assigned to them at the completion of AAS 300. The adviser assesses and assigns a grade for the JP at the end of the semester.

In senior year, majors are required to participate in the year-long senior colloquium, which provides a space for students to share ideas and gain feedback on their step-by-step plans for the senior thesis. The colloquium adviser helps students achieve departmental benchmarks for drafting their thesis, while individual faculty advisers address students’ field-specific questions and provide substantive feedback on drafts. A second reader is assigned to read the thesis at the end of the semester. The thesis adviser and second reader independently submit comments and suggest a grade. If the grades differ, then the adviser and second reader confer and collectively decide the final grade.

Additional Requirements

The senior comprehensive statement is completed after the senior thesis and has a dual purpose: to narrate the student’s scholarly development in AAS, and to describe any work beyond the classroom that reflects the student’s commitment to the intellectual, political and artistic traditions of Black studies as a field. The statement is consulted during the senior departmental examination and is used to help calculate honors in the major.

Senior Departmental Examination

The senior departmental examination involves the senior thesis adviser and assigned second reader of the thesis. It consists of two parts: a 10-minute presentation articulating the thesis's main argument and responding to the readers’ reports assessing the work, and a discussion of the student’s independent work and course of study. Aspects of the senior comprehensive statement may be cited during the discussion part of the exam.

Study Abroad

Students have the opportunity to study abroad in programs related to AAS for a semester, a year or a summer. In order for study abroad coursework to count toward the major, students must gain approval for their programs from the department. The director of undergraduate students reviews all requests and helps students identify which study abroad courses fit into AAS’s Program of Study.

Additional Information

The Undergraduate Board of Advisers (UBA) acts as the voice for students in the department and plans events each semester. The UBA aims to integrate students into the intellectual life of the department beyond the classroom and offer input on curricular and programming matters. Students on the UBA serve as ambassadors for the department and provide a support network for all students who are enrolled in AAS courses.


  • Chair

    • Tera W. Hunter
  • Director of Undergraduate Studies

    • Kinohi Nishikawa
  • Director of Graduate Studies

    • Ruha Benjamin
  • Professor

    • Wendy Laura Belcher
    • Ruha Benjamin
    • Wallace D. Best
    • Lorgia García Peña
    • Eddie S. Glaude
    • Tera W. Hunter
    • Chika O. Okeke-Agulu
    • Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
  • Associate Professor

    • Joshua B. Guild
    • Anna Arabindan Kesson
    • Naomi Murakawa
    • Kinohi Nishikawa
    • Autumn M. Womack
  • Assistant Professor

    • Reena N. Goldthree
  • Associated Faculty

    • Tina M. Campt, Art and Archaeology
    • Rafael Cesar, Spanish & Portuguese
    • Jacob S. Dlamini, History
    • Paul Frymer, Politics
    • Hanna Garth, Anthropology
    • Simon E. Gikandi, English
    • William A. Gleason, English
    • V. Mitch McEwen, Architecture
    • Dan-El Padilla Peralta, Classics
    • Laurence Ralph, Anthropology
    • John N. Robinson, Sociology
    • J. Nicole Shelton, Psychology
    • Stacey A. Sinclair, Psychology
    • LaFleur Stephens-Dougan, Politics
    • Nicole M. Turner, Religion
    • Keith A. Wailoo, History
    • Leonard Wantchekon, Politics
    • Judith Weisenfeld, Religion
    • Frederick F Wherry, Sociology
    • Ismail K. White, Schl of Public & Int'l Affairs
  • Lecturer

    • Dannelle Gutarra Cordero
  • Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts

    • Marcus A. Lee
    • Ayah Nuriddin

For a full list of faculty members and fellows please visit the department or program website.


AAS 201 - African American Studies and the Black Intellectual Tradition (also PHI 291) Not offered this year CDEC

This course introduces students to the field of African American Studies through an examination of the complex experiences, both past and present, of Americans of African descent. Through a multidisciplinary perspective, it reveals the complicated ways we come to know and live race in the United States. Students engage classic texts in the field. All of which are framed by a concern with epistemologies of resistance and of ignorance that offer insight into African American thought and practice. AAS Subfield: AACL E. Glaude

AAS 211 - The American Experience and Dance Practices of the African Diaspora (also DAN 211) Fall/Spring LA

AAS 221 - Inequality: Class, Race, and Gender (also GSS 221/SOC 221) Not offered this year SA

AAS 228 - Introductory Topics in Race and Public Policy (also AMS 230) Fall CDHA

This topics course explores the complex interplay between political, economic, and cultural forces that shape our understanding of the historic achievements and struggles of African-descended people in the United States and their relation to others around the world. K. Taylor

AAS 239 - Introduction to African Literature and Film (also AFS 239/COM 239/HUM 239/TRA 239) Fall CDLA

African literature and films have been a vital (but often unacknowledged) stream in and stimulant to the global traffic in invention. Nigerian literature is one of the great literatures of the 20th century. Ethiopian literature is one of the oldest in the world. South Africans have won more Nobel Prizes for Literature in the past forty years than authors from any other country. Senegalese films include some of the finest films ever made. In this course, we will study the richness and diversity of foundational African texts (some in translation), while foregrounding questions of aesthetics, style, humor, and epistemology. W. Belcher

AAS 244 - Introduction to Pre-20th Century Black Diaspora Art (also ART 262/LAS 244) Fall CDLA

This course focuses on the networks, imaginaries, and lives inhabited by Black artists, makers, and subjects from the 18th through 19th centuries, revolving around the Caribbean (particularly the Anglophone Caribbean), North America, and Europe. We will reflect on how pre-20th-century Black artists are written into history or written out of it. We will explore the aesthetic innovation of these artists and the visionary worlds they created and examine their travels, their writings, along with the social worlds and communities they formed. The course incorporates lectures and readings and, if possible, museum visits. AAS Subfield: AACL, GRE A. Kesson

AAS 245 - Introduction to 20th-Century African American Art (also ART 245) Fall LA

This surveys history of African American art during the long 20th-century, from the individual striving of late 19th century to the unprecedented efflorescence of art and culture in 1920s Harlem; from the retrenchment in Black artistic production during the era of Great Depression, to the rise of racially conscious art inspired by the Civil Rights Movement; from the Black feminist art in the 1970s, to the age of American multiculturalism in the 1980s and 1990s; and finally to the turn of the present century when ambitious "postblack" artists challenge received notions of Black art and racial subjectivity. AAS Subfield: AACL, GRE C. Okeke-Agulu

AAS 262 - Jazz History: Many Sounds, Many Voices (also MUS 262) Spring LA

AAS 268 - Introduction to African American History Since Emancipation (also HIS 268/URB 268) Fall CDHA

This course offers an introduction to the major themes, critical questions, and pivotal moments in post emancipation African American history. Traces the social, political, cultural, intellectual, and legal contours of the black experience in the United States from Reconstruction to the rise of Jim Crow, through the World Wars, Depression, and the Great Migrations, to the long civil rights era and the contemporary period of racial politics. Using a wide variety of texts, images, and creative works, the course situates African American history within broader national and international contexts. AAS Subfield: AACL J. Guild

AAS 300 - Junior Seminar: Research and Writing in African American Studies Fall SA

As a required course for AAS concentrators, this junior seminar introduces students to theories and methods of research design in African American Studies. Drawing on a wide-ranging methodological toolkit from the humanities and social sciences, students will learn to reflect on the ethical and political dimensions of original research in order to produce knowledge that is intellectually and socially engaged. This is a writing-intensive seminar with weekly essay assignments. R. Goldthree, T. Hunter

AAS 303 - Topics in Global Race and Ethnicity (also GHP 313/GSS 406/HUM 347) Fall/Spring HASA

This seminar uses 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/or (2) non-African-descended people of color within the United States. Staff

AAS 306 - Topics in Race and Public Policy Fall/Spring CD

This seminar uses and interrogates 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. Staff

AAS 315 - Colonial and Postcolonial Africa (also AFS 316/HIS 315/URB 315) Spring HA

AAS 317 - Race and Public Policy (also POL 343/SOC 312/SPI 331) Not offered this year SA

AAS 320 - Studies in Religion (also LAS 322/REL 373) Not offered this year SA

AAS 321 - Black Rage and Black Power (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. We aim 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

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. Staff

AAS 326 - Topics in African American Culture & Life (also AMS 388/HIS 226) CDHA

In this seminar, 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 prat order and transform Black subjects and Black life. Staff

AAS 343 - Caribbean Literature and Culture (also AMS 396/ENG 358/LAS 385) CDLA

AAS 344 - Race and Politics in the United States (also AMS 244/POL 344) Fall CDSA

AAS 346 - The American Jeremiad and Social Criticism in the United States (also REL 367) Not offered this year HA

An examination of the religious and philosophical roots of prophecy as a form of social criticism in American intellectual and religious history. Particular attention is given to what is called the American Jeremiad, a mode of public exhortation that joins social criticism to spiritual renewal. Michael Walzer, Sacvan Bercovitch, and Edward Said serve as key points of departure in assessing prophetic criticism's insights and limitations. Attention is also given to the role of Black prophetic critics, such as James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr., and Cornel West. E. Glaude

AAS 351 - Law, Social Policy, and African American Women (also GSS 351) Not offered this year 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

This introductory course traces the emergence of an African American literary tradition, from the late-18th century to the early 20th. In readings, assignments, and discussion we will consider the unique cultural contexts, aesthetic debates, and socio-political forces underpinning African American literary cultural and practice. Over the course of the semester, we will investigate the poetry of Phillis Wheatley and Paul L. Dunbar, the political oratory of Sojourner Truth and David Walker, slave narratives by Frederick Douglass and Harriet Wilson, writing by W.E.B. DuBois, and novels by Frances Harper. AAS Subfield: AACL A. Womack

AAS 359 - African American Literature: Harlem Renaissance to Present (also ENG 366) Spring LA

A survey of 20th- and 21st century African American literature, including the tradition's key aesthetic manifestos. Special attention to how modern African American literature is periodized and why certain innovations in genre and style emerged when they did. Poetry, essays, novels, popular fiction, a stage production or two, and related visual texts. AAS Subfield: AACL K. Nishikawa

AAS 362 - Race and the American Legal Process: Emancipation to the Voting Rights Act Not offered this year 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 366 - African American History to 1863 (also HIS 386) Not offered this year HA

This course explores African American history from the Atlantic slave trade up to the Civil War. It is centrally concerned with the rise of and overthrow of human bondage and how they shaped the modern world. Africans were central to the largest and most profitable forced migration in world history. They shaped new identities and influenced the contours of American politics, law, economics, culture, and society. The course considers the diversity of experiences in this formative period of nation-making. Race, class, gender, region, religion, labor, and resistance animate important themes in the course. AAS Subfield: AACL T. Hunter

AAS 368 - Topics in African American Religion (also REL 368) Not offered this year LA

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. W. Best

AAS 372 - Postblack - Contemporary African American Art (also AMS 372/ART 374) Not offered this year CDLA

As articulated by Thelma Golden, postblack refers to the work of African American artists who emerged in the 1990s with ambitious, irreverent, and sassy work. Postblack suggests the emergence of a generation of artists removed from the long tradition of Black affirmation of the Harlem Renaissance, Black empowerment of the Black Arts movement, and identity politics of the 1980s and early 90s. This seminar involves critical and theoretical readings on multiculturalism, race, identity, and contemporary art, and will provide an opportunity for a deep engagement with the work of African American artists of the past decade. AAS Subfield: AACL, GRE C. Okeke-Agulu

AAS 373 - What is Black Art: Art History and the Black Diaspora (also ART 373) Not offered this year LA

AAS 376 - Race and Religion in America (also AMS 378/REL 377) Fall CDSA

AAS 388 - Unrest and Renewal in Urban America (also AMS 380/HIS 388/URB 388) Fall CDHA

AAS 391 - Topics in Critical Theory (also COM 399/ENG 388) Fall/Spring LA

AAS 392 - Topics in African American Literature (also ENG 392/GSS 341) Not offered this year LA

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. Staff

AAS 393 - Race, Drugs, and Drug Policy in America (also AMS 423/HIS 393/SPI 389) Spring HA

AAS 397 - New Diasporas (also COM 348/ENG 397) Not offered this year LA

AAS 403 - Race and Medicine (also ANT 403/GHP 403) CDEM

AAS 405 - Advanced Seminar in American Studies (also AMS 404/ANT 414) Not offered this year CDSA

AAS 411 - Art, Apartheid, and South Africa (also AFS 411/ART 471) Spring CDLA

Apartheid, the political doctrine of separation of races in South Africa (1948-1990), dominated the (South) African political discourse in the second half of the 20th century. While it lasted, art and visual cultures were marshaled in the defense and contestation of its ideologies. Since the end of Apartheid, artists, filmmakers, dramatists, and scholars continue to reexamine the legacies of Apartheid, and the social, philosophical, and political conditions of non-racialized South Africa. Course readings examine issues of race, nationalism and politics, art and visual culture, and social memory in South Africa. AAS Subfield: GRE C. Okeke-Agulu

AAS 413 - Major Author(s) (also AMS 411/ENG 411) CDLA

AAS 451 - Critical African Studies (also AFS 450) Fall CDHA

AAS 455 - Major Author(s) (also ENG 414) Spring LA

AAS 459 - The History of Incarceration in the U.S. (also AMS 459/GSS 459/HIS 459) Not offered this year HA

AAS 477 - The Civil Rights Movement (also HIS 477) Not offered this year HA

This course critically examines the development of the southern Civil Rights Movement and the rise of the Black Power insurgency from the end of World War II through the end of the 1960s. We will examine historical research, oral histories, literature, documentaries and other kinds of primary and secondary documentation. AAS Subfield: AACL J. Guild, I. Perry