African American Studies

Acting director of undergraduate studies: Gerald Jaynes, Rm. 205, 81 Wall St., 432-1176;;


Professors Elijah Anderson, David Blight, Daphne Brooks, Hazel Carby, Glenda Gilmore, Jacqueline Goldsby, Emily Greenwood, Jonathan Holloway, Matthew Jacobson, Gerald Jaynes, Kobena Mercer, Christopher Miller, Joseph Roach, Robert Stepto, Michael Veal

Associate Professors Crystal Feimster, Anthony Reed, Edward Rugemer, Vesla Weaver

Assistant Professors Erica Moiah James, Christopher Lebron

The African American Studies major examines, from numerous disciplinary perspectives, the experiences of people of African descent in Black Atlantic societies such as the United States, the Caribbean, and Latin America, including the global impact of those experiences. Students in the department explore the historical, cultural, political, economic, and social development of Black Atlantic societies. Majors work to become informed thinkers who are intellectually prepared to offer clarity and insight to ongoing academic and public debates centered in the discipline.

African American Studies majors become knowledgeable about the history, primary methodologies, and interdisciplinary breadth of the field. Students learn to critique, articulate, analyze, and interpret universal themes concerning both individuals in society and group interactions as they relate to the work of scholars, scientists, writers, artists, musicians, economists, and entrepreneurs.

African American Studies offers training of special interest to those considering admission to graduate or professional schools and careers in education, journalism, law, the arts, business management, city planning, international relations, politics, psychology, publishing, public health, or social work. The interdisciplinary structure of the department offers students an opportunity to satisfy the increasingly rigorous expectations of admissions committees and prospective employers.

African American Studies can be taken either as a stand-alone major or as one of two majors in consultation with the director of undergraduate studies. Pertinent regulations can be found under Two Majors in section K of the Academic Regulations.

Requirements of the major The major in African American Studies requires twelve term courses, including seven core courses and five electives in an area of concentration. The seven core courses include the African American history sequence AFAM 160 and , which can be taken in either order; one course in the humanities relevant to African American studies; one course in the social sciences relevant to African American studies; the junior seminar (AFAM 410); the senior colloquium (AFAM 480) and senior essay (AFAM 491). AFAM 162 will not be offered during the 2016–2017 academic year; students who need to fulfill the history requirement during this academic year should enroll in AFAM 125 during the spring term.

Area of concentration Students majoring in African American Studies are required to choose an area of concentration comprised of five courses. This cluster of interrelated courses is intended to ground the student's learning experience in one area of investigation. Often students will choose an area of concentration in a traditional discipline such as political science, art history, economics, sociology, American studies, history, or English language and literature. Students can also construct interdisciplinary areas of concentration that span traditional departments and encompass broader theoretical frameworks such as race and ethnicity, cultural studies, black arts, or feminism and gender studies. All majors are encouraged to take upper-level courses as part of their concentration, especially those courses centering on research and methodology.

None of the seven core courses may be counted among the required electives in the area of concentration.

Junior seminar In their junior year students must take the junior seminar, AFAM 410. This course provides majors with theoretical and methodological bases for the work they will do during their research-oriented senior year.

Senior requirement Senior majors participate in a colloquium in AFAM 480 that gives them an opportunity to exchange ideas with each other and with more advanced scholars. Students in AFAM 480 submit a prospectus, compile a working bibliography, begin or continue research, and write the first twenty pages of the senior essay. After completing the colloquium, each student carries out the remaining research and writing of a senior essay in AFAM 491 under the guidance of a faculty member in the chosen discipline or area of concentration.

Students are strongly encouraged to use the summer between the junior and senior years for research directly related to the senior essay. For example, field or documentary research might be undertaken in urban or rural communities in America and throughout the diaspora. The particular research topic and design are to be worked out in each case with a faculty adviser.

Credit/D/Fail No more than one course taken Credit/D/Fail may be counted toward the major.

Study Abroad A limited number of courses taken during sophomore and or junior semesters abroad can be counted toward the major in consultation with, and the approval of the director of undergraduate studies (DUS). 

Procedures Students considering a program of study in African American Studies should consult the director of undergraduate studies as early as possible. Areas of concentration and schedules for majors must be approved by the director of undergraduate studies.


Prerequisites None

Number of courses 12 term courses

Specific courses required AFAM 160, ,

Distribution of courses 1 relevant humanities course and 1 relevant social science course, both approved by DUS; 5 courses in area of concentration

Senior requirement Senior colloquium (AFAM 480) and senior essay (AFAM 491)


* AFAM 008a / AFST 008a / HSAR 009a, Aesthetics and Meaning in African Arts and Cultures Erica James

The diversity of artistic production on the African continent, both historically and materially. The creative consciousness and aesthetic values of a variety of African cultures from ancient to contemporary times. Questions that arise when writing these histories without fully taking into account concepts of "African time." Enrollment limited to freshmen. Preregistration required; see under Freshman Seminar Program.  HU

* AFAM 060b / AMST 060b / HIST 016b, Significance of American Slavery Edward Rugemer

The history of American slavery, its destruction during the nineteenth century, and its significance today. Topics include the origins of slavery, the development of racism, the transatlantic slave trade, the experience of enslavement, resistance to slavery, the abolitionist movement, the process of emancipation, and the perpetuation of slavery and other forms of unfree labor in the twenty-first century. Enrollment limited to freshmen. Preregistration required; see under Freshman Seminar Program.  WR, HU

AFAM 125b / AMST 125b / HIST 136b, The Long Civil Rights Movement Crystal Feimster

Political, social, and artistic aspects of the U.S. civil rights movement from the 1920s through the 1980s explored in the context of other organized efforts for social change. Focus on relations between the African American freedom movement and debates about gender, labor, sexuality, and foreign policy. Changing representations of social movements in twentieth-century American culture; the politics of historical analysis.  HU

AFAM 160a / AFST 184a / AMST 160a / HIST 184a, The Rise and Fall of Atlantic Slavery Edward Rugemer

The history of peoples of African descent throughout the Americas, from the first African American societies of the sixteenth century through the century-long process of emancipation.  HU

AFAM 172b / HIST 119b, The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845–1877 David Blight

The causes, course, and consequences of the American Civil War. A search for the multiple meanings of a transformative event, including national, sectional, racial, constitutional, social, gender, intellectual, and individual dimensions.  HU

AFAM 185b / ENGL 193b, The Harlem Renaissance Anthony Reed

Study of the social, political, and aesthetic circumstances of the Harlem Renaissance, one of the most important periods in African American life. Focus on constitutive debates and key texts to better understand the origins and aims of the movement and its connection to formal politics and activism. Frequent use of relevant materials in Beinecke Library.  WR, HU

AFAM 186b / LAST 214b / PLSC 378b / SOCY 170b, Contesting Injustice Elisabeth Wood

Exploration of why, when, and how people organize collectively to challenge political, social, and economic injustice. Cross-national comparison of the extent, causes, and consequences of inequality. Analysis of mobilizations for social justice in both U.S. and international settings. Intended primarily for freshmen and sophomores.  SO

AFAM 195a / PLSC 424a / SAST 440a, Gandhi, King, and the Politics of Nonviolence Karuna Mantena

A study of the theory and practice of nonviolent political action, as proposed and practiced by M. K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.  The origins of nonviolence in Gandhian politics and the Indian independence movement; Gandhian influences on the Civil Rights movement; King’s development of nonviolent politics; the legacies and lessons for nonviolent politics today.  SO

AFAM 196a / AMST 196a / ER&M 226a / EVST 196a / SOCY 190a, Race, Class, and Gender in American Cities Laura Barraclough

Examination of how racial, gender, and class inequalities have been built, sustained, and challenged in American cities. Focus on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Topics include industrialization and deindustrialization, segregation, gendered public/private split, gentrification, transit equity, environmental justice, food access, and the relationships between public space, democracy, and community wellbeing. Includes field projects in New Haven.  SO

AFAM 198b / CGSC 277b / EP&E 494b / PHIL 177b, Propaganda, Ideology, and Democracy Jason Stanley

Historical, philosophical, psychological, and linguistic introduction to the issues and challenges that propaganda raises for liberal democracy. How propaganda can work to undermine democracy; ways in which schools and the press are implicated; the use of propaganda by social movements to address democracy's deficiencies; the legitimacy of propaganda in cases of political crisis.  HU

AFAM 203b / MUSI 277b, Coltrane and Hendrix Michael Veal

The parallel careers of John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix in different genres of black music explored through biographical, music-analytical, and sociocontextual approaches. The stylistic evolutions in each musician's work; the music of Coltrane and Hendrix as embodiments of, and reactions to, the dominant musical and social issues of the 1960s.  HU

* AFAM 204a, The Radical Aesthetics of Hip Hop Jalylah Burrell

Engagement of the interrelated art forms that comprise hip hop, a culture conceived by African American, Afro-Caribbean, and Latino youth in the South Bronx in the 1970s. The course examines what binds and buttresses hip hop's four disparate elements—emceeing, deejaying, b-boying/b-girling, and graffiti—with attention to their shared aesthetics of defiance, disruption, and deconstruction.  HU

* AFAM 205a / ANTH 206a, Africana Critical Theory and the Social Sciences Ryan Jobson

Examination of the dialogues between black studies and the social sciences, with focus on the discipline of anthropology. Topics under consideration include scientific racism and its discontents, ethnographic writing and methods, Marxist social criticism, and decolonial theory.  SO

* AFAM 206b / ENGL 234b, Literature of the Black South Sarah Mahurin

Examination of the intersections between African American and Southern literatures, with consideration of the ways in which the American South remains a space that simultaneously represents and repels an African American ethos.  HU

* AFAM 207b / HIST 116Jb, Sex, Race, and Forced Labor After the Civil War Tammy Ingram

Exploration of how human trafficking and forced labor have functioned as methods of legal and social control in the U.S. South since the abolition of slavery. Topics include exploitative labor contracts, vagrancy laws, sharecropping, convict leasing and chain gangs, child labor, and the modern crisis of mass incarceration, as well as extralegal practices such as prostitution, debtor’s prisons, and the exploitation of undocumented migrant workers.  WR, HU

* AFAM 211b / PHIL 190b / PLSC 330b, Morality and Black Literature Christopher Lebron

Conceptual and philosophical connections between black literature and moral philosophy. Ways in which both sets of studies inform each other for the purposes of theorizing social justice.  SO

AFAM 215b / HSAR 373b, African American Art, 1963 to the Present Erica James

Modern African American artistic production explored in the context of American art and social history. Critical race theory and artistic discourse from the Spiral group in 1963, to the Black Arts Movement and the culture wars, to current readings in American and postblack art. The complicated relations between African American art and politics. Use of art objects from the Yale University Art Gallery.  HU

* AFAM 225a / AMST 338a / THST 304a, Blackface Minstrelsy and the Politics of Power Daphne Brooks

Study of racial performances from Stowe, Twain, Winehouse, and others to explore the history and aesthetics of racial masquerade and cultural appropriation, from the origins of blackface minstrelsy through the present day. Examination of the roots and modern legacies of a form that was once the most popular entertainment attraction in American culture and of the relationship between performance politics and forms of social domination and cultural subversion. The impact of modernity and material histories (slavery and captivity, immigration, labor, development of the culture industry) on blackface minstrelsy’s evolution.  HURP

* AFAM 232a / ENGL 233a, Constructions of Whiteness Claudia Rankine

An interdisciplinary approach to the understanding of whiteness. Discussion of whiteness as a culturally constructed and economic incorporated entity, which touches upon and assigns value to nearly every aspect of American life and culture.  HU

AFAM 241a / AFST 262a / MUSI 262a, Traditional and Contemporary Musics of Sub-Saharan Africa Michael Veal

A survey of the traditional and popular musics of black Africa, organized both by nation, such as Ghana, and by region, such as Senegambia. Introduction to the fundamental musical principles, materials, and performance contexts of African music.  WR

* AFAM 251b / AMST 397b, Critical Race Theory Crystal Feimster

Introduction to critical race theory, a radical critique of relations among race, law, and power in U.S. politics and society. Intellectual foundations of the field, with emphasis on African American perspectives; key juridical acts. The centrality of U.S. law in producing social hierarchies of race and racial difference, gender, sexuality, and class. The extension of critical race theory to global analysis of race, immigration, and cultural difference.

* AFAM 255a / HIST 139Ja, The American South, 1870 to the Present Glenda Gilmore

A thematic approach to the history of the American South since Reconstruction. Focus on the political, social, and cultural history of a region that has undergone dramatic change. Topics include white supremacy and African American resistance, industrialization and labor activism, music and literature, the civil rights movement and the rise of the Republican South, and changing regional identity.  WR, HU

* AFAM 260b / AFST 188b / ER&M 278b / HSAR 468b, The Black Atlantic Visual Tradition Robert Thompson

Introduction to key African civilizations and to important recent work in the art of Africa and the Afro-Atlantic world. Study of the art and culture of major civilizations, e.g. the Yoruba, and the continuity of their art in the New World. In-depth discussions, based on readings and weekly response papers. Study trips to Yale University Art Gallery’s newly displayed collections of African Art.  HU

* AFAM 268a / PLSC 245a, Urban Politics and Policy Cynthia Horan

Analysis of competing approaches to urban politics and political economy with a focus on how scholars debate the study of power, race, and space. Application of theories to contemporary policy issues such as policing, metropolitan disparities, and inner-city revitalization.  SO

* AFAM 270b / PLSC 280b, Poverty, Politics, and Policy in the American City Cynthia Horan

Examination of how politics informs the formulation and implementation of policies to address urban poverty. Consideration of alternative explanations for poverty and alternative government strategies. Focus on efforts by local organizations and communities to improve their situations within the context of government actions.  SO

* AFAM 275b, The Afterlives of Slavery in the United States Aaron Carico

Examination of slavery in America after abolition and the arrival of freedom. Rather than presuming that slavery simply vanishes, consideration of whether slavery somehow remains, and if so, where its remnants are to be found in national life. Focus on boundary lines imagined to separate slavery and freedom and what might constitute a true state of freedom.  HU

* AFAM 276a / PLSC 222a / SOCY 362a, Race and the Politics of Punishment Vesla Weaver

Historical and contemporary issues surrounding race and punishment in the American criminal justice system, with a focus on research involving institutional development, policy history, and racial orders. The influence of racial perceptions on policy preferences; ways in which the criminal justice system defines and creates race; debates about black inclusion and equality and their relation to debates about crime and punishment.   SO

* AFAM 300b / PHIL 330b / PLSC 337b, Afrofuturism Christopher Lebron

Survey of Afrofuturism from political and philosophical perspectives, with investigation of alternative forms of narrative and social critique to bear on contemporary questions of race, imagination, and social justice. How black writers, thinkers, and musicians have turned to speculative genres to observe American history and politics as well as urgent moral dilemmas.  SO

* AFAM 301a / PHIL 325a / PLSC 334a, The Making of Black Lives Matter Christopher Lebron

Intellectual history and philosophical underpinnings of black political and social thought relevant to the Black Lives Matter social movement. The works of black writers; the role of love in social justice; how artistic movements impact critical black thought; sexuality, gender, and invisibility; and whether the role of leaders is still relevant in black politics and movements.   HU

AFAM 303b / ER&M 347b / MUSI 348b / THST 307b, Orisa Worship and Afro-Cuban Folkloric Dance Maya Berry

Study of Afrodescendants in Cuba and how sacred forms of Orisa worship were practiced, studied, interpreted, and represented on stage. Understanding blackness, collective black-lived experiences, and the black dancing body in Cuba. Readings drawn from art history, ethnomusicology, anthropology, dance studies, religious studies, theology, history, and black studies, providing close study of concepts of religion, deity, folklore, nation, blackness, and dance. Concepts illustrated through readings, movement practice (dance classes), and spectatorship.  HU

* AFAM 313a / THST 319a, Embodying Story Renee Robinson

The intersection of storytelling and movement as seen through historical case studies, cross-disciplinary inquiry, and studio practice. Drawing on eclectic source materials from different artistic disciplines, ranging from the repertory of Alvin Ailey to journalism, architectural studies, cartoon animation, and creative processes, students develop the critical, creative, and technical skills through which to tell their own stories in movement. No prior dance experience necessary.  HU

AFAM 325b / PLSC 211b, Social Policy and the Politics of Inequality in the United States Vesla Weaver

The contours and consequences of inequality in the United States, including explanations for why it has expanded over the past several decades and why Americans seem to tolerate more of it. The development of the modern welfare state and the causes of racialized poverty, segregation, and incarceration.  SO

* AFAM 336a / AMST 336a / ER&M 315a / LAST 336, Haitian and Dominican Literature and Culture Dixa Ramirez

The literature and culture of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and their diasporas in the United States and Canada since 1804. Focus on texts that explore relations between the two nations, with some attention to each country's individual literary and cultural traditions. Conventional literary texts such as novels and poetry, as well as political documents, orally transmitted texts, and imagery.  HU

* AFAM 340a / AMST 303a / ER&M 320a / LAST 320a / LITR 332a, Narratives of Blackness in Latino and Latin America Dixa Ramirez

Focus on the cultural and literary treatments of Afro-Latin American and Afro-Latina/o subjectivity in Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Latin America and in the United States through the study of literature, historical first-hand accounts, film, and scholarship produced from the 16th century to the present. Themes include slave insurrections, the plantation system, piracy and buccaneering, the black roots of several Latin American musical genres, miscegenation, and the central role of sexuality in race-based social hierarchies.  WR, HU

* AFAM 343b / AFST 326b / ENGL 231b / JDST 325b / LITR 343b, Literatures of Blacks and Jews from the Twentieth Century Andrew Caplan

Comparative study of representative writings by African, Caribbean, and African American authors of the past one hundred years, together with European, American, and South African Jewish authors writing in Yiddish, Hebrew, French, and English. Examination of the paradoxically central role played by minority, or marginal groups, in the creation of modern literature and the articulation of the modern experience.  HU

* AFAM 353a / HSAR 472a, Black British Art and Culture Kobena Mercer

Introduction to black British visual artists and cultural theorists, with a focus on those of African, Caribbean, and South Asian descent. Postcolonial perspectives on diaspora identities and cross-cultural aesthetics in art, film, and photography from 1945 to the present.  HU

* AFAM 359b / RLST 345b, Gospel Music in Modern America Josef Sorett

Introduction to the study of religion, African American culture, and popular music through the engagement of theoretical and historical questions associated with the emergence, evolution, and boundaries of Gospel music from the early twentieth century up to the present moment. Prior course work in American history, black music and popular culture, and religious studies is helpful.  HU

* AFAM 379a / FREN 410a / LITR 299a, Colonial Narrative, Postcolonial Counternarrative Christopher Miller

Readings of paradigmatic, colonial era texts that have provoked responses and rewritings from postcolonial writers and filmmakers. In some cases the rewriting is explicit and direct, in other cases the response is more oblique. Both profound differences of perspective and unexpected convergences will emerge. Readings may include: Aimé Césaire’s A Tempest after Shakespeare’s Tempest, Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation after Camus’s The Stranger, and Claire Denis’s film Chocolat after Ferdinand Oyono’s Houseboy.

* AFAM 380b / AMST 407b / HIST 111Jb, Antebellum America Edward Rugemer

History of the United States from the Jackson administration through the Civil War. Emphasis on race, slavery, and the coming of the war, with some attention to western expansion.  WR, HU

* AFAM 385a / ER&M 375a, Plantation, Prison, and Ghetto in the United States Aaron Carico

Survey of the plantation, ghetto, and prison. Three spatial forms as foundations for the American project, aligned with colonialism and domination. Theoretical and historical considerations of how production of space and racial differences have been articulated together in United States. Topics include political economy of slavery, ghetto origins, and prison abolition.  HU

* AFAM 386a / AMST 321a / ENGL 285a / HUMS 456a, James Baldwin's American Scene Jacqueline Goldsby

In-depth examination of James Baldwin's canon, tracking his work as an American artist, citizen, and witness to United States society, politics, and culture during the Civil Rights and Black Arts Movements.  Prerequisite: Background or course work in twentieth century African American history, African American literature, and/or American literature helpful but not required.  WR, HU

* AFAM 390a / ER&M 419a / SOCY 319a, Ethnography of the African American Community Elijah Anderson

An ethnographic study of the African American community. Analysis of ethnographic and historical literature, with attention to substantive, conceptual, and methodological issues. Topics include the significance of slavery, the racial ghetto, structural poverty, the middle class, the color line, racial etiquette, and social identity.  SO

* AFAM 399a / AMST 341a / ER&M 407a, Race and Capitalism Aaron Carico

This interdisciplinary seminar explores, both theoretically and historically, how racial formations are bound to the formations of capitalism. Focus on the American scene, with sustained inquiry on slavery, its commodity logics, and their residues. Consideration of the effects of immigration and globalization.   SO

AFAM 403b / AMST 386b / THST 431b, Black Women and Popular-Music Culture Daphne Brooks

Forms of musical artistry innovated by black women artists as sites of social, political, and cultural rupture, revision, and resistance. The intersecting politics of race, gender, class, and sexuality in popular-music culture considered through black women's sonic performances. Examination of voice, lyricism, embodied performance, and spectacle. Artists range from Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, and Eartha Kitt to Nina Simone, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Nicki Minaj, and Janelle Monáe.  HU

* AFAM 406b / AMST 405b / ENGL 405b, Autobiography in America Robert Stepto

A study of autobiographical writings from Mary Rowlandson's Indian captivity narrative (1682) to the present. Classic forms such as immigrant, education, and cause narratives; prevailing autobiographical strategies involving place, work, and photographs. Authors include Franklin, Douglass, Jacobs, Antin, Kingston, Uchida, Balakian, Rodriguez, and Bechdel.  WR, HU

* AFAM 408b / AMST 460b / ENGL 443b, African American Poets of the Modern Era Robert Stepto

The African American practice of poetry between 1900 and 1960, especially of sonnets, ballads, sermonic, and blues poems. Poets include Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown, Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, and Robert Hayden. Class sessions at the Beinecke Library for inspection and discussion of original editions, manuscripts, letters, and other archival material.  HU

* AFAM 410b / AMST 310b / WGSS 410b, Interdisciplinary Approaches to African American Studies Heather Vermeulen

An interdisciplinary, thematic approach to the study of race, nation, and ethnicity in the African diaspora. Topics include class, gender, color, and sexuality; the dynamics of reform, Pan-Africanism, neocolonialism, and contemporary black nationalism. Use of a broad range of methodologies.  WR, HU, SO

AFAM 469b / ECON 171b / EDST 271b, Urban Inequalities and Educational Inequality Gerald Jaynes

Analysis of contemporary policy problems related to academic under performance in lower income urban schools and the concomitant achievement gaps among various racial and ethnic groups in United States K-12 education. Historical review of opportunity inequalities and policy solutions proposed to ameliorate differences in achievement and job readiness. Students benefit from practical experience and interdisciplinary methods, including a lab component with time spent in a New Haven high school.  Prerequisites: Any course offered by Education Studies, or one course in history or any social science, either: Anthropology, Economics, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology.  EDST 110 is preferred, although not required.  SO

* AFAM 471a and AFAM 472b, Independent Study: African American Studies Gerald Jaynes

Independent research under the direction of a member of the department on a special topic in African American studies not covered in other courses. Permission of the director of undergraduate studies and of the instructor directing the research is required. A proposal signed by the instructor must be submitted to the director of undergraduate studies by the end of the second week of classes. The instructor meets with the student regularly, typically for an hour a week, and the student writes a final paper or a series of short essays. May be elected for one or two terms.

* AFAM 480a, Senior Colloquium: African American Studies Crystal Feimster

A seminar on issues and approaches in African American studies. The colloquium offers students practical help in refining their senior essay topics and developing research strategies. Students discuss assigned readings and share their research experiences and findings. During the term, students are expected to make substantial progress on their senior essays; they are required to submit a prospectus, an annotated bibliography, and a draft of one-quarter of the essay.

* AFAM 491a or b, The Senior Essay Gerald Jaynes

Independent research on the senior essay. The senior essay form must be submitted to the director of undergraduate studies by the end of the second week of classes. The senior essay should be completed according to the following schedule: (1) end of the sixth week of classes: a rough draft of the entire essay; (2) end of the last week of classes (fall term) or three weeks before the end of classes (spring term): two copies of the final version of the essay.