African American Studies

Director of undergraduate studies: Erica James, Rm. 302, 81 Wall St., 432-9718 or 432-7758,;


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

Associate Professors Jafari Allen, Crystal Feimster, Edward Rugemer

Assistant Professors Erica James, Anthony Reed, Vesla Weaver

Senior Lecturer Kathleen Cleaver

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 breath of the field. In the process, 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, 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 for a broad liberal arts perspective that complements specialized knowledge of a field.

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 162, 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); and the senior colloquium (AFAM 480) and senior essay (AFAM 491). AFAM 162 will not be offered in 2014—2015; students who need to fulfill the history requirement in this academic year should enroll in AFAM 125, in consultation with the director of undergraduate studies.

Area of concentration Students majoring in African American Studies are required to choose an area of concentration comprising 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, 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 throughout the Black Atlantic diaspora. The particular research problem and design are to be worked out in each case with a faculty adviser.

Credit/D/Fail For the class of 2017 and subsequent classes, no more than one course taken Credit/D/Fail may be counted toward the major.

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, 162, 410

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 010a / AMST 018a / ENGL 014a, Twentieth-Century African American Poetry Elizabeth Alexander

African American poetry from Paul Laurence Dunbar to the present, with special attention to the contemporary Black poetry renaissance. Works explored in the contexts of locale, history, and literary and cultural movements. Research conducted in the Beinecke Library's archives and in other archival collections at Yale. Includes attendance at poetry readings on campus, classroom visits by practicing poets in the contemporary canon, and a field trip to New York City. Enrollment limited to freshmen. Preregistration required; see under Freshman Seminar Program.  HURP
MW 11:35am-12:50pm

* AFAM 060a / AMST 060a / HIST 016a, 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
MW 1pm-2:15pm

AFAM 125a / AMST 125a / HIST 136a, 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
TTh 11:35am-12:25pm

AFAM 140b / AMST 211b / ENGL 293b / ER&M 210b / WGSS 211b, Race and Gender in American Literature Birgit Rasmussen

The role of literature in constructing representations of America as an idea, a nation, a colonial settlement, and a participant in world affairs. What kind of place America is and who belongs there; the consequences of America's history for its national literature. Emphasis on the ways texts represent and contest social concepts of race and gender difference.  WR, HU
TTh 11:35am-12:25pm

AFAM 160a / 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
MW 9:25am-10:15am

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
TTh 10:30am-11:20am

AFAM 183a / HSAR 375a, Afro-Modernism in the Twentieth Century Kobena Mercer

Introductory survey of African American, Caribbean, and black British artists in the context of modernism and postmodernism. Cross-cultural dynamics in the aesthetics and politics of race and representation.  HU
MW 1pm-2:15pm

AFAM 194b / AMST 194b / ENGL 194b, Contemporary African American Literary, Visual, and Performing Arts Elizabeth Alexander

The renaissance in African American culture from 1980 to the present. Great works of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, drama, film, music, dance, painting, photography, and hip-hop by living African American artists. Critical vocabularies and approaches with which to think about questions of genre; writing knowledgeably and persuasively about art across multiple genres and in historical context. Artists include Anna Deavere Smith, Suzan-Lori Parks, Toni Morrison, Edwidge Danticat, Colson Whitehead, Hilton Als, Rita Dove, Terrance Hayes, Bill T. Jones, Kerry James Marshall, Lorna Simpson, Jason Moran, and Jay-Z. Lectures feature public conversations with several of the artists studied.  HU
MW 1pm-2:15pm

AFAM 199b / 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.  HU
MW 9am-10:15am

AFAM 203a / MUSI 277a, 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
TTh 2:30pm-3:20pm

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
MW 10:30am-11:20am

* AFAM 240a / EP&E 435a / PHIL 469a / PLSC 324a, Luck and Justice Christopher Lebron

The relations among luck, responsibility, and social justice. Questions surrounding kinds of luck, justification, rational agency, and blame. The problem of assigning responsibility for outcomes over which an individual has no direct control.  SO
T 9:25am-11:15am

* 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.
M 1:30pm-3:20pm

* 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
W 3:30pm-5:20pm

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

Approaches to urban politics and political economy. Application of theories to contemporary policy issues such as policing, metropolitan disparities, and inner-city revitalization.  SO
Th 1:30pm-3:20pm

* AFAM 269a / EP&E 458a / PHIL 461a / PLSC 315a, Egalitarianism Staff

The concept of equality in normative political theory explored through contemporary philosophical texts. Reasons why oppressed, marginalized, and systematically disadvantaged groups express their claims in terms of equality; racial inequality as a case study.  SO
F 9:25am-11:15am

* 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
W 3:30pm-5:20pm

* AFAM 273b / EP&E 244b / SOCY 314b / WGSS 316b, Inequality in America Staff

Empirical, theoretical, and methodological issues involved in the study of inequalities in occupation, income, wealth, education, health, and neighborhoods. Intergenerational mobility, marriage and family processes, and inequalities of race, ethnicity, and gender. Questions include whether the United States is a land of opportunity and how different social groups fare and why.  WR, SO
T 9:25am-11:15am

* AFAM 276b / PLSC 222b, 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
Th 9:25am-11:15am

* AFAM 288b / EP&E 277b / PLSC 282b, The Idea of Power Christopher Lebron

An intensive survey of the theoretical literature on power. Questions such as how to identify the sociopolitical manifestations of power that exert influence in society; when power is legitimate; and the relationship between power and injustice. Enrollment limited to sophomores.  SO
T 1:30pm-3:20pm

* AFAM 291b / HSAR 470b, Pop Art and Black Culture Kobena Mercer

Pop art strategies among African American artists who contributed a critique of the modernist canon from the 1950s to present. Critical uses of vernacular materials are studied in view of postmodern theories of art and popular culture.HU
W 1:30pm-3:20pm

* AFAM 302a / ENGL 332a, Music and African American Literature Anthony Reed

Reading of canonical and recent African American literature to trace connections between music and writing. Uses of music, sound, and sound engineering in black literary culture from jazz and blues poetry to hip-hop. No knowledge of music required.  WR, HU
T 1:30pm-3:20pm

* AFAM 324a / AMST 337a / ER&M 314a, Urban Latina/o Cultures Dixa Ramirez

Latina/o urbanism as expressed in literature and culture. Focus on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with background on the formation of Latina/o communities in the nineteenth century. Sources include film and the visual arts.  HU
W 2:30pm-4:20pm

AFAM 325a / PLSC 211a, 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; causes of racialized poverty, segregation, and incarceration.  SO
TTh 1pm-2:15pm

* AFAM 336b / AMST 336b / ER&M 315b, 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
W 2:30pm-4:20pm

* AFAM 338a / ENGL 335a / LITR 280a, Caribbean Poetry Anthony Reed

Survey of major twentieth-century Caribbean poets such as Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite, and Aimé Césaire.  WR, HU
Th 2:30pm-4:20pm

* AFAM 349b / AMST 326b / HIST 115Jb / WGSS 388b, Civil Rights and Women's Liberation Crystal Feimster

The dynamic relationship between the civil rights movement and the women's liberation movement from 1940 to the present. When and how the two movements overlapped, intersected, and diverged. The variety of ways in which African Americans and women campaigned for equal rights. Topics include World War II, freedom summer, black power, the Equal Rights Amendment, feminism, abortion, affirmative action, and gay rights.  HU
T 9:25am-11:15am

* 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
W 9:25am-11:15am

* AFAM 383b / AFST 476b / FREN 376b, The Two Congos: Literature and Culture in the Heart of Africa Christopher Miller

An interdisciplinary approach to two nations that share a name, a river, and elements of culture but that are divided by colonial heritage (one Belgian, one French). Emphasis on literature, with references to history, film, anthropology, art, politics, music, and sports. Views from outside the two countries (Heart of Darkness, Tintin, V.S. Naipaul) and inside (H. Lopes, V. Y. Mudimbe, A. Mabanckou, S. Mukasonga). The 1974 Ali-Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" boxing match; Rwandan genocide in film and literature. Reading knowledge of French required.  HU
T 1:30pm-3:20pm

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

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
TTh 2:30pm-3:45pm

* AFAM 408a / AMST 460a / ENGL 443a, 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
M 1:30pm-3:20pm

* AFAM 410b / AMST 310b / WGSS 410b, Interdisciplinary Approaches to African American Studies Jafari Allen

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
T 3:30pm-5:20pm

* AFAM 411a / AMST 426a / ER&M 413a / WGSS 411a, Fictions of Imaginary and Imminent Futures Hazel Carby

Literature, novels, and short stories in the genre of science and speculative fiction, as well as various forms of futurism in visual and sonic culture. Ways in which creative artists can imagine and reimagine definitions of the human, through hybridity, crossing the boundaries of species being, contesting ideas of racialized bodies, expanding the possibilities of genders and sexualities, and questioning the relationship between biology, technology, and the body.  HU
W 1:30pm-3:20pm

* AFAM 428b / AMST 335b / THST 406b, Dance and Black Popular Culture Constance Hill

Approaches to theorizing performance, in particular dance performance of a black diaspora. Uncovering methodologies pertinent to the discovery and analysis of dance performance, intersections of black popular culture, and concepts of the corporeal.  HU
W 3:30pm-5:20pm

* AFAM 471a and AFAM 472b, Independent Study: African American Studies Erica James

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.
Th 9:25am-11:15am

* AFAM 483a or b / ENGL 460a or b, Advanced Poetry Writing Staff

A seminar and workshop in the writing of verse. May be repeated for credit with a different instructor.  RP

* AFAM 491a or b, The Senior Essay Erica James

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.