|James Baldwin in Turkey. Photo found at Northwest African American Museum|
I am teaching a “Topics in US History” course next semester and I need to get my course description approved this week. I’m planning to teach the course on “Black Internationalism: African American Engagement with the World.” I’m going to use James Campbell’s compelling book Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa,1787-2005 as the anchor to the course. It has the advantage of moving forward 20-40 years in each chapter and also draws readers in by discussing big ideas through the lens of a single or at times a handful of individuals. I am going to pair the different chapters with relevant primary sources, such as Martin Delaney’s Blake, Alexander Crummel’s essays, Du Bois editorials from The Crisis, global Hip Hop songs, etc. (Lisa Lindsay has a lovely syllabus that uses Middle Passages in an honors course about US relations to Africa). There are 9 chapters, so for the other 6 weeks of the course, I’m going to concentrate on other parts of the world. So far the course is Europe and Africa heavy, so I need to think about bringing in Asia and Latin America. I had thought about assigning Kwame Anthony Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism, but perhaps I will do something from Nico Slate’s Colored Cosmopolitanism instead. Perhaps I will pair the Langston Hughes’ chapter in Middle Passages with his autobiography The Big Sea. That will bring in Europe in the 1920s, so then I could use the week I had devoted to that topic to bring in African Americans in Haiti.
I could start thinking about daily topics instead of weekly topics, which would give me more room in the schedule. The problem is that I don’t know whether the class will be a MWF or a TH and I find that fairly dramatically changes the way I schedule.
I often like to include something from NPR, the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, or other intelligent but not scholarly sources to show students that there are myriad ways to stay connected to ideas past their graduation. For this course, I’m thinking of assigning the New Yorker’s “‘Another Country’ James Baldwin’s flight from America” by Claudia Roth Pierpont.
Here’s my course description. Any suggestions?
How does travel change a person’s understanding of themselves? What happens when a person facing discrimination at home feels greater freedom abroad, like most of the African Americans who traveled abroad in the 19th and 20thcenturies? This course will explore different ideas of internationalism, both political and personal, among African Americans. Travels abroad, physically and textually, have been essential to the process of building an African American identity. African Americans approached their journeys with many different philosophies, including Black Nationalism, Pan-Africanism, cosmopolitanism, Christianity, pacifism, and militancy. They developed ideas of missionizing Africa as well as joining with Africans to challenge white supremacy. They criticized inequality in Asia, rejoiced in the Japanese triumph over Russia in 1905, and eventually built a spirit of common cause with other colonized peoples. Ideas about internationalism transformed over the two hundred and fifty years since the United States and Haitian revolutions; this course will interrogate those changes and their influence on global politics and personal identities.