Courses in the Spring 2017 Harlem Semester Initiative

Harlem Semester

About the Harlem Semester

Organized by the Barnard Center for Research on Women and the Department of Africana Studies and launched in 2016, the Harlem Semester Program is an ambitious public humanities initiative that explores the complexities of Harlem’s social, political, and intellectual histories, its leaders, its culture, and its artists.

The curriculum of the Harlem Semester engages Harlem not as an inert site or abstract concept, but as an intensively peopled place of complex interaction. Pairing faculty from Barnard and other colleges with Harlem-based institutions, these place-based courses teach Harlem’s diverse cultural and political legacy through participatory, interdisciplinary, multi-directional learning modules.

The Harlem Semester Program offers a critical intervention in approaches to diversity, inclusion, and in- equality on campus. The program offers an innovative pedagogical model that directly engages controversial issues by creating learning spaces where social issues can be debated openly and students’ capacity for interpersonal awareness, solidarity, and respect can change and grow. Harlem Semester courses put diffi- cult issues front and center and enable students to engage with those who are actively grappling with these issues in their lives and work.

Central to this program’s intervention is an engagement with Harlem’s cultural institutions as sites of com- munity activism; spaces that continue to be crucial to exploring thorny questions of inequality and social jus- tice. Students participating in the program will gain a unique perspective on the extraordinary contributions of Harlem’s residents through the institutions and community workers who have sustained it, and through frank discussions of topics such as access, prejudice, recognition, and respect.


Spring 2017 Courses

AFRS BC 3532 – Romare Bearden: Home is Harlem
Diedra Harris-Kelley, Instructor
Wednesdays, 10:10-12pm
This seminar explores one of the greatest American artists finding an inspirational home in Harlem. Romare Bearden (1911-1988) noted painter, collagist, intellectual and advocate for the arts, spent his childhood and young adult life in Harlem. The Odyssey, one of Bearden’s most well known series, was created in 1977 and inspired by Homer’s Odyssey. The course takes up the issues in The Od- yssey series, and beyond, examining Harlem as home through Bearden’s eyes, from an artistic perspective, and around what inspired him most – the history, the people, and jazz music.

AFAS UN 3930 002 – “Blackness” in French: From Harlem to Paris and Beyond
Kaiama L. Glover and Maboula Soumahoro, Instructors
Monday 11AM-12:50pm
What distinctions must be made between US-black American fantasies of Paris and realities for Blacks in Paris? What are the his- torical linkages between black Americans and Paris? Using an internationalist approach and covering the 20th and 21st centuries, this course explores these and other questions over the course of the semester through a close consideration of the literature, arts, culture, history and politics emanating from or dealing with Black France and the unique, long-historical relationship between Harlem, Paris, and the wider French empire.

AFRS BC 3552 – Black Women, Performance, and the Politics of Style
Shirley Taylor, Instructor
Wednesdays 10:10 am – 12:00pm
Black Women, Performance, and the Politics of Style provides a historical overview of Black women in entertainment. Beginning in the early 20th century, the course will explore various Black female archetypes presented on stage and through audio and visual media, performance as both an intentional/unintentional political stance, and consider the impact Black women have had on the entertain- ment industry overall.

AFRS BC 3551 – Vibrations: Harlem Jazz and Beyond
Loren Schoenberg, Instructor
Thursdays, 2:10-4pm
This course explores some of the multiple vibrations emanating from Harlem in all of their diversity. Our jumping off point will be music that emerged in Harlem starting a century ago and the visionaries who created it: James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams, Billie Holiday and Dizzy Gillespie. We will follow their influence all the way through to contemporary artists such as Ken- drick Lamar, Cecile McLorin-Salvant and Robert Glasper. This course will partner with the National Jazz Museum in Harlem (NJMH) and Harlem Stage and work toward understanding the relationship between the jazz and the people who created.

ARCH UN 3202 – Architecture Design Studio: National Black Theater
Irina Verona, Studio Coordinator
Monday/Wednesday 9:00am-11:50am
Architectural Design 2 partners with the National Black Theater (NBT) to examine how architecture and design can support multi-fac- eted cultural and social narratives. NBT will serve as a lens into Harlem’s layered cultural, social, economic and physical histories, as well as into Harlem’s future. As an organization currently in the process of expanding its current facility, students will explore the unique symbiosis between NBT and Harlem and design a new performance center that repositions the theater as a key component of social urban interaction, activism, and community participation.

A&HH 5051- Harlem Stories: Oral History (Teacher’s College)
Ansley Erickson, Instructor
Wednesdays, 5:10-6:50pm
How do historians learn about communities and their educational past? How has Harlem educated its children? How do stories about the past matter for education today? In this course we collaborate to document and understand the history of education in Harlem. We focus on the history of Harlem’s 117-year-old Wadleigh school. Students conduct oral history interviews with Wadleigh communi- ty members and create public digital projects to share their knowledge.

AHIS BC 2018 – Freestyle and Displacement in Contemporary Art Practices
Leslie Hewitt, Instructor
Thursday 10:10am-12:00pm/12:00pm-1:00pm
“Freestyle,” the important 2001 exhibition held at the Studio Museum in Harlem in New York, helped usher a generation of artists into public discourse and scrutiny by challenging the art world and questioning conventional thinking about art made by artists of color in the twenty-first century. Taking this exhibition as a point of departure, the seminar will explore the multiple modes of expression apparent in contemporary art practice, and the complex set of aesthetic, philosophical and political motivations that these modes of expression expose.

For more information on courses and to enroll, visit the Barnard College Course Catalog.


For more information on the Harlem Semester, visit our website, or contact us by emailing bcrw [at] barnard.edu or calling 212-854-2700.

BCRW Spring 2017 Newsletter: Upcoming Events on Black Feminism, Ethics of Being, and More

Director’s Note

Over the past few months we have witnessed a heightened sense of fear, shock, and vulnerability about our families, friends, and communities. Yet this moment has also amplified critical research and analysis, creative forms of resistance, deep strategizing, and a recognition of the power and resources we have at hand. While the political transition we face may seem unprecedented, we also know that in troubling ways, it is a legacy of the longer, uncomfortable history of our country. Focusing our attention on both the broader history we have inherited and the collective work we have ahead of us, BCRW’s spring programs use the critical frameworks of Black feminism, disability justice, and trans liberation politics to highlight the creative and intellectual projects we find critical to understanding our current political contexts and building the world we need.

In February, our annual book salon pays tribute to Christina Sharpe’s work on the afterlives of slavery and the survival of Black subjects despite relentless violence and negation through a rigorous engagement with Sharpe’s groundbreaking new book, In The Wake: On Blackness and Being. Later in the month, renowned Black feminist theorist Hortense Spillers hones in on the legal categorizations of race, gender, and family in 18th century U.S. history to illuminate the enduring traces of these definitions in systems producing and extracting value, life, and death. Finally, Award-winning historian, writer, and longtime activist Barbara Ransby, author of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement, will give the 2017 Natalie Boymel Kampen Memorial Lecture in Feminist Criticism and History.

Our 42nd annual Scholar and Feminist Conference, Haptic Bodies: Performance, Embodiment and the Politics of Touch, assembles a group of artists, theorists and activists to think about how a focus on affect, embodiment and the senses/sensation might offer a path toward new practices of creating the society we want to live in. In April, we expand our exploration of embodied and performative practices by hosting a screening and discussion with filmmakers from Global Action Project, Trans Justice Funding Project, and Black Trans Media that showcases media made by and for trans people of color as an organizing and resiliency strategy. In May, BCRW will host an event in Oakland in collaboration with Sins Invalid and the Trans Life and Liberation Art Series focusing on art and politics at the intersections of disability justice and trans liberation.

We look forward to thinking, working, and building with you this semester and in the years to come.

With appreciation,

Tina Campt, Director

Activism in Context


Christina Sharpe, In the WakeIn the Wake: A Salon in Honor of Christina Sharpe
Christina Sharpe in conversation wih Hazel Carby, Kaiama Glover, Arthur Jafa, and Alex Weheliye
Thursday, February 2 | 6 PM
Event Oval, The Diana Center

Christina Sharpe’s paradigm shifting new work, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, interrogates literary, visual, cinematic, and quotidian representations of Black life that comprise what she calls the “orthography of the wake.” Invoking the multiple meanings of the term “wake”—the path behind a ship, keeping watch with the dead, coming to consciousness—Sharpe details how Black lives are swept up and animated by the afterlives of slavery, and describes what survives despite insistent violence and negation. Formulating the wake and “wake work” as sites of artistic production, resistance, consciousness, and possibility for living in diaspora, In the Wake offers a way forward. Join us for a captivating conversation with the author and three distinguished interlocutors.

 

Hortense Spillers

Shades of Intimacy: Women in the Time of Revolution
Helen Pond McIntyre ’48 Lecture by Hortense Spillers
Thursday, February 16 | 6 PM
James Room, 4th Floor Barnard Hall

In her trenchant analysis of U.S. history, literary critic and Black feminist scholar Hortense Spillers considers the aftermath of the notion of partus sequitur ventrem—the “American ‘innovation’ that proclaimed that the child born of an enslaved mother would also be enslaved.” In this lecture, Spillers will engage the idea of the “shadow” family as one of the tectonic shifts in the concept and practice of social relations in the New World from the 18th century forward. Her critical examination of this period of profound contradiction and change illuminate how dangerously hegemonic definitions of race, gender, and family took hold in ways that carry forward into the present.

Professor Spillers will also participate in an afternoon Graduate Student/Faculty Theory Salon from 12–2 PM at the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Columbia University. Space is limited and reservations are required.

 

Haptic BodiesHaptic Bodies: Perception, Touch, and the Ethics of Being
The 42nd Annual Scholar and Feminist Conference
Featured speakers include Grisha Coleman, Carla Freccero, Kim Hall, and Gabri Christa Reid
Friday, March 3 | 6 PM and Saturday, March 4 | 10 AM – 6:30 PM
Event Oval, The Diana Center

hap·tic

ˈhaptik/
adjective technical
of or relating to the sense of touch, in particular relating to the perception and manipulation of objects using the senses of touch and proprioception [relative perception].

How are we, as global citizens, accountable to each other? This year’s Scholar and Feminist Conference explores the haptic—the perception and manipulation of objects using the sense of touch—as an ethics of being in the world. Feminist scholars, artists, and activists come together in this utterly unique two-day conference to examine the many ways in which touch helps us better understand the politics and aesthetics of embodiment, situatedness, and performance. Through a series of panels and artistic encounters, we consider how our senses—not only touch, but taste, sight, and sound—situate us as bodies in political and economic contexts (such as labor), as well as in personal and sensory ones.

 

Barbara Ransby Featured

An Evening with Barbara Ransby 
Natalie Boymel Kampen Memorial Lecture in Feminist Criticism and History
Monday, March 20 | 6:30 PM
James Room, 4th Floor Barnard Hall

Award-winning historian, writer, and longtime activist Barbara Ransby joins BCRW to give the 2017 Natalie Boymel Kampen Memorial Lecture in Feminist Criticism and History. Ransby is Distinguished Professor of African American Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and History at the University of Illinois at Chicago where she directs the campus-wide Social Justice Initiative. Ransby is author of the highly acclaimed biography,Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision, which received eight national awards and international recognition, and Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson. As an activist, Ransby was an initiator of the African American Women in Defense of Ourselves campaign in 1991, a co-convener of The Black Radical Congress in 1998, and a founder of Ella’s Daughters, a network of women working in Ella Baker’s tradition.

 

Harmattan WindsHarmattan Winds: Disease and Gender Gaps in Human Capital Investment
A Lunchtime Lecture by Belinda Archibong
Thursday, March 23 | 12 – 1 PM
BCRW, 101 Barnard Hall

Research on gender-based educational disparities in the Global South has focused on differential investment in the education of boys versus girls, higher costs and lower educational attainment among girls, and factors leading to these realities. In this lunchtime lecture, Belinda Archibong will extend this conversation to share her research on ways that public health and epidemics impact these gender-based disparities, focusing on the 1986 meningitis epidemic in Niger when investment in girls’ education decreased dramatically. Archibong will also share insights into what an intersectional analysis of gender, health, and educational disparities can offer in a time when climate change is expected to worsen the disease environment.

 

Shannen Dee WIlliamsThe Real Sister Act: Black Catholic Nuns and the Long Struggle to Desegregate U.S. Religious Life
A Lecture by Shannen Dee Williams
Tuesday, March 28 | 6:30 PM
Sulzberger Parlor, 3rd Floor Barnard Hall

Shannen Dee Williams, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, is a historian of the United States and Black Catholic diaspora. Her research chronicles the epic journey of Black Catholic sisters in the United States from their fiercely contested beginnings in the 19th century to the present day. It also unearths the largely hidden history of Black sisters in the fight to dismantle racial and gender barriers in the U.S. church and wider American society.

 

Our Voices: Trans Stories, Trans Justice, Trans ResiliencyOur Voices: Trans Stories, Trans Justice, Trans Resiliency
Film screening and discussion with Luce Lincoln, Marin Watts, Sasha Alexander, and Olympia Perez
Tuesday, April 4 | 6 PM
James Room, 4th Floor Barnard Hall

In a time when transgender and gender nonconforming communities remain under attack, it is crucial to lift up stories of trans resiliency and power. This film screening and panel will highlight ways trans communities fight back, build community, and center the intersectional work essential to survival. Luce Lincoln of Global Action Project, Marin Watts of Trans Justice Funding Project, Olympia Perez and Sasha Alexander of Black Trans Media, and other social justice trans and gender nonconforming media makers will share work that highlights the legacy of trans leadership, organizing, and activism during this historic moment.

 

We Move TogetherWe Move Together: Disability Justice and Trans Liberation
Thursday, May 11
Oakland, CA

More information coming soon

 

Alicia GarzaAn Evening with Alicia Garza

More information coming soon

Letter to Zora Neale Hurston

Ntozake ShangeThis letter was written in response to Katherine Acey’s work and research on inter-generational activism as a BCRW Senior Activist Fellow. It follows the tradition of inter-generational building by engaging in the practice of forging bonds across generations, with the vanguards of an ever-transforming movement. 

Dear Zora,

At twenty-one, by back is already perpetually sore. Every bend, twist, and turn ignites a dull pain deep in my bones. I have lived with this pain for a while now. Each year it has grown in intensity, reaching a new dimension, developing a new expression. I imagine a hole being dug at the base of my spine, gradually expanding with passing time. This pain is a reminder of my physical essence. It reminds me that I am alive and inhabiting this body. To chart the passage of time with pain is odd, but it offers an organizing principle for understanding the maturation of my body and spirit. This physical pain I live with is allegorically tied to my understanding of my spiritual pain; both pains are constants in my conscious understanding of self. I can trace trauma along the currents of pain that run through my body and in the more cerebral realms of myself. Because I cannot expend the energy to recall and name my trauma daily, it is as though my body has taken up the burden, practicing release and mourning on my behalf. With each ache and knot is a resounding cry of defiance. If I listen close enough to the creaks in my joints and tears in my taut ligaments I can tune in to my own grieving. I rely on my body to perform this release. And some days, the pain will not let me tune out. When it becomes impossible to ignore the cries, I am prevented from getting out of bed. Then I must slow down, lay beside my broken body and tend to her, listen to her frustrations. Other days I dance, giving full range of motion to my pain, letting my joints sing that raspy tune.  

At times I have been frustrated with the impediment of chronic pain. My body’s refusal to comply with my desire to move has brought me to tears. I have tried to pinpoint an explanation for this plaguing affliction. To what measure should that slight spinal curvature render me so feeble? Why should I be constantly reminded of my physical fallibility in such youthful prime? This dissonance between dauntless youth and pangs of incapacity have made up my world–politically, emotionally, and physically. My pain is not tethered to a single, clinical explanation, it encompasses a collective of institutional and personal repression as well as generational trauma. All of these have converged at a single point in my body, latching onto my flesh, to say they will not be forgotten or ignored. I wonder, dear Zora, if you suffered with chronic pain your own lifetime, if you struggled to find respite from pain through creative expression. I wonder if your pain became more pronounced as you aged, or if it was always present in your bones, urging you to tell stories about Black folks’ endurance of terrible pain.

Stretching, in the morning marks the beginning of my daily struggle against my very own body. Some days, I am filled with gratitude because I know I will be able to move, without reservation or difficulty. Those cherished days are filled with minute moments of joy, when I put to use every ounce of my energy into committing all sensations to memory. Those other days, when I labor under the strain of movement, I reach into this arsenal of archived joy in an attempt to recover some of what I fear may be at stake. Dance and writing are both practices of constantly reaching into that arsenal. When I move, I must be prepared to remember what joy is, even in pain. Janie Crawford knew the power of memories too, having learned that we must “remember everything [we] don’t want to forget”, and the importance of recollection to the project of survival.

My most treasured moment during the practice of dance is when I begin to feel as though a movement or a rhythm has sunk into my bones. In writing, it is when I can no longer see where I begin and where the story ends. In those moments, I know that closing my eyes will allow me to see better, to experience physical expression more deeply. Some days, I am not able to arrive at this moment; I have been too focused or too distracted, too rigid or too pliant. Usually, this occurs when I have been mentally or emotionally preoccupied with some grievance or dilemma. When I am able to make the most use of a quiet or reflective moment, I find myself easing into the moment of blind euphoria of creativity.  What moment alerted you that you were arriving at a stage of euphoria when you wrote, Zora?

Knowing that generational and institutional traumas are carried through the body, I must also acknowledge that my own pain is situated in a broad historical order that dates back to the slave trade. So what can creative expression offer in the face of the constant disintegration of Black flesh under the crushing weight of pain? Ntozake Shange teaches us that all creative impulses are connected to the body. Thus, my writing and dancing are inseparable from my physical pain. My relationship to dance is deeply tied to emotional and physical sensation and state. For me, dance serves a function that parallels that of writing. As with dance, writing is an expressive tool. It is a way of acknowledging my fears and apprehensions, of documenting moments that bring joy, and setting intentions. In a creative capacity, I write stories that speak to all of those things. Storytelling captures some of what I am afraid to lose–memories–while iterating new possibilities for existing beyond the limited expanse of pain. Eisa Davis wrote a letter to Shange, like I am writing to you now, interrogating the capacity of the poetic and creative imagination to offer hope and resistance. In response, Shange wrote: “poetry brings us to our knees…and the joy of survivin’ brings you to your feet” (196). This is one articulation of the possibilities that creative expression can offer through the body’s impulse to dance and write. Was Shange’s philosophy a refashioning of what you taught her in Their Eyes? After all, you were a Barnard woman too, as they so love to claim in your absence. In writing and dancing, I find it possible to affirm survival, even with pain as a constant, inflicted on my body and spirit by dejection, apathy, and trauma. Through dance, I declare my survival in rising to my feet, commanding all physical and emotional senses, attending to all aches and bothers. Through writing, I mobilize a similar set of motions, setting off an internal dialogue. In both expressions I hold space for communing spiritually, with the shadowy figures that survived what I too am charged with surviving. Zora, the world is full of young people like me, aching and sore, looking back on your writing, sometimes out of desperation for an answer, sometimes seeking peace and an affirmation for survival, an acknowledgement of the source of our pain. What stories would you offer us in moments like these? What are your thoughts on the possibilities of healing through art?