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Month: February 2019

Secondary materials on the Harlem Renaissance

Hello fellows!

Thank you all for your bibliography citations and annotations. They are posted below. Over the weekend, please take a look …

Casey and Junru:

Jones, Sharon Lynette. “Langston Hughes’s Transnational Journeys: History, Heritage, and Identity in ‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers’ and ‘Negro.’” LATCH: A Journal for the Study of the Literary Artifact in Theory, Culture, or History, vol. 4, 2011, pp. 74–88. EBSCOhost,

Langston Hughes’ poems “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “Negro”  illuminate the global, geographical — defined by Jones as “transnational” (75) — symbolism that influenced African American identity, heritage, and culture during the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes contrasts waterways upholding slavery with those used for bathing to emphasize the complicated past in terms of migration and identity (78). Because Hughes was traveling to Mexico on a train while writing the poem, his personal migration parallels the Mississippi River slave trade — a complex symbol of both “liberation and captivity” (78) — thus emphasizing a geographic, transnational influence on his own identity. Jones also believes Hughes’s intense focus on the symbolism of water has three significances: 1) Fluidity. Such characteristic compare water to blood, indicating a sense of “journey and migration” rooted profoundly in all humans (79); 2) Wide geographical range. Including four geographically diverse rivers, Hughes demonstrates such migration is pervasive among African American descendants around the world; 3) Long history. The parallelism of enslavement between waterways in ancient Egypt and present America indicates slavery’s repetition through history. Through water, Hughes’ transnational gesture illustrates how Harlem Renaissance writing illuminated the experiences of people of African heritage transnationally (81). In analyzing language and references to real geographic locations and historical events associated with waterways, Jones concludes that Hughes connects African Americans with a shared identity despite differences in “time, place, and space” (87).

Additional Source:

Parham, Marisa. “Hughes, Cullen, and the In-sites of Loss.” ELH, vol. 74 no. 2, 2007, pp. 429-447. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/elh.2007.0017

Emmie & Abhi:

Dawahare, Anthony. “The Specter of Radicalism in Alain Locke’s The New Negro.” Left of the Color Line, edited by Bill V. Mullen and James Smethurst, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003, 67-8.

In “The Specter of Radicalism in Alain Locke’s The New Negro,” Anthony Dawahare looks at the success of Locke’s “Old Left” work during the Harlem Renaissance and today. Dawahare posits when reading Locke’s piece, one should consider the post-World War I context and the “ideological fight between advocate of black nationalism, socialism, and American capitalism who … struggled to position themselves as the leaders of working class black Americans” (68). His main argument is while Locke’s work impacted and promoted “racial expression, black pride, and social reform,” it neglected other political voices surrounding the discussion around “black identity, culture, and politics” in America (67). From this, Dawahare continues by saying Locke’s claim that race is only a social category (as opposed to genetic or biological) “squares nicely with the post-war ideologies of nationalism,” and his interchangeable use of “social race” and “nation” are evidence of such (69). Throughout the rest of the analysis, Dawahare acknowledges the flaws and motivations behind The New Negro, specifically that the nationalist movement is inherently exclusive to the elite and educated black population when he argues Locke’s desire to continue the capitalist system only creates a working class identity rather than a racial identity, but his motivations may have laid only to convince elites and not offend policy-makers of the time (74, 77, 81). He concludes that while Locke’s nationalism diminished much of the African American struggle, there was only so much room for digression from the political status quo.

Chris & Karen:

Solard, Alain. “Myth and Narrative Fiction in Cane: “Blood-Burning Moon.”” Callaloo 25 (Autumn, 1985): 551-562.

In his article “Myth and Narrative Fiction in Cane: “Blood-Burning Moon,”” Alain Solard argues that Toomer utilizes mythical devices in order to emphasize the racial conflict that defined the South at the time. In order to explain his argument, he starts by highlighting the “poetic and dramatic setting” of “Blood-Burning Moon” and analyzing the motivations of the characters during the climax of the story (551). Solard’s evidence comes from a close textual analysis with various interpretations from other critics. One focus of the textual analysis in this article is on the Christian imagery that Toomer employs, specifically concerning the hellish depictions of the story’s setting. Solard also notes the symbolism of the full moon’s omen as an element of Southern black folk culture. By utilizing such images, Toomer complicates the ideas and stories about the category of race and the African American experience. Solard furthers his argument about the ways in which Toomer explores racial conflict by emphasizing the relationship between Tom Burwell and Bob Stone. He suggests that the rivals are “treated as equals” and exist as two similar figures with identities that reverse (557). These ideas serve as distinct, yet contrasting views of what being black really meant in comparison to traditional norms of the time. From Solard’s perspective, Toomer paints the South as a nightmare in order to highlight the deeply entrenched racism that African Americans experienced. The conflict is thus “magnified to mythical dimensions” to suggest that racism is like an evil spell entrancing those trapped in the South (561).

Additional Source:

Borst, Alan G. “Gothic Economics: Violence and Miscegenation in Jean Toomer’s ‘Blood-Burning Moon.’” Gothic Studies 10, no. 1 (May 2008): 14-28.

Raven & Nora:

Yellin, Michael. “Visions of Their America: Waldo Frank’s Jewish-Modernist Influence on Jean Toomer’s ‘Fern’”. African American Review 43, no. 2-3 (2009): 427-442.

Michael Yellin’s article “Visions of Their America: Waldo Frank’s Jewish-Modernist Influence on Jean Toomer’s ‘Fern’” focuses on how “Fern” presents a modernized connection between the African American and Jewish communities. Yellin asserts that Toomer’s biracial heritage and influences from prominent Jewish author Waldo Frank convey his depictions of Fern. Fern is a biracial woman with both Jewish and African American heritage. Yellin emphasizes how Toomer utilizes a comparison between Jewish cantors and Fern to convey the similar struggles between the two communities. Moreover, Yellin highlights Toomer’s use of the surname Rosen to further underscore her Jewish identity. Yellin argues that Fern, in this sense, “embodies the regeneration of American culture” (427) and epitomizes the complexity of the racial composition of a modern America. In representing this emerging American diversity, Fern respectively represents modernity. Her hybrid identity and marginalized status in society contradicts the previous racial, economic, and gender norms in the United States that promoted the superiority of white, affluent men.

Yellin demonstrates how Fern connects to migration in highlighting how her life would be different if she chose to migrate North. In fact, he asserts that her fragile beauty will only endure in the South; the North will taint this innocence. The narrator faces the same dilemma, as he seeks to protect her and her beauty from impending obstacles. Ultimately, Yellin concludes by arguing that her pain and struggle are what help to shape her extraordinary beauty. He connects Fern to melancholy Jewish cantors who share their deep-rooted struggles with their audiences. In doing so, he returns our attention to the similarities between Jewish and African-American oppression.

Additional Source:

Jung, Udo O. H. “Jean Toomer: Fern.” In The Black American Short Story in the 20th Century,    edited by Peter Bruck, 53-69. Detroit: B.R. Gruner Publishing Company, 1977.


Some quotes for class on February 26th

Hello Fellows,

I want to post a handful of quotes that I think will be useful for the continuation of our discussion of Toomer’s Cane on Tuesday. I take both from J. Martin Favor’s book, Authentic Blackness: The Folk in the New Negro Renaissance (Duke UP, 1999). The first is from a letter that Toomer sent to Claude McKay in 1922:

“from my own point of view I am naturally and inevitably an American. I have strived for a spiritual fusion analogous to the fact of racial intermingling” (56)

The second is Favor’s own analysis of how geography, the movement of peoples, and The Great Migration shape and guide Toomer’s representation of African American culture and identity. Referring to Toomer’s time spent teaching in Georgia, Favor writes:

“Far from being an utterly organic, inevitable occurrence, Toomer’s connection to ‘black’ geography was noticeably planned. His adoption of a folk geography is as much a type of consumption as a reconnection; Toomer goes south to gain access to a part of the matrix of discourses he is creating both in Cane and in his developing theory of “American.” In consciously seeking out a southern geography, he is engaged in the performative act of ‘widening’ and ‘deepening’ his own notion of identity. Concurrently, he is also acting out a reverse migration that mirrors the historical Great Migration of the period.” (61)

The final quote I will provide is taken from literary scholar and critic Walter Benn Michaels’s book on American modernism titled Our America: Nativism, Modernism, and Pluralism (Duke UP 1995).  This quote is a little complicated, but I think it will help to bring out some of the questions that we’ll be working over in our discussion. For our purposes, we can think of culture as being the beliefs and practices of a particular group:

“The fact, in other words, that something belongs to our culture cannot count as a motive for our doing it since, if it does belong to our culture, we already do it and if we don’t do it (if we stopped, or haven’t yet started doing it) it doesn’t belong to our culture…. It is only if we think that our culture is not whatever beliefs and practices we actually happen to have but is instead the beliefs and practices that should properly go with the sort of people we happen to be that the fact of something belonging to our culture can count as a reason for doing it. But to think this is to appeal to something that must be beyond culture and that cannot be derived from culture precisely because our sense of what culture is properly ours must be derived from it. This has been the function of race…. Our sense of culture is characteristically meant to displace race, but … culture has turned out to be a way of continuing rather than repudiating racial thought” (page to come).

Have a great weekend and I look forward to a thoughtful discussion on Tuesday!

ponder denzel washington GIF by Entertainment Tonight


Dr. Cheever

The Great Migration: a mini-Research Assignment

Hello Fellows!

Thanks for a great class with Dr. Sackley today. As you remember, she left us with a mini-assignment: to think about how we might turn the enormous amount of information that exists on The Great Migration into a research project and paper.

(Obviously, this will be a very useful exercise as you think about how you’re going to narrow and focus the projects you’ll be working on this summer …)

After you’ve read the second half of the documents for Tuesday’s class (the link to the specifically assigned readings/pages can be found here — scroll down to February 14th and 19th), please do the following:

  1. Think of a particular person, event, theme, or question that you might make an effective research topic.
  2. Write it up in a sentence or two.
  3. Using the Historical Newspapers database and the archive of The Crisis, find one or two sources that you might use in. Read those sources to make sure that they will be useful and then a copy that we can look at in class.

I look forward to seeing what you come up with.Next!

Have a great weekend!

~ AC


Research Proposals: Step Two

Hello Fellows!

I hope everyone is enjoying a happy Sunday and that you are pleased by the warmer weather. I want to give you an update on the Summer Fellowship Application process and explain our next steps.

The Team Application for the A&S Summer Research Fellowship is due on February 11th. The application requires a paragraph from each of you on your proposed summer activity related to migration. This was the idea behind having you write the initial paragraph.

Our next task is to revise these paragraphs to make them more specific and comprehensive for the overall team application. You will still be able to make changes to your project over the course of the semester; your actual research/creative program  won’t be made official until April. But we do have to provide the Undergraduate Research Committee with your ideas at this point.

I will be sending your paragraphs back to you with my comments this evening and tomorrow. But for now, let me make some general recommendations. Your paragraph should:

  1. Indicate the area in which you will be working as specifically as you can. Let’s say you’re thinking about a literature or a history project. If you’re not ready yet to name a specific author, can you mention a region and time period (e.g. mid-twentieth century American literature or 19th century Abolitionist communities in New England)? Could you list a few authors within that period that you are interested in?
  2. What sort of questions will you be asking? At the end of the research period, what are you hoping you will know?
  3. Suggest the methodologies that you will be using. What sort of sources or materials will you use? Are there archives or libraries that will be important? What is your primary approach: close reading, archival work, applying theoretical materials to primary sources, working through and challenging the conclusions of other scholars?
  4. Indicate what coursework you have done that will help you complete this project. You don’t have to mention every course, but provide at least one.
  5. Your paragraph should provide the most detail about what you will be doing during the summer. If you have a plan that already is continuing into the fall semester, you should definitely mention this. But the focus should be on the 8 to 10 week summer research period.

Be on the lookout for my comments coming back over email. And do get in touch if you have any questions or want to speak in person.

Onward, humanities!


Dr. Cheever


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