Joanna Boyce Wells, Head of a Mulatto Woman,
1861, Oil on paper laid down on linen

Poetry and Memoirs by 19th-Century British and American Writers of African Descent

 

Fall 2000

Prof. Florence Boos  

This course will study British and American non-fiction literature by nineteenth century writers of African descent, with an emphasis on the different histories of black people, abolition and imperialism in their respective societies; varying modes of transmission and publication; and the special purposes served by poetry and memoir. During the first section of the course we will read together personal writings of 19th century Britons of color: the trial testimonies of William Wedderburn, the journal of Mary Prince, and the autobiography of Mary Seacole. We will then discuss several United States poets of color, including George Horton, Sarah Forten, Ann Plato, Alfred Campbell, James Whitfield, Frances Harper and others included in Joan Sherman's African-American Poets of the Nineteenth Century, and will briefly examine two or three of the periodicals produced for an African-American audience. A third set of readings will contrast memoirs and related personal writings by Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Jacob, Frances Harper, William Wells Brown and Ida Wells. Each student will be asked to choose a poet or memorist not included in our common readings thus far as the subject of her or his final twenty-page research essay. The final six weeks of the course will be devoted to class discussion of these projects and selections from the works they discuss.

 

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