As I was finishing up my graduate studies and mailing out countless applications in the hopes of attaining that needle in a haystack tenure track position, I would always think about the possibility of leading a study travel trip. This year, we planned a trip to Poland; however, due to various circumstances, the trip will not take place. However, that has not deterred my desire to take students abroad to enhance their study of literature. There is one trip that, as I wrote my application letters, I always included when discussing study travel: a trip studying African American expatriate writers in France. As I think about this trip more and more, I’m starting to think about a syllabus and course that I could teach even without the study travel angle. So, today, I want to share with you the first iteration of a course I have been thinking about for a years. For the study travel portion of the class, we plan to go from Montpellier to Marseilles to Nice.

Course Description

Liberté, égalité, fraternité. These three words did not initially draw African Americans to France. Rather, England served as a desired location due to their abolitionist, Plus, the Haitian Revolution positioned Napoleon as the villain to Toussaint L ‘Overture. However, as the nineteenth century progressed, France became a destination for African Americans escaping racial oppression and violence in the United States. In this course, we will look at some of the authors who either expatriated to France or who lived in France for extended periods of time.

This course will cover a lengthy period of time in this course, stretching from Victor Séjour in the 1840s to William Gardner Smith in the 1960s. We will hit upon everything from emancipation in the United States to World War I to the end of colonialism, and movements such as the Harlem Renaissance. We will not be able to cover every author, artist, or intellectual who travelled to France, but we will examine a wide breadth of experiences and ideas that occurred over the 120 years we will survey.

In 1859, the American consulate in England denied Frederick Douglass a passport, so he could not travel the continent. However, in 1886, he traveled to France, Greece, Italy, and Egypt. Of that trip, he wrote, “My gratification was all the more intense that I was not only permitted to visit France and see something of life in Paris, to walk the streets of that splendid city and spend days and weeks in her charming art galleries, but to extend my trip to other lands and visit other cities.” Douglass visited the south of France, spending a few days in Nice, the city where we will conclude our study travel trip.

A little over sixty years after Douglass’ sojourn in Europe, James Baldwin sailed for France, escaping the racism and oppression of the United States. Of that voyage, he wrote, “By the time I was twenty-four, I had decided to stop reviewing books about the Negro problem–which by that time was only slightly less horrible in print than it was in real life–and I packed my bags and went to Paris.” Baldwin wrote, from France, about “the theme of expatriation and the discovery,” as Michel Fabre puts it, “of their American identity in Europe by black and white Americans alike.”

Over the course of the semester, we will examine the tensions that exist when one leaves their native land for another. We will examine the liberation that occurs and also the struggles. We will examine the impact of exposure to different cultures, ethnicities, and more on individuals. We will examine the ways that these writers, while living in Europe, continue to speak back to and dissect the United States.

Primary Texts:

  • Séjour, Victor. The Jew of Seville (1844) 
  • Fauset, Jessie. There is Confusion (1924)
  • DuBois, Shirley Graham. Tom Tom: An Epic of Music and the Negro (1932)
  • McKay, Claude. Romance in Marseilles (2020)
  • Yerby, Frank. Benton’s Row (1954)
  • Baldwin, James. Giovanni’s Room (1956)
  • Smith, William Gardner. The Stone Face (1963)
  • Youngblood, Shay. Black Girl in Paris (2000)

Course Requirements and Explanation of Grading

  • Online Assignments and Participation                                    10%
  • Quizzes                                                                                           10%
  • Annotated Bibliography                                 20%
  • Wiki                                                                                                 20%                            
  • Research Paper (6-8 pgs.)                                                            20%
  • Final Exam                                                                                     20%

Online Assignments and In-Class ParticipationThis class will use Moodle to post responses to readings and to informally discuss readings in small groups. Along with this, Moodle will also serve as a repository for terms that will be discussed in class. The online grade will come from the responses and discussions. Along with this portion of the grade, please be aware that daily attendance is not sufficient to guarantee you a passing participation grade. Any activities taking place during class time contribute to your in-class participation grade. This includes note-taking during lectures, actively participating during discussion, and otherwise participating in class activities.

Quizzes—Periodically we will have quizzes on the texts we read in class. These quizzes will occur at the beginning of class and they will consist of five questions. Quizzes cannot be made up if they are missed.

Annotated Bibliography—Annotated bibliographies are common in academic writing; in fact, entire books of nothing but annotated sources exist. For this bibliography, you must have five to six credible sources (journal articles, books, credible/academic Internet sources, or magazine articles) and annotations for each source. Each annotation must be between 150-300 words.   

Wiki—The wiki will be a collaborative project that the entire class can view. It will be constructed on Moodle, and there will be one for nine of the texts that we read in class. Each text will have a group of four students that will construct a wiki with a title page, notes, allusions or references, interactive map, questions about the text, a review of the text, and a creative page. The wikis will be graded when we cover the text in class.

Research PaperFor this assignment, each student will select a text that we have covered in class and construct an analytical paper on some aspect of the text. The paper needs to be 6 to 8 pages in length, and it must contain 3 secondary sources along with the primary text. The secondary sources should be scholarly articles, essays, or book chapters published since 1990 on the text chosen. The essay can be an extension of a topic that a short response paper explores, but it does not have to be. The paper should follow the “Critical Essay” paper from English 101/102. More information will follow.

Final ExamThe final exam will consist of definition/identification questions, short answer questions, and long essay questions. Only the works we discuss in class or that I otherwise specify will be covered on the exam. Please bring a large blue book to each exam period.

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