Race and Cultures of Mobility in American Literature (UC Berkeley)

Special topics seminar in American literature (ENG 166).

This course examines how nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. writers imagined the connections between race, mobility, and national identity. Movement in American literature is often understood to betoken freedom, exploration, and escape--whether on the open river or the open road, the western frontier or the New England retreat. Interrogating these romantic tropes and utopian mythologies, we will ask how representations of mobility (broadly understood) in fact map out the contested terrain of racial difference.

How do narratives of travel and spectacles of the body in motion redraw the boundaries of national belonging? How does race organize space on the urban grid and in the poetic line? How does literary form mediate and meditate on the unequal distribution of mobility as a social resource? And how are notions of national progress and racial uplift inflected through discourses of ability and disability? Our readings will address these and other questions against an historical backdrop of regionalism, migration, territorial expansion, segregation, "slumming," and internationalism. Of particular concern will be the choreography of difference in popular culture and the uneven relationship between cultural visibility and social mobility.





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