Project Revision

The Project

The purpose of Humanities 415 is to develop a deeper understanding of the contemporary period by studying how expressive forms (i.e., texts and practices) including literature, cinema, and visual culture engage with social and historical circumstances.

Our present is the outcome of a long process reaching back many thousands of years to the origins of human society. 

While elements of the past may lose their practical or symbolic relevance and recede into obscurity, some of the forces and conditions that produced this world persist as what Raymond Williams called “actively residual” variables. 

Capitalism is easily the most significant socio-cultural structure shaping our common situation. Though very recent, the triumph of capitalism on a global scale has utterly remade the world and the people in it.

As a way of organizing and reproducing social life capitalism has colonized every space on the planet including the human psyche in a quest for endless economic growth. It is so ubiquitous we sometimes fail to recognize the extent to which it determines our attitudes and action.

Every day capitalism’s champions— its preachers and flunkies— expound its virtues and attempt to explicate its ambiguities. “The Market,” they insist, possesses instinct and intelligence, responding to events and speaking ultimate truths. Or else The Market’s like the weather, a simple fact of existence; a principle, governing reality; an algorithm whose workings may be manipulated in order to meet human needs. All such claims are ideological in the sense that they seek to mystify power by arguing, in essence, that’s just how it is. Or, in the words of one of the most effective apologists for capitalism of the 20th century, There Is No Alternative.

 Since capitalism first appeared roughly two centuries ago, people have argued it relies upon or results in the exploitation, objectification, and alienation of humans, animals, and our finite natural world.

Among the criticisms of global capitalism is is its tendency to

promote violence (imperialist, criminal, and structural)

create inequality

generate spectacles which deform the social into a virtual realm of appearances

liquidate the past and limit our visions of the future

This semester we will explore all of these claims. Our project is to examine culture in order to assess society, to defamiliarize what we take as given. How do authors, artists, and film makers use the past to clarify our understanding of the present? How does the imagination– individual, collective– become a social force?

To start we’ll generate a lexicon of keywords drawn from cultural theory and formal analysis.

FA20 Readings Final


Ali, Tariq. The Book of Saladin. New York: Verso, 1999. Print. 

ISBN 9781781680032

Hoban, Russell. Riddley Walker, Expanded Edition. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1998. Print. 

ISBN 9780253212344

James, C. L. R. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. 2d Ed., Rev. ed. New York: Vintage, 1963. Print.

ISBN 9780679724674


Hoban, Russell. Riddley Walker, Expanded Edition. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1998. Print. 

ISBN 9780253212344

James, C. L. R. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. 2d Ed., Rev. ed. New York: Vintage, 1963. Print.

ISBN 9780679724674

Maalouf, Amin and Rothschild, Jon. The Crusades through Arab Eyes. New York: Schocken, 1985. Print.

ISBN 9780805208986


Chesnutt, Charles and Sundquist, Eric J. The Marrow of Tradition. New York: Penguin, 1993. Print.

ISBN 9780140186864

Hammett, Dashiell. Red Harvest. New York: Vintage, 1992. Print. 

ISBN 9780679722618

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Dispossessed: A Novel. New York: Perennial Classics, 2003. Print. 

ISBN 9780061054884


The HR-ification of BLM entails saying the right things while giving very little concrete, material support to the people who need it. Imagine if the focus was less on “Hire more Black admin” and more on “Abolish tuition. In fact pay students to attend school.” How many Black lives would be transformed by this kind of program?

Screen Shot 2020-07-28 at 4.23.42 PM

FA20: Haitian Revolution


Haitian Revolution


CLR James, The Black Jacobins

Laurent Dubois, Avengers of the New World

Gerald Horne, Confronting Blak Jacobins


Gillo Pontecorvo, Burn!

Lydia Bailey (1947?)

Edward Halperin, White Zombie

doc. Egalitè for All

doc. Aristide and the Endless Revolution

Visual Arts

Kimathi Donkor, Caribbean Passion: Haiti 1804

Jacob Lawrence, The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture

Black Dawn (film)


Aime Cesaire, The Tragedy of King Christophe

Orson Welles, Voodoo Macbeth

Eugene O’Neill, Emperor Jones

CLR James, Toussaint L’Ouverture: A Play in Three Acts


Alejo Carpentier, The Kingdom of This World

Madison Smart Bell, All Soul’s Rising (Haitian Trilogy)

Leonora Sansay, Secret History, or The Horrors of Santo Domingo

Nalo Hopkins, Midnight Robber

Arna Bontemps, Black Thunder

Syl Cheney-Coker, Sacred River: A Novel


Susan Buck-Morss, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History

Peter Hallward, Damming the Flood

Alfred Métraux, Voodoo in Haiti




In this noir melodrama a brilliant cellist (Paul Henried) scarred by the war, arrives in New York and reunites with his former flame, an aspiring pianist played by Bette Davis, who betrays him with a narcissistic composer then sacrifices everything.

Screen Shot 2020-07-24 at 2.21.10 PM