Category Archives: Assignments

Connecting Dots (303/415)

“The rich are only defeated when running for their lives.”

Can anyone really imagine any American politician saying this out loud? Even as a metaphor– one of the ways James intended this statement– it’s impossible to envision the most “radical” political figures in national politics– an Ilhan Omar or a Rashida Tlaib– using such language. 

One of the secrets of American politics is that both Democrats and Republicans share a common philosophy: they are Liberal in the broadest sense of that term, which is to say they are devoted to the notion of a Free Market as the foundation of political rights, the social order, and economic prosperity. Unified by this commitment, in the absence of any substantial disagreement on the basic principle, Dems and Reps have had to find other ways to distinguish themselves from one another. The easiest, most inflammatory and engaging means of doing so is to fight Culture Wars that focus on issues of identity and morality rather than on the structural violence of the inequality that is an unavoidable outcome of the capitalist system. Though they may quibble about specific policies, on the issue of political economy, as Barack Obama affirms, the two parties are fundamentally in agreement.

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Try Harder (303/415)

In the email conversations I’ve had with students many of them have suggested they’d like to screen 1804: The Hidden History of Haiti for the film assignment. This choice is problematic for two reasons. First, it’s a documentary, not a fiction film. Second, it’s the outcome of only the most cursory research. If you google “haitian revolution film” it’s literally in the first couple of hits you get.

This latter point is very significant because it confirms that the Just Google It method of research produces homogeneous results. One of the weirdest and most threatening aspects of the internet is that if we let it, it will think for us. The search engine algorithm determines the object of our attention and thus the content of our thought.

Students who are interested in thinking independently, outside of a relatively narrow spectrum of Google-approved stuff, must try harder. Do a google search using the kw -.com, which weeds out some (not all) commercial sites. Use multiple search terms to narrow your focus. Refine your search as you go. Use the library. There are online books about the cinema of the African Diaspora. Access to those resources is essentially what you’re paying for (in addition to my disembodied voice, droning on endlessly).

Anybody who wants to actually Think Different, as the Apple Borg cube/monopoly insists everyone should, is going to have to work for it.

Image: Mechanical Bank (225)

mechanical bank n.d. Maker unknown. Image from artstor.org

(Note on terminology: After struggling with it awhile I opted to use the n-word once in this essay because it is literally part of the name of the object discussed. This single use of the term was placed in quotes to indicate that fact, as well as the fact that I would never use it otherwise.)

The characters and events described by Charles Chesnutt in The Marrow of Tradition give dramatic form to Black people’s experience of racist discrimination and violence during the Nadir of the Negro. Deprived of many civil rights, targeted by lynch mobs, and subjected to daily indignities, African Americans struggled to survive the Nadir as best they were able. 

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Notes on Narrative

I’m still learning how to teach online. The last lecture I don’t consider particularly effective and I think that from now on I’m going to post multiple, very short lectures instead of trying to adhere to a longer format which probably only works face to face in real time.

Ideally you’ll be learning the human geography of the Crusades, the dates of events, the names of the major figures, big picture stuff, etc. in addition to thinking about historiography as a form of narrative-making that shapes contemporary understanding of the present and the past.

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