As we march toward the end of the semester, I have started retweaking the syllabi for two courses I haven’t taught in awhile: Antebellum America and American Civilization Since 1865. Both courses push my thinking as I approach my next book project, which explores the spatial politics in Florida from the Seminoles’ encounters with the U.S. military through the arrival of turn of the century black Bahamians and indeed, the rise of the University of Miami football program in the 1980s. In all three cases, one can see how space matters to how unlikely groups claim power.
What is especially wonderful has been including two novels on the syllabi. In the case of Antebellum America, I am using Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, acclaimed author of Wench. Dolen was kind of enough to join me, Wayne State’s Lisa Ze-Winters and my UA colleague Trudier Harris for an intimacies panel two years ago. Balm takes us into the years surrounding the Civil War. Maybe we can get Dolen to join us for a quick Skype hello!
I am considering Yaa Gsai’s Homegoing, a book I could not put down last winter break, for my “American Civilization Since 1865” class. Born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Gsai permits us to see one African family’s experiences from the continent through the twentieth century. My grad students read an excerpt this semester.
Then again, Lynda Barry’s The Good Times Are Killing Me (1999), something I first read when I was an undergrad at the University of Miami, might also be a good fit for the Am Civ class.
Barry’s book is set in the late 1960s and unveils a friendship between an African American girl and a white girl in a neighborhood experiencing great change. I’ve used it in earlier classes.
I am also excited about having the chance to incorporate maps into the “Antebellum America” class. Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker’s Unfathomable City: New Orleans, An Atlas (University of California Press, 2013) will be the book to which we turn to learn how maps tell many stories. The students will have a chance to create several maps including one of Tuscaloosa as we celebrate this city and Alabama’s 200th birthday next year. All in all, I appreciate the opportunities to use maps and novels alongside of primary sources and traditional texts. My past experiences suggest many students enjoy this.
Planned outdoor trips have also been welcomed in the past and I plan to do the same this fall with my “Antebellum America” course. Approaching downtown Tuscaloosa as a “walking city” will be one shared moment. I made a digital postcard that featured such walking for students enrolled in “Antebellum America” three years ago. And here is a video featuring a zine created with that same class.
In between preps, I am enjoying this beautiful spring. We ate outside tonight. Azaleas from our yard on the table.
Gorgeous salad with tomatoes from a local farmer was yummy. All of this goodness eases the mind as we take these last laps toward this Spring semester’s final exam. Roll Tide.