Transnational Dimensions of American White Identities

Course title: Transnational Dimensions of American White Identities (A/B, 19/20 c.)
Dr. Catherine M. Eagan

ECTS credits: 6
Language of instruction: English
Semester: Summer 2017
Tue 13:15 – 14:00, A 105
Thu 09:30 – 11:00, A 105

Status: elective
Form of instruction: lecture (1 hour) + seminar (2 hours)
Enrollment requirements: Enrollment in the English MA program.
Course description: This course will engage with whiteness studies and consider the intervention it has made into the study of race and ethnicity in American literature and culture. In the 1990s, the work of American labor historians focused a large segment of academia, including American Studies and literature scholars, on a question African-Americans had discussed for a long time: whether European Americans had a distinct racial identity that shaped their worldview and a distinct culture. Whiteness studies took as one of its founding principles the idea that European immigrants only “became white” in the crucible of white supremacist America. What Europeans were prior to their journey across the Atlantic has been more uncertain in this scholarship, but adopting a transnational perspective has helped some scholars see that Europeans did indeed have a relationship to a white racial identity prior to immigration, if it was not identical to the whiteness experienced in racially stratified America. This course will use the Irish as a case study but also delve into other examples of white racial formation—Jewish, German, Slovak, Croat—to show how European experiences of race and whiteness impacted American racial formations in similar and sometimes very different ways in the nineteenth century. The course will also address an absence in much of whiteness studies, the consideration of literature as a window into white racial affiliation. Only short excerpts of literature will be read, however, as this course will focus primarily on the theorization of what David Goldberg has called “racist culture.”

Course requirements: Regular attendance; participation in class discussions; in-class and home assignments; continuous evaluation (a mid-term and final, mandatory for all students); seminar paper (10-12 double-spaced pages in 8th edition MLA style). It is essential to observe the deadlines set down for your readings and for particular assignments; if not, this can adversely affect your grade. Grade breakdown: tests (midterm and final)—30%; journal responses—10%; group discussion leading—10%; annotated bibliography—10%; seminar paper—40%.

Syllabus (subject to change)

Week 1: New Labor Historians and the “Became White” Argument

Week 2: The African-American Case for Whiteness

Week 3: Skeptical Historians and Irish Studies Reactions

Week 4: Whiteness as a Presence, Despite Its Seeming Absence

Week 5: European Awareness of Race in Europe

Week 6: The Racialization of Difference

Week 7: The Case of Irish and Irish-American Literature

Week 8: Adjusting to Transnational Perspectives: Inbetweenness and Context

Week 9: Inbetweenness and Context Continued: Blackface Minstrelsy

Weeks 10 & 11: Defining Racial Affiliation: Irish-American Novel

Week 12: Dion Boucicault and the Limits of Conciliation: Popular Drama

Week 13: Sentimentalism and White Racial Consolidation: Irish-American Novel

Week 14: Central European Parallels and Contrasts

Week 15: Race, Whiteness, and European Interculturalism

Primary Source Material (only small excerpts read)

Dion Boucicault, The Colleen Bawn (1860)

Dion Boucicault, The Octoroon (1859)

John Boyce, Mary Lee (1860)

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) and excerpts from his correspondence

Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

Mary L. Meany’s The Confessors of Connaught; or, The Tenants of a Lord Bishop (1865).

Fitz-James O’Brien, “What Was It? A Mystery” (1859)

Hugh Quigley, Profit and Loss (1873)

Mary Anne Sadlier, Old and New; or, Taste versus Fashion (1868)

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)

Secondary readings (excerpted)

Charles Fanning, The Irish Voice in America: 250 Years of Irish-American Fiction (1999)

Sander Gilman, On Blackness without Blacks: Essays on the Image of the Black in Germany (1982)

Eric Goldstein, The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity (2008)

Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (1991)

Russell Kazal, Becoming Old Stock: The Paradox of German-American Identity (2004)

Mary Louise Kete, Sentimental Collaborations: Mourning and Middle-Class Identity in Nineteenth-Century America (2000)

Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (1993)
Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992)

Sinéad Moynihan, “Other People’s Diasporas”: Negotiating Race in Contemporary Irish and Irish American Culture (2013)

David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness (1991)

Ann Laura Stoler, Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things (1995)

Gloria Wekker, White Innocence: Paradigms of Colonialism and Race (2016)

Robert M. Zecker, Race and America’s Immigrant Press: How the Slovaks Were Taught to Think Like White People (2011)