Ethno-Racial Identity Configurations in American Narratives. Cross-Cultural Encounters.

American Studies sophomores, Fall 2017


Instructor: Dana Mihăilescu (


This seminar investigates different stances of ethno-racial identity configurations and cross-cultural encounters in American literature throughout time, focusing on the relations between collective and individual memory and trauma, mainstream and minority tensions, as well as ethno-racial and ethical dilemmas. The seminar looks at identity as a contextually based-fluid category, the result of spaces of negotiation. By examining moments of struggle and power imbalance in the relation between mainstream and minority groups, the seminar also explores the fundamental role of literature in mourning and historical reparation. 


Week 1: Introduction


Week 2: Theories of identity, assimilation, and ethnic writing in the U.S. [melting pot, 100% Americanism, cultural pluralism, multiculturalism, affiliation / post-ethnicity; transcultural autoethnography, cultural zone]

Stephen E. Cornell and Douglas Hartmann. “Mapping the Terrain: Definitions.” Race and Ethnicity. Critical Conception Sociology.  Volume 1 Debates and Controversies. London: Routledge, 2001. 76-99.

Harold L. Hodgkinson. “What Should We Call People? Race, Class and the Census for 2000.” Race and Ethnicity. Critical Conception Sociology.  Volume 1 Debates and Controversies. London: Routledge, 2001. 19-29.

Matthew Frye Jacobson. “Introduction. The Fabrication of Race.” Whiteness of a Different Color. European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998. 1-12.

David A. Biale. “The Melting Pot and Beyond.” Best Contemporary Jewish Writing. Ed. Michael Lerner. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2001. 8-14.

Case studies: Art Spiegelman, “The Eye-Ball”


Week 3: Ethno-racial Identity Configurations and the Work of Memory. Theoretical Considerations

Types of memory: Mieke Bal. “Introduction” and Brison, Susan. J. “Trauma Narratives and the Remaking of the Self.” Acts of Memory. Cultural Recall in the Present. Eds. Mieke Bal, Jonathan Crewe and Leo Spitzer. Hanover: Dartmouth College University Press of New England, 1999. VII-XVII; 39-54.

Postmemory: Marianne Hirsch. “Surviving Images: Holocaust Photographs and the Work of Postmemory.” The Yale Journal of Criticism 14.1 (2001): 5-37;

Multidirectional memory: Michael Rothberg. “Introduction: Theorizing Multidirectional Memory in a Transnational Age.” Multidirectional Memory. Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009. 1-12.

Memory and the color line: W.E.B. Du Bois. “The Negro and the Warsaw Ghetto” (1952)

Week 4: Performing Identities and Beyond: Power Fields, Norms and Ethical Openings of Acknowledged Precariousness. Theoretical considerations

Michel Foucault. “Morality and Practice of the Self.” History of Sexuality Volume 2: The Use of Pleasure. 1984. Transl. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books, 1990. 25-32. 

Judith Butler. “Precarious Life.” Precarious Life. The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso, 2004. 128-151.

Leigh Gilmore. “‘What Was I?’: Literary Witness and the Testimonial Archive.” Profession (The Modern Language Association of America 2011): 77-84.

Catherine Rottenberg. “Performing Americanness.” Performing Americanness. Hanover: Dartmouth College Press, 2008. 1-15.


Week 5: Jewishness and American Mainstream Identity Configurations: Late 19th – early 20th century:

Schreier, Barbara. “Becoming American: Jewish Women Immigrants 1880-1920.” History Today (March 1994): 25-31. Anzia Yezierska. “Children of Loneliness” (1923); Konrad Bercovici. “Success; and How It Comes” (1929).

Videos: Making an American Citizen (1912); scenes from Tevye (1939), Fiddler on the Roof (1971)



Week 6 Jewishness and American Mainstream Identity Configurations: Mid-twentieth century:

Delmore Schwartz. “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”; “America! America!” 


Week 7: Jewishness and American Mainstream Identity Configurations: Contemporary Directions

Lara Vapnyar. “There Are Jews in My House.” There Are Jews in My House. Stories. NY: Anchor, 2004. 3-50. Draft of paper 1 due this week.


Week 8: African Americans and Mainstream Identity Configurations [Black on Black]

Richard Wright. “Bright and Morning Star” / “Fire and Cloud” from Uncle Tom’s Children (1938)

Paper 1 due this week.


Weeks 9: African Americans and Mainstream Identity Configurations [White on Black/Black on Black]

Theoretical, personal essay: Norman Podhoretz. “My Negro Problem–And Ours.” The New York Intellectuals Reader. Ed. Neill Jumonville. New York: Routledge, 2007. 327-340.

Bernard Malamud. “Black is My Favorite Color.” 1963. American Mix. The Minority Experience in America. Eds. Morris Freedman and Carolyn Banks. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1972. 186-193.

Aaron McGruder. The Boondocks (1999-2012) []


Week 10: Contemporary Configurations of Ethnic Identities: Asian-White Encounters

Screening: White Light, Black Rain. The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

John Berger. “Hiroshima.” The Sense of Sight. New York: Pantheon, 1985. 287-295.


Week 11: Contemporary Configurations of Ethnic Identities: Japanese American/Chinese American Identities

Chiori Miyagawa. “America Dreaming” (1994) in Global Foreigners. An Anthology of Plays. Eds. Carol Martin and Saviana Stanescu. New York: Seagull Books, 2006. 261-288.

Gish Jen. “Who’s Irish?”


Week 12:  Contemporary Configurations of Ethnic Identities: Eastern European - U.S. Encounters

Norman Manea. “Proust’s Tea.”  October Eight O’Clock. London: Quartet Books, 1992. 35-41.

Svetlana Boym. Hydrant Immigrants [Visual Project]. Web. <>.

Svetlana Boym. “Immigrant Souvenirs.” The Future of Nostalgia. NY: Basic Books, 2001. 251-258; 327-336.



Week 13: Contemporary Configurations of Ethnic Identities: Eastern European - U.S. Encounters

Aleksandar Hemon. The Lazarus Project (2008) – novel available at Room 4    

Draft of paper 2 due this week. Paper 2 due within a week.


Requirements and grade assessment:

Students are expected to constantly take part in class discussions and to read the texts on a weekly basis. For each of our weekly meetings, each student should follow the latest news dealing with ethnic/racial issues and be prepared to offer a brief report on them and we can all comment how they relate to our readings for the respective week (you can follow news outlets like New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, various other internet news databases). They are to make one oral presentation on a specific topic from the literary or theoretical texts included in the reading list and to write two 4-6 page essays, each one based on a topic of their choice from one of the literary texts in the reading list [they can either choose one or several passages and comment upon them or investigate a theme related to ethno-racial identity configurations as rendered in a literary text] (MLA citation style, 12 Times New Roman, double spacing). Plagiarism will be penalized by failure on the assignment and seminar.

Grade breakdown:

Class participation: 20% of final grade

Oral presentation + discussion of the week’s news on ethnic/racial topics: 30% of final grade

Written papers: 50% of final grade








Pagină actualizată la 09 Octombrie 2017.