Acts of God: Natural Disaster in American Cultures
Autumn Quarter 2016
Course: 200 (Acts of God: Natural Disaster in Hemispheric American Cultures)
Instructor: Stephanie Hankinson
“I am above the weakness of seeking to establish a sequence of cause and effect between the disaster and the atrocity.”
-Edgar Allan Poe, 1843
This course is organized around representations of disaster in U.S. and Caribbean writing and focuses on three specific disaster sites: plantation sugar production in 18th century Jamaica, 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and U.S. gulf coast, and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. This course will examine the treatment of disaster in a variety of ways, from the ecological and the cultural to the political and historical. Contemporary discourses of disaster are often related to past historical representations (e.g. the Haitian Revolution as disaster). These same discourses also help to generate speculative fictions about the apocalyptic future of humanity in post-disaster environments.
We will address questions like what qualifies a disaster as a “natural” disaster? What is the role of human agency in bringing about and responding to disaster events? What types of narratives, experiences and voices are allowed to bear witness to disaster? How do we produce and consume disaster as a commodity? Are natural disaster events the great social equalizer or necessary ruptures through which we can explore unequal distributions of power? We will explore the intersections of race, politics, and environment in each disaster site: sugar, hurricane, and earthquake.
This class counts for "W" credit, and will require students to write two 5-7 page papers. Students can also expect to write semi-formal reading responses and to participate in a group presentation. We will be reading three novels as well as supplemental poetry, essays, and viewing at least one feature film: Behn Zietlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012). **Please note that students are expected to keep up with the daily reading and are expected to come to class prepared to discuss and engage with the texts**
Marlon James: The Book of Night Women (2009) – ISBN 1594484368 Dimitry Elias Léger: God Loves Haiti (2015) – ISBN 0062348132
Jesmyn Ward: Salvage the Bones (2014) - ISBN 1608196267