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ENGL 494 B: Honors Seminar

Meeting Time: 
TTh 10:30am - 12:20pm
SAV 136
Close up of Laura Chrisman
Laura Chrisman

Syllabus Description:

   ENGL 494 Honors Seminar

   Revisiting History: Modern Black Narratives of Slavery, Empire, and Resistance

Autumn 2019

  Class Meetings: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10.30am-12.20pm

                                        SAV 136




Professor Chrisman


Office: Padelford B401

Office Hours: Thursdays, 1.30-3.30pm or by appointment


This course examines how black American, Caribbean, and African writers, from the 20th- and 21st centuries, have represented historical experience and perceptions of temporality. We look closely and comparatively at the diversity of their representations of empire, slavery, resistance, and their aftermath. We also consider what function history itself carries, in these works, and explore what it means not only for writers to revisit particular historical moments from the context of their own historical moment, but also what it means for us as readers to be encountering these materials from our own historical placement.


Primary literary texts:

CLR James, Toussaint Louverture: The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History (1934)

Arna Bontemps, Black Thunder (1937)

Yvonne Vera, Nehanda (1993). Please use the Mawenzi House/TSAR Publishers 2018 edition, available through Amazon.

Danai Gurira, The Convert (2012)


Prescribed and optional critical materials are available on our canvas website




Thurs Sept 26:


Tues Oct 1: Communist Manifesto, sections 1 and 2

Thurs Oct 3: Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope (introduction); Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History


Tues Oct 8: David Scott, ‘Futures Past’, from Conscripts of Modernity; Branwen Jones, ‘Time, History, Politics: Anticolonial Constellations’, Interventions, 21: 5 (2019), 592-614

Thurs Oct 10:  CLR James, Toussaint Louverture: The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History


Tues Oct 15: Toussaint Louverture

Thurs Oct 17: Toussaint Louverture


Tues Oct 22: Arna Bontemps, Black Thunder.

Thurs Oct 24: Black Thunder


Tues Oct 29: Black Thunder. Mid-term paper due, in class.

Thurs Oct 31: Black Thunder


Tues Nov 5: Yvonne Vera, Nehanda

Annalise Oboe, 'Survival is in the Mouth'


Thurs Nov 7:  Nehanda

Frantz Fanon, 'On National Culture' and 'Concerning Violence'


Tues Nov 12: Nehanda

Thurs Nov 14: Nehanda


Tues Nov 19: Danai Gurira, The Convert

Thurs Nov 21: The Convert


Tues Nov 26: The Convert

Thurs Nov 28: no class


Tues Dec 3: Class workshopping of final papers

Thurs Dec 5: Class workshopping of final papers


Final paper due: Tues Dec 10, 2pm, to be emailed to

This is a low-tech learning environment; cell phones must be turned off and kept in your bag.




25% for seminar participation including discussion posts/free writes

25%  for mid term paper

50% for final paper


I encourage you to discuss and plan your papers in consultation with me, during my office hours.


Office Hours.

 This is a time where you and I can meet outside class to discuss assignments, questions about the reading, concerns about expectations, etc.  If my scheduled hours are inaccessible to you, please email me to make appointments for another time. 


Seminar Participation includes productive speaking and listening: the sharing of ideas, questions, issues arising from the week's reading; constructive engagement with the ideas of others in the class; making connections with topics and ideas arising from previous weeks; showing initiative in non-prescribed secondary research which you share with the class.  It also involves regular notetaking in preparation for class and during the class. In preparing the week's readings please note down the page numbers of particular passages, sentences which you then direct the class's attention to: the more specific your references are, the more productive the class discussion can be.


Discussion Posts.

Your weekly posts should be at least 300 words. Please state the word count at the end of the post. Posts allow you to track your reading process and work through thoughts, reactions, and questions in informal, low-stakes writing. Your posts should include (short)  quotations from the primary text and include references to particular page numbers; that is, you need to factor in some close reading. Posts should be coherent and proofread, but you don’t need to have a fully formed thesis. In fact, you may find that you raise more questions than you answer in your posting. You’ll also find that your classmates’ ideas and interpretations can serve as catalysts for your own analysis.

In addition to the assigned reading for each class period, you should also keep up with the discussion posts and come to class prepared to incorporate some of the material into our in-class discussions.


Missing class will make it hard to succeed in this course and may negatively affect your participation grade.  If you do miss class, it’s a great idea to send out an email to the class list or to ask a fellow student for information on what you missed. NB: Do not ask me—I don’t repeat missed material!  


Late policy: Students are required to complete and hand in all assignments on designated days. No late assignments will be accepted without prior explanation.


Mid paper.  This is to be 5-6 pages.


Final Paper. This is to be 10-12 pages.



Papers must be typed, double spaced, in Times New Roman 12 point, with the student's name on all the pages. Each page should be numbered. They should follow the MLA style sheet. 


All papers should display literary  and conceptual engagement, rigorous argument, original insight, contextual knowledge. The final paper should also display evidence of independent scholarly research (reading of materials not prescribed for the course).


How many items to be included in works cited? For the mid term, at least 2. For the final paper, at least 4. Those items need to be works that your essay shows actual knowledge of; that is, works that you cite and draw upon in the essay.


You are responsible for editing and proof-reading your paper, and need to check its presentation, to ensure that it follows correct spelling, grammar, syntax as well as correct documentation (ie, the pagination details of a text when a text is quoted or cited). 


Paper structure: essays should start with a short introduction in which you indicate what is significant about the issue you have chosen to write on. You might also outline the argument that your essay will pursue. Your essay should then move to a substantial discussion that gives the analysis and presents your argument. End with a conclusion that sums up your discussion and draws out its implications for further understanding of the literary text.


Regarding essay style: I like the use of the first person to present your argument. If you are uncomfortable using the first person, however, don’t: just be careful to write in a way that foregrounds your own argument and avoids the appearance of descriptiveness or derivativeness.


Regarding the use of criticism: you need to show that you are widely read in the subject you are writing about. NB: This reading knowledge may include, but is not confined, to, author-based, conventional literary criticism. It also includes historical, cultural and theoretical reading. If you use literary criticism, be sure to use rather than rely on it: it should be clear to the reader that you are drawing upon the criticism simply to support your own analysis, not to substitute for your own analysis. It is also productive to reveal a capacity on your part to disagree with criticism.


Regarding essay titles: I like essay titles that set up a concept, or issue, to be explored. I do not like essay titles that set up a verbal imperative such as  ‘Discuss the treatment of Englishness in…’ (better would be ‘Englishness in…)  Nor do I like essay titles that present a direct question, such as ‘How pessimistic is Armah’s writing?’ (better would be ‘Pessimism and Armah’)


My criteria for grading papers include:

--The strength of reasoning. I look for a clearly-presented, rigorous and persuasive argument.

--The strength of interpretation of the primary material. I look for insight and careful analysis of the material that emerges from very close, thoughtful reading.

--The structure and organization of the paper.


Here are some 'do nots'. Doing these will lower your grade.

Do not make sweeping generalisations (eg, about the history of the world, the nature of human psychology, such as 'it is widely known that Western culture is essentially dominatory').

Do not express opinions that are unsupported by evidence.

Do not give empirical information (eg, information about a historical period) without giving a source for your information in the footnotes.

Do not misuse the apostrophe (this includes using ‘it’s’ instead of ‘its’; using apostrophes before an ‘s’ to indicate a plural noun, omitting to use them to mark possession).

Do not misuse commas by inserting them incorrectly or by omitting to use them.


Another common problem to avoid: writing sentences that aren’t sentences.

For example: There are two problems with her expression. The first BEING poor punctuation. [the latter is not a sentence]


Remember when writing essays on fiction to avoid the trap of writing about characters as if they are real. Instead, if you want to explore characterisation, you need to analyse the way that the writer presents characters, and why the writer presents them in this way.


Also avoid the trap of writing about characters, or a single character, as if they constitute the whole of the literary text. Remember that a fictional text consists of much more than its characters. Other elements of a text include: narrative structure; imagery; language; ideology; intertextual relationship to other texts.


And avoid the trap of writing about the text as if it is simply an emanation of the author’s psyche or their personal experience. The object of analysis is the text, not the author’s personality. If you are invoking biographical information you might consider the differences between the author’s ‘real life’ experience and its representation in the literary text.


Writing Centers: We all benefit from having outside readers, or editors, giving feedback on drafts of our work. The Odegaard Writing & Research Center and CLUE (Center for Learning and Undergraduate Enrichment) are writing centers that provide writing and research assistance from trained writing tutors and librarians during all stages of the writing process.

Odegaard Writing and Research Center:

CLUE Writing Center: 


Academic Honesty: It is essential that you properly cite other people’s ideas and language in your writing. In your assignments for this course, I encourage you to cite extensively from the wide array of texts you are in dialogue with; however, you must do so properly. Summarizing someone else’s work and not citing them is considered plagiarism and has significant consequences for your career at the UW.  It may result in the failure of an assignment, the failure of the course, or expulsion from the university.  Don’t plagiarize.


Accommodation: Please let me know if you need accommodation of any sort. The UW Disability Services Office (DSO) can assist you and/or you can come directly to me.  I’m very willing to take suggestions specific to this class to meet your needs.   The DSO can be contacted at


Classroom Ethics: Respect for difference of all kinds – including race, ethnicity, religion, age, sex and gender, sexual orientation, ability/disability, political and ideological beliefs, etc. – is vital to creating a safe, supportive and stimulating classroom community. Please respect the other members of this class so that we can all be open and honest about who we are and what we think and believe.


UW SafeCampus.

Preventing violence is everyone's responsibility. If you're concerned, tell someone.

  • Always call 911 if you or others may be in danger.
  • Call 206-685-SAFE (7233) to report non-urgent threats of violence and for referrals to UW counseling and/or safety resources. TTY or VP callers, please call through your preferred relay service.
  • Don't walk alone. Campus safety guards can walk with you on campus after dark. Call Husky NightWalk 206-685-WALK (9255).
  • Stay connected in an emergency with UW Alert. Register your mobile number to receive instant notification of campus emergencies via text and voice messaging. Sign up online at For more information visit the SafeCampus website at


Counseling Services.

The Counseling Center is staffed by psychologists and mental health counselors who provide developmentally-based counseling, assessment, and crisis intervention services to currently-enrolled UW students. The center is open all year, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.,

Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays. To schedule an initial appointment, please call the 6 Counseling Center (206) 543-1240 or stop by the Center at 40 Schmitz Hall. Or visit their URL:http://counseling.


English Department’s Statement of Values:

The UW English Department aims to help students become more incisive thinkers, effective communicators, and imaginative writers by acknowledging that language and its use is powerful and holds the potential to empower individuals and communities; to provide the means to engage in meaningful conversation and collaboration across differences and with those with whom we disagree; and to offer methods for exploring, understanding, problem solving, and responding to the many pressing collective issues we face in our world—skills that align with and support the University of Washington’s mission to educate “a diverse student body to become responsible global citizens and future leaders through a challenging learning environment informed by cutting-edge scholarship.”


As a department, we begin with the conviction that language and texts play crucial roles in the constitution of cultures and communities.  Our disciplinary commitments to the study of language, literature, and culture require of us a willingness to engage openly and critically with questions of power and difference. As such, in our teaching, service, and scholarship we frequently initiate and encourage conversations about topics such as race, immigration, gender, sexuality, and class.  These topics are fundamental to the inquiry we pursue.  We are proud of this fact, and we are committed to creating an environment in which our faculty and students can do so confidently and securely, knowing that they have the backing of the department.


Towards that aim, we value the inherent dignity and uniqueness of individuals and communities. We aspire to be a place where human rights are respected and where any of us can seek support. This includes people of all ethnicities, faiths, genders, national origins, political views, and citizenship status; LGBQTIA+; those with disabilities; veterans; and anyone who has been targeted, abused, or disenfranchised.



“Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form.”



Catalog Description: 
Survey of current issues confronting literary critics today, based on revolving themes and topics. Focuses on debates and developments affecting English language and literatures, including questions about: the relationship of culture and history; the effect of emergent technologies on literary study; the rise of interdisciplinary approaches in the humanities.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Other Requirements Met: 
Honors Course
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 10:50pm