Module and Programme Catalogue

Search site

Find information on

2022/23 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HIST3240 The Harlem Renaissance: Black Culture and Politics 1919-1940

40 creditsClass Size: 16

Module manager: Professor Kate Dossett

Taught: Semesters 1 & 2 (Sep to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

The Harlem Renaissance or New Negro Movement saw a flowering of cultural production and political activity among African Americans across the United States and abroad. This unprecedented explosion of activity in music, theatre, visual art, film, poetry and fiction, as well as in more formal political arenas found its focus in Harlem, New York City. After examining the development of black cultural traditions through Africa, the middle passage, slavery and migration to the urban North, this module focuses on the search for an 'authentic' black art in the 1920s and 1930s. What makes art more or less authentic? Who defines authenticity? How African is African American art? Can black art be authentic if it is funded by well meaning white liberals who have very particular notions of what constitutes blackness? How do class, age, gender and sexual orientation complicate and transform notions of ‘authentic blackness?’ We will try to answer some of these questions through examining the role played by key civil rights organizations (including Marcus Garvey’s black nationalist Universal Negro Improvement Association and the interracial National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in promoting black culture through their journals and newspapers. We also examine letters between white patrons and the black artists they supported, the diaries of black women novelists and the public debate about the relationship between black culture and black politics. The core of the module involves interdisciplinary analysis of a wide range of literary genres including drama, novels, poetry, memoirs and speeches. Music, visual artwork and film will also be important sources on this module. Some of the selections include: poetry by Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Alice Dunbar-Nelson; Plum Bun by Jessie Fauset, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston and The New Negro by Alain Locke; speeches by Marcus Garvey; blues lyrics by Ma Rainey & Billie Holiday, and the films of Oscar Micheaux. This course offers an in-depth study of one of the most important moments in African American history and highlights the central important of race in American society, both then and now.


Learning outcomes
LO1: have a detailed understanding of African American cultural and intellectual production in the first part of the twentieth century;
LO2: demonstrate the ability to work with primary and secondary materials, and to analyze such documents with precision and insight;
LO3: possess a sophisticated awareness of the means of historical production, and in particular be able to reflect on the process by which the past becomes history.

Skills outcomes
Further enhances Common Skills listed below:

- High-level skills in oral and written communication of complex ideas.
- Independence of mind and self-discipline and self-direction to work effectively under own initiative.
- Ability to locate, handle and synthesize large amounts of information.
- Capacity to employ analytical and problem-solving abilities.
- Ability to engage constructively with the ideas of their peers, tutors and published sources.
- Empathy and active engagement with alternative cultural contexts.

- Skills in interpretation and analysis of complex documentary-based material.


Students will study the Harlem Renaissance by focusing on the writings, performances, speeches and ideas of African Americans who participated in this transformative cultural movement. We will first acquaint ourselves with key events in U.S. history and Black literary culture through examining the nineteenth century slave narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs before moving on to consider the political debates of the early twentieth century. We explore the writings, speeches and political organizations developed by figures such as Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey. In addition to exploring the rise of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), the largest Black mass movement in American history, students will be introduced to many of the prominent women who were at the forefront of Black nationalist and integrationist organizations such as Mary Church Terrell, Amy Jacques Garvey and Jessie Fauset. African Americans were also at the centre of the radical left in the 1920s and 1930s and the module will explore writers and activists including Langston Hughes, Louise Thompson and Claude McKay who joined or were sympathetic to the Communist Party of the United States of America, the only political party to run on an anti-racist platform. Having acquired knowledge of the political, social and demographic shifts shaping Black life in the first decades of the twentieth century students will be able to explore the poetry, novels, dramatic literature, theatre, film-making and artwork of a generation of Black artists and activists whose legacy continues to shape our understanding of America and inform debates about race, gender, disability and sexual identity today. Key texts include Nella Larsen’s Passing (recently made into a film by director Rebecca Hall); Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God; the films of Oscar Micheaux; political essays and speeches by W.E.B. Du Bois and the novels and political writings of Jessie Fauset.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours356.00
Total Contact hours44.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)400.00

Private study

- researching, preparing, and writing assignments;
- undertaking set reading; and
- self-directed reading around the topic.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Contributions to class discussions, three portfolio assignments; practice group essay plans.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Portfolio1x portfolio constituting 50% of the mark and including 3 of either: -a podcast (5 minutes) -written blogpost (1000 words) -video blog (5 minutes) -written book/film/art/play review (1000 words). Portfolio assignment dates: Monday Week 8, Semester 1; Monday Week 4, Semester 2; Monday Revision Week 1, Semester 2)50.00
Essay1 x 4,000 word essay to be submitted by 12 noon on Monday of the second week of the January examination period50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 05/01/2023


Browse Other Catalogues

Errors, omissions, failed links etc should be notified to the Catalogue Team.PROD

© Copyright Leeds 2019