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2023/24 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 2023/24

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

The Harlem Renaissance 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. Who defines what is authentic? How do class, age, gender and sexual orientation complicate and transform notions of ‘authentic Blackness?’ We will explore these questions by studying political essays, novels, poems, plays and literature for children, alongside artwork, blues music and theatre. We will consider the freedom dreams of writers of those who came to the United States from the Caribbean, as well as those who left for France, and explore the ideas of activists who believed only a radical transformation of capitalism could bring about freedom for peoples of African descent across the globe.


Learning outcomes
1. gain a detailed understanding of African American cultural and intellectual production in the first part of the twentieth century
2. demonstrate the ability to work with primary and secondary materials, and to analyze such documents with precision and insight;
3. develop 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. Texts might 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 hours352.00
Total Contact hours48.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)400.00

Private study

Reading to prepare for seminars (120 hours)
Further self-directed reading (70 hours)
Preparing and researching essay, including formative elements (80 hours)
Preparing and researching the portfolio, including formative elements (80 hours)
Reflection on feedback 6 hours.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Students will receive a 15-minute one-to-one meeting with the module tutor during the semester (around Week 9/10), in which students should do a short presentation (5 minutes) on the essay plan and arguments on which they can receive oral feedback from the module tutor.

During three seminars, spaced through the year (Semester 1, Week 8; Semester 2, Week 4 and Semester 4, Week 9) students will have the opportunity to present their idea for one of their portfolio assignments and receive feedback from the tutor and peers.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Portfolioto include 3 of either: a podcast (5 mins plus 750 word reflective log), written blog post (1500 words), video blog (5 mins plus 750 word reflective log) or written cultural review (1500 words)50.00
Essay4000 words50.00
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: 28/04/2023 14:41:11


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