Cornell University: American Literature and Culture: (Racial) Performance Anxieties

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Brigitte Fielder, Cornell University – ENGL 1158.108 - American Literature and Culture: (Racial) Performance Anxieties


Course Description:

What makes Barack Obama the 1st African-American president? Why isn’t he the 44th White American president? A clearer understanding of racial performance can help us think critically about questions like these. Racial performance appears in American literature and culture as the “passing” of light-skinned mixed-race people for white; the tradition of blackface in the minstrel show and other representations of African-Americans; the phenomenon of “playing Indian”; the historically-fraught sexual relationship of black masculinity and white femininity; and the intersections of race and class that complicate class mobility and racial identity. This course will introduce students to the complexity of racial performance in texts like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Black Like Me and others by writers including Barack Obama, Mark Twain and Spike Lee.

Syllabus for ENGL 1158.108 - American Literature and Culture: (Racial) Performance Anxieties

Click here for the syllabus and course calendar.

Introduction to Our "(Racial) Performance Anxieties" Keywords Project

This project gives you a thread to follow through all of the class’ readings and discussions, and an opportunity to engage with other students of American literature and culture in a collaborative project that requires you to enter into an academic conversation surrounding a particular term important to your studies. You will do all Keyword Project writing online at

There are two major elements to our Keyword project:

1) Each week, the entire class will track a keyword through the readings, lectures and discussions.

2) During the last week of the semester, the class will write a new, collaborative keyword essay (for a word not included in Keywords for American Cultural Studies), based on our readings and discussions throughout the semester.

Collaboratory Lead: Brigitte Fielder, Cornell University

Keyword Collaboratory Areas for "(Racial) Performance Anxieties"

Week One: performance

Week Two: race

Week Three: gender

Week Four: identity

Week Five: class

Week Six: ethnicity

Week Seven: white

Week Eight: community

Week Nine: abolition

Week Ten: dialect

Week Eleven: Indian

Week Twelve: colonial

Week Thirteen: slavery

Week Fourteen: black

Keywords Writing Assignment for (Racial) Performance Anxieties

The link above takes you to a full description of the wiki project. Please read it in full and understand what your responsibilities are.

Class-Compiled Bibliographies

The link to our Library Research Guide, created for our class' research session with Kaila Bussert, is here:

Over the course of the semester, our class will occasionally compile bibliographies to be used as a shared resource for our research and writing. Links to our bibliographies are below.

Annotated Bibliography for Harriet Wilson's Our Nig

Bibliography for Uncle Tom's Cabin

Helpful Links

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Instructions for First-Time Users

Students: If you're a student enrolled in this class, you'll have access to edit pages.

  1. To create an account, click on the link in the top right-hand corner of this page.
  2. Submit all the information requested on the registration page. Your user name should be created in the following format: FirstLast. Make sure to remember your password.
  3. Email your instructor (Brigitte) confirming your user name so we can activate your account. You will only be able to modify pages once I have activated your account.
  4. Until I activate your account, you're welcome to experiment with editing pages in the Sandbox. Check out the Help and FAQs pages for tips on how to format pages.
  5. After I've activated your account, you can begin editing this week's keyword page.

Other Visitors to the Site: If you're not enrolled in this class, you can still read and comment on the work that we're generating throughout the semester. This will be a work in progress until the beginning of May, so please check back for new additions and developments. You're also welcome to email me (Brigitte Fielder with any questions or comments about the course.