COOL CLASSES: “Our Americas: Imagining the Hemisphere”

In Visiting Assistant Professor Dennis Hogan’s class, students consider the literatures and histories of the hemispheric Americas as part of a shared cultural world.

Class name: “Our Americas: Imagining the Hemisphere”

Taught by: Visiting Assistant Professor of Peace, Justice and Human Rights

Says Hogan about his class:
This class encourages students to consider the literatures and histories of the hemispheric Americas — North, South, and Central America, and the Caribbean — as part of a shared cultural world. In our course, we examine the structuring experiences of the Americas, from revolution and republicanism, to race and the color line, to labor and freedom struggles, asking what the different peoples of the Americas share and how they participate in systems of cultural and political exchange that create common patterns across the hemisphere. 

Along the way we read literature from across the 19th and 20th centuries, spanning texts originally written in English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish, placing them in artistic and historical context. We read major Caribbean novelists like Alejo Carpentier and Edwidge Danticat; intellectuals in the Black radical tradition like CLR James and W.E.B. du Bois, and Latinx writers from across the historical arc of Latinx literature like Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton and Valeria Luiselli. Students should take away concrete skills in comparative literary and cultural studies, an enlarged sense of the culture, history, and politics of the Americas, and the ability to situate their own experiences and concerns within these frameworks.

Hogan on why he wanted to teach this class:
I was driven to teach this class because of my own commitment to comparative work as a scholar and teacher. I am fascinated by the question of scale — something I explore in my own research — and how our readings of texts can change when we examine them as part of local, national, regional, and global systems of meaning making. I also think many students are interested in learning more about how to read literary texts historically and comparatively, and that this approach makes literary study appealing to students with a range of interests. As an undergraduate, discovering comparative literary study opened up new worlds of possibilities for me, and I’m excited to share this method and set of disciplinary concerns with my students. So far, students have been excited to have wide-ranging conversations that use our texts as jumping-off points to explore topics like political thought, national and transnational histories, economics and development, and questions of race, gender, and identity.

Hogan on what makes this class unique to his department:
Because the course is cross-listed in both comparative literature and peace, justice, and human rights, I’ve been able to attract a mix of students with a range of majors and interests. This course is intensely discussion-based, and so the students, and their questions, drive our conversations and our learning, while I provide context and scaffolding for their readings. This means that sometimes our conversations are more historically or politically focused than might be typical in a literary studies classroom, while our reading list is more substantially literary than might be typical in a peace, justice, and human rights course. This mix speaks to both the ability of literature to address questions that touch on a diversity of disciplines and domains of knowledge, as well as the deep learning and social commitment that is typical of Haverford students.