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The concern of this seminar is the history, literature, and culture of the United States, focusing on the period from the nineteenth century to the present. Recent subjects have ranged from Margaret Fuller to the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, from Asian American fashion designers to letters from former slaves who settled in Liberia. A number of presentations have positioned the United States in transnational or comparative contexts. The seminar’s strength is the variety of fields represented by its intellectually active participants. The very lively discussion periods are one of the most appealing aspects of this seminar.

Professor Diane Detournay

Professor Brandy Monk-Payton

Professor Matt Sandler

Tate Serletti

Meeting Schedule

10/12/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:00 PM
Disabilities of the Color Line (2022)
Dennis Tyler, Fordham University


Through both law and custom, the color line has cast Black people as innately disabled and thus unfit for freedom, incapable of self-governance, and contagious within the national body politic. Disabilities of the Color Line maintains that the Black literary tradition historically has inverted this casting by exposing the disablement of racism without disclaiming disability.

In place of a triumphalist narrative of overcoming where both disability and disablement alike are shunned, Dennis Tyler argues that Black authors and activists have consistently avowed what he calls the disabilities of the color line: the historical and ongoing anti-Black systems of division that maim, immobilize, and stigmatize Black people. In doing so, Tyler reveals how Black writers and activists such as David Walker, Henry Box Brown, William and Ellen Craft, Charles Chesnutt, James Weldon Johnson, and Mamie Till-Mobley have engaged in a politics and aesthetics of redress: modes of resistance that, in the pursuit of racial and disability justice, acknowledged the disabling violence perpetrated by anti-Black regimes in order to conceive or engender dynamic new worlds that account for people of all abilities. While some writers have affirmed disability to capture how their bodies, minds, and health have been made vulnerable to harm and impairment by the state and its citizens, others’ assertion of disability symbolizes a sense of community as well as a willingness to imagine and create a world distinct from the dominant social order.

Liz Bowen, Hastings Center

11/16/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
To Make a Negro Literature (2022)
Elizabeth McHenry, NYU

Erica Richardson, Baruch College

02/08/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
New Directions in Black Film Studies
Racquel Gates, Columbia University

Michael Boyce Gillespie, NYU

03/22/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
This Flame Within: Iranian Revolutionaries in the United States
Manijeh Moradian, Barnard College


In This Flame Within, Manijeh Moradian revises conventional histories of Iranian migration to the United States as a post-1979 phenomenon characterized by the flight of pro-Shah Iranians from the Islamic Republic and recounts the experiences of Iranian foreign students who joined a global movement against US imperialism during the 1960s and 1970s. Drawing on archival evidence and in-depth interviews with members of the Iranian Students Association, Moradian traces what she calls “revolutionary affects”—the embodied force of affect generated by experiences of repression and resistance—from encounters with empire and dictatorship in Iran to joint organizing with other student activists in the United States. Moradian theorizes “affects of solidarity” that facilitated Iranian student participation in a wide range of antiracist and anticolonial movements and analyzes gendered manifestations of revolutionary affects within the emergence of Third World feminism. Arguing for a transnational feminist interpretation of the Iranian Student Association’s legacy, Moradian demonstrates how the recognition of multiple sources of oppression in the West and in Iran can reorient Iranian diasporic politics today.