(Early) Modern Literature: Crossing the Color-Line

David Sterling Brown


This article examines the pedagogical implications of teaching about the past in a way that establishes continuity in relation to present and future moments. I describe and analyze how my Trinity College students navigated my course, “Crossing the Color-Line,” which aimed to eradicate boundaries and entangle the professional and personal, social and political, past and present, and black and white in an engaged manner. I argue that a radical course such as “Crossing the Color-Line” can showcase, through literature and other media, how fusing difference of all kinds—cultural, religious, literary, historical, gender—promotes rigorous student directed learning experiences that are inclusive. Because Shakespeare was not the sole authorial voice in the room, or the only early modern author in our syllabus, “Crossing the Color-Line” actively resisted the literary, racial, social, and cultural homogeneity that one can often find in an early modern classroom. By not being Shakespeare-centric, the course placed value on the female perspective and refrained from being androcentric in its authorial focus. Moreover, by positioning “the problem of the color-line” as relevant in the early modern period, the combined study of African-American and early modern English texts challenged critical race studies to include pre-nineteenth-century literature.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/rt.2016.255


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