Portrait of Julia Williams Wadsworth

Saidiya Hartman: Scenes of Subjection

Instructor: Joseph Earl Thomas
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Saidiya Hartman has, according to one critic, changed the study of Black life for every subsequent generation of scholars, readers, thinkers and artists. Her book Scenes of Subjection in particular, charted new ways for thinking broad concepts like freedom and agency, subject and object, just as much as it transformed how we fundamentally think about the history of the Atlantic slave trade. Insisting on slavery’s relevance in the present, she has extended a line of inquiry as broad as it is specific, challenging traditional Marxist conceptions of labor, as well as how we might think of reproduction and labor in the context of Black Feminism. And in her 2006 memoir Lose Your Mother, Hartman extends the questions of possibility approached in Scenes by her own experience on the slave coast of Elmina, tracing the slave routes through Ghana from the perspective of the captive. Despite a chilly reception upon its initial release in 1997, a new, annotated edition of Scenes of Subjection was released in 2022, prompting meditations on how Hartman’s work has been taken up in the intervening years.

With a focus on Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection and 2006 memoir Lose Your Mother, this course will consider the scope of Hartman’s contributions to thought and history alongside other thinkers like Hortense Spillers, Nicole Fleetwood, Sylvia Wynter, Jennifer Nash and Frank Wilderson III. We will ask primary questions such as: How can thinking seriously about the context of power in Transatlantic slavery help us better understand the present? What are the limits of liberal conceptions of freedom and agency? And how, given these questions, does the nexus of race and labor continue to function in relation to power in the postmodern world?

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
April 29 — May 20, 2024
4 weeks


Registration Open