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Minor in African American Studies 

An interdisciplinary approach to history, culture and experience of African Americans from the fifteenth century to the present, the minor program attracts students interested in the African American experience from either a heritage or intellectual perspective, or a combination of both. It will serve as a foundation experience for students who wish to pursue post-graduate study of the African American experience. For questions or to join the program contact Dr. Cassandra Jones, Director of African American Studies.

Spring 2017 Course Descriptions

Introduction to African American Studies (OnlineAFAM 201): This course is an introduction to the study of African American history, culture, and art. Although we will touch on diasporic influences and relationships between Africa and the Americas briefly, the course will focus on the cultural histories and productions of African Americans from the colonial period to the twenty-first century. There will be a strong interdisciplinary focus drawing together history, literature, sociology, philosophy and legal studies. 

African American Culture (AFAM 204): AFAM 204 is an introduction to the cultures of African Americans, particularly those that reside within the continental United States of America and will focus primarily on cultures of the 20th and 21stcenturies. We will examine the concept of culture from multiple vantage points, including gender, sexuality and class.  We will also examine artistic expression from the perspectives of high culture and popular culture forms. Some important questions we will explore include whether the aesthetic expressions of African Americans are culturally or biologically determined; which aspects of African American life and culture reflect African retentions; which things are particularly American e.g., which aspects of African American culture exist as a result of slavery or segregation; which cultural elements tend to be static or dynamic; what the elements of a black aesthetic are; how African Americans appropriate, change, or influence other cultures with which they have contact.  

Black Masculinity (AFAM 398–01) 

Counseling the Black Family (AFAM 39802): The purpose of this course is to study the thoughts, behaviors, feelings, beliefs, attitudes, interactions and well-being of people of African descent (with a primary focus on African Americans). Students will explore the development of black psychology; assessing psychological issues and how it impacts individual and family dynamics within black communities. The course will also examine a historical overview of the changing demographics of black families in the United States. Students will become attuned to the impact of culture and race on social development of this group and the therapeutic treatment and interventions noted as best for taking such factors into account.  Thoughtful discussions promoting critical thinking and analysis of issues of skin color, racial and gender identity, and role socialization in black communities will be facilitated.

Global Existentialist Literature (AFAM 398–03): We will explore the powerful appeal of existentialist literature and thought for authors (and filmmakers) of different traditions, nations, religious backgrounds and mother tongues. Existentialism offered writers and artists from around the globe a language to evoke the absurdity of injustice, of a prison-like existence and all while rebelling against the indifference of their time. The question of perception and of being perceived through the paralyzing gaze of society is central. Jean-Paul Sartre’s call for a literature of political and social engagement resonated throughout the world during his time and beyond.

Texts will be in in English, translated from mostly French (some original texts and films will be studied in English translation from Spanish, Italian, Yiddish and Arabic). We will examine what it means to “translate” one’s marginal experience within a dominate culture. Or as Ta-Nehisi Coates describes as “being alive” in constantly “studying and observing” the world around us. One of the dominant themes is to examine the way in which languages open up the world, in its magnificent complexity, diversity and beauty. Some examples of the writers studied—in their own voices: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion,” Albert Camus; “Sitting in that garden [in Paris, France], for the first time I was an alien, I was a sailor—landless and disconnected. And I was sorry that I have never felt this particular loneliness before—that I have never felt myself so far outside of someone else’s dream. Now I felt the deeper weight of my generational chains—my body confined, by history and policy, to certain zones. Some of us make it out. But the game is played with a loaded dice,” Ta-Nehisi Coates; “I met a lot of people in Europe. I even encountered myself,” James Baldwin.

There will be an optional service-learning component: GED tutoring of female or male inmates at the local detention center for award-winning “Operation Educate” program. Finally, the class will be taught in an active-learning classroom for a more engaged exchange of ideas through collaborative, digital work.

African Cultures in North and South America (AFAM 39804): This course examines the historic and cultural exchanges between African-descended peoples of North and South America including mythology and folklore, music, religion and food ways. Moving from the coastal region of the Sea Islands and New Orleans to Cuba, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Brazil, we will examine literature, film and music to uncover the cross-cultural influences between the African diaspora of Latin America and the U.S.

History of the Minor

African American Literature Professor, Warren Carson, with students

The University of South Carolina Upstate has offered courses in literature, culture and history with an African American focus for many years. In fall 2006, the university began offering a formal minor degree program in African American studies. 

Scope of the Minor

Students completing the minor program will be introduced to seven major themes throughout their studies:

  • Connections to the African American Past, where students will learn about the pre-Atlantic slave trade world Africa with emphasis on West African civilizations and societies;
  • Becoming African American, where students examine the effects of enslavement on African identity and the construction of an American identity;
  • Race and Identity Issues will examine the political, social and economic impact of the construction of blackness for African Americans;
  • Resistance and Agency will examine the strategies used by African Americans to combat their disempowerment;
  • Spirituality will trace the impact of African American spirituality on culture, community life and political activism;
  • Cultural Expression will examine the material and intellectual contributions of African Americans to literature, music and art;
  • and Liberation will include discussions on how the struggle for freedom and inclusion has shaped the African American experience and impacted the definition of freedom in the United States.

Les DavisUSC Upstate alumnus Les Davis, graduated with a communications major and a minor in African American Studies.  “The classes I have taken have given me the drive to strive – the inspiration – to go on,” he says. Davis adds that the obstacles that African Americans had to endure and the successes they have realized despite all the odds against them, has been “uplifting” and inspirational to him personally. He studied Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Dubois and Claude McKay, citing them as individuals who made their mark on African American history, American history and on him personally.

Students are required to complete 18 hours, or a minimum of four required courses and two elective courses for the minor degree.

Required courses (12 credits total):

  • SAAS 201: Introduction to African American Studies (3 credits)
  • SAAS 204: African American Culture (3 credits)
  • One of the following--SEGL 391: African American Literature or SEGL 429: Harlem Renaissance (3 credits)
  • One of the following--SHST 310: African American History to 1865 or SHST 311: African American History 1860 to present (3 credits)

Two Elective courses selected from the following (6 credits total):

  • SAAS 398: Topics in African American Studies (300 and 400 level)
  • SATH 210: African Art
  • SATH 304: Southern Folk Art
  • SCRJ 380: Minorities, Crime and Criminal Justice
  • SCRJ 451/SGIS 451: Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
  • SHST 495: Topics in African American History
  • SJOU 480: Minorities in the Media
  • SMUS 310: Jazz History
  • SSOC 433: Race and Ethnic Relations



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