This graduate seminar explores the inextricable connection between blackness and geography. Considering Katherine McKittrick’s claim that Black geographies are “‘the terrain of political struggle itself’ or where the imperative of a perspective of struggle takes place,” we will situate the spatial relations of blackness by placing Black people at the core of spatial production and examine the mechanisms by which this takes place. In this course we ask: what are the limitations and possibilities of traditional geographies? How does Black geographic thought produce wider material and conceptual space for geographic knowledge? How does Geography account for and understand blackness as condition, experience, and imaginary?


This undergraduate course charts how the American city has been built, experienced, (re)imagined, and transformed. Using recent scholarship and primary sources, we track the historical evolution of the city and assess change and continuity in major themes of urban life: race and difference, industry and labor, economies and ecologies, community and culture, and power and politics. These themes become increasingly intertwined throughout the course. We will focus on the particularities of place and the experiences of ordinary people but also seek to understand how broader political and economic processes shape the inequalities and opportunities that structure everyday life.


The purpose of this course is to analyze the subject of race by examining racialized bodies in visual culture and the ways that U.S. visual media approaches race as topic of discussion in the public sphere.  We will consider the discursive production and reproduction of race within various contexts: fashion, television, music, new media, and more. We explore a range of social and cultural theory approaches to understanding visual representations of race and racial diversity. While much of the prevailing research on race and the media focuses on a politics of representation that is either concerned with the invisibility of marginalized groups in the visual sphere, or identifying stereotypical portrayals of people of color, this course highlights the hegemonic discourses that place race both at the center and margins of American social, political, and economic culture. One of the main objectives for the course is to analyze the relationship between dominant social and political structures, marginalized identities, and subjectivity. To do so, we interrogate the politics of representing race in U.S. visual media within broader economic, political, and cultural contexts.


This upper division undergraduate course explores historical, cultural, and socio-economic geographies of cities, city life, and the organization of metropolitan political power. It is primarily focused on the U.S., but will draw on select examples from abroad. We investigate urbanization as a general process and the resulting physical, social, cultural, and political economic forms of cities and examine the ways that cities have addressed tensions emerging from segregation and urban renewal. We also look at both the ways in which social inequality is reinforced through the politics, policies, and design of the built environment as well as strategies for fostering and nurturing inclusive and equitable urban spaces through city design and policy. This examination of the changing economic, cultural, social, and political dynamics of cities will include considerations of race, class, gender, and ethnicity in the context of urban life as a way of exploring how identity and place shape one another. Additionally, we will explore changes in the planning, politics and governance practices that shape the cities we live in.


This seminar focuses on how race and aesthetics are embedded in the political, economic, and cultural processes of “urban revitalization.” In particular, we will talk about the ways that race and aesthetics figure into global urban gentrification processes and practices. For example, how might we consider murals as tools of gentrification, despite their radical history? Too often aesthetics are seen as a by-product of gentrification, not an integral part of it. Familiar attempts to “beautify” the city have a huge impact on determining who belongs and who doesn’t belong in public spaces. These urban aesthetics often draw on race to determine who and what we see in the urban landscape. Throughout the course, we focus on visual and written accounts of gentrification that focus on various elements: architecture, public art, graffiti, cultural tourism, and more. We also take a look at the cultural and aesthetic strategies marginalized groups organize to resist urban displacement.


Blackness—referencing race, color, or both—has had profound meaning and usefulness in the history of modern art. This seminar is designed to offer students the opportunity to explore multiple representations and discourses of blackness in contemporary art, produced by African diasporic artists. To do so, we will discuss and analyze the works of artists such as Lorna Simpson, Faith Ringgold, Carrie Mae Weems, Mickalene Thomas, Kara Walker, Glen Ligon, Adrian Piper, Wangechi Mutu, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Hank Willis Thomas, and Kehinde Wiley. We advance some of the latest theories of black art and aesthetics to think through African and African American contemporary art from various perspectives. These texts will provide us the opportunity to use multiple visual and methodological strategies to analyze examples of painting, sculpture, photography, film, popular visual culture, and performance art in their cultural, political, and scientific contexts.

Brandi T. Summers, Ph.D.
headshot images by Bethanie Hines
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