Course Syllabus

Click here for a current schedule of readings and assignments.


The Cultures of Franco-America:

Literature, Identity, Politics


Since the 17th century, when the French established their first stable settlements in North America, there has been a long history of productive encounters between the French and Americans. In this course, we will read a broad range of literary works that showcase these encounters as they open up questions of racial, cultural, and linguistic identities. By observing how these identities shift and interact over 400 years, as well as how they are bound up with sexual, gender, and national identities, we will work to understand how categories of race have been shaped and contested over time, and the role that literature plays in those processes. We will read literary texts from five distinct historical encounters: early encounters between the French and Native Americans in North America; French treatments of American democracy in the 18th and 19th centuries; the complex relations of Franco- and Anglo-Americans in 19th-century Louisiana; the travel of African-American writers in France following World War I; the bi-directional travel of French and American feminist writers across the Atlantic in the mid-20th century. To pursue this inquiry, we will read a broad range of literary texts, including poetry, fiction, travel writing, and essays. We will also consult supplementary readings that provide historical and literary-critical context, and students will enrich our contextual understanding through group presentations. As this is a literature course, our discussions will consider not only the history presented by the texts we read, but also the significance of their form. Students will complete written homework assignments for each module; one in-class presentation; and one final exam (prepared at home and written in class).

This course satisfies the American Cultures requirement. The course will be conducted in English; reading knowledge of French is not required.


Required Texts

Hard copies of books must be brought to class (no electronic books, please). Students must procure a reader in advance of the first class in order to complete assigned introductory reading.


From the Cal Student Store (or used online):

Gustave de Beaumont, Marie, or Slavery in the United States

Claude McKay, Banjo


From Copy Central (2576 Bancroft Way):

Course reader



If you need accommodations for a disability or if you want me to have emergency medical information, please speak to me privately, either after class or during office hours.



Grade Overview

Attendance, participation and quizzes        20%

Homework assignments                             40%

Group presentation (20 minutes)                20%

Final exam                                                  20%


Classroom Expectations

The first week: Attendance is *MANDATORY* for the first week of classes and students who miss class will be dropped to make room for waitlisted students. Students on the waitlist who attend class will be added as space becomes available; students can only be added from the waitlist.

Absences: Each student is entitled to miss one class during the session before absences affect the participation grade. Students are expected to be present for the entire 2-hour class period. Tardiness will count as half an absence, so please be on time.

Participation: Students should arrive in class having done the assigned reading and with hard copies of the reading. Participation in discussion will play an important role in your development as a reader and a writer; it is absolutely fine to be wrong or uncertain or to ask questions – what is important is being an attentive member of the conversation.

Quizzes: Students will take occasional, unannounced quizzes on the assigned reading (primary or supplementary). Students will be allowed to use their own handwritten notes for these quizzes.

Gadgets: Phones should be silent and invisible; also, please do not use computers, tablets, etc.


Homework Assignments

Short answer questions addressing the module’s primary readings will be posted on bCourses at the start of each module; responses should be completed as we progress through the module and submitted on bCourses before class on the class-day after we finish the module. Late assignments must be submitted by email and will lose one third of a grade (B to B-, etc.) for each day they are late.


Group Presentations

Students will choose groups during the first week of class for presentations addressing a historical topic relevant to each module. A list of suggested topics will be provided; students are welcome to propose alternative topics for consideration. Presentations should be approximately 20 minutes and provide thorough background information on the topic, as well as propose questions that connect the topic to the day’s primary readings. Students are encouraged to make use of a variety of media for their presentations, but the grade will be based primarily on depth of content and insight into class themes.


Final Exam

During the final week of class, students will be asked to prepare a comparison between at least two writers from different modules. Students will write up their comparison as an in-class essay on the last day of class; you will be allowed to bring your primary texts and one page of notes.


Note on Plagiarism: All written work submitted in this course, except for acknowledged quotations, is to be expressed in your own words. It should also represent your own ideas and be constructed on a plan of your devising. Work copied from a book, from another student’s paper, or from any other source (including the internet) is not acceptable. The submission of such copied work will, under the University rules, render the offending student subject to an F grade for the work in question or for the whole course, and will also make the student liable for referral to the Director of the Office of Student Activities and Programs for further disciplinary action.




To begin this course, we will think broadly about the difficulties of talking about race, both historically and in the present.

Barbara Jeanne Fields, "Slavery, Race and Ideology in the Unites States of America"


Module One: Early Encounters

In this module, we will read 17th-century writings that depict early encounters between Native Americans and French settlers and missionaries. We will read these texts in the context of early French colonization in North America, paying attention to how French settlers’ attitudes and policies toward Native Americans differed from those of the Anglo-Americans who came to dominate the continent.


Primary readings:

Peter Nabokov, ed., “Silmoodawa Gives a Complete Performance” and “The Frenchman Dreams Himself Home” in Native American Testimony

Allan Greer, ed., “Introduction,” “Montagnais Hunters,” and “Jean de Brébeuf on the Hurons” in The Jesuit Relations: Natives and Missionaries in 17th-Century North America


Module Two: Young Democracies

In this module, we will read 18th- and 19th-century texts by French-born writers that consider the importance of race in America in the years following the American and French Revolutions. We will consider these texts in light of the importance of slavery in defining racial division in the U.S., as well as the difficulty racial and gender difference posed to revolutionary values like freedom and equality.


Primary readings:

Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, “What is an American?” and “Thoughts on Slavery” in Letters from an American Farmer

François de Chateaubriand, Atala

Gustave de Beaumont, Marie, or Slavery in the United States


Module Three: La Louisiane

In this module, we will read 19th-century texts by Louisiana writers addressing the complex racial identities of Cajuns and Creoles, related in part to their French ancestry. We will be interested in how these identities fit into the broader history of defining whiteness in the U.S.


Primary readings:

Hippolyte Castra, “The Campaign of 1814-1815”

Armand Lanusse, “A Marriage of Conscience”

Camille Naudin, “The Black Marseillaise: Song of Peace”

Victor Séjour, “The Mulatto”

Rodolphe Desdunes, “The Free Creoles of Color and the Campaign of 1814-1815—Hypolyte Castra” and “Les Cenelles—M. Armand Lanusse and His Times” in Our People and Our History: Fifty Creole Portraits

George Washington Cable, “The Story of Bras-Coupé” in The Grandissimes

Kate Chopin, “Désirée’s Baby”


Module Four: Harlem, Marseilles, Martinique

In this module, we will read early-20th-century texts by African American writers and writers from the French colonies that grow out of their experiences of traveling to the France and the U.S., respectively. We will read these texts in light of the rise of black internationalism after World War I.


Primary readings:

Langston Hughes, “Negro,” “The Weary Blues,” and “Jazz Band in a Parisian Cabaret”

Countee Cullen, “Heritage,” “From the Dark Tower,” and “To France”

Claude McKay, Banjo

Aimé Cesaire, “Mississippi” and “The Tornado” in Solar Throat Slashed; selection from Notebook of a Return to the Native Land


Module Five: Feminisms

In this module, we will read mid-20th-century texts by French and American writers whose thinking about race is bound up with their thinking about gender, and whose perspectives are shaped by their trans-Atlantic travels. We will read them in context of the history of the problematic relationship between race and gender in feminist movements in France and the U.S.


Primary readings:

Simone de Beauvoir, “April 3” and “May 1” in America Day by Day

Simone de Beauvoir, “Introduction” in The Second Sex

Angela Davis, “Working Women, Black Women and the History of the Suffrage Movement,” “Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights,” and “The Approaching Obsolescence of Housework: A Working Class Perspective” in Women, Race, and Class

Course Summary:

Date Details Due