Skip Navigation
UT wordmark
College of Liberal Arts wordmark
caaas masthead
Cherise Smith, Ph.D, Director JES A232A, Mailcode D7200, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-1784

Shirley E. Thompson

Associate Professor Ph.D., 2001, History of American Civilization, Harvard University

Associate Professor of American Studies and of African and African Diaspora Studies
Shirley E. Thompson

Contact

Biography

Professor Thompson is Associate Professor of American Studies. She currently serves as the American Studies Graduate Advisor and the Associate Director of the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies. She received her Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization (2001) and her A.M. in History (2000) from Harvard University. She received her A.B. degree in History (1992) from Harvard College.

Research Interests

She is currently researching a book project entitled "No More Auction Block for Me: African Americans and the Problem of Property" which traces out some of the legacies of slavery for African American encounters with property and ownership. Specifically, it explores the interwoven concepts of race and property value from the vantage point of African American historical memory, political economy, and expressive culture. Situated at the intersection of legal and economic discourses, the notion of property also finds expression in literature and performance, material and expressive cultures. Thus, the project draws on the methodologies of cultural history, literary criticism, performance studies, ethnography, and critical theory. Her first book, Exiles at Home: The Struggle to Become American in Creole New Orleans is a cultural history of New Orleans' French-speaking free people of color over the middle decades of the nineteenth century. The dissertation on which it is based was awarded the Ralph Henry Gabriel Dissertation Prize by the American Studies Association in 2001. Her work has been supported by fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the American Association of University Women.

Courses Taught

Courses taught include: Property in American Culture; Paradigms for African American Studies; Race, Law, and US Society; Black Representations of the South; Slavery Across the Genres; Cultural History of the US to 1865
General teaching interests include: African American and African Diaspora Studies; Harlem Renaissance; Atlantic Slavery; Interdisciplinary Methodologies

Interests

African American and African Diaspora Studies; Nineteenth Century US Cultural History; Law and Literature; Slavery and Post-Emancipation Cultures; Cultural Memory

AFR 372C • Property In Amer Culture

30649 • Spring 2014
Meets TTH 200pm-330pm CBA 4.344
(also listed as AMS 370 )
show description

Former President George W. Bush frequently refered to the United States as an “ownership society.”  Indeed, the ownership of property has been among the central tenets of an American sense of belonging and citizenship from the colonial period to the present. And yet for certain segments of society, ownership and property have been very troubling ideas. Dispossessed of and removed from ancestral homelands, Native American nations have been forced to reconfigure their relationship to land and ownership.  Struggles over the sanctity of burial grounds and the recovery of sacred objects have forced the United States to confront its assumptions regarding ownership.  Their bodies literally turned into property to be bought and sold on the market, African Americans have attempted to recast themselves as citizens with property rights even in the face of large-scale violence and institutional racism.  The property and citizenship duties of wives once subsumed under the name and title of husbands, women’s property has consistently troubled the relationship between work and the home, and between public and private realms.  This course explores American conceptions of property over a wide range of economic transformations from the mercantile to the digital age, paying special attention to the ambiguous and tension-filled meanings of property for Women, African Americans and Native Americans.

 

Possible Texts:

Solomon Northrup, Twelve Years a Slave

Gloria Anzuldua, Borderlands/La Frontera

Andrew Ross, Celebration Chronicles

Nicholson Baker, The Mezzanine

And a course packet

 

Assignments:

3 short papers (2-3 pgs.):            10% each

1 longer paper (8-10 pgs.):            30%

1 oral presentation and outline:            20%

participation and prepared-ness:            20%

AFR 374E • Atlantic Slavery: Hist/Mem

30782 • Spring 2014
Meets TTH 930am-1100am WEL 4.224
(also listed as AMS 370 )
show description

What would it mean to consider the emergence of a United States national identity (and other national identities) from the perspective of the intersecting trade routes and shifting imperial projects constituting what scholars have called the Atlantic World? What would it mean to consider the emergence of global capitalism through the particular lens of the transatlantic slave trade and the diversity of labor and production regimes it spawned? This course places the overarching processes of domination and dehumanization arrayed on behalf of European and US empire and against African peoples alongside the various sites of struggle and resistance in which people of African descent articulated and enacted visions of freedom. In doing so, it details how the conditions for a politicized black diasporic identity have emerged from contexts of cultural and linguistic diversity among African-descended populations. This course charts a history of Atlantic slavery by focusing on primary sources detailing crucial events and contexts such as the Zong Massacre (1791); the Haitian Revolution (1804); and Dred Scott v Sandford (1857) among others. It also considers how historians, memoirists, fiction writers, visual and performance artists and filmmakers have come to terms with that history and its implications, especially regarding the moral, political, and economic investments nations and empires have made in the commodification of human beings.

                   

Requirements

4 response papers (2-3 pages) 10% each

research paper outline (2 pages): 5%

oral presentation: 10%

Final paper (8-10 pages): 25%

participation and attendance: 20%

 

Possible Texts

Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

Olaudah Equiano, Narrative

Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation

Stephanie Smallwood, Saltwater Slavery

Charles Johnson, Middle Passage

Amitav Ghosh, Sea of Poppies

course reader of shorter readings; films, visual art, exhibitions TBD

 

Upper-division standing required. Students may not enroll in more than two AMS 370 courses in one semester.

Flag(s): Writing, Global Cultures

AFR 372C • Race And Place

30345 • Fall 2013
Meets TTH 330pm-500pm GDC 2.502
(also listed as AMS 321 )
show description

When Harriet Tubman struck out for her own freedom and for that of countless others, she knew that her success depended on an intimate knowledge of the geographic boundaries of slave and fee territory and the network of safe(r) spaces known as the Underground Railroad. When segregationists advocated for laws and policies that reinforced the color line, they spoke from an interest in “keeping blacks in their place.” When current day media executives attempt to market their programming to African American audiences they often frame them in terms of an “urban” market.  As these examples show, social constructions of race and status in the United States have always intersected with social constructions of place.

This course explores these intersecting themes of race and place by considering a range of topics beginning with the formulation of an exclusively white national space from the conquest of indigenous land and the transportation of enslaved Africans across the Atlantic. We will also consider various challenges to this white supremacist national logic, from the presence of the Haitian Republic to expressions of black nationalism, diasporic imaginings and exilic critique. We will discuss geographies of plantation slavery and Jim Crow segregation and black resistance to these geographies as individuals and groups such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Marcus Garvey, Anna Julia Cooper, Rosa Parks, and the Freedom Riders forced a reconfiguration of public and private space. We will focus on such iconic black urban and rural spaces such as Harlem, Chicago, New Orleans, the Sea Islands, and more to keep track of the varied and complex politics of race and belonging. This course will provide a theoretical foundation in critical race studies and cultural geography and it will engage a wide variety of media, including speeches, memoir, poetry, music, visual culture, performance culture, film, and television. 

Texts:

May include; Aimé Cesaire, Notebook of a Return to My Native Land; James Baldwin, Blues for Mister Charlie; Alice Walker, Meridian; Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Harlem is Nowhere and a course packet of excerpts from secondary and primary texts.

Grading breakdown:

3 response papers (2-3 pages): 10% each

summary and outline for the final project, 1 page(5%)

Oral presentation of final project (10-15 minutes) (15%)

Final paper, 8-10 pages (30%)

Participation and preparedness (20%)

AFR 390 • Black Studies Theory I

30535 • Fall 2013
Meets T 900am-1200pm BEL 232
show description

In this course we will explore some of the central themes and problems of Black Studies. We shall ask—what is blackness and how is it lived and expressed throughout the African diaspora? What is race and how has it functioned in the constitution of modernity, space, and selfhood? What is relationship of slavery to capitalism, empire, and democracy and what are its legacies? Finally, what are the cultural, imaginative, and institutional forms that have organized black communal life and which forms remain vital?

We shall pursue these and other questions by following the intellectual path marked by W.E.B. Du Bois’s great work The Souls of Black Folk. As a founding and seminal text within the field, Souls continues to map a compelling and encompassing intellectual terrain. As the achievement of a brilliant yet quite often parochial man of his time, Souls maps an intellectual terrain that is fraught and sometimes perilous. As such, we shall grapple with Du Bois to engage the larger field of Black Studies and grapple with the field of Black Studies in order to engage Du Bois. We shall take up Du Bois’s questions in order to go beyond them. And, we shall take up questions Du Bois neglected or never considered in order to supplement the project he helped to create with his landmark text, The Souls of Black Folk.

AFR 372F • Race, Law, And U S Society

30339 • Spring 2013
Meets MWF 900am-1000am MEZ 2.124
(also listed as AMS 370 )
show description

This course examines the intersection of racial ideology and legal culture in the United States. We will take a broad historical approach that spans the 19th and 20th centuries, but we will also survey a range of contemporary sites where racial discourses permeate American law and conceptions of the rights and responsibilities of citizens. The legal construction of race in American is inextricably bound up with the development and dissolution of the institution of race-based slavery. Therefore, a consideration of laws concerning slavery, segregation, and desegregation will form the backbone of the course. By considering the long trajectories of race, law, and social transformation, we will begin to see how racial reasoning has informed many aspects of U.S. legal culture for a wide range of ethnic and social groups, and how race has influenced the development of property law, family law, immigration law, and civil rights law.

This course will embrace interdisciplinary methods: we will put court cases in conversation with literature, film, social scientific writings, music, and other pertinent material. The goals of this course include 1. Exploring the social and legal construction of race at various moments in American history; 2. Understanding the intersection of race, gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality, and other markers of identity; 3. Examining the interpenetration of law and popular cultural forms; and 4/ determining how race has informed American conceptions of a wide variety of issues, such as privacy, property, citizenship, national security, and sovereignty.

AFR 387 • Property In American Culture

30473 • Spring 2013
Meets M 1100am-200pm SZB 380
(also listed as AMS 390 )
show description

AMS 390

Property in American Culture

Spring 2013

BUR 436, W 10-1

 

Prof. Shirley Thompson

Office: BUR 452

 

Former President George W. Bush often referred to the United States as an “ownership society.”  Indeed, the ownership of property has been among the central tenets of an American sense of belonging and citizenship from the colonial period to the present. And yet for certain segments of society, ownership and property have been very troubling ideas. Dispossessed of and removed from ancestral homelands, Native American nations have been forced to reconfigure their relationship to land and ownership.  Struggles over the sanctity of burial grounds and the recovery of sacred objects have forced the United States to confront its assumptions regarding ownership.  Their bodies literally turned into property to be bought and sold on the market, African Americans have attempted to recast themselves as citizens with property rights even in the face of large-scale violence and institutional racism. The property and citizenship duties of wives once subsumed under the name and title of husbands, women’s property has consistently troubled the relationship between work and the home, and between public and private realms. 

 

In historical and contemporary usage, the term, “property” has conveyed rights in persons, places, things, and ideas to individuals, collectivities, corporations, and other entities. This course explores American conceptions of property over a wide range of economic transformations from the mercantile to the digital age. We will interrogate the spoken and unspoken investments our nation has had in the idea of property. We will consider liberal and republican descriptions of and justifications for private property ownership. We will trace the evolution of those ideas over the course of American history, paying special attention to how property resonates in the reflections of those who have traditionally been less able to define the stakes of ownership—those such as women, African Americans, Native Americans, and the poor among other groups.

 

Texts may include:

Stuart Banner, American Property: A History of How, Why, and What We Own

Ned Blackhawk, Violence over the Land

Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places

Johnson, Soul By Soul

Best, The Fugitive’s Properties

Stanley, From Bondage to Contract

Zelizer, Purchase of Intimacy

Starn, Ishi’s Brain

Zukin, Point of Purchase

Stewart, On Longing

Hayden, Building Suburbia

Kruse, White Flight

Conley, Being Black, Living in the Red

Lessig, The Future of Ideas

 

Grading

research paper (20-25 pages)                                                               40%

Presentation of the paper (15-20 min.)                                                            15%

Short reading analysis (3-5 pgs)/ leading discussion                            20%

class participation                                                                                25%

AFR F374E • Atlantic Slavery: Hist/Memory

81748 • Summer 2012
Meets MTWTHF 1000am-1130am GAR 0.132
(also listed as AMS F370 )
show description

What would it mean to consider the emergence of a United States national identity (and other national identities) from the perspective of the intersecting trade routes and shifting imperial projects constituting what scholars have called the Atlantic World? What would it mean to consider the emergence of global capitalism through the particular lens of the transatlantic slave trade and the diversity of labor and production regimes it spawned? This course places the overarching processes of domination and dehumanization arrayed on behalf of European and US empire and against African peoples alongside the various sites of struggle and resistance in which people of African descent articulated and enacted visions of freedom. In doing so, it details how the conditions for a politicized black diasporic identity have emerged from contexts of cultural and linguistic diversity among African-descended populations. This course charts a history of Atlantic slavery by focusing on primary sources detailing crucial events and contexts such as the Zong Massacre (1791); the Haitian Revolution (1804); and Dred Scott v Sandford (1857) among others. It also considers how historians, memoirists, fiction writers, visual and performance artists and filmmakers have come to terms with that history and its implications, especially regarding the moral, political, and economic investments nations and empires have made in the commodification of human beings.

 

Requirements

4 response papers (2-3 pages) 10% each

research paper outline (2 pages): 5%

oral presentation: 10%

Final paper (8-10 pages): 25%

participation and attendance: 20%

 

Possible Texts

Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

Olaudah Equiano, Narrative

Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation

Stephanie Smallwood, Saltwater Slavery

Charles Johnson, Middle Passage

Amitav Ghosh, Sea of Poppies

course reader of shorter readings; films, visual art, exhibitions TBD

 

Upper-division standing required. Students may not enroll in more than two AMS 370 courses in one semester.

Flag(s): Writing, Global Cultures

AFR 374D • Black Americans & The South

30485 • Spring 2012
Meets TTH 330pm-500pm BUR 228
(also listed as AMS 370 )
show description

This course traces the post-Reconstruction African-American conversation over the meanings, possibilities and challenges posed by the history and geography of the American South, a discussion shot through with temporality and notions of mobility.  The context of the Great Migration informs the Black construction of the South as a mythic repository of both violent memories and redemptive possibilities.  We will detail the maintenance of the boundary of the South by those who migrate across it and those who choose to stay and “cast down their buckets” where they are.    We will discuss the ways in which the historical processes of the Great migration and the lived experience of Jim Crow combine to delineate “insiders” from “outsiders.”  We will detail what has been at stake—historically, politically, and culturally—in claiming “Blackness” and “Southern-ness” at the same time.  Part of this process will be to recover the ways in which Blacks have been constructed by others within and outside of the South.  We will put Black and white Southerners in conversation with one another around issues of race and place.

We will not view the Black construction of the South as a monolith.  Instead, we will explore the uneven-ness of the Southern terrain.  In their transformations of Southern history, experience and landscape, Black Americans have constructed a place that contains multitudes and that acts as a backdrop for debates about class and gender within Black communities.  We will also draw materials from a range of genres including but not limited to fiction, speeches, newspaper accounts, photographs, paintings, poetry, and popular music including jazz, blues, rock, R&B and hip hop/rap.

 

Requirements

Participation: 15%

10-minute Class Presentation on final paper topic: 15%

Five 2-page response papers: 5% each

One 2-page précis of the final paper: 5%

One final paper 8-10 pages: 30%

Midterm Test: 10%

 

Possible Texts

Jean Toomer, Cane

Richard Wright, Black Boy

Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi

Tayari Jones, Leaving Atlanta

And a sourcebook of shorter readings

 

Upper-division standing required.  Students may not enroll in more than two AMS 370 courses in one semester.

Flag(s): Writing, Cultural Diversity

AFR 374E • Atlantic Slavery: Hist/Memory

30275 • Fall 2011
Meets TTH 930am-1100am BUR 228
(also listed as AMS 370 )
show description

Description:

What would it mean to consider the emergence of a United States national identity (and other national identities) from the perspective of the intersecting trade routes and shifting imperial projects constituting what scholars have called the Atlantic World? What would it mean to consider the emergence of global capitalism through the particular lens of the transatlantic slave trade and the diversity of labor and production regimes it spawned? This course places the overarching processes of domination and dehumanization arrayed on behalf of European and US empire and against African peoples alongside the various sites of struggle and resistance in which people of African descent articulated and enacted visions of freedom. In doing so, it details how the conditions for a politicized black diasporic identity have emerged from contexts of cultural and linguistic diversity among African-descended populations. This course charts a history of Atlantic slavery by focusing on primary sources detailing crucial events and contexts such as the Zong Massacre (1791); the Haitian Revolution (1804); and Dred Scott v Sandford (1857) among others. It also considers how historians, memoirists, fiction writers, visual and performance artists and filmmakers have come to terms with that history and its implications, especially regarding the moral, political, and economic investments nations and empires have made in the commodification of human beings.

 

Possible Texts:

Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

Olaudah Equiano, Narrative

Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation

Stephanie Smallwood, Saltwater Slavery

Charles Johnson, Middle Passage

Amitav Ghosh, Sea of Poppies

 

course reader of shorter readings; films, visual art, exhibitions TBD

 

Assignments (include % of grade):

4 response papers (2-3 pages)                            10% each

research paper outline (2 pages):                        5%

oral presentation:                                               10% 

Final paper (8-10 pages):                                    25%

participation and attendance:                              20%

 

Upper-division standing required. Students may not enroll in more than two AMS 370 courses in one semester.

Flag(s): Writing, Global Cultures

AFR 384 • Methods In Afr Amer Studies

30355 • Fall 2011
Meets T 1230pm-330pm BUR 436B
(also listed as AMS 390 )
show description

The course will also explore methods in African-American Studies in the past, present and into the future.  Departments and Centers of African-American Studies (Afro-American Studies, Black Studies, Africana Studies, African Diaspora Studies) have existed in colleges and universities for approaching 35 years.  Moreover, the field of African-American Studies also has roots in independent scholarly pursuit and other kinds of institutional and non-institutional spaces.  These include the work of scholars such as W.E.B. DuBois, Harold Cruise, Zora Neale Hurston, C. L. R. James, and Carter G. Woodson and institutional settings such as the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the Journal of Negro History, the Negro History Bulletin, and the College Language Association (CLA).  These variously located scholars have consistently and effectively critiqued disciplinary forms of knowledge and have articulated alternative epistemologies grounded in the unique experience of modern blackness. This course will trace the transformation of the field over the more formally institutionalized settings of the last 35 years.  It will also place recent African-Americanist scholarship in conversation with previous scholarship that has not enjoyed such a privileged status in colleges and universities. Throughout, we will explore the transdisciplinary practices and methods that have been and continue to be a hallmark of the field.  We will also trace the status of the (United States of) America in a field that has arguably been transnational from its inception. We will consider recent scholarship by theorists of aural, visual, and performance culture as well as recent works of revisionist sociology, cultural geography, political theory, and philosophy. We will pay special attention to the ways in which cultural critique from black feminist and queer studies perspectives has transformed the field of Black Studies.

Readings May Include:

W. E. B. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk; Fred Moten, In the Break; Daphne Brooks, Bodies in Dissent; Brent Edwards, Practice of Diaspora; Alexander Weheliye, Phonographies; Leigh Raiford, Imprisoned in a Luminous Glare; Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism; Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters; Tommie Shelby, We Who Are Dark; Katherine McKittrick, Demonic Grounds; Roderick Ferguson, Aberrations in Black

Assignments and Grading May Include:

20% 30-minute class presentation:                         

10% Write-up of class presentation (5 pages):                  

40% Final paper/project (15-20 pages):                   

10% 15-20 minute class presentation of final paper idea:      

20% Participation/Preparedness/Attendance:                   

AFR 374D • Black Americans & The South

30540 • Spring 2011
Meets TTH 330pm-500pm BUR 228
(also listed as AMS 370 )
show description

Description

This course traces the post-Reconstruction African-American conversation over the meanings, possibilities and challenges posed by the history and geography of the American South, a discussion shot through with temporality and notions of mobility.  The context of the Great Migration informs the Black construction of the South as a mythic repository of both violent memories and redemptive possibilities.  We will detail the maintenance of the boundary of the South by those who migrate across it and those who choose to stay and “cast down their buckets” where they are.    We will discuss the ways in which the historical processes of the Great migration and the lived experience of Jim Crow combine to delineate “insiders” from “outsiders.”  We will detail what has been at stake—historically, politically, and culturally—in claiming “Blackness” and “Southern-ness” at the same time.  Part of this process will be to recover the ways in which Blacks have been constructed by others within and outside of the South.  We will put Black and white Southerners in conversation with one another around issues of race and place.

We will not view the Black construction of the South as a monolith.  Instead, we will explore the uneven-ness of the Southern terrain.  In their transformations of Southern history, experience and landscape, Black Americans have constructed a place that contains multitudes and that acts as a backdrop for debates about class and gender within Black communities.  We will also draw materials from a range of genres including but not limited to fiction, speeches, newspaper accounts, photographs, paintings, poetry, and popular music including jazz, blues, rock, R&B and hip hop/rap.

 

Requirements

Participation: 15%

10-minute Class Presentation on final paper topic: 15%

Five 2-page response papers: 5% each

One 2-page précis of the final paper: 5%

One final paper 8-10 pages: 30%

Midterm Test: 10%

 

Possible Texts

Jean Toomer, Cane

Richard Wright, Black Boy

Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi

Tayari Jones, Leaving Atlanta

And a sourcebook of shorter readings

 

Upper-division standing required.  Students may not enroll in more than two AMS 370 courses in one semester.

Flag(s): Writing, Cultural Diversity

Publications

Articles

“Remembering Plessy,” New Orleans: What Can’t Be Lost: 88 Stories and Traditions from the Sacred City, ed. Lee Sophia Barclay (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, 2010). 

“The Hard Work of Black Play: Charles Chesnutt‟s Conjure Tales and a Counterculture of Incorporation” in “Rethinking Labour and Leisure,” a special issue of Leisure Studies, Vol. 27 No. 4 (October 2008), pp. 411-426. 

“New Orleans,” American History through Literature, 1820-1870: Vol. 2—Harper‟s Ferry to Quakers, edited by Janet Gabler-Hover and Robert Sattelmeyer, pp. 810-814. Detroit:Charles Scribner's Sons, 2006. 

“The Black Press,” Blackwell Companion to African American History ed. Alton Hornsby, pp. 332-345 Cambridge, England: Blackwell, 2005. 

Ah, Toucoutou, Ye Conin Vous: History and Memory in Creole New Orleans,” American  Quarterly, June 2001, Vol. 53 Issue 2, pp 232-366. 

“Past and Present on a Louisiana Landscape,” Race, Poverty, and the Environment,  Winter/Spring 1996, Vol 6, Nos. 2&3, pp.40-42. 

“Black Women in Film,” Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, ed. Darlene Clark Hine, pp. 428-433. Brooklyn, NY: Carlson Publishing Co., 1993. 

bottom border