Using the Margin to Teach the Center: Teaching American History through Black Women's Autobiographies

By Morris, Tiyi M. | Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Using the Margin to Teach the Center: Teaching American History through Black Women's Autobiographies


Morris, Tiyi M., Teaching History: A Journal of Methods


Introduction

Despite marginalization that emerges from living at the intersection of various oppressions--race, class, gender, and heterosexism among others--Black women's lives are rich with narratives that are central to the American experience. (1) Black women are uniquely positioned to represent fundamental themes of the American experience such as the quest for inclusion, equality, diversity, and liberation via political protest and struggle. Persons who have traditionally held positions of power offer a much different interpretation of historical facts, and what is often presented as the American story requires interrogation from multiple perspectives and identities. For this reason, I decided to teach a section of our History Department's American Experience course focusing upon the voices and lived experiences of Black women in the United States of America. (2) The American Experience is a 100-level course designed to serve as an "introduction to American history through the study of a special topic" and has covered such topics as the American West, Slavery, and Reform Movements.

Black feminist scholars argue that Black women's invisibility in mainstream society has resulted in the need to incorporate alternative forms of knowledge production to ensure adequate and accurate representations of Black women's experiences. For example, feminist scholar Gloria Joseph relates that "Afro-American women have a well-developed alternative way of producing and validating knowledge about their experienced reality. The validations of their experienced realities differ from explanations offered by the dominant Eurocentric masculine [or feminine] viewpoint." (3) Black women's autobiographies are one such alternative. These texts are much more than accounts of individual lives; they also represent a collective Black (female) experience and are a manifestation of a social and political struggle for equality. Thus, as American society has evolved, so have the voices, roles, and lived experiences of Black women.

The Course

I structured this class chronologically to journey with my students from the antebellum period to the mid-twentieth century, exhibiting that this course was as much about the traditional American historical narrative as it was about how Black women have shaped and been shaped by this narrative. Specifically, I designed this course to explore the ways in which Black women are embedded within their social, political, and cultural contexts; how they constructed their lives within and against these contexts; and how they subsequently represented their lives in writing. The class focused on the concept of "intersectionality," particularly the ways in which gender, race, class, and sexual orientation impacted Black women's lives and how Black women have used autobiographies to (re)define and empower themselves. We examined these narratives for aspects of social and political protests to gain a better understanding of how Black women have attempted to achieve liberation, individually and collectively.

I structured the class as a seminar, relying primarily on class discussion, and taught it three times over the course of two academic years, with the third as a first-year seminar. The first course had an enrollment of fourteen students, five of whom were in their first-year in college. I was extremely pleased with the effort put forth by the students (one of the best of whom had enrolled in the course with a pass/fail requirement) and the level of analysis with which they approached the texts. In the second course, over half of the seventeen students were in their first-year, which resulted in a lesser degree of success in respect to student outcomes. As a result of my experience with a class that had a majority of first-year students, I adjusted some of the readings and assignments to provide a structure that was more amendable to their learning level. (4)

Having a class of only first-year students for the third course required that I begin some classes with lectures to provide students with better contextualization for the time period during which each author lived. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Using the Margin to Teach the Center: Teaching American History through Black Women's Autobiographies
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.