Purpose: The board is a chance for you to express your own opinions and personalities, as long as you’re clearly responding to the assigned topic. I want everyone to feel their opinions are respected and equally valid (whether you consider yourself a “good” writer or not), so as long as you do this to my satisfaction, you’ll likely get full credit. You must write on two of the prompts assigned here (materials include the essays, lyrics, films, etc.). That way you’re always involved in a discussion at least two different topics. Feel free to post images, linked articles, etc. I might award extra points to clever and relevant links. But please – no tired memes or tweets, and absolutely nothing cruel or off-color.

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Task: Write two separate comments on your chosen topics. First, choose one of the numbered options (three, in this case) and write a coherent and reflective consideration of the particular topic. This initial post must be at least 200 words and must include a word count at the end. Treat it like a short essay; this is your major statement on one aspect of what we’ve studied so far.

Title your post (always) with a reference to the name(s) of the article or a brief summary of the content, so people know at a glance your focus (e.g., “My response to Frederick Douglass,” “My reaction to Amistad,” etc.). You can be creative, but the intent and subject should always be clear. Once this first comment posted, it will allow the board to open and connect you with your peers. See what they have to say.

Then respond (at least 50 words each) to a second topic (you can be briefer here) and to one student post. These peer responses might be a means for you to comment on a topic you haven’t previously written on (a third topic!) or react to a very different interpretation than your own. Either way, you should be sympathetic to and interested in what your peers have to say, and it should be clear from your response that you’ve read/viewed the material in question. Frivolous, mocking, fake, or obviously undeveloped responses will earn No Credit.

Criteria: Style, clarity, and content matter!

  • All materials referred to in the prompts are in the previous modules(1a & 1b, in this case). Review them before writing. You’re expected to read all topics and materials, which are testable on the exam.
  • You get an initial 5 points for writing a post on-topic (as opposed to chatting about your love life, your favorite foods, etc.). You get a further 10 points for writing a coherent and reflective consideration of that chosen topic. Take it seriously; think of it as a mini-essay. This initial post must be at least 200 words and must include a word count at the end. Again, once posted, it will allow the board to open and connect you with your peers.
  • You get 5 points each for a response to an additional topic (there are always two, at least), meaning on a different article/subject than your own initial post, and one response to a student post on any topic (you’re welcome to talk to multiple students too, of course). That way you’re always discussing at least two different topics. These must be at least 50 words each. If there’s no second topic under discussion yet, be the first and start a new thread!
  • You must write in complete sentences, with proper grammar and syntax (sentence structure). Paragraphs need a good topic sentence providing a thesis (opinion) that encompasses what follows. You should provide details from the source materials (essays, video, your own relevant experiences) to illustrate and support your ideas as you develop them.
  • You will lose points for any missing, off-topic, or poorly developed elements (initial post/second post/peer response).
  • Do NOT attach a separate document with your typed comments. Instead, write/reply directly in the thread. You can always write elsewhere and then cut & paste here, if that’s easier for you.

DISCUSSION BOARD #1: CHOOSE FROM OPTIONS 1, 2, 3. In all cases, there’s no “wrong” answer as long as you show us that you’ve thought about the issue. Good luck!

Option 1: How I Learned To Read

Frederick Douglass’s essay is a chapter from his autobiography, a celebrated piece of American literature and probably the greatest example of a grim genre known as “Slave Narratives,” in which people who lived as slaves recount their experiences, either firsthand or having told the details to someone else who then wrote them down. Most such slave narratives date from the 18th and 19th centuries, the period from when the slave trade was at its zenith to when it ultimately ended. A close, thoughtful reading of this excerpt should enlighten you further to the brutal experience of black men and women who lived under slavery in the Americas before the 20th century, the United States in particular.

Consider the analytical comments at the very end of the Douglass essay and, adhering to the general D-Board protocol, answer one or more of these points:

  • Demonstrate what methods Douglass resorts to in his quest for the ability to read and write. Give at least three examples of the actions he takes, or considers taking, and explain why.
  • Explain the progression of his mental state as his self-awareness grows.
  • Discuss the issues/concepts/themes that his experience raises (i.e., slavery, justice, freedom, friendship).
  • You may also tie this into the life of Olaudah Equiano, whose own slave narrative, a different experience but no less appalling and dehumanizing, is summarized in his autobiographical entry (see module 1b).

Option 2: Amistad / Middle Passage / The Sorrow Songs

Having viewed the Steven Spielberg film and read the Robert Hayden poem and the W.E.B. Du Bois excerpt (and the Eric Foner essay for accuracy), consider two or more of these points. You must make at least two connections to details in Hayden and Dubois, using relevant quotes to illustrate your points. The historical details and images concerning the slave trade will prove useful here (see the first slideshow in 1a).

  • How does the Amistad trial, in John Quincy Adams’s words, pave the way for “the last battle of the American revolution?”
  • What cultural parallels or contrasts are made between the American-European and African worlds? What scenes stand out for you in the film, and why? Discuss two or three illustrations, at least.
  • Consider what the circumstances of the African rebels say in relation to America at the time. How can their defenders argue for their freedom in the context of a world that considers them less than human, or at least too uncivilized to make their own decisions?
  • Also, as Baldwin attempts, how would you explain to an outsider the court system, with all its complexities (appeals, counter-appeals).

Option 3: Desiree’s Baby

Kate Chopin was an important Southern writer in the late 19th century (le fin de siècle, as the French call it), whose style is an example of what’s called regional realism, for its accurate portrayal of the Creole culture of Louisiana in particular. Chopin would endure professional and personal scandal and was largely forgotten until her proto-feminist novel The Awakening was rediscovered in the late 20th century, bringing her fleshed-out, psychologically convincing characters, with their rich historical settings, to new life and a new readership. Both the novel and short stories like “The Storm,” “Story Of An Hour,” and “Desiree’s Baby” are surprisingly modern in their attitudes towards marital relationships, sexuality, and infidelity in particular.

“Desiree’s Baby” dramatizes the impact of slavery and miscegenation (interracial sexual relationships), and with bitter irony, mocks the cruelty and utter ridiculousness of racism. Irony means a reversal of expectations, when the result is opposite of what was intended or attempted, as is clearly the case in the tragic story’s final twist. Pudd’nhead Wilson, an 1894 novel by the great satirist and fellow regional realist Mark Twain, uses a loosely similar premise and Southern historical setting to achieve that same kind of mocking moral lesson about the evils of slavery and racism.

For Option 3, answer A and/or B:

A) Consider one or more of the ways that race and racism drive the plot (story) and themes (big ideas):

  • i.e., a marriage ruined and lives lost because of racist attitudes and assumptions
  • the social and material difficulties of having/being a biracial child
  • the racist fear of having married a person who is unknowingly/secretly someone you (or Desiree’s husband, in this case) have been taught to despise

B) Consider whether the content of the story, or how it impacts you upon reading it, is in any way affected by the fact that it comes from the highly respected pen of a white woman writing over 100 years ago.