Rhapsodies in Black: Harlem, 1917-35

Tutor: Henrice Altink

Module type: Period Topic

Module code: HIS00034C

From 1917 till 1935, Harlem (New York) was marked by an outburst of literary and artistic talent, militancy and racial pride. This outburst is better known as the ‘Harlem Renaissance’.

This course explores the rise and fall of the movement and tries to assess its contribution to the African-American quest for full citizenship, by examining in detail some of the movement’s artistic productions and political writings and relating them to changes that took place in the African-American community and the cultural shifts that took place in American society as whole in the 1920s and 1930s. It also addresses the gender dimensions of the Harlem Renaissance and the role that Caribbean migrants played in the movement; poses the question whether art can function as a tool of liberation; and engages with some of the historical controversies surrounding the movement, including the question whether white patronage prevented the movement from achieving its aims.

Seminar topics may include:

  • The beginning and aims of the Harlem Renaissance.
  • The rise of the New Negro (Alain Locke, Charles Johnson, W.E.B. Du Bois)
  • Literary artists (Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Nella Larsen, Zora Neal Hurston)
  • Musicians (Duke Ellington, Louise Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey)
  • Visual artists (Oscar Micheaux, Sargent Johnson, Aaron Douglas, Nancy prophet)
  • A white renaissance? (Carl Van Vechten, Charlotte Mason, Eugene O’Neill)
  • Black radicalism (Marcus Garvey, Cyril Briggs, A. Philip Randolph)
  • The end and achievements of the Harlem Renaissance


To find out more

You might like to look at the following:

  • Huggins, N. The Harlem Renaissance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007
  • Rhodes-Pitts, Sharifa. Harlem is Nowhere: a Journey to the Mecca of Black America. Little, Brown and Company, 2011.