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History and Literature Increases Ethnic Studies Offerings

The Barker Center, which houses History & Literature.
The Barker Center, which houses History & Literature. By Grace Z. Li
By Joshua J. Florence and Mia C. Karr, Crimson Staff Writers

This semester, students concentrating in History and Literature can take a course on fashion and slavery—and receive credit toward the concentration’s newly-created Ethnic Studies track.

The course’s professor, lecturer Jonathan M. Square, is one of a new set of History and Literature instructors who will be teaching courses in the concentration’s Ethnic Studies field, one of seven “focus fields” available to students studying Harvard’s honors humanities concentration. According to an email sent to concentrators when the field was announced in April, the Ethnic Studies track examines how “slavery, diaspora, migration, and colonialism” shape cultural and social movements.

Square, who has an academic background in both Latin America and the fashion industry, said the History and Literature committee has been “welcoming.”

“That’s one thing I’m really excited about being in the department. In the past, at different institutions, I’ve gotten pushback on studying the topic,” he said. “Hist and Lit was very welcoming and really encouraged my creativity as a scholar.”

The University has long had a fraught relationship, though, with scholars and activists who have for decades pushed for more comprehensive ethnic studies offerings, including in Latino and Asian American studies.

“I was also a Harvard undergraduate before I started teaching here,” said Marina S. Magloire ’11, a new History and Literature lecturer who is teaching a class on the African diaspora. “At the time, Ethnic Studies was something students were campaigning for not in History and Literature, but for the wider university.”

Last December, a group of students circulated a petition calling on Harvard to establish an Ethnic Studies department, create a center for research in the field, and hire more faculty. And though some advocates for the field say the History and Literature is a step in the right direction, some say they would like to see even more offerings in the field: Sally Chen ’19, a History and Literature concentrator and ethnic studies activist, said she was disappointed that no dedicated courses in Asian American Studies were being offered this fall.

Genesis De Los Santos ’19, a History and Literature concentrator focusing in the new field, said she hopes the Ethnic Studies track will eventually consolidate into its own department.

“It deserves its own department,” De Los Santos said. “There aren't that many courses that necessarily are solely offered by the History and Literature department. A lot of the ways that you can complete your requirement are through the African and African American Studies department, the History department or the English department.”

Students and faculty said the courses labeled as ethnic studies have, anecdotally, popular during the College’s course shopping week. Newly-hired History and Literature lecturer Emily K. Pope-Obeda, who is teaching an introductory course on the history of deportation in the United States, said that her first class meeting garnered a lot of interest.

“I think [Hist and Lit] is really responding to a lot of student interest in learning about these subjects,” she said.

—Staff writer Joshua J. Florence can be reached at joshua.florence@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1.

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FASEthnic or Cultural GroupsAcademicsHistory and Literature