HL90 FP: Atlantic Narratives and the Making of the Modern World

This heat wave calls for a trip to the ocean! Ali Glassie is teaching “Atlantic Narratives and the Making of the Modern World,” Thursdays 9:45-11:45 this fall. It’s one of the many great new HL90s to consider!

Tell us about your class!

One of my deepest interests is how people narrate their relationships to the ocean. It’s an interest that links my intellectual and personal lives. With Atlantic Narratives and the Making of the Modern World, my goal is to show students how the ocean made the modern world: how, for instance, currents, prevailing winds, and fisheries facilitated the development of racial capitalism, and how, by narrating the Atlantic, it’s possible to reclaim the ocean as an agent of racial and environmental justice. We’ll be reading everything from Viking sagas to abolitionist satire written by sharks, and speaking with dancers, scholar activists, museum curators and captains who narrate the Atlantic as part of their daily work.

What’s something you’re looking forward to sharing with students?

It’s so hard to choose! Writing this syllabus was really difficult because there’s so much that I want to share with students, and so little time. That said, I’m especially excited to share Rita Indiana’s novel Tentacle. It’s a novel about colonization and climate change in the Caribbean, written by a Dominican musician whose fans call her La Monstra (the Monster)—and it’s been reviewed as “The Tempest meets the telenovela.” If you’ve ever wondered about the connections between Santería and sea anemones, or slavery and sea level rise, this is the novel for you. 

Do you have any exciting activities planned?

Yes! We’ll be collaborating with a local nonprofit that operates a schooner in Boston Harbor and the Caribbean, developing high school humanities curriculum and designing an interactive, digital chart. So often, we think of history and literature as confined to the seminar room, the archive, and other overtly scholarly spaces. This project will help us practice cultural studies in the world—and at sea! It will also help us think in more expansive and inclusive ways about what constitutes expertise in the humanities; our collaborators live and work in a primary source (a 97-year-old schooner) and have lots of deep embodied knowledge.

What do you want students to take away from the class?

This course will help you understand how culture, history, and environment intersect, and help you identify, expose, and narrate these intersections. You’ll learn how the ocean made the modern world—how it mediates our cultural, historical, and economic experiences—and that this world-making is fluid (no pun intended), rather than linear or teleological. My hope is that taking this course will equip you to make interdisciplinary connections not just between humanities fields, but between humanities and the scientific and political realms.

If you could share one comment from a professor that’s changed you as a teacher, what would it be?

Once, in grad school, a professor in one of my seminars took me aside and said Ali, not everything has to do with the ocean. That comment raised my proverbial hackles, but also made me realize that my “sea eye” helps me understand history and culture in a unique way, and helps me make connections that others might not. If this class is a clapback, it’s also an effort to help students uncover their own critical lenses and understand the ways that critical approaches and lived experience intersect.

How can students learn more?

Contact me at aglassie@fas.harvard.edu, check out the class canvas site, and apply!

Published by Hist & Lit

Committee on Degrees in History & Literature at Harvard University

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