HIST 4806: History Through Graphic Novels—Syllabus

Fall 2022
Professor Honor Sachs
University of Colorado Boulder

Course Description:

In recent years, an explosion of historical graphic novels has transformed the way we think about narrative and knowledge. This course uses graphic novels to think about the past and considers how the visual medium can reveal new understandings of familiar historical events. Students will examine graphic novels alongside archival material and historical interpretation to analyze and interpret complex and difficult stories of war, trauma, slavery, social protest, sexuality, citizenship, and civil rights. 

Required Readings:

You are welcome to purchase, borrow, share, or procure texts by any legal means. Hard copies, shared copies, or ebooks are all fine. All books are on reserve at Norlin:

  • Lee Francis, Weshoyot Alvitre, Will Fenton, Ghost River: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga (online resource)
  • Trevor Getz and Liz Clark, Abina and the Important Men
  • Rebecca Hall and Hugo Martinez, Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts
  • Ari Kelman, Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War
  • Art Spiegelman, Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History
  • George Takei, They Called Us Enemy
  • John Lewis, March Trilogy
  • David F. Walker, The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History
  • Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Before We Begin:

I want to start with a moment of honesty: The past two years have been rough on us all. None of us are at our best. We’re trying to act like we’re back to normal, but we’ve all been under enormous pressure and it shows. Please know that I am aware of the struggles you face. I am aware of the toll the past few years have taken on our individual and collective mental health. I will do my very best to help you navigate this semester and accommodate as needed. Please talk to me if you are having trouble. I want you to succeed as best you can, so let me know how I can help.

Student Learning Outcomes:

As an upper-division course that emphasizes analysis of primary and secondary sources, this class will focus on a range of historical methodologies with particular attention to the creation and reception of historical narratives. Such goals are based on the Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) established by the History Department as best practices for teaching historical thinking and historical literacy. If you commit to the work in this course, you will gain:

  • A deep appreciation for historical complexity and an understanding of the ways that historical archives both reveal and obscure various perspectives (SLO 2)
  • An ability to recognize how historical narratives are always in flux and that historical “truths” are always subject to interpretation (SLO 3)
  • Experience working with primary sources. You will learn how to read primary sources critically, taking into account the full complexity of audience, intention, perspective, and evidence (SLO 3)
  • Insight into the production of historical knowledge through research, analysis, and representation (SLO 4)
  • Perspective on the diversity of historical experiences through the study of marginalized peoples, of trauma and resilience, and of power and its relation to memory (SLO 5)

Required Work and Grading:

Attendance                10%
This is an interactive class, rooted in discussion. Your attendance is what makes this class work. I will calculate your attendance grade as a percentage of the number of times you attend lecture within the total number of classes. Of course, I understand that life, illness, and personal issues get in the way of your ability to show up for class. That’s okay. I will allow up to three days of excused absence. If you are sick, I ask that you please DO NOT come to class. If you are having an issue that is getting in the way of attending lecture, please DO let me know. I am always willing to work on accommodations to help you get through the semester.

Discussion Posts        20%
Most weeks (though not all) I will launch a discussion portal on Canvas. This is where you can post your thoughts about readings and suggest issues for discussion in our upcoming class. These are informal, brief responses. You get full credit for posting. They are only available for the week under consideration and I do not allow makeups of these posts. However, I understand that sometimes life prevents you from keeping up with these in a timely way. Thus, you are allowed to miss up to three posts without penalty. If you miss more than this, I will calculate you discussion post grade as a percentage of the total contributions.

Papers                        60% (20% each)
You will have three paper options this semester. Each will be worth 20% of your grade. Each paper will correspond to one of the thematic sections of the course. Full prompts will be posted to Canvas with clear assignment guidelines.

Final                           10%
This will be a non-traditional final project based on your interests and particular skill set. It is an open-ended assignment that may change as we get a better sense of what our class as a whole is interested in. Guidelines will be posted on Canvas.


SCHEDULE OF LECTURES, READINGS, AND ASSIGNMENTS*

*All of which are subject to change: PLEASE CONSULT CANVAS FOR MOST UP-TO-DATE SCHEDULE

Part I: Graphic Novels and the Archives

Week 1 Course Introductions

Tue., Aug. 23 Hello! This is our syllabus!
Thu., Aug. 25 A Short Introduction to Reading Graphic Histories

Read:
The Syllabus

Assignment:
Post non-graded introduction to Canvas

Week 2 Locating and Telling Indigenous Histories
Tue., Aug. 30 Discussion of Ghost River
Thu., Sep. 1 Discussion of Ghost River annotations and documents

Read:
Francis, Alvitre, and Fenton, Ghost River: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga

Assignment:
For Thursday, post discussion questions and reactions to Canvas

Week 3 Restoring Voice to the Voiceless
Tue., Sep. 6 Discussion of Abina and the Important Men
Thu., Sep. 8 Discussion of Abina documents and context

Read:
Getz and Clark, Abina and the Important Men

Assignment:
For Thursday, post discussion questions and reactions to Canvas

Week 4 Gender, Slavery, and Resistance
Tue., Sep. 13 Discussion of Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts
Thu., Sep. 15 Exploring the Wake sources

Read:
Hall and Martinez, Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts

Assignment:
For Thursday, post discussion questions and reactions to Canvas

Part II: Graphic History and Difficult Subjects

Week 5 Race and War
Tue., Sep. 20 Discussion of Kelman, Battle Lines
Thu., Sep. 22 PAPER 1 DUE: No class today!

Read:
Kelman, Battle Lines

Assignment:
Paper 1 Due on Canvas

No discussion this week

Week 6 Trauma and Memory
Tue., Sep. 27 Discussion of Spiegelman, Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History
Thu., Sep. 29 Special Guest Vi Burlew on censorship: Why is Maus being banned?

Read:
Spiegelman, Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History
Viola Burlew, “Censors love to target comics such as ‘Maus.’ Here’s why,” Washington Post

Assignment:
For Thursday, post discussion questions and reactions to Canvas

Week 7 Injustice and Incarceration
Tue., Oct. 4 Discussion of Takei, They Called Us Enemy
Thu., Oct. 6 Discussion of film posted to Canvas

Read:
Takei, They Called Us Enemy

Watch:
Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story

Assignment:
For Thursday, post discussion questions and reactions to Canvas

Week 8 The Atomic Age
Tue., Oct. 11 Special Guest Expert James Willetts
Thu., Oct. 13 Special Guest Expert James Willetts

Read:
Reading and Assignments TBA

Part III: Visualizing Stories of Civil Rights

Week 9 Reconstruction Stories
Tue., Oct. 18 Work-in-Progress with special guest Kate Masur
Thu., Oct. 20 PAPER 2 DUE

Read:
Masur readings TBA (on Canvas)

Assignment:
Paper 2 Due on Canvas

No Discussion this week

Week 10 One Version of the Civil Rights Movement
Tue., Oct. 25 Group 1 Presentation: Lewis, March Book 1
Thu., Oct. 27 Group 2 Presentation: Lewis, March Book 2

Read:
Lewis, March series

Assignment:
Post to discussion on Canvas

Week 11 One Version of the Civil Rights Movement
Tue., Nov. 1 Group 3 Presentations: Lewis, March Book 3
Thu., Nov. 3 Discussion of sources

Read:
Lewis, March series

Assignment:
Post to discussion on Canvas

Week 12 Another Version of the Civil Rights Movement
Tue., Nov. 8 Discussion of Walker, The Black Panther Party
Thu., Nov. 10 Discussion of Lewis and Walker

Read:
Walker, The Black Panther Party

Assignment:
For Thursday, post discussion questions to Canvas

Part IV: Creating Graphic History

Week 13 How to be a Graphic Historian
Tue., Nov. 15 Special guest artist: B. Erin Cole
Thu., Nov. 17 PAPER 3 DUE

Read:
B. Erin Cole websites:
little brain comics
B. Erin Cole, I Am a Historian I Make Exhibits,” Contingent Magazine
B. Erin Cole, “The Desert Keeps Receipts,” Contingent Magazine

Assignment:
Paper 3 due on Canvas

No Discussion this week

Week 14 Thanksgiving Week
Tue., Nov. 22 NO CLASS
Thu., Nov. 24 NO CLASS

Week 15 Queer Comics
Tue., Nov. 29 Discussion of Bechdel, Fun Home
Thu., Dec. 1 Special guest expert: Vi Burlew

Week 16 Becoming Creators
Tue., Dec. 6 In-class work on your page contribution to final project
Thu., Dec. 8 In-class work on your page contribution to final project


Featured image from Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1993).

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