Topics in Africana Studies: African Americans in Paris

Fall 2013, TR 2-3:15pm, Dr. Bryan Carter


This course is approved for the Africana Studies major and minor, and English, Creative Writing, French, and Global Studies majors. 

African American expatriates in Paris were present before the turn of the 20th Century, going there for a variety of reasons: Racism in the States, opportunities abroad and the ability to be oneself without the stigma of race attached to that identity were among those reasons.

1900. A year to celebrate at the Universal Exposition of Paris. 50 million visitors came to the banks of the Seine to marvel at the achievements of the outgoing century and have a preview of the new. All the great nations of the world leapt at the chance to show off their greatness at the elephantine extravaganza.

Also leaping at this opportunity was one of the most important figures in African American history, W.E.B. Du Bois, then a sociologist at Atlanta University. A brilliant scholar – the first African American to earn a doctorate at Harvard – DuBois had also studied in Europe and traveled extensively on the Old Continent– Paris included. So he was the natural choice to create an exhibit of African American life for the 1900 Exposition. With meager funding from the US government, DuBois and his team in Georgia created an exhibit and brought it to Paris. But when they got here the official United States pavilion offered them no space. So they went down the river to a more modest venue and installed it there. The “Exhibit of the American Negro” became a hit with the fair-goers!

What made it work was its pioneering use of photography – and the freshness of the story it had to tell. In hundreds of photos, it revealed a side of Black American life few people were aware of. This was the world of urbanized, educated African Americans in the South … only 35 years after the abolition of slavery. The idea of the exhibition was to show progress, was to show the development of African Americans as a nation within a nation after Emancipation, after Reconstruction, the failure of Reconstruction … It does what DuBois does so well, he thinks of this a nation within a nation, but also a nation among many nations. They have a specific coherent culture … They were also an example of modernity. They were what was possible!

This course explores the fascinating history of African Americans in Paris from artists and musicians to writers, entrepreneurs and statesmen; when African Americans came to Paris, life for them at home and abroad changed forever.  

In addition to our study of Black Expatriates in Paris, we will also participate in a very exciting project involving Augmented Reality in collaboration with a black tour company in Paris, Walking the Spirit Tours. This project involves "augmenting" the tour route with audio, video and pictorial information related to that which is along the route, thus enhancing the overall tour. During the Thanksgiving break, students who are able are invited to accompany Dr. Carter to Paris to implement, geotag and test the audio and video  "augments".

Those students who make the trip to Paris will earn an additional 1 Africana Studies credit in addition to the 3 credits for the course. Those in the Honors College may apply to earn an additional 3 credits as an Honor's Project.

Class Number: 

AFAS 421


Regular grades are awarded for this course: A B C D E.

Usually Offered: 

Fall, Spring



May be convened with: 

AFAS 499