Cookie Woolner: Cultural historian of race, gender and sexuality.

Assistant Professor of History, University of Memphis


Areas of specialty: U.S. history 1865 to present with a focus on race, gender, sexuality and class; women, gender and queer studies; cultural history; women’s history; history of sexuality; LBGTQ history; feminist theory; queer theory; African American history; African American women’s history; history of feminisms; popular culture; popular entertainments; cultural studies; feminist methods in the humanities; intersectional feminism; transnational sexualities; subcultural studies.

Created courses:

“Race and Sexuality in American History”

How have race and sexuality mutually constructed each other throughout American history? These two potent categories are often intertwined: for example, at the heart of Jim Crow segregation was the fear of interracial sex. This course will show how an analysis of race, sexuality, and power can help us understand American identity and the trajectory of the nation. We will examine subjects in early and modern U.S. history such as colonization, slavery, lynching, rape, miscegenation, sexology, eugenics, the fight for reproductive freedom, the rise of LGBTQ identities, sexuality and feminism(s), and representations of race and sexuality in popular culture. Throughout the course, we will discuss how sexuality has functioned historically as a form of knowledge and as a site of complex power relations, as well as a source of pleasure.

“Movement and Migration in the Harlem Renaissance”

The Harlem Renaissance refers to both a “state of mind” and a specific location that disseminated an unprecedented amount of art, writing, and music by and about African Americans, fueled by the renewed racial pride of the postwar era. While literary output was a central aspect of the Harlem Renaissance, this history writing class will focus on the movement of bodies during this cultural moment: from analysis of the experiences of the many southern migrants who came North during and after WWI to examinations of the music, performance, and nightlife of the era and their relationship to changing ideas of race, gender and sexuality. We will examine primary sources such as songs, essays, newspaper articles, letters to the editor, and oral histories. We will read secondary sources (and watch several films as well) about the Harlem Renaissance and its key players that will give us context for the primary sources as we learn to utilize both types of sources in historical writing. Students will write and revise three short papers before a writing a longer final research essay, which will be part of an online journal everyone in class contributes to that documents and analyzes the Harlem Renaissance.

“African American Women and the History of Sexuality”

This class examines the intersection of African-American women’s history and the history of sexuality. Both of these historical subfields arose in the last several decades and have cast new light on the private and public lives of women previously marginalized from American history, as well as women’s history. Chronologically, we will explore various issues pertaining to race, sex, power, relationships, reproduction, family, desire, and the body as they specifically relate to African-American women. Some central topics will include the lasting legacy of European explorers’ views of African women; the discourses of sexology and scientific racism; bondwomen’s relationships, family life and sexual abuse under slavery; black women’s relationship to lynching; the struggle for reproductive freedom in relation to both the women’s movement as well as the black nationalist movement; lesbianism; family and relationships; and the sexual representations of performers, among other issues.

“Representations of the Body”

In this discussion-based class we will learn to “read” the body and analyze how images and narratives of the body convey cultural values. Using essays, literature, critical theory, history, photographs, films, and images from advertising and popular culture, we will critique various representations and meanings given to the body, primarily in Western culture as well as beyond. We will study the body through the lenses of gender, sex, race, class and size, and will work to come to a greater understanding of how some bodies are valued in our culture at the expense of others. My goal is to equip you with the tools to become cultural critics, able to communicate analytically about the ways the stories of the bodies all around us affect our lives.

Dr. Cookie Woolner

Department of History
219 Mitchell Hall
University of Memphis
Memphis, TN 38152

© Cookie Woolner 2016.
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