Course Description

Barack Obama’s recent election is widely recognized as a landmark event in US history.  Before appearing on the national scene in 2004, Obama had already written a critically-noted memoir describing his attempt to construct a coherent personal identity as a biracial American.  Since then Obama has sketched out a political philosophy that can be broadly described as “pragmatic.”

This course will examine Barack Obama’s writings and speeches within a larger literary and philosophical context.  The goal is to determine whether, and to what extent, Obama’s writings can be understood within a consistent theoretical, literary, and historical framework.

We will locate Obama’s memoir and political writings within a longer tradition of American autobiography and political philosophy. In doing so we hope to get insight into Obama’s intellectual influences:  the traditions with which he identifies, the writers and thinkers who have influenced him, and the ideals to which he aspires.  We will examine the influence of pragmatism on Obama’s political philosophy, place Obama within a history of self-creation through life writing (autobiography and memoir), and consider the public construction of Obama as symbolic figure.  By locating his writings within these American traditions we hope to better understand the man as well as the country, the ideals, and the racial politics that produced him.

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