The Beyoncé Course Formation at Cornell

The new course that Africana Studies associate professor and Montgomery, Alabama native Riché Richardson is teaching this fall, “Beyoncé Nation,” drew an enrollment of 75 students from diverse majors and disciplines at Cornell.  Her research for her second book and interest in Beyoncé’s Southern roots inspired her to develop this course.  It builds upon her critical work in areas such as “the new Southern studies” and black feminism.  Richardson commented that “It kept filling up in the spring, and at that point, before freshmen enrollment, had drawn about 60 students.”  “When I went to the bookstore to check on the book list over the summer, a staff member mentioned that even there, it was fascinating to watch as the books about Beyoncé came in and were placed on the shelves.” 

It has also gotten the attention of the media.  In October, Richardson was interviewed about the Beyoncé course by Nicole Poitras at Emerson College in Boston on WERS SoundCloud radio for a segment entitled “Pop Culture in the College Classroom”  Richardson says that she values the opportunity to teach this course and hopes to offer it again at Cornell. 

In the short teaching statement that concludes the 13-page syllabus booklet for the Beyoncé course, which incorporates vivid photographs and was requested for archiving by Cornell Library, Richardson says that “I developed this course to share some of the insights that I have discovered about her as I have done my research and writing and to provide students who have an interest in studying and learning more about her with a space for dialogue, along with critical tools and contexts for reflecting on a woman often described as ‘the world’s greatest entertainer.’”  Richardson also points out that “Research on Beyoncé is necessary and highly relevant to dialogues in multiple areas such as Africana studies, feminist and gender studies, literary studies, American studies, Southern studies, studies of girlhood and childhood, performance studies, art, and design and fashion, to name just a few.”  

Her students were photographed professionally for a collective “Happy B-Day” tribute to Beyoncé that was posted in social media on September 4 and are in the process of developing research and group projects related to the icon.  The class regularly incorporates dialogue about the visual and video images.  Every session begins with screenings of selected videos, includes a lecture by Richardson, and concludes with a panel of students responding to the day’s readings coordinated by the two course teaching assistants, Kristin Wright and Olumayowa Willoughby, who, like Beyoncé, are both from Houston, Texas. 

Richardson’s course at Cornell is one of many that have been developed at colleges and universities in the past several years focused on Beyoncé, including one at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.  Beyoncé has become all the more interesting and important for many scholars to teach and study in the wake of her 2016 album Lemonade.  Richardson’s other course, Black Women’s Autobiography in the 21st Century:  #WritingHerStory, was selected as the 2017 Rabinor Seminar in American Studies.  She will be delivering the 2017-18 Rabinor Lecture in American Studies,  “Writing Home: The Birth of Beyoncé and a Formation Nation,” on Tuesday, November 14 at 4:30pm in Goldwin Smith 142.

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The Beyoncé Course Formation at Cornell