James Peterson, assistant professor of English at Bucknell.

LEWISBURG, Pa.  -- The Black Panther is an African superhero from the Marvel Comics universe. He's also the inspiration for a course on real "Black Heroes" being taught this semester by James Peterson, an assistant professor of English at Bucknell University.

"The Black Panther has resonated with me since I was a young child, initially because his heroic narrative is based primarily on his extraordinary intellectual abilities," Peterson said. "Even more compelling is the nation over which he presides -- Wakanda. It is an African country that for the most part is peaceful and has miraculously escaped the tentacles of colonialism."

The imaging and character development of the Black Panther are key touchstones to the themes and concepts being explored in the course, including the literature of historical, popular, and folk heroes that emerge throughout the black and African diaspora.

African-American heroes
With a focus on African-American heroes, such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, John Henry, Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, and Angela Davis, the course wrestles with the various ways in which heroes are made, commodified, and historicized in the public sphere.

One of the goals of the course is to engage the various texts in which heroes, or allusions to them, appear. These texts include film (Spike Lee's "Malcolm X," "The X-Men," and "Scarface"), music (ballads of John Henry, lyrics from Tupac Shakur, Scarface, and others), and comic books.

"We don’t assume that anyone we read is a hero, black or otherwise," Peterson said. "Our job in this course is to critically engage the various heroic narratives (historical, literary, cinematic, etc.) and to make some determination for ourselves based upon the tools we develop by studying these figures across history and in the public sphere."

Hip-hop culture scholar
Peterson, who is also a scholar of hip-hop culture and literature, joined Bucknell a year ago. He studied African-American literature and linguistics while at Duke University, North Carolina State University, and the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his Ph.D.

He is the founder of Hip Hop Scholars, an association of academics "dedicated to researching and developing the cultural and educational potential of hip-hop, urban, and youth cultures."

"I feel that hip-hop culture is a lens through which we can really analyze current events and politics in our society," Peterson has said.

National news publications
He has commented in national news publications and broadcasts about a range of topics from the NAACP’s effort to "bury" a racial epithet to the fallout from Don Imus’ remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Most recently, Peterson appeared on CBS' "Early Show" talking about controversial remarks made by the longtime spiritual advisor of presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Contact: Office of Communications

Posted April 1, 2008

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