Slavery and Public History

Course Description: This course introduces the theoretical issues and practical questions involved in the public display of history in places such as museums, historical sites, and the Internet. Examines both the public role of history in shaping citizenry and the way consumer expectations affect such presentations. In response to current events, this course will focus around a theme of slavery in public history.

Note: Simmons has a mask mandate in effect while indoors.


Engagement ​(30%):​ ​​Students are expected to be ​prepared,​ ​intellectually​ ​present,​ ​and​ ​contributing​ ​productively​ ​in​ ​class.​  I define “engagement” broadly to include speaking in class, participating in the weekly group note taking, and making use of student hours for questions about course content. If you are ill, please stay home and focus on your recovery. Students who need to quarantine or who become ill with COVID will be accommodated.

Site Reviews (10% each): There are three short case studies of 2 pages each. You should select a different public history site or exhibit related to slavery (in light of COVID, digital is fine) and review it, using the topics and readings we’ve discussed in class. Papers should be double-spaced, using a standard font and 1-inch margins. Please cite your sources. You may use any recognized citation style. The due dates are listed on the course schedule.

Movie Presentation (15%): Watch a movie of your choosing that depicts slavery, and be prepared to discuss it in class. Your presentation will be about 10 minutes in length. 

Unessay Project (25%): Your final project is a public history unessay project. Create a digital exhibit. Make a short educational video. Build a twitterbot. Make a scrapbook.You have some flexibility on the format, but you should avoid kahoots and PowerPoint. Your assignment is due on the last day of class.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Introductions (1-5 Sept)

Week 2: Interpretations (6-12 Sept)

Reading: van Balgooy, chs. 2 & 3

Week 3: Whose Public History? (13-19 Sept)

Reading: Horton, chs. 1 & 2, EJI, The Widespread Failure to Preserve African American History

Week 4: Uncomfortable Dialogs in Public History (20-26 Sept)

Reading: Horton, Chs. 3, 4, & 7; Scan through the AfAmHistoryFail Twitter account

Assignment: Site Review 1, in the dropbox by 11:30 pm on 26 Sept.

Week 5: Slavery on Display (27 Sept – 3 Oct)

Reading: Woodward, Slave Sites on Display (entire); Slave Dwelling House Project

Our first hour of class will be a library instruction with Jess Wallis

Week 6: Plantations (4-10 Oct)

Reading: Adams, Wounds of Returning (entire)

Week 7: Slavery in the North (11-17 Oct)

Reading: Smith, pp. 207-238; Horton, Ch. 6; Melish, Disowning Slavery, Ch. 1

Week 8: Slavery and the Founders (18-24 Oct)

Reading: Dunbar, Never Caught (entire); The Trouble With Teeth; George Washington, Slaver

Week 9: Slavery at the Movies (25-31 Oct)

Reading: Natalie Zemon Davis, Slaves on Screen, Ch.

Week 10: Slavery in Pop Culture (1-7 Nov)

Reading: Baker, Nat Turner (entire); Sepinwall, Ch. 9

Week 11: Slavery and the Civil War (8-14 Nov)

Reading: Horton, chs. 8-10

Week 12: Monuments (15-21 Nov)

Reading: SPLC: Whose Heritage?

Watching Monumental Crossroads (in class)

Assignment: Site Review 3 is due via the dropbox no later than 11:30 pm on 21 Nov.

Week 13: (22-28 Nov) Thanksgiving Break – No Class Meeting

Week 14: Monuments (29 Nov- 5 Dec)

Reading: Cox, No Common Ground (entire)

Week 15: Reparations (6-12 Dec)

Reading: Araujo, Intro & Ch. 1

Assignment: Final Project is due on the last day of class.