History 51: The History of American Slavery

I liked a lot of things about this class, but for some reason, I didn't like the class as a whole. 

I think that the class should have been taught as a seminar. It had few enough people to allow for discussion. 

I also think that the class should have moved faster. The professor spent a lot of time at the beginning of each class reviewing previous classes, and the teacher progressed fairly slowly with material in general, so it was hard to pay attention. I voiced this point -- that you can lose people if you go too slow -- in a previous letter, though.

The material itself was interesting, though. It had some cultural elements similar to FEMST138. For instance, the term "grandfathered in," which refers to a legal exception made for people who the law didn't apply to when it came into effect, originated to keep blacks from voting after emancipation. It was illegal to prevent blacks from voting on face, but racists could make laws about education, literacy, or poll taxes as requirements for voting, with the exception that if a person's grandfather could vote, then these requirements didn't apply. That is, illiterate whites could vote because their grandfathers could vote, so they were "grandfathered in," but illiterate blacks could not.

Another thing that I got out of the class was the extent to which we are counterhistorical when it comes to race. We like to think of the civil war as a war where two sides, each noble, fought valiantly. Thus, there are civil war reenactments, and we refer to some sporting events as "civil war" events. We don't do the same with any other wars. We don't have Vietnam reenactments, "Gulf War" games, or think of the Holocaust as a war where two noble sides fought each other. 

We don't like to confront our past of slavery (the US has had slaves for more years than it hasn't), so we say that the civil war was about economics instead. Yes, economics was important, but the civil war was about slavery. The only reason that slavery hadn't broken the US before was because everyone avoided talking about it. Each time that politicians were forced to talk about slavery, it almost caused an irresolvable conflict. Southerners threatened to secede over the issue of Missouri, and they might have but for the Missouri Compromise. There weren't quite so many threats of secession over tariffs.

There were plenty of other similarly interesting tidbits.


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Wednesday, December 30, 2009