In this class we're going to flip the script. Instead of seeing slavery as an embarrassing but marginal backdrop to the rest of American history, we're going to put it squarely at the center of the American story and examine the way it influenced every other American institution.
We'll begin in the 1500's and 1600's and talk about why Africa became the site of the slave trade to the Americas. (Spoiler: It wasn't about skin color. At least, not yet.)
We'll study the horrors of the Middle Passage, and from there move into the way slavery both furthered and challenged the Enlightenment ideals that led to the American Revolution. We'll also compare the way slavery was viewed in the late 1700's to how it was viewed in the mid-1800's, and ask why racism actually became more virulent and violent during this time period.
We'll spend the last third of the class examining the causes that led to the Civil War. Although this is not a class on the Civil War itself -- we won't be studying battles or military strategy -- students who take this class should come away with an understanding of the philosophical and economic debates that divided the North and the South, and how the consequences of those debates are still with us today more than 150 years later. In particular, we'll examine how American progress in both the North and the South was built on the backs of centuries of unpaid African labor, and think about ways we can address this moral stain on our history today.
Suggested age range: High school. Our main curriculum will be Slate Academy's History of American Slavery series, which was designed as a college-level program for adults. The teacher will help students with limited history background work through this material, but this class is not ideal for middle school students, reluctant readers, or those taking their first high school-level history class, unless they have a strong interest in the subject itself and are willing to put extra effort into the homework.
Outside work: In most weeks there will be one podcast to listen to (about 40-60 minutes) and some additional online reading.
When & where: Fridays at Voyagers in Chelmsford (directions) from 11:00-12:00, Feb. 2-May 4, 2018. No class Feb. 23 or Apr. 20.
Fee: $200 for the semester + a $35 fee to join Slate Plus to have access to the curriculum materials. (Please read our media policy.) $10 discount for Voyagers members. Payment plans available. Class fees waived for families with financial need, but unfortunately there is no waiver for the $35 Slate fee. (Waivers and payment plan information.)
Photo credit: Laura Fokkena