"[...] for in every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance; and by the Leave of our modern Egyptians I ... read more
"[...] for in every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance; and by the Leave of our modern Egyptians I will assert, that the same Principle lives in us [...]"
Through these lines (from a letter published in several Bostonian newspapers in 1774) former slave Phillis Wheatley gave a voice to the thousands of black slaves who had been forcefully kept in bondage in the British North American colonies for almost two centuries. The great majority of these bondsmen did not share Wheatley's privileged position, constituted through her ability to write, and, even more so, her access to the white publication network. Nevertheless, they were by no means content with their state of forceful bondage. What then did these slaves do to protest their captivity or to obtain their freedom? And if the great majority of slaves was illiterate and thus unable to put down their thoughts in writing, what sources can we as historians use to reconstruct their actions? How do we write the history of those who (seemingly) had no voice? These will be the central questions of this seminar. Covering the time span from the Colonial era up to the Ante-Bellum period, we will examine the history of American slavery from the perspective of the slaves. Approaching the history of American slavery in this way, we will address a gap in the historiography of American slavery which has existed for decades and which historians have just recently begun to fill. Having overestimated the degree of power masters held over slaves, for a long time, historians have neglected the (limited) outlets for actions accessible for black slaves to shape their own fates: the agency of the slaves. More precisely, in most studies on American slavery the slaves became mere objects of white action rather then conscious subjects acting on their own behalf. The cornerstone of each seminar session will be a number of primary sources which will be made accessible to participating students beforehand. Although these sources will be complimented by a variety of up to date secondary texts, the emphasis of each session will be on these sources. Therefore, they should be studied very carefully.
Credit Requirements: regular attendance (no more than 2 no-shows), being prepared for each class (reading the primary sources and secondary texts), active participation in class, a short presentation, two short position papers during the semester (3 pages each), a final term paper of no less than 15 pages (using primary sources).