For the first time this past spring 2016 semester, the commission created a team-taught course examining the university and the surrounding community as a case study in understanding “Slavery and Its Legacies” in America. It ran as AMST 1559 and had an enrollment of 45 students (it also had a long waiting list, so we know demand for this class is high).
The course grew out of the commission’s discussions about how disseminate information about slavery at UVA and how we might use the commission’s research to change the way students think about the built and lived environment on Grounds. The class, deeply informed by the pathbreaking classroom work of Frank Dukes, Phyllis Leffler, and community members (including Karen Waters-Wicks and Charlene Green) in their 4000-level seminar “University of Virginia History: Race and Repair,” but instead designed to target first and second year students as a larger introductory survey.
A team of commission members, including Elizabeth Varon, Patrice Grimes, Derrick Aldridge, Maurie McInnis, and Kirt von Daacke, ultimately shaped the resulting course.
It examines the history of slavery and its legacy at UVA and in the central Virginia region. The course aims to recover the experiences of enslaved individuals and their roles in building and maintaining the university, and to contextualize those experiences within Southern history. The course is thus an exploration of slave and free black communities, culture and resistance, and an examination of the development of the University of Virginia. We will put the history of slavery in the region into political context, tracing the rise of sectional tensions and secession, the advent of emancipation, the progress of Reconstruction, and the imposition of Jim Crow.
The course is interdisciplinary in nature, drawing on a wide range of fields, such as art history, architecture, and archaeology. A major focus is on how we know what we know: on what archives and other repositories of historical sources hold; on how they were constructed; on what they leave out or obscure; and how scholars overcome the gaps, distortions and silences in the historical record.
The last weeks of the course focus on 20th century UVA and Charlottesville, and on the issues of segregation and integration, reconciliation and repair; we connect current initiatives at UVA to represent the history of slavery with initiatives at other universities.
Undergraduate student Tori Travers served as Teaching Assistant and air traffic control for this fascinating experiment (Thank You, Tori!).
A different lecturer came to the class each week–we thank everyone who gave their time freely for this important class:
Louis Nelson–Architectural History
Maurie McInnis–Art History
Frasier Neiman–Archaeology (Monticello)
Kirt von Daacke–History
Al Brophy–(UNC Law, PCSU National Advisory Board)
Grace Hale–American Studies/History
Patrice Grimes–Curry School of Education
Preston Reynolds–UVA Medical School
Carmenita Higginbotham–Art History
The first run of this course was a huge success. We designed a special survey form to get powerful qualitative feedback from the students and are now in the process of revising the course to make it more powerful. It is currently scheduled to run again in fall 2017 (the soft beginning of UVA’s bicentennial–it is the year in which construction began on what would become the university).
The plan is to run it every fall semester, limiting enrollment to first and second year students until all students have had a chance to enroll. Enrollment will also expand so that more students may take the class each fall. We want the course to enlighten students about UVA’s history and also connect them to the professors and classes across the University that examine some broader aspect of the story about slavery and race in America.
The commission is also in the process of designing a capstone course–a more focused seminar–that would allow students to revisit what they learned in the 1000-level survey and dig more intensively into it.