Slavery and its Legacies–The Birth of the PCSU Curriculum.

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

Max Edelson–History

Maurie McInnis–Art History

Frasier Neiman–Archaeology (Monticello)

Alan Taylor–History

Kirt von Daacke–History

Elizabeth Varon–History

Al Brophy–(UNC Law, PCSU National Advisory Board)

Gary Gallagher–History

Grace Hale–American Studies/History

Patrice Grimes–Curry School of Education

Preston Reynolds–UVA Medical School

Claudrena Harold–History

Milton Vickerman–Sociology

Lisa Woolfork–English

Carmenita Higginbotham–Art History

Lawrie Balfour–Politics

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.

[Curriculum Update October 2017]: We have created a new Pavilion Seminar, “Unearthing and Understanding,” as an advanced research seminar for students at UVA to return to as 3rd and 4th years where they will identify a research topic on UVA’s difficult history and produce long-form web-based encyclopedia entries on their topic. PCSU Co-Chair Kirt von Daacke will teach this course. This class will run for the first time in Spring 2018.

The commission has additionally begun discussing two other scalable programs proposed by Kirt von Daacke for the university to consider as it seeks to better educate most of its students on this history.

1-Pilot a program using the College of Arts & Sciences’ College Advising Seminars (COLA), one-credit classes for first years that include about 20% advising and 80% academic content. To date, these courses are taught on a volunteer basis by faculty interested in working with first years and have no specific content requirements beyond the 20% advising. Since 2012, PCSU Co-Chair Kirt von Daacke has been teaching one or two of these courses each fall, always on the hidden history of slavery at UVA or on the long-lasting legacies of slavery and racism in the United States that shape our world today. In most years, about 1/3 of College first-years complete a COLA 1500 seminar–if this were scaled up to include all first-year College students, it would serve nearly 80% of undergraduates at UVA and could include mandatory teaching modules on both UVA’s history and diversity and inclusion in the present. It would also serve as a programmatic model for other schools at UVA and for other universities considering how to make sure this history is part of the curriculum.

2-Create, likely through the Provost’s Office, a funded program incentivizing departments to create first-year level (1000-level) courses that could count toward general education requirements and offer them every semester. With institutional support (from a University Historian or Office of Institutional History who could support course content development), departments could develop courses across the disciplines that confront slavery and racism in the school’s past. For example, a class offered by the Chemistry Department could look at the evolution of Chemistry teaching at UVA, including a component on the chemical hearth in the Rotunda, where chemistry was originally taught. The hearth, laboratory, and classroom were maintained by an enslaved Man, Lewis Commodore. Similarly, a course in Biology could focus on the evolution of biologic pedagogy at UVA that includes Race Science and Eugenics. There are many other options here–this past need not be confined to history and American Studies, and in fact, should not be.

-Kirt von Daacke