Between the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries a powerful new idea emerged in the West: race. According to this ideology, human beings could be divided into biological groups - ‘races’ - determining both moral character and intellectual ability. Ideas of race were particularly powerful in the United States: white Americans constantly proclaimed their own racial superiority in order to justify racial slavery, the removal of American Indians from their homelands, and the segregation and disenfranchisement of African Americans. Whites, however, did not have a monopoly on racial thought; African American intellectuals had their own ideas about race, celebrating African history and championing black culture. This module will trace the development of racial thought in the United States between the American Revolution and World War I, examining the relationship between culture, politics, and society. Throughout the module we will also look at ideas of class and gender and consider their relationship to the concept of race. Why were working-class northerners seen as especially racist by contemporaries? And how did the lynching of black men help to subordinate white women?
Part 1 will focus on the United States between the Revolution and the Civil War. We will examine the ways in which ideas of race influenced the development of racial slavery, the treatment American Indians, and the framing of the Constitution. We will discuss the use of race by both defenders of slavery and their abolitionist counterparts and look at the ways in which racial ideas were employed by working-class, “blackface” minstrels. Finally, we will consider the fascination of some whites with African American sacred music (the “spirituals”).