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The University of Southampton

HIST3216 Racism in the United States 1785-1915 Part 1

Module Overview

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”).

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The historiography of race in the United States (and West more generally)
  • The development over time of ideas of race in the United States
  • The nature of political, social, economic and cultural changes occurring in the United States from the American Revolution to the Civil War.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Conduct independent research and formulate arguments based upon this research
  • Use public-speaking skills to present findings in a clear and convincing fashion
  • Work effectively as part of a team (in order to both present findings during the seminar and discuss ideas with fellow students)
  • Manage time effectively and meet deadlines
  • Write fluently and accurately
  • Work well in high-pressure situations (examination)
  • Conduct research online and use PowerPoint (and similar programs)
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Deconstruct ideas of race and gender
  • Trace the development of racial thought in nineteenth-century America
  • Evaluate the relative importance to the historical process of culture, economics, and politics
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Critically evaluate the work of different historians and relate various arguments to their historiographical context
  • Research independently and form arguments based upon this research
  • Engage in the close reading of documents
  • Empathise with alien concepts and ways of thinking


• The “prehistory” of race: the Ancient World and the Spanish Reconquista • Slavery and the emergence of race in colonial America • The Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, and ideas of race • Race and the “Indian Question” • The emergence of scientific racism: proslavery and the “American School” of Ethnography • The abolitionists and “romantic racialism” • Blackface minstrelsy: race and class

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • Seminar discussion • Small-group discussion • Source analysis • Student presentations • Student debates • Student-led seminars Learning activities include: • Preparation for class (including both required and independent, further reading of secondary material) • Close reading of primary material: identification of significant themes and ability to place primary sources within their proper context • Seminar discussion and debate • Presenting findings to seminar group and working with peers during student-led seminars Discussion in seminars will help you to develop your ideas on a topic, to analyse a range of source material and to articulate a critical argument.

Preparation for scheduled sessions252
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Eric Lott (1993). Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. 

Robert Rydell (1984). All the World’s a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876-1916. 

David R. Roediger (1991). The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. 

Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore (1996). Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920. 

Mark H. Haller (1986). Eugenics: Hereditarian Attitudes in American Thought. 

Eric T. Love (2004). Race over Empire: Racism and U.S. Imperialism, 1865-1900. 

George M. Fredrickson (1971). he Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Diversity, 1817-1914. 

Mia Bay (2000). The White Image in the Black Mind: African-American Ideas about White People, 1830-1925. 

Thomas F. Gossett (1997). Race: The History of an Idea in America. 

Diana Miller Sommerville (2004). Rape and Race in the Nineteenth-Century South. 

Winthrop D. Jordan (1968). White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812. 

Gustav Jahoda (1999). Images of Savages: Ancient Roots of Modern Prejudice in Western Culture. 

Wilson J. Moses (1998). Afrotopia: The Roots of African American Popular History. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 40%
Examination 50%
Research proposal 10%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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