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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Linda S Watts
BIS 364
Bothell Campus

Public Memory and Dissent in American Culture

Examines in detail one (or more) case of social, political, legal, and/or cultural conflict, focusing on how it has been remembered, reconstructed, and reimagined, both textually and institutionally. Stresses diverse interpretive and methodological approaches within American Studies.

Class description

The focus of the course for Winter 2008 will be the Southampton Slave Insurrection of 1831.

While it has been 172 years since Nat Turner entered the historical stage as the leader of a slave uprising in the Antebellum south, his memory still shapes the way many individuals understand their own place as historical actors and agents of change. For example, in his autobiography, Malcolm X had this to say about Nat Turner:

"I read about the slave preacher Nat Turner, who put the fear of God into the white slavemaster. Nat Turner wasn't going around preaching pie-in-the-sky and "non-violent" freedom for the black man. There in Virginia one night in 1831, Nat and seven other slaves started out at his master's home and though the night they went from one plantation 'big house' to the next, killing, until by the next morning 57 white people were dead and Nat had about 70 slaves following him. White people, terrified for their lives, fled from their homes, locked themselves up in public buildings, hid in the woods, and some even left the state. A small army of soldiers took two months to catch and hang Nat Turner. Somewhere I have read where Nat Turner's example is said to have inspired John Brown to invade Virginia and attack Harper's Ferry nearly thirty years late, with thirteen white men and five Negroes."

This course will focus on both contemporary accounts of the 1831 Southampton County, Virginia slave insurrection and subsequent representations of those events/figures in media such as non-fiction, fiction, drama, and film. Our central goals will be two: (1) to investigate the historical situation of the rebellion, and (2) to analyze the event’s implications for various publics as its memory/retelling resonates in historical imagination through the works of later playwrights, documentarians, novelists, activists, artists, and historians. This is an inquiry course, in which class members will engage with both primary sources (such as newspapers, trial records, tax records, census information, material culture) and secondary materials (historical essays, cultural studies, and literary/artistic treatments).

What Historical Content This Course Will Ask You to Discover:

The Rebellion The Geographic Setting Response to the Rebellion The Southampton Trials The Order of Events Slave Communities Slave Rebellions in Virginia Communities Consequences of Insurrection Modern Accounts of Nat Turner History, Myth and Memory surrounding Turner’s Uprising

What Academic Processes This Class Will Help You Learn to Do:

Examine people and their way of life Understand how ideas about human rights affect us today Understand our society See how historical context helps us understand the present Interpret what you read, see, and hear Cultivate analytical skills

What Specific Historical Skills the Course Will Invite You to Build:

Using primary and secondary sources Applying critical methods to historical issues Thinking temporally Making historical inferences Evaluating historical sources Engaging conflicts among historical accounts Practicing across modes of historical writing (such as description, narrative, exposition, and argument)

What Translatable Abilities the Course Will Help You Cultivate:

Public speaking Dialogue/discussion Analysis/interpretation/critical thinking Writing Research/evaluation of, and productive engagement with, controversy Inquiry/posing and refining compelling questions

Should You Take This Course?

There are many ways to meet your degree requirements, so it is important for you to choose each course wisely. Sometimes practical constraints (such as time slot and the like) play a part in your decisions, but these should not trump choices based upon the learning prospect. No course is right for everyone, but only you are positioned to determine which course is most appropriate for you.

Because this is an AMS option core course, there is a considerable emphasis on cultivating abilities that are apt to this field of study. Some will help you with future coursework, and some will come into play after your time at UWB. Reading through course materials should help you determine your commitment to cultivating these abilities. If you remain unsure, speak with me.

Here are a few clear indications that this course might not be for you: you prefer lecture courses, you like to be anonymous in the classroom, you decline to participate in class, you want to interact only with the instructor (vs. peers), you expect to be successful on the first attempt at a skill, you dislike reading and/or writing, you are uncomfortable with fiction featuring adult situations or strong/coarse language, you like best a class where questions can be settled and facts confirmed, you think it will be an easy course because history is wholly subjective, or you are more concerned with your grade than with what you learn. If any of these statements describes you, the course is probably not a good choice for you. If this is the case, I would be glad to assist you in finding one more suitable to your educational needs.

Student learning goals

Please see learning goals listed under course description.

General method of instruction

You should know from the outset that the way I teach calls upon students to “do something” rather than hear or watch me do something. What this means is that you will need to take responsibility for your own learning; hold yourself accountable for your choices; interact, question, respond, and introspect; deal constructively with complexity, ambiguity, uncertainty, ambivalence, and nuance; contribute to shared inquiry by a community of learners; and be ever receptive to, and resilient in, intellectual risk-taking.

Recommended preparation

This course has no specific prerequisites. Students choosing this course should possess initiative, energy, and a passion for dialogue. All three are critical to your-- and our--success.

Sometimes students like to get a headstart on acquiring or reading course materials. With that in mind...

What Books Will Likely Be Ordered for the Course:

Stephen B. Oates, The Fires of Jubiliee: Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion Perennial; Reprint edition ISBN 0060916702

Kenneth Greenberg, The Confessions of Nat Turner and Other Documents Bedford/St. Martin's ISBN: 0312112076

Marius, A Short Guide to Writing About History Longman; 4 edition ISBN: 0321093003

Williams, Dessa Rose: A Novel Perennial; Reprint edition ISBN: 0688166431

O’Hara, Robert, Insurrection: Holding History Theatre Communications Group; 1st ed edition ISBN: 1559361573

Greenberg, Kenneth. Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory Oxford University Press ISBN: 0195177568.

Course books will also be placed on library-use-only reserve in hard copies.

Class assignments and grading

This course involves several assignment formats, typically including essay exams, in-class exercises, class presentation/facilitation, and an culminating project or term's end essay.

Student performance will be assessed based upon a combination of contributions to class discussion/process, and work submitted (as described above).


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Linda S Watts
Date: 09/06/2007