Linda S Watts
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.
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 events 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What Historical Content This Course Will Ask You to Discover: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 Turners 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
Student learning goals
Please see course attributes specified under "Class description" (above)
General method of instruction
The course features a combination of instructor presentations, student-facilitated activities, small-group work, and independent inquiry.
Although there are no formal prerequisites for this course, students enrolling in this class should possess a passion for dialogue and an appetite for intellectual risk-taking.
Class assignments and grading
There will be two in-class exams (essay format, with open written notes and open course texts permitted), each valued at 20%, for a total of 40% of the course grade. Class contributions (including spoken comments, written postings, and in-class writings as conducted) will account for 20% of the course grade. A group project culminating in a facilitated portion of a session will represent 10% of the course grade. A sequenced series of casebook assignments (out-of-class writings involving some research beyond required course texts), taken together, are valued at 20% of the course grade. Diagnostic exercises and reflective writings contribute the final 10% of the course grade.
Please see "Class assignments and grading" (above). Specific criteria vary by assignment, but for written work generally emphasize: organization and clarity of statement, effective argumentation, use and understanding of evidence, depth of analysis, and originality of insights.