HUMN 222: Black Humanities: The New York Times 1619 Project – Syllabus

Maria Helena Lima
Spring 2020

Course Description

HUMN 222 takes on The New York Times challenge to reframe American history, to consider the possibility that the origin of this country can be traced to 1619, the year that marks the arrival of the first Africans (from the land that would become Angola) to the land that would become America in all its defining contradictions. “Out of slavery,” Nikole Hannah-Jones writes, “grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: its economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system, diet and popular music, the inequities of its public health and education, […] its income inequality, the example it sets for the world as a land of freedom and equality, […] its legal system and the endemic racial fears and hatreds that continue to plague it to this day.  The seeds of all that were planted long before our official birth date, in 1776, when the men known as our founders formally declared independence from Britain.” 

To take on the challenge to reframe American history, we will start with Europe in the 1600s, but we will also learn about the history of Africans and peoples of African descent against what Patrick Manning calls the European “tale of modernity” (xv).  Who were the people stolen from Africa?  What has been preserved of their culture, religions, philosophy and way of life despite the abominable conditions they were forced to endure when brought to the “new world?”  We will look very closely at the so-called Enlightenment ideals embodied in the philosophy of Locke and Rousseau, ideas that permeate the founding documents of this country but that can be exposed as lies through their obvious contradictions.  Our first reading explores the historical role of Renaissance humanism in instituting the notion of human individuality and uniqueness, a notion projected back onto the writings of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century umanisti, but shaped by nineteenth-century concerns.

Course Materials

You will purchase a four-volume course packet with ALL the readings for the semester at the Duplicating Center (Welles Basement).  I urge you to access The New York Times daily, since we will be following not only developments in “The 1619 Project” very closely, but also what’s happening in the world—these are extraordinary times, and we need to be informed citizens.  With the Milne Library subscription to the New York Times, all members of the campus community can access unlimited articles from its website. Please see this guide on how to set up an account with the New York Times. You can access the Guardian, the Nation, The Progressive and other papers/magazines online.

The Pulitzer Center has created a site with the complete text of “The 1619 Project” and questions and lesson plans built around it—a truly invaluable resource. (They are included in your course packet).

Students will

  • demonstrate knowledge of the contributions of significant Enlightenment thinkers to the constitution of “the human” and of “the humanities” as an ideological enterprise;
  • demonstrate knowledge of the central themes in HUMN 220 and HUMN 221, starting with the possibility of A HUMAN NATURE that can be found outside history;
  • explore the role of transatlantic slavery and its challengers (i.e. the Haitian Revolution) in the creation of European (white) modernity;
  • demonstrate the ability to think critically about moral, social, and political arguments in the Western intellectual tradition and across the many African diasporas, evaluating the logic of these arguments and relating them to their historical and cultural context;
  • consider moral, social, and political issues from an interdisciplinary perspective in an effort to understand how “we got to be this way” and then work to change the national imaginary.

Assignment and Evaluation:  This course is non-graded until the very end of the semester.  I will return papers at individual conferences and you will be able to revise them for an “A.” Your final grade will depend upon active and engaged class participation which will include eventual quizzes and in-class group work (25%), and progress in writing critically: a midterm exam (15%); critical responses to all the documentaries shown in class(15%); a final paper that incorporates research on one aspect of “the 1619 Project” (45%), which will include the oral presentation of your argument on the last week of class and on the day of the final).  All the arguments will be of your own making since I do not believe in prompts.  Don’t worry: we will practice identifying arguments as we discuss the texts.

Portfolio Grading:  The writing assignments you turn in are first drafts.  While they should be free of spelling errors and grammatical mistakes (i.e. not rough drafts), they will not be finished products.  Think of them as work-in-progress—not graded until revised and reworked to “perfection.”  Your portfolio will be an extension and development of your work during the semester.  Revision is, as Adrienne Rich writes, “the act of re-seeing and rediscovering” the significance and purpose of your writing.  Do not lose any version of your essays because I do not have a grade book.  Your grade will suffer if I cannot FIND evidence of improvement in your writing.  Keep all your writings (including extra-credit write-ups) in a folder because I will collect everything yet one more time on the last day of class, to reach a final decision about your grade.  I will not accept papers as email attachments or google docs.  If you fall behind, do not disappear. TALK TO ME. I’ll help you catch up.

 I tell all my students on the first day, the highest grade they can anticipate (if they do not talk in class) is a B- even if they can write like God themselves.  Note that I will consider sending you home the second time you come to class without the readings… I will definitely note such failure on the attendance and participation page (the P Page).  We need to look at specific passages TOGETHER, and your memory of the text will not be enough.  If I fear many students have not done the assigned reading, I reserve the right to quiz the class on the material due that day to reward the ones who have done their homework.  You can only participate meaningfully if you read closely.

An “A” student will do all the work and excel in most of it.  Active, thoughtful, and consistent class participation and progress in writing critically are musts.  The student who earns a “B” may lapse in one area, but they are generally committed to the work and to the class.  A “C” student will do the assignments and participate in class, but will show no particular effort in doing the work thoughtfully or in engaging in class discussion reflectively and/or regularly.  Since students who are unable to keep up with the work or attend class regularly will be advised to drop the course, I do not anticipate “D” or “E” students this semester.  (I would really begin to worry after three absences!) 

WRITING: Papers are to be typed, preferably Times New Roman 12’ font, with 1.5 spacing and one-inch margins at the top, bottom, and sides of your text; note that only the left margin is justified.  Your name, the title of the course, my name, and the date you hand in the paper should be typed on the top-left of the page, single-spaced; the title should be centered on the page, two spaces below all that. There will be a header with your last name and page number starting on page 2.  No header on the first page / title page (yes, this is the only time we will not follow MLA conventions).  The paper should be stapled together (top left)—never add a fancy folder or cover page. 

My Classroom Pedagogy: I believe students learn best when sitting in a circle and actively engaging in the production of meaning/interpretation of texts—this is nearly impossible in large classes, but we will try. I will not lecture much, so you need to work with me to make our class a real exchange of ideas and information.  You need to read everything listed for that week by Monday.  No class work will be done online, so I will not expect laptops or iPads or iPhones to be open in my classroom unless I tell you to (or unless you require special accommodations). 

SCHEDULE OF READINGS: This schedule may change at any time according to class needs and demands.  When a teacher puts a syllabus together, they do not know what to expect, for each group is different.  You need to be in class to note such changes or resort to the class list (our email addresses and phone numbers) to inquire about them.  The class list is also a wonderful way to build community and make lasting friendships. Get to know one another PLEASE.

Week One

(1/22-26)  Overview of the course/sharing expectations/portfolio grading explained. Reading the whole syllabus on the first day of class.
My version of the history of “Humanities” at Geneseo.  Bertolt Brecht’s poem “A Worker Reads History”
PBS and CBS interviews with Nikole Hannah-Jones on the 1619 Project:

Read Nikole Hannah-Jones’ Introduction to “The 1619 Project” on the weekend to decide whether to stay in the class.

Week Two

(1/28-31) On Monday we will discuss Hannah-Jones Introduction to The 1619 Project (handout).
On Wednesday, we will discuss Tony Davies’ Chapter “The Invention of Humanity” (handout).
On Friday, we will watch in class one episode of Africa’s Great Civilizations, a Henry Louis Gates documentary that tells an African history most people do not know (I know I didn’t). “The Atlantic Age” is our introduction to the first part of our journey: The Modern World and the Triangle Trade. Take good notes because you will write a response for MONDAY (towards the 15%).

Week Three

(2/3-7) In order to make transparent the epistemologies governing Black Humanities, we’ll discuss Walter D. Mignolo’s chapter on “Eurocentrism and Coloniality: The Question of the Totality of Knowledge” (CP).
The Modern World and the Triangle Trade. England in the 1600’s: Seventeenth-century England (our colonizers) displayed little political stability. It executed one king, experienced a bloody civil war, experimented with military dictatorship, and finally, after a bloodless revolution, established constitutional monarchy. Political stability of sorts came only in the 1690s. The ideas in Locke’s Second Treatise of Government (1690) stem from such tumultuous times and how England managed to become the first constitutional monarchy in Europe.
Aphra Behn. Oroonoko or, the Royal Slave (1688), the first work in the British literary tradition to grasp the global interactions of the modern world (CP).

Week Four

(2/10-14)  The Commons X Enclosure – Read Noam Chomsky’s “Destroying the Commons,” The Nation (7/25/2012) (CP).
We will read chapters in Locke’s Second Treatise: “Of the State of Nature,” “Of the State of War,” “Of Slavery” and “Of Property.”
On Friday, we will watch the first episode of “Africans in the Americas: The Terrible Transformation,” a documentary that tells the story of the first Africans arriving in Jamestown in 1619, and explains how slavery in this country happened through a sequence of laws from Indenture to racial slavery.
You written response to the documentary is due on MONDAY (towards the 15%).

Week Five

(2/17-21) Selections from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality (1754)
Rousseau and Locke comparison: who decided that property is the mark of civilization?
Immanuel Kant’s “What Is Enlightenment?” (1784) (CP)                   The Code Noir (France, 1685)

Week Six

(2/24-28) The Enlightenment and the American Revolution
Still Locke: Chapters IX “Of the Ends of Political Society and Government” and XIX “Of the Dissolution of Government.”
Rousseau and Locke comparison: who decided that property is the mark of civilization?
American History Documents: Read the Declaration, the Bill of Rights, and Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” (CP)  

Week Seven

(3/2-6)  The Enlightenment and the Haitian Revolution (against the French Revolution’s “Declaration of the Rights of Man”)
We will spend as much time on the Haitian Revolution as on the American (independence struggles in European colonies) to contrast their outcomes.
Read Sibylle Fischer’s Introduction to Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution.
We’ll watch a PBS documentary: Egalite for All: Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution. Take good notes because you will write a response for MONDAY (towards the 15%).

Week Eight

(3/9-13) Olaudah Equiano. The Interesting Narrative (1789) (CP)
The “Science” of the Nineteenth Century: read excerpts from Arthur de Gobineau’s The Inequality of Human Races (1856)
Read also the “Négritude” entry (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Midterm Essay Exam is DUE this week.      

Week Nine

 (3/16-20)  Spring Break

 Week 10

(3/23-27) Mid-19th-Century Capitalism and its Consequences
From The Marx-Engels Reader: “Alienated Labor” (70-81); “Communist Manifesto” (469-500); “Wage, Labor and Capital” (203-17),
Imperialism as an advanced stage of Capitalism          

Week 11

(3/30-4/3) W.E.B. DuBois: The Souls of Black Folk (1903) (excerpts to understand double consciousness and black music)
Watch the Documentary Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (written response due on MONDAY–towards  the 15%).

Week 12

(4/6-10) We will discuss all the essays comprising Project 1619: Yiya Miles’ Chained Migration: How Slavery Made Its Way West” (22- 26);
Matthew Desmond’s “In Order to Understand the Brutality of  American Capitalism, you have to start on the plantation” (30-40);
Mehrsa Baradaran’s “Mortgaging the Future: The North-South rift led to a piecemeal system of bank regulation—with dangerous consequences” (32);
Baradaran’s “Good as Gold: in Lincoln’s wartime ‘greenbacks,’ a preview of the 20th-century rise of fiat currency” (35).

 Week 13

(4/13-17) Tiya Miles’ “Municipal Bonds: How Slavery Built Wall Street” (40);
Jeneen Interlandi’s “Why doesn’t the United States have universal health care? The answer begins with policies enacted after the Civil War” (44);
Jamelle Bouie, “American Democracy has never shed an undemocratic assumption present at its founding: that some people are inherently entitled to more power than others” (51-55);
Linda Villarosa, “Myths about physical racial differences were used to justify slavery—and are still believed by doctors today” (56-7).
Stacey Patton, “Who’s Afraid of Black Sexuality.”  The Chronicle of Higher Education (December 3, 2012).

 Week 14

 (4/20-24)  Wesley Morris, “For centuries, black music, forged in bondage, has been the sound of complete artistic freedom, No wonder everybody is always stealing it” (60-7);
Khalil Gibran Muhammad, “The sugar that saturates the American diet has a barbaric history as the ‘white gold’ that fueled slavery” (70-77);
Bryan Stevenson, “Slavery gave America a fear of black people and a taste for violent punishment.  Both still define our criminal-justice system” (80).  And literary pieces by prominent African-America writers permeate the issue: of course students who would like to research them and write about the function of the arts in liberation are more than welcome to.
Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”
13th (the documentary)

GREAT DAY is on Wednesday, April 22.  You are expected to attend the panel with the best Black Humanities papers from last semester and another panel of your choice.

Week 15

 (4/27-5/1) Watch The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (PBS documentary)
The Black Panther Movement and the Movement for Black Lives: Compare Platforms available here.
Ta-Nehisi Coastes’ “The Case for Reparations.” The Atlantic (June 2014)

Week 16

(5/4-6) Oral presentations of research argument on Monday and Wednesday (Students who present on the first day have a guarantee A on the oral presentation).

Study Day is Thursday, May 7th – office hours 2-4 PM

Final EXAM:  Tuesday, May 12th, 12:30-3:20 PM – Final Oral presentations of the argument of your research paper

WHOLE PORTFOLIO (all the work you’ve done this semester) IS DUE ON EXAM DAY – this includes your final paper

Course Rationale

“The metaphor of racism as a kind of global political struggle for territory has often been far more than a mere metaphor.  European modernity, and the colonial projects that informed and supported it (both intellectually and materially), can be understood as the effort to purify the world for whiteness.  The “geography of reason” has always been understood in racial terms, and colonialism was an effort to establish Europe and North America at the center of a globe whose organizing principle was this racialised understanding of rationality.”

            –Michael Monahan, The Creolising Subject (2011).

The history of Africans and people of African descent lies at the center of the history of all humanity.  For this reason, the tale of modernity cannot be told without full attention to their presence and global interconnections.  Our course focuses on Modernity and the constitution of the modern ego – the European—that organizes the initial world-system and places itself at the center of history over and against a periphery that, we will argue, is equally constitutive of modernity.  The forgetting of this periphery, which took place from the end of the fifteenth, Hispanic-Lusitanian century to the beginning of the seventeenth century, has led great thinkers of the center to commit what decolonial theorists call the Eurocentric fallacy in understanding modernity.  According to Enrique Dussel, Kant (“Answering the Question: “What is Enlightenment?” [1784]) would not have been able to conceptualize the “exit of humanity …from a state of self-caused immaturity” without the “encounter.”  As the first to leave Europe with official authorization (since, unlike earlier voyages, his was in no way clandestine), Columbus initiated modernity.  Later with Cortés, the “I-conquistador” forms the proto-history of the Cartesian ego cogito and constitutes its own subjectivity as will-to-power.  As to who the “lazy and the cowards” Kant refers to may be, the “causes which bind the great part of humanity” in what he characterizes as “this frivolous state of immaturity,” Dussel offers the indigenous peoples in the Americas (and later in Africa).  Latin America, we must not forget, was the first colony of modern Europe since Europe constituted it as its first periphery, before Africa and Asia.

In Dussel’s formulation, European Renaissance explorers invented the Asiatic being of the American continent to leave the three parts of the world—Europe, Africa, and Asia—intact.  The Asiatic being of these islands and peoples existed only in the aesthetic and contemplative fantasy of the “great navigator” and of those who followed him.  As a result, according to Dussel, the Amerindian disappeared to be replaced by an Asiatic shadow (Dussel 32).  Whereas canonical modernity gestated in the free, creative medieval European cities, in Dussel’s revisioning it came to birth in Europe’s confrontation with the Other.  By controlling, conquering, and violating the Other, Europe defined itself as discoverer, conquistador, and colonizer of an alterity likewise constitutive of modernity.  Modernity is the result, not the cause, of this occurrence, although the managerial position of Europe permits it to think of itself as the reflexive consciousness of world history, and to exult in its values, inventions, discoveries, technology, and political institutions as its exclusive achievement.  Even capitalism is the fruit, not the cause, of Europe’s world extension and its centrality in the world-system.  Modernization initiates an ambiguous course by touting a rationality opposed to primitive, a process which, according to Dussel, culminates in Descartes’ presentation of the ego cogito.

By placing Europe at the center of narratives of progress and civilization and European man as its highest achievement, the Enlightenment managed to leave Africans outside analytical history, forever requiring European rescue.  Hegel’s introduction to his Philosophy of History indeed position inferior species that, in Michelle Wright’s words, “just happened to be in need of Western influence when the West just happened to need that African’s exploited labor, land, and natural resources” the most (30).  When Hegel explains that the world is ruled by reason, which functions as the “Infinite Power,” its own “Infinite Material” and consequently the “Substance” and “Infinite Energy” of the “Universe,” locating the origins of philosophical thought in ancient Greece, he determines Europe to be both the birthplace of this method and the only region capable of producing it.  Reason is produced as synonymous with European values and standards and, consequently, that which he determines as irrational is simultaneously characterized as non-European.  As Hegel writes, “Universal history goes from East to West.  Europe is absolutely the end of universal history.  Asia is the beginning.  Universal history is the discipline of the indomitable natural will directed toward universality and subjective liberty” (Hegel 138).  The whole “science” of the 19th century indeed characterized Africans as “less capable of reason.”  As Walter Mignolo explains further,

Since the Renaissance the rhetoric of modernity was and continues to be built on the logic of coloniality: the denial and disavowal of non-European local times and spaces and non-European ways of life.  The rhetoric of modernity was built on the opposition between Christian and non-Christians, masculine and feminine, white and nonwhite, progress and stagnation, developed and underdeveloped, First and Second/Third World. […] When Christians encountered lands and people they did not know and baptized the people Indians and the land Indies, and when later on in the sixteenth century the trade of enslaved Africans began, it was necessary to situate the human and humanity in relation to people whom the Bible did not account for, and in relation to the massive contingents of enslaved Africans displaced to Indias Occidentales.  If the inhabitants of Indias Occidentales became Indians, enslaved Africans became Black and, therefore, lesser beings in relation to the prototype of the (White) human. (155-56, emphases in the original).

Works Cited

Africa’s Great Civilizations, a six-hour documentary with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Africans in the Americas: The Terrible Transformation (PBS Documentary).

Buck-Morss, Susan. “Hegel and Haiti.” Critical Inquiry. Vol 26. No. 4 (Summer 2000): 821-65.

Dussel, Enrique. The Invention of the Americas: Eclipse of ‘the Other’ and the Myth of Modernity. New York: Continuum, 1995

Fischer, Sibylle. Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution. Duke UP, 2004.

Hegel, Georg. Lectures on the Philosophy of World History.  Introduction: Reason in History. H.B. Nisbet, trans. Cambridge, London: Cambridge UP, 1975.

Kant, Immanuel. “What Is Enlightenment? [1784]” The Philosophy of Kant. Ed. with an introduction by Carl J. Friedrich.  New York: The Modern Library, 1993. 145-53

Manning, Patrick. The African Diaspora: A History through Culture. Columbia UP, 2009.

Mignolo, Walter D. & Catherine E. Walsh. On Decoloniality: Concepts. Analytics. Praxis. Duke UP, 2018.

Monahan, Michael J. The Creolizing Subject: Race, Reason, and the Politics of Purity. New York: New York: Fordham UP, 2011.

 Wright, Michelle M. Becoming Black: Creating Identity in the African Diaspora. Durham & London: Duke UP, 2004.

Writing in the Humanities

You must remember that when we write about any literary work, we argue for our interpretation, using the “facts” in the text as our evidence.  A good paper on literature is argumentative: you will try to persuade your reader to read the text through your vision of it.  Make sure to always contextualize your argument.  You cannot avoid history when writing for the Humanities.

You will let the structure of your argument take priority over the structure of the text.  After deciding on what you want to say about the text(s) you are reading, you will find the best possible way of organizing your argument.  The chronology of a novel, for example, is never the best way of organizing your argument because you may very easily sound as if you are retelling the story rather than saying something original about it.

It is also very important to reach a certain balance between points you make in your own voice, instances when paraphrasing the text becomes crucial (paraphrasing with a purpose, you will remember), and passages where you allow your reader to hear the author’s voice, but avoid hit-and-run-quotes.  Although the best evidence is the author’s own words, only indent quotes (more than four lines) if absolutely necessary.  Make sure that all the connections between your claims and the evidence you select are clear.  A “bad writer” will pile on quotations without showing how they apply to their argument.

Do not forget that by convention we write about literature in the present tense.  If you read your paper out loud (which I strongly recommend), you will realize that by writing as if the events are taking place right in front of you, your claims on the work also seem harder to contest.

Make sure your interpretation fits the “facts” and does not neglect major aspects.  Your argument will be stronger if you incorporate objections you will try to refute in the body of the paper rather than wait for your reader to remind you of such objections when it is too late.  Remember that you are not the first person to write about any given text, nor the last.  Your paper should include the existing conversation on the work.

The most conservative interpreters stick exclusively to the text because they are afraid to take risks.  Your interpretations will go beyond the facts of the text to speculate on what they imply, the motivations behind characters’ actions, for example, the meanings behind the words on the page.  No text contains a single, fixed meaning since readers’ determination of meanings are dependent on social, cultural, and literary assumptions that are prone to change.

You are encouraged to write in the first person rather than pretend to be objective/ impartial about what you are saying.  Donna Haraway emphasizes the extent to which all knowledge is situated rather than “disembodied.” Gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, historical and geographical location compromise the fictions of unified subjects and disinterested knowledges. Pay as much attention to the “what” of the texts you read as to the “who, when, and WHERE” of their production. 

Readings are also never final: I have reread texts in different moments in my life to find very different meanings.  It is o.k. to say, “it seems to me that at this point the character faces a…”



First read the introduction to the paper carefully. 

  1. Does the introduction to the paper provide the background you need to understand the argument/analysis that follows?  Does it attract your interest? How would you improve it?  Write down the essay’s argument in your own words, as you understand it from reading the introduction.
  2. Read every topic sentence of every paragraph at least twice.  Does it introduce the paragraph well?  Does it flow nicely from the last sentence of the paragraph that precedes it?  Suggest ways of improving transitions and topic sentences. Remember that topic sentences must guarantee transition, establish focus of paragraph and, more important, tell your reader what the paragraph is doing to advance your argument.
  3. Does the writer use quotations well?  Circle at least two examples in the paper itself. Are there page numbers after every quote?  Does the writer remember how to punctuate with quotation marks?   How well do the quotes contribute to and support the writer’s argument?  MARK ANY HIT-AND-RUN QUOTATION(S).  Is there any section in the paper that would benefit from more quotes from the text?  How many indented quotes are there?  Are they 1.5 spaced without quotation marks and period inside the parentheses? Remember that you only indent if the quote is longer than four lines (we are using the MLA format).
  4. How much does the writer vary the way to introduce their quotes? Evaluate all verbs used to introduce quotes and paraphrased information. Suggest ways of improving them.  Remember that “SAY” is a weak verb.  You CANNOT merely write last name and page number to introduce the research material (either a paraphrase or a quote).
  5. Can you recognize the writer’s voice, the writer ethos, throughout the paper?  Mark the passages in the paper where you miss the writer’s presence.  Good writing means never exaggerate, nor condescend—watch for these too.
  6. Do you disagree with any of the assertions made about the text(s), either interpretations or evaluations?  Are there ways in which you would have handled the argument differently?   Suggest ways in which the writer might incorporate your objections (by refuting them) into the paper.
  7. Has the writer varied their sentence structure often enough?  Could they have combined sentences more effectively? Remember “the arms of your sentence.” 
  8. Read over the concluding paragraph.  Does it merely summarize the paper?  What emotion/idea/ question does the writer try to leave you with?
  9. Has the writer used the Present Tense consistently?
  10. Tell me how reading this paper has given you a new perspective on the essay you are working on yourself.
  11. Do you find the title appropriate to the argument?  Is it catchy?  Can you suggest another one?     
  12. What about the “works cited” page?  Are the sources recent?  Is the format MLA?  

Your Final Paper

You will research the area/subject that interests you in preparation for your final paper (and oral presentation) = 45% of your grade.  I suggest you start reading all the essays that comprise the 1619 Project now, to choose the one you want to explore.  I will list only a few:

Matthew Desmond’s “In Order to Understand the Brutality of American Capitalism, you have to start on the plantation”;

Mehrsa Baradaran’s “Mortgaging the Future: The North-South rift led to a piecemeal system of bank regulation—with dangerous consequences”;

Tiya Miles’ “Municipal Bonds: How Slavery Built Wall Street”;

Jeneen Interlandi’s “Why doesn’t the United States have universal health care? The answer begins with policies enacted after the Civil War”;

Jamelle Bouie, “American Democracy has never shed an undemocratic assumption present at its founding: that some people are inherently entitled to more power than others”;

Linda Villarosa, “Myths about physical racial differences were used to justify slavery—and are still believed by doctors today”;

Wesley Morris, “For centuries, black music, forged in bondage, has been the sound of complete artistic freedom.  No wonder everybody is always stealing it”;

Bryan Stevenson, “Slavery gave America a fear of black people and a taste for violent punishment.  Both still define our criminal-justice system.”  

The central question your final paper will be answering is whether you embrace the reframing of U.S. history with slavery at the core of what the country has become from the standpoint of the discipline/argument you are developing. As Grace Fleming explains, in a position paper assignment, your charge is to choose a side on a particular topic, sometimes controversial, and build up a case for your opinion or position. You will use facts, opinion, statistics, and other forms of evidence (the research component of your paper) to convince your reader that your position is the best one. As Fleming writes, “You must know the opposite view as well as you know your own stance when you take a position. Take the time to determine all the possible challenges that you might face as you support your view. Your position paper must address the opposing view and chip away at it with counter-evidence. Consider having friends, colleagues, or family debate the topic with you to get alternative points of view that you might not have readily considered yourself.” When you identify objections to your argument, you need to represent them in a fair manner, and then refute them. See also “How to Write a Position Paper.” I will add that you CAN be of two minds on the question, but this is a much more challenging (and interesting) paper to write (and read).

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