Colgate Syllabus: Slavery, Politics, and Resistance in North America

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Editor’s note: Wondering what’s happening in the classroom at Colgate? Here’s a real-time glimpse into academic life on campus — a syllabus from a course underway this semester.

HIST 400 Thematic Seminar: Slavery, Politics, and Resistance in North America

Graham Hodges, George Dorland Langdon Jr. Professor of History and Africana and Latin American Studies
Tues. 7:20–10:20 p.m.

Course Goals

The goal of this course is to discern how inexorable disputes over slavery and freedom led to the Civil War.


In this seminar, students study the intertwined histories of American politics and abolitionism during the antebellum period and into the Civil War. Students study recent texts on American politics, abolitionism, Black self-emancipation, and violence. This seminar covers key topics in the run-up to and conduct of the American Civil War. Using new secondary books, generally from social history, the course provides an overview of the era, within the context of political and social transformation.

Professor Hodges and his students engage in lively discussions of the required texts. Anticipating remote instruction this spring, Professor Hodges reached out to the authors of each course reading, and they all agreed to visit his class via Zoom during the course of the semester. Students are required to have read the works and prepared one or two insightful questions for these scholars in advance of each session. These conversations are an opportunity for students to learn how historians create their scholarship and what meaning they see in their books.

The Scorpion’s Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War by James Oakes
South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War by Alice Baumgartner
Unrequited Toil: A History of United States Slavery by Calvin Schermerhorn
Field of Blood, Violence in Congress and the Road to the Civil War by Joanne Freeman
They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie Jones-Rogers
Force and Freedom: Black Abolitionists and the Politics of Violence by Kellie Carter-Jackson
Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps by Amy M. Taylor

Each week, students discuss and write brief reviews of the required texts. The discussion and short writing pieces are then graded. Using the voluminous printed and digital sources available at Colgate, students create a formal paper proposal, followed by a graded rough draft and a final paper of 20 pages.

The Professor Says

Studying the origins of the Civil War is continually fascinating and contemporary. This class intertwines the best new work on abolitionism, slavery, and the turbulent politics of the antebellum period with student discussions and research. As I am conducting the class remotely, I was able to make lemonade out of lemons by inviting the authors of the seven books we read to Zoom in and talk to the students about their work. All seven, including established and rising scholars, agreed, allowing students to gain even deeper insights into the craft of history and current debates over the onset of the Civil War. They then incorporate that knowledge into the creation of their term papers, which I supervise in several drafts. By the end of the term, the students and I construct research papers of which we may be proud.