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Fall 2009 Seminar

Placing Race: Investigating the History and Memory of Racial Pasts

September 8 - December 11, 2009


Students will have the opportunity to discover and investigate the meanings attached to race across time and space.  This seminar will draw on the groundbreaking scholarship about histories of race, race relations, and racial representations that are the foundation of interdisciplinary fields such as American Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Cultural Studies, as well as United States history. The seminar’s location at the Newberry Library enables students to have access to a world-renowned collection of manuscripts, documents, visual culture, and other primary sources that can shape our understanding of race from the colonial era to the present. Students will have the opportunity to conduct research guided by two scholars who are experts in the field.

One of the central tenets of this scholarship—and of this seminar—is that meanings attached to race are historically constructed and dependent upon a number of constitutive conditions such as gender, class, and status (free or slave, for example).  Definitions of race also depend upon time and place. The way we often explain this in an introductory class would be to use the example that a person called “colored” in Jamaica in 1850 would be “black” in New Orleans.  We have found that the best scholarship on racial construction—whether the place under investigation is France, Canada, or Ghana—makes these frameworks explicit. 

Students in the twenty-first century have important questions about the role and representation of race in their world.  Recent developments in the U. S. presidential campaign, for example, make explicit the significance attached to shifting meanings of racial identity.  Sadly, students rarely have a chance to explore the history of these meanings and to see for themselves—and in the archives—how meanings of race take shape, and how they change over time and space. 

There will be four workshop themes:

  • Native America and the U.S. West,
  • Slavery and Abolition,
  • Orientalism at Home and Abroad, and
  • The Great Migration.

These topics will guide the seminar's reading and provide background for student research.  Student's will be encouraged to make use of resources across the city of Chicago.

After four weeks of intensive study and proposal writing, students will launch into their independent research.  The group will come together in a regular collaborative workshop to report on their progress, give each other feedback and suggestions, and discuss inevitable problems and roadblocks.  Students will also meet independently with faculty to review their research.  The culmination of the semester will be a research symposium, designed by the students, in which they will present the results of their research.


Jane Rhodes, American Studies and Dean for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, Macalester College (PH.D. University of North Carolina)

For more information, go to Jane Rhodes faculty homepage.

Lynn Hudson, History, Macalester College (PH.D. University of Indiana)

For more information, go to Lynn Hudson's faculty page.