Race, Violence, and Historical Memory

HOPR 1953: First-Year Seminar

James Marten               303 Coughlin Hall               288-7901               james.marten@marquette.edu

Tuesday and Wednesday, 12:30-2:00, and by appointment

 

This seminar will examine how Americans have interpreted and, in some ways, manipulated the historical memory of the Civil War and of the racial issues related to it in order to make political points, ease guilty consciences, explain community standards, and socialize their children, among other things.  David Blight, a leading historian of the Civil War era and a pioneering scholar in memory studies, writes that history and memory “represent two attitudes toward the past, two streams of historical consciousness that must at some point flow together.”  In that spirit, “Race, Violence, and Historical Memory” will be less about the facts of racial violence related to slavery, the Civil War, and its aftermath, and more about the ways its meaning has echoed through the last century-and-a-half. 

 

Among the questions we’ll discuss are:

--How does the memory of racial violence appear in contemporary popular culture, political discourse, and race relations?

--How has the memory of racial violence been manipulated by whites and African Americans?

 

Two assumptions:

--“Violence” does not necessarily mean one-on-one or even direct physical violence (for instance, simply being a slave subjected a person to a certain kind of violence even if that slave was never once whipped or otherwise physically punished).

--“Memory” refers not to individual recollections of events, but to the self-conscious use of the collective or social memory of an event or era.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all assignments must be read, viewed, or listened to prior to class.  Use the list of questions that appears after the course schedule to focus your thoughts and prepare for the discussion.

 

August 30

What is “Memory?”

David W. Blight, Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory, & the American Civil War

(Amherst: Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 2002) 1-4. (attached)

Remembering Mary Turner

 

September 6

Tony Horwitz, “A Death for Dixie”

http://www.terry.uga.edu/~dawndba/4500Death4Dixie.htm

 

September 13

Eyes on the Prize: “Mississippi: Is This America?” (viewed in class)

 

September 20

This American Life: Modern Responses to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/68/lincolns-second-inaugural

Read the speech at: http://www.abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org/Library/newsletter.asp?ID=17&CRLI=94

 

September 27

The Murder of Emmett Till:

Look magazine article and Letters to the Editor

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/till/sfeature/sf_look.html

 

October 4

Book presentation and paper due

 

October 11

“Strange Fruit”: Lynching in popular culture

Powerpoint presentation

 

October 18

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOm8z_DUboc&feature=related

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYCaob7MDA8&feature=related

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAQVrqMbh0Y&feature=related

 “Birth of a Nation”

http://www.hulu.com/watch/201836/the-birth-of-a-nation (or watch in library)

 

October 25

“Black Memory and the Progress of Race”

David Blight, Race and Reunion: the Civil War in American Memory, Ch. 9

http://0-quod.lib.umich.edu.libus.csd.mu.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=acls;idno=heb03945

 

November 1 and November 8

Williamson, A Rage for Order

 

November 15

A Moment, an Object, an Idea Presentation

HOPR Powerpoint

 

Book Presentation and Paper: You will each read one of the books listed on the bibliography at the end of this syllabus and make a 5-6 minute presentation of the way in which the author shows how the history of racial violence has been used to create a memory of that violence.  You will write a 250-word paper summarizing your report.

 

A Moment, an Object, an Idea Presentation/Papers: On our last day, you will bring to class an example of the employment of some aspect of the memory of racial violence in the form of a newspaper or magazine clipping, an object (or picture of an object), a screen capture of a photograph or cartoon, or some other document.  Your report will show how the document or object represents a way in which the memory of racial violence or conflict has been “used” by the creators of that document or object.  You will present an oral version of your report in class and submit a 500-word written version of the report.

 

Grades (S/U) will be based on:

Two (2) Presentations/Papers     50%

Class participation                       50%

 

Plagiarism will not be tolerated, and I will follow Marquette’s University policy on academic dishonesty, which can be found at http://www.marquette.edu/academics/regulations/acaddishonesty.html.

 

No late papers will be accepted without penalty. Do not ask me for extensions, for I will grant them only if you present me with overwhelming evidence that you were physically incapable of completing the assignment on time.  Twenty points will be deducted from all late papers.

 

Attendance will not arbitrarily determine your grade; however, since we meet only once a week and since 50 % of your grade is based on class participation it is vital that you attend class. I ASSUME THAT EVERYONE WILL BE IN CLASS EVERY DAY; AN UNEXCUSED ABSENCE IS NOT A VALID REASON TO BE UNAWARE OF SLIGHT CHANGES IN THE SCHEDULE. IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO KEEP ABREAST OF CLASS "NEWS."  If it is simply unavoidable that you miss a class, please contact me ahead of time.

 

 

Consider each assignment in the context of the following questions (some are more appropriate to certain assignments than others):

 

1. Based on the excerpt from Blight’s book that we discussed on the first day in class, how do the events described in the assignment reflect “history” and/or “memory?”

 

2. How do the “characters’” understanding of the past affect their perceptions of the present?  The future?

 

3. How do these events and people fit into your own understanding of the past and present?

 

4. How have the ways in which Americans perceive these and similar events changed since the assignment was created?  Or how have they remained the same?

 

5. What other examples of Americans’ use of “memory” can you think of that fits into this particular “history?”

 

6. What more would you like to know about the events described in the assignment, or the production of the assignment itself?