pen and ink drawing of Harriet Tubman sitting on a rock formation

A course that focuses on how enslaved people and freedpersons struggled to make freedom a reality.

4 units

Students enrolled in this course will earn credit for the Fall first year seminar requirement.

Taught by Prof. Fett

The emancipation of four million enslaved people during the US Civil War marked the largest scale abolition of slavery in the Western Hemisphere. This unprecedented social and political revolution was accomplished not only by elite politicians and generals but also by millions of emancipated African Americans.  Historian Barbara Jeanne Fields wrote, “freedom was no fixed condition but a constantly moving target.”  Building on traditions of resistance established under chattel slavery, freedpeople struggled to make freedom a reality along many dimensions, including bodily sovereignty, land, labor, intimate relations, family integrity, education, and citizenship. In this class, we will immerse ourselves in primary historical documents—including letters, military reports, petitions, and newspapers—seeking to understand how African Americans pursued their vision of freedom from wartime through Reconstruction.  We will also take the “long view,” as the poet Langston Hughes put it, to examine the legacies of emancipation as seen from our contested present. 

At the end of the course, students will participate in a social justice project.  


Image: Charles White. General Moses (Harriet Tubman). 1965. Private Collection. The Charles White Archives/ Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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