Table of Contents Module Aims 3 Syllabus

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module handbook

themes and problems in the history of race in the americas

Co-ordinator: Professor Tony McFarlane

Table of Contents

Module Aims 3


Seminar 1: Introduction: Contact Zones and Colonialism 3

Seminar 2: Colonialism and Race in the Americas 4

Seminar 3: Writing the New World 6

Seminar 4: Theorising Race 7

Seminar 5: Slavery and Resistance 10

Seminar 6: Emancipation and Post-Emancipation Cultures 11

Seminar 7: Inventing Whiteness 12

Seminar 8: Indigenismo in C20th Latin America 14

Seminar 9: The US Civil Rights Movement 15

Short Essay Titles 17

Module Aims

The MA programme in the history of race in the Americas introduces students to the history of race and the construction of ethnic identities in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, from the colonial period to the present day.  It focuses particularly on indigenous peoples and Africans and their descendants and on their relations with European Americans and with each other.  This core module familiarises students with key texts, offers critical approaches to theories of race and ethnicity as they relate to the Americas, and provides a framework for undertaking more specialised research in the dissertation.  It is designed to complement ‘Theory, Skills and Methods’. 
Seminar 1: Introduction: Contact Zones and Colonialism (Tony McFarlane)
This seminar introduces students to the history of the Americas, and explores the intimate relationship between colonialism and the development of ideas about race
For discussion

  1. What topics might be embraced a study of race in the Americas?

  2. What similarities, and what differences, underpin the development of racial thinking across the Americas?


    • David Brion Davis, ‘Constructing Race: A Reflection’, William and Mary Quarterly, 3d series, vol. 54:1 (1997).

    • Richard Graham, ‘Introduction’, The Idea of Race in Latin America, 1870-1940, ed. Richard Graham (1990).

    • Gary Nash, ‘The Hidden History of Mestizo America’, Journal of American History, vol. 82:3 (1995).

Seminar 2 : Colonialism and Race in the Americas (Tony McFarlane)
The purpose of this seminar is to explore European encounters with, and subordination of, non-Europeans in the Americas. It will also assess the influence on European notions of human difference on the developing societies of the Americas.
For discussion

  1. How did Europeans perceive Americans at the time of the Spanish discovery of, and early conquests in America?

  2. To what extent did Europeans associate ethnic and skin colour differences with slavery and social inferiority before the American discoveries? Did Western religious texts from Judaism and Christianity foster racial hostility towards Africans?

  3. Did colonial rule inevitably generate and promote ‘racism’? How did Spanish ideas about the duty of evangelisation influence their attitudes towards Indians? Did Christian teachings propagate or undermine the notion of difference among humans?

  1. What forms did ‘racism’ take? Were there any significant differences between the attitudes of the Spanish, Portuguese, French and English attitudes towards Indians and Africans? If so, how are they explained?

Christopher Columbus, The Four Voyages, [especially the first letter]

1. David A. Brading, The First America, [Chap 1-2]

2. David Brion Davis, Slavery and Human Progress [Chap 3-4]

2.Winthrop Jordan, Black over White.[Chap 1-2]

2. Frank Snowden, Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks, [esp Chap 1]

2. Benjamin Braude, ‘The Sons of Noah and the Construction of Ethnic and Geographical Identities in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods’, WMQ, 3rd series, 54: 1, (Jan. 1997) 103-42.

2. James Sweet, ‘The Iberian Roots of American Racist Thought’, WMQ, 3rd series, 54: 1, (Jan. 1997) 143-66.

For short background readings, see ‘Race: The Power of an Illusion.’

3. Brading, The First America [Chap 3-5]

3. T.Todorov, The Conquest of America [Part 3].

3. Anthony Pagden, The Fall of Natural Man (esp. Chapters 3-4).

4. C.R. Boxer, Race Relations in the Portuguese Colonial Empire, 1415-1825, [esp Chap 1 and 3].

4. Frank Tannenbaum, Slave and Citizen: The Negro in the Americas

4. Thomas Gossett, Race: The History of an Idea in America [esp. Chap. 2]

4. George M Fredrickson, The Arrogance of Race: Historical Perspectives on Slavery, Racism and Social Inequality [Chap 15]

4. Interview with Karen Ordahl Kupperman, on the English attitudes towards American Indians: For a full version of her ideas, see her article in WMQ, 54:1, 1997

Seminar 3 : Writing the New World (John King)
Required Reading

  • M. de Montaigne, ‘On Cannibals’.

  • W. Shakespeare, The Tempest.

Further Reading

  • E. Said, ed., Literature and Society, essay by Greenblatt.

  • E. Said, Literature and Imperialism.

  • L. Marx, The Machine in the Garden.

  • S. Greenblatt, Marvellous Possessions.

  • P. Hulme, Colonial Encounters.

  • T. Todorov, The Conquest of America.

  • L. Huddleston, Origins of the American Indians.

  • Leonard, The Books of the Brave.

  • G. Lamming, The Pleasures of Exile.

  • L. Fiedler, The Stranger in Shakespeare.

  • P. Brown, article in J. Dollimore, ed., Political Shakespeare.

  • E. Jones, Othello’s Countrymen.

  • P. Brockbank, article on Art and Empire in Stratford upon Avon Studies, Vol.8.


  • See also the video How Tasty was my Little Frenchman. 

Seminar 4 : Theorising Race (Tony McFarlane)
This seminar traces the development of racial ideology from the late eighteenth century to Darwin.

For discussion

1. How did Europeans’ conceptualisation of human differences change during the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century? Did the European Enlightenment propagate or resist ideas of racial inferiority?

2. In what ways have European understandings about ‘race’ changed from the 18th to the 19th centuries?

3. When did race become a biological concept?

4.Have European ideas about race always assumed European superiority?

5. What is the relationship between the development of ideas about race, about class, and about gender?


Primary Texts

  • Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de, ‘Variétés dans l’espèce humaine’ (1749-1804), Oeuvres complètes de Buffon (Paris, 1859), vol. 3, pp. 268-324

  • Darwin, Charles, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), John Murray (London, 1888), Chapter 7: ‘On the Races of Man’

  • Gobineau, Arthur, Comte de, ‘Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races’ (1853-5), in Gobineau: Selected Political Writings, Michael Biddiss (ed.), Jonathan Cape (London, 1970)

Secondary Texts

  • Ashley Montagu, Man’s Most Dangerous Myth, [Chap 1]

  • Antonello Gerbi, The Dispute of the New World [Chap 1-3]

  • George Mosse, Towards the Final Solution: A History of European Racism, [esp.  Chap 1]

  • Thomas Gossett, Race: The History of an Idea in America, [Chap VII and VII]

  • Hudson, Nicholas, ‘From ‘Nation’ to ‘Race’: The Origins of Racial Classification in Eighteenth-Century Thought’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 29 (1996), pp. 247-64

  • Michael M Biddiss, Father of racist ideology: the social and political ideas of Count Gobineau.

  • Gould, Stephen Jay, ‘American Polygeny and Craniotomy before Darwin’, in The ‘Racial’ Economy of Science: Toward A Democratic Future, ed. Sandra Harding, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, 1993), 84-115.

  • Gould, Stephen Jay, Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History, Penguin (1973), Chapter 27: ‘Racism and Recapitulation’

  • Greene, John, The Death of Adam: Evolution and its Impact on Western Thought, Iowa State University Press (Ames, 1959), Chapter 8: ‘The Origin of Human Races’

  • Livingstone, Frank B., ‘On the Nonexistence of Human Races’ in The ‘Racial’ Economy of Science: Toward A Democratic Future, ed. Sandra Harding, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, 1993), 132-141.

  • Malik, Kenan, The Meaning of Race: Race, History and Culture in Western Society, New York University Press (New York, 1996), Chapter 2: ‘The Social Limits to Equality’, and Chapter 3: ‘The Making of a Discourse of Race’.

  • Marshall, Gloria, ‘Racial Classifications: Popular and Scientific’ in The ‘Racial’ Economy of Science: Toward A Democratic Future, ed. Sandra Harding, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, 1993),116-127.

  • McClintock Anne, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest, Routledge (New York, 1995)

  • Schiebinger, Londa, Nature’s Body: Sexual Politics and the Making of Modern Science, Pandora (1993), Chapter 4: ‘The Anatomy of Difference’, and Chapter 5: ‘Theories of Gender and Race’ (available online at

  • Schiebinger, Londa, The Mind Has No Sex: Women and the Origins of Modern Science, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, 1989), Chapter 7: ‘More than Skin Deep: the Scientific Search for Sexual Difference’

  • Stepan, Nancy Leys, and Sander L. Gilman, ‘Appropriating the Idioms of Science: The Rejection of Scientific Racism’ in The ‘Racial’ Economy of Science: Toward A Democratic Future, ed. Sandra Harding, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, 1993), 170-199.

  • Washburn, S. L., ‘The Study of Race’ in The ‘Racial’ Economy of Science: Toward A Democratic Future, ed. Sandra Harding, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, 1993), 128-132.

Scientific Writings

  • ‘Is Race Real?’, a web forum organised by the Social Sciences Resarch Council,

  • Phinney, Jean, ‘When We Talk about American Ethnic Groups, What Do We Mean?’, American Psychologist 31:9 (1996). 

  • Templeton, Alan, ‘Human Races: A Genetic and Evolutionary Perspective’, American Anthropologist, vol. 100:3 (1999).

Seminar 5: Slavery and Resistance (Tim Lockley)

This session deals with slave resistance, focussing especially on slave rebellions.  It will address the issue of why there were more slave revolts in the Caribbean and Latin America than in the United States and will also examine Eugene Genovese’s argument about the transformation of resistance as a result of the Haitian Revolution.

For discussion

  1. Why were there fewer slave revolts in the United States than elsewhere in the Americas?

  2. What is the nature of Genovese’s argument?  Do you agree?

  3. Does Gaspar’s research on Antigua undermine Genovese’s thesis?


Required Texts

  • Eugene Genovese, From Rebellion to Revolution

  • Mary Reckord, ‘The Jamaican Slave Rebellion of 1831’,  Past and Present, no. 4 (July, 1968), pp. 108-25.

  • David Barry Gaspar, ‘The Antigua Slave Conspiracy of  1736: A Case Study of the Origins of Collective Resistance’, The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd series, vol. 35, no. 2 (April, 1978), pp. 308-23.

  • Stuart B. Schwartz, ‘Resistance and Accommodation in Eighteenth-Century Brazil’, Hispanic American Historical Review 57 (February, 1977), pp. 69-81 (also in Gad Heuman and James Walvin, eds., The Slavery Reader).

Supplementary Readings

  • Gad Heuman and James Walvin, eds., The Slavery Reader.

  • Michael Craton, Testing the Chains: Resistance to Slavery in the British West Indies.

  • Gad Heuman, ed., Out of the House of Bondage: Runaways, Resistance and Marronage in Africa and the New World.

  • Richard Price, ed., Maroon Societies.

Seminar 6: Emancipation and Post-Emancipation Cultures

(Gad Heuman)
This session deals with the aftermath of emancipation, focussing especially on the varying patterns of adjustment to emancipation in the Americas.  Foner’s text provides a general overview of emancipation and focuses on what he calls ‘the political economy of emancipation’.  Other readings will complement this approach and also concentrate on the resistance of ex-slaves in the Caribbean to the terms of emancipation.

For discussion

  1. How did ex-slaves respond to freedom in the United States and the rest of the Americas?

    2. How did brown politicians in Jamaica view the aftermath of emancipation?

    3. How do you explain the degree of black resistance after emancipation, especially in the Caribbean?

Required Readings

  • Eric Foner, Nothing But Freedom

  • Gad Heuman, Between Black and White, chapter 5.

  • Gad Heuman, ‘Post-Emancipation Resistance in the Caribbean: An Overview’, in Karen Fog Olwig, ed., Small Islands, Large Questions: Society, Culture and Resistance in the Post-Emancipation Caribbean

Supplementary Readings

  • Bridget Brereton, ‘Post-Emancipation Protest in the Caribbean: The ‘Belmanna Riots’ in Tobago’, Caribbean Quarterly, 30 (1984): 110-23

  • Russell E. Chace, Jr., ‘Protest in Post-Emancipation Dominica: The ‘Guerre Negre’ of 1844’, Journal of Caribbean History, 23 (1989): 118-41

  • Woodville K. Marshall, ‘‘Vox Populi’: The St. Vincent Riots and  Disturbances of 1862’, in B.W. Higman, ed., Trade, Government and Society in Caribbean History, 1700-1920: 85-115

  • Gad Heuman, ‘Post-Emancipation Protest in Jamaica: The Morant Bay Rebellion, 1865’, in Mary Turner, ed., From Chattel Slaves to Wage Slaves: 258-74

Week 7. Inventing whiteness and fears of miscegenation: ‘Birth of a Nation’. (Jennifer Smyth)

Essential Reading

  • Dyer, Richard. White. London: Routledge, 1997. 

  • McLean, Nancy. Behind the Mask of Chivalry: the Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan. Oxford University Press, 2004. 

  • Michaels, Walter Benn. Our America: Nativism, Modernism, Pluralism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995. 

  • Rogin, Michael. "'The Sword Became a Flashing Vision': D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation," in Robert Lang, ed., The Birth of a Nation, 250-93. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994. 

  • Williams, Linda. Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle Tom to O.J. Simpson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001. 


Further Reading  

  • Bost, Suzanne. Mulattas and Mestizas: Representing Mixed Identities in the Americas, 1850-2000. Athens, University of Georgia Press, 2003. 

  • Bowser, Pearl, Jane Gaines, and Charles Musser, eds. Oscar Micheaux and His Circle: African-American Filmmaking and Race Cinema of the Silent Era. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001. 

  • Dixon, Thomas. The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan. Introduction by Thomas D. Clark. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1970.

  • --. The Fall of a Nation: A Sequel to the Birth of a Nation. New York: D. Appleton, 1916. 

  • Grant, Madison. The Passing of the Great Race; or, the Racial Basis of European History. New York: Scribner's, 1916.

  • Hodes, Martha. White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South. Yale University Press, 1997. 

  • --, ed. Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History. New York University Press, 1999. 

  • Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. Motion Picture Code [1930, 1934], in Leonard Leff and Jerold Simmons, eds., The Dame in the Kimono: Hollywood, Censorship, and the Production Code from the 1920s to the 1960s. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001.

  • Page, Thomas Nelson. Red Rock: a Chronicle of Reconstruction. New York: Scribner's, 1898. 

  • Stokes, Mason Boyd. The Color of Sex: Whiteness, Heterosexuality, and the Fictions Of White Supremacy. Duke University Press, 2001. 

  • Williamson, Joel. The Crucible of Race: Black and White in the American South Since Emancipation. Oxford University Press, 1984. 

  • Wilson, Woodrow. A History of the American People. 5 vols. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1902. 

  • --. Division and Reunion, 1829-1889. New York & London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1894. 

 Early Cinema:  

  • Cohen, Paula Marantz. Silent Film and the Triumph of the American Myth. New York and London: Oxford University Press, 2000. 

  • Elsaesser, Thomas, with Adam Barker, ed. Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative. London: BFI, 1990. 

  • Gunning, Tom. D.W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film: the Early Years at Biography. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1991. 

  • Koszarski, Richard. An Evening's Entertainment: The Age of the Silent Picture Feature, 1915-1928. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1990. 

  • Ramsaye, Terry. A Million and One Nights. 2 vols. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1926. 

 More on Griffith and BN

  • Barry, Iris. D.W. Griffith: American Film Master. New York: MoMA, 1940. 

  • Geduld, Harry M., ed. Focus on D.W. Griffith. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971. 

  • Schickel, Richard. D.W. Griffith: An American Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983. 

  • Silva, Fred, ed. Focus on The Birth of a Nation. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971. 

  • Simmon, Scott. The Films of D.W. Griffith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. 

  • Wallace, Michele. "The Good Lynching and The Birth of a Nation: Discourses and Aesthetics of Jim Crow. Cinema Journal, 43:1 (fall 2003): 85-104. 

Seminar 8: Indigenismo in C20th Latin America (John King)
In the early 20th century elites throughout Latin America turned to the Indian population as a source for constructing a more culturally inclusive sense of national identity. This preoccupation with the Indian – known as ‘indigenismo’ took different forms in different national and regional contexts. This seminar will explore indigenista ideas and projects in Peru and will take as its main focus the novel Deep Rivers, by José María Arguedas which explores the achievements and the limitations of indigenismo.
For discussion

  1. Did indigenismo represent a reversal in the negative stereotype of the Indian?

  1. Explore the representation of indigenous communities in Deep Rivers.


  • Arguedas, José María, Deep Rivers. Xerox copies from JK.

  • De la Cadena, Marisol, Indigenous Mestizos. The Politics of Race and Culture in Cuzco, Peru, 1919-1991, especially chapters 1 and 2.

  • Hiatt, Willie, ‘ “Flying cholo”: Incas, airplanes and the construction of Andean modernity in 1920s Cuzco, Peru’, The Americas, vol 63:3 (2007), pp.327-358.

  • Mariátegui, José, Seven Interpretive Essays of Peruvian Reality. In particular, the discussion of national culture.

  • Martin, Gerald, Journeys Through the Labyrinth. Section on Arguedas.

  • Miller, Nicola, In the Shadow of the State. Especially Chapter 4: ‘The Ideology of bi-culturalism’.

  • Poole, Deborah, Vision, Race and Modernity. A Visual Economy of the Andean World. Chapter 7: ‘The New Indians’, pp.168-194.

  • Rowe, William and Vivian Schelling, Memory and Modernity: Popular Culture in Latin America. Sections on Peru, in particular chapter 2, pp.49-64.

  • Varga Llosa, Mario. Essay on Arguedas in Touchstones (2007). See also, ‘The Story of a Massacre’, in Making Waves (1996).

Seminar 9: The US Civil Rights Movements (Roger Fagge)
This session explores the emergence of a mass civil rights movement among African Americans and it’s impact on US Society.
For discussion

  1. What was the social position of African Americans prior to 1945?

  2. How did the struggle for Civil Rights change over the C20th, and to what extent was it successful?

  3. How was the broader black freedom struggle reflected in US culture?

  4. What role did the civil rights movement play in the wider struggle for civil rights by other minorities in the post-war US?


Required Reading

  • James Baldwin, ‘Notes of a Native Son, in Notes of a Native Son (page nos. vary according to edition)

  • Martin Luther King, Letter from Birmingham City Jail. (Available online; see -)

  • Nina Simone, Mississippi Goddam (lyric and song)

Further Reading: Books

  • James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963)

  • Martha Biondi, To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York City (2003)

  • David M. Chalmers, And the Crooked Places Made Straight: The Struggle for Social Change in the 1960s (1991)

  • Gary Gerstle, American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century (2001)

  • Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice (1968)

  • Jack. E. Davis (ed.), The Civil Rights Movement (2001)

  • Adam Fairclough, Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality, 1890-2000 (2001)

  • Maurice Isserman, and Michael Kazin (eds), America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s  (2000)

  • Peter Ling and Sharon Monteith (eds.), Gender and the Civil Rights Movement (2004)

  • Howell Raines (ed.), My Soul is Rested: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement in the Deep South (1983)

  • Thomas J. Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (1996)

  • Brian Ward, Radio and the Struggle for Civil Rights in the South (2004)

  • Malcolm X, Autobiography (1966)

Further Reading: Articles

  • Adam Fairclough, ‘‘Being in the Field of Education and also being a Negro…seems…tragic’. Black teachers in the Jim Crow South’, Journal of American  History, 87, 1 (June 2000)

  • Ruth Feldstein, ‘‘I Don’t Trust You Anymore’: Nina Simone, Culture and Black Activism in the 1960s’, Journal of  American History, 91, 4

  • Thomas J. Sugrue, ‘Affirmative Action from Below: Civil Rights, the Building Trades, and the Politics of Racial Equality in the Urban North, 1945- 1969,’ The Journal of American History, 91, 1 (June 2004)

  • Timothy Tyson, ‘Robert F. Williams, ‘Black Power’, and the roots of the African-American freedom struggle’, Journal of American History, 85, 2 (1998)

  • Various, ‘A Round Table: Martin Luther King Jr.’, Journal of American History, 74, 2 (1987), pp.436-81

  • Various, ‘The Voices of African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement’ (Special Issue) Journal of Black Studies, 26, 5 (May, 1996), pp. 560-576.

  • Various, ‘Round Table: Brown v. Board of Education, Fifty Years After’, The Journal of American History, Vol 91, 1 (June 2004).

Short Essay Titles

These are sample essay titles. You are welcome to use other titles suggested by members of staff or a title of your own devising, provided, in the latter case, that you first confirm its suitability with the relevant staff member.

    • Did colonial rule create and promote racism?  Discuss with reference to sixteenth-century Spanish America and eighteenth-century Anglo America.

    • Analyse the image of the barbarian and the ‘noble savage’ in any colonial chronicle and in Montaigne’s essay ‘On Cannibals’.

    • Discuss the sources on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

    • Can The Tempest be read as an ‘American’ fable?

    • Analyse the characters of Prospero, Caliban, Ariel and Miranda in The Tempest.

    • Why has The Tempest played such a significant role in postcolonial criticism?

    • Why did Europeans treat Africans and Native Americans differently in the Americas?

    • How far was the introduction of slavery to the Americas an ‘unthinking decision’ (W. Jordan)?

    • Why were there more slave revolts in the Caribbean and Latin America than in the United States?

    • What is ‘race’?

    • Have scientific ideas of ‘race’ changed substantially over the last 300 years?

    • How and why have historians differed in their assessments of the significance of the Haitian Revolution?

    • ‘Nothing but freedom.’ Is this a fair assessment of the black experience in post-emancipation societies?

    • Is there such a thing as ‘whiteness’ and what, if anything, does it mean?

    • To what extent are women the real markers of race and/or ‘whiteness’ and ‘blackness’?

    • When did the Irish become ‘white’ and for what reason?

    • How did Amerindian resistance shape state and nation building in 19th-century Latin America?  Discuss with reference to one or more country.

    • What role does race play in formulations of American history and nationhood?  Give specific examples from American visual culture.

    • How did early anthropologists (before c. 1930) explain ‘racial’ differences?

    • Did indigenismo represent a reversal in the negative stereotype of the Indian?

    • Did indigenous people benefit at all from indigenismo?

    • What role did religion play in the US Black Freedom struggle?

    • How successful was the US Civil Rights Movement?

    • What were the cultural manifestations of black nationalism in post WW2 US?

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