EGMT 1540: The Ideology of Slavery: A Cautionary Tale

White Virginians enslaved people of African descent from 1619 to 1865. During that time, they constructed social, legal, and economic structures that protected and strengthened enslavement. In the process they destroyed families and lives and damaged cultures and societies. Today we look back and wonder: how could they sleep at night? And how could people like Thomas Jefferson, who made ethically sound contributions to the nation’s founding, also freely choose to engage in a practice that was so deeply unethical? Finally, how did the ideology that justified slaveholding continue to affect American life even after slavery itself was abolished? This course will explore how ideology shapes the actions of people and communities in the past and today. As we examine the twists and turns of slaveholders’ ideological justifications for their actions, we will apply that understanding of the role of ideology to the political, economic, and social issues important to students today. Students will be required to select an issue that is resonant for them and use the course to dig into the ideological assumptions behind multiple sides of that issue. This course is applied history; a cautionary tale about the ways in which individuals and communities justify their oppression of others. It challenges students to critically examine the ideological arguments around them.