Fall 2015 - HIST 455W D100

Race in the Americas (4)

Class Number: 5962

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 8 – Dec 7, 2015: Wed, 9:30 a.m.–1:20 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units including nine units of lower division history.



An examination of the role of racial thinking in the history of the Americas, from the era of the Conquest to the present day. Topics may include African and Indigenous slavery, the development of scientific racism in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the persistence of racism in the present day. Students with credit for HIST 455 may not take this course for further credit. Writing.


Racial categories have been with us in the Americas since there was a concept called the "Americas." Created as a series of markers to make sense of the differences that Spanish and Portuguese colonizers first encountered in the 16th century, the belief that the Americas was composed of a series of races, some better than others and each fundamentally different than others, has acted as a cornerstone for the variety of political, cultural, and economic systems that organized life in this part of the world for the past five centuries. Today we know that the ideas about racial difference that organized life in the Americas for several centuries are fictions. They are not true. Still though, we continue to live with the legacies of race thinking. We struggle to overcome this past even as we reproduce it time and time again.

This course is meant as an exercise in coming to grips with the racialized past and present of the Americas. We treat race in the region as a whole, acknowledging through this approach that the colonial categories upon which our ideas of race were constructed (Indian, slave, black, mestizo [metis], even white) are the products of a colonial past that all countries in the region shared. We will explore differences between the way that race was produced in a variety of contexts, but our principle preoccupation is to understand the way the history of the Americas is the history of racial thinking.


  • Final Exam 20%
  • Weekly Commentaries 10%
  • Class Presentations 10%
  • Peer Reviews 5%
  • Two Book Reviews 20%
  • Primary Document Analysis 20%
  • Participation 15%



David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness. Verso, 2007

Courtney Jung, The Moral Force of Indigenous Politics. Cambridge, 2008

Anthony Appiah, The Ethics of Identity. Princeton, 2005

All other readings can be found on Canvas

Registrar Notes:

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