Spring 2017 - HIST 455W D100

Race in the Americas (4)

Class Number: 3978

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 1:30 PM – 5:20 PM
    BLU 11901, Burnaby

  • Instructor:

    Jennifer Spear
    1 778 782-4450
    Office: AQ 6018
  • 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.


Understanding race in the age of #BlackLivesMatter

Race, as we know it, is a historical construction that first emerged during the early modern era as Europeans found themselves increasingly involved in trans-Atlantic ventures that depended on the exploitation of Africans and Indians. As Europeans throughout the Americas hungered for Indian lands and African labor, they transformed their ethnocentric notions of cultural difference into ideas of immutable, inheritable, racial difference in ways that dramatically shaped the development of European colonies in the Americas and the nation states that would emerge from those colonies. Yet, to say that race is a social construct or a fiction, that "physical variations….have no meaning except the social ones that humans put on them" as the American Anthropological Association has stated, does not mean that "race" is any less real in the impacts that it continues to have on the political, cultural, and economic systems in the contemporary Americas. We continue to live with the legacies of race thinking even as we struggle to overcome this past.

During the first half of this course, we will examine the creation of ideas about race from the 16th through the 19th centuries, particularly in relationship to the rise and fall of slavery. In the second half, we will turn our attention to understanding how the impacts of race have shaped African-American life in the United States since the end of slavery in 1865. We will be paying particular attention to those aspects that the #BlackLivesMatter movement has brought into the spotlight. Organized in response to police and vigilante killings of African Americans since 2013, #BlackLivesMatter has focused on the role of violence in policing race in the modern U.S., the criminalization of African Americans, the public spectacles of black deaths, and the activism of African-American women.

Please note this is a preliminary syllabus: reading materials and assignments are subject to change.


  • The assignments are geared towards helping you improve your skills in identifying and evaluating evidence and arguments in historical writing; interpreting primary documents; and writing argument-driven, evidence-based papers.
  • Participation (in both online and in-class discussions) 25%
  • Reading Questions 15%
  • In-Class Presentation 10%
  • Research Paper (including proposal, draft, participation in peer review, and revised draft) 50%



Available for purchase at the SFU Bookstore and on reserve at the Belzberg Library [books marked with an asterisk are also available as free e-books via the library catalog].

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New Press, 2010)

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015)

*George M. Fredrickson, Racism: A Short History (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002)

Sally E. Hadden, Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001)

*Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010)

Other required readings will be available via Canvas. You should expect to read about 200 pages per week, occasionally more, and must complete all assigned readings for each week before the class meeting.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://students.sfu.ca/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html