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American Slavery in History and Memory


Admission requirements

This course is available for students of the Honours College Humanities Lab.
Students in the first year of their bachelor's programme who achieve good academic results and are very motivated, may apply for a place in Humanities Lab.


American novelist William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” This notion certainly applies to the history, legacy, and memory of slavery in the United States. After four years of bloody civil war, the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution brought about the formal abolition of slavery in 1865. Since then, historical memories of slavery have continuously changed and evolved, reflecting developments and divisions in the generations that followed abolition. Of course, the history and memory of slavery has been greatly contested since the end of the US Civil. Americans have long disagreed over the history and legacy of slavery. Far from being consigned to the past, debates over slavery continue to unify and divide Americans over the nation’s past, present, and future. Faulkner was right; the past is never truly dead. It’s not even past.
This course will examine how the historical memory of American slavery has changed from the end of the US Civil War to the present day. Students will analyze the relationship between past and present, the difference between history and memory, and how cultural, social, and political developments shaped and influenced historical memories of slavery. By examining representations of American slavery in film and TV, literature, textbooks and curricula, art, museums, monuments, heritage sites, and other forms of popular culture, this course will investigate how and why contested memories of slavery have changed over time. Moreover, the course will examine the process of historical mythologizing, amnesia, individual and collective trauma, as well as other relevant theoretical concepts. Although focused primarily on American slavery, the seminar discussions will also be linked to debates on slavery and memory in other places (such as the Netherlands and the British Isles).

Course objectives

By completing the module, students will be able to:

  • Explain the difference between history and memory;

  • Describe how the historical memory of American slavery has changed over time;

  • Analyze how slavery is represented in film and tv, literature, art, monuments, museums and heritage sites;

  • Synthesize complex issues and relevant theories, including collective memory, amnesia, and trauma;

  • Conduct independent research into a chosen topic;

  • Formulate research questions and coherent arguments;

  • Write a short research paper on a relevant subject;

  • Collaborate with others to complete a group project;

  • Improve their verbal communication and presentation skills;

  • Reflect on how their knowledge and understanding of the topic has changed or developed throughout the module.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.
Humanities Lab courses are scheduled on Friday afternoon from 13.30 to 17h.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


Attendance and Participation
Reflection Report (ca. 750 words)
Final Paper (ca. 2,500 words)
Group Project


Attendance and Participation – 10%
Reflection Report (ca. 750 words) – 10%
Final Paper (ca. 2,500 words) – 50%
Group Project – 30%

The final mark for the course is established by (i) determination of the weighted average combined with the following additional requirements: (ii) all assignments must be completed to receive a sufficient overall grade for the course; (iii) the final paper must be marked sufficient (i.e. 6 or above) to receive a sufficient overall grade for the course.


Attendance is compulsory for all meetings (lectures, seminars, excursions, etc.). If you are unable to attend, notify the lecturer (listed in the information bar on the right) in advance. Being absent may result in lower grades or exclusion from the course.


If the final overall grade is insufficient (i.e. below a 6), students may resit the final paper. There is no opportunity to resit the reflection report, group presentation, or attendance and participation.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

The syllabus and weekly reading schedule will be made available on Brightspace. All readings will be accessible via the Leiden University Library catalogue.


Students of the Humanities Lab will be enrolled in MyStudymap by the Education Administration Office of Humanities Lab. Students register for the Humanities Lab modules about two to three weeks before the start of the module through an online form. More information and the link to the form will be provided by Umail.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga


This course is part of the Humanities Lab programme, visit the website for more information.
Visit the Honours Academy website for more information about the Honours College.