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Redemption Songs: African-American Freedom Struggles From Slavery to the Present


Admission requirements

This course is intended for students from a limited number of programmes. Because of the limited capacity available for each programme, all students who will enroll are placed on a waiting list. The definite admission (by August 25) will be made according to the position on the waiting list and the number of students from each programme.


From the abolitionist crusades of pre-Civil War America, to the civil rights activism of the twentieth century, to the recent explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement, the continual struggle for racial equality by successive generations of African Americans has had an indelible impact on American culture, political life, and national identity.

This course will examine African Americans’ struggles for freedom and equality throughout American history. Tracing black political activism from slavery to the present day, it starts with the rise of abolitionism in revolutionary America and continues through emancipation and Reconstruction, the long civil rights movement, and finally the post-civil rights era. It broadly focuses on continuities and discontinuities, variations across time and space, and the influence of both local grassroots actors and national leaders in various movements. Two themes in particular will inform our analysis. First, this course situates black freedom struggles within an overarching temporal continuum that stretches from the revolutionary era to today. The struggle for civil rights (legal, political, and economic) was not limited to the 1950s and 1960s, but has rather been an enduring part of African-American history. Nor has the attainment of freedom and various rights been a uniform or linear development; instead, it has ebbed and flowed, and varied across time and space. Second, we will underscore the diversity of goals, strategies, and outcomes of various black freedom struggles in American history. As Stephen Tuck has argued, “there was no such thing as a single black protest agenda because there was no such thing as a single black experience.” We will examine how and why different groups (and generations) of African Americans have striven to attain various goals by various means, where the common denominators have been, and under what circumstances they have succeeded.

The course will be taught in the form of seminars and will be assessed through class assignments, an individual presentation, and a research paper based on primary sources available through online databases, in print form, or in the collections of the Roosevelt Institute for American Studies in Middelburg.

Course objectives

Learning objectives, pertaining to this research seminar
The student:

  • understands the historical relevance and impact of various African-American freedom struggles from slavery to the present day;

  • is familiar with the historiographical and theoretical debates regarding various African-American freedom struggles, starting with abolitionism and continuing through the long civil rights movement and the post-civil rights era;

  • has a working knowledge of the continuities and discontinuities in the ideals, strategies, and outcomes of various African-American freedom struggles during slavery and after emancipation;

  • can independently do research using digitally available, published, and unedited primary sources on abolitionism and African-American civil rights movements;

  • (ResMA only): has the ability to interpret a potentially complex corpus of sources and identify new approaches within existing academic debates.

General learning objectives
The student has acquired:

  • the ability to independently identify and select primary and secondary sources, using traditional and modern techniques;

  • the ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of primary and secondary sources with a view to addressing a particular historical and/or cultural problem;

  • the ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;

  • the ability to formulate and clearly express logical arguments in correct academic English (seminar presentation/essay) and using appropriate citation style;

  • the ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  • the ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;

  • (ResMA only): The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.


The timetable is available on the North American Studies website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar.

Course Load

Total course load 10 ec x 28 hours= 280 hours:

  • seminars: 26 hours;

  • class preparation (including assignments and individual presentation): 24 hours;

  • required reading: 80 hours;

  • researching and writing paper: 150 hours.

Assessment method

Assessment method

  • written paper (ca. 7000 words, based on research of both primary and secondary sources, including footnotes and bibliography);

  • oral presentation;

  • assignments (literature reviews) and class participation.


  • written paper: 70%;

  • assignments and participation: 20%;

  • oral presentation: 10%.

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


If the final grade is insufficient, only the research essay can be rewritten.

Exam review

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.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • general communication between instructor and students;

  • submitting final paper through Turnitin.

Reading list

  • Manisha Sinha, The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017);

  • Stephen Tuck, We Ain’t What We Ought to Be: The Black Freedom Struggle from Emancipation to Obama (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010);

  • additional literature and primary sources will be made available through Blackboard and/or a course shelf in the University Library.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.




Dhr. Dr. D.A. (Damian) Pargas