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The Social Construction of Whiteness in American History


Admission requirements



The United States are known as the country of unlimited possibilities. It has also been the ultimate immigration country ever since its foundation and even earlier. From the start of plantation slavery on, newcomers have constantly been arriving. Being confronted with various other ethnicities and races, the dominant white society sought to continually re-invent itself and adjust its self-identification with the implicit aim to distinguish itself from others. Hence, the social construction of whiteness was constantly changing. This also had effects on social debates about “whiteness”, “blackness” and other identifiers, and on discussions about multiculturalism (from “melting pot” to “salad bowl”), which have always played an important role in American history. In this course, the mutual relations between different societal groups including enslaved people, Native Americans, African Americans, women, labourers, immigrants, and other minorities will be studied from a social-historical perspective.

The time frame of the course reaches from the mid-nineteenth century into the late twentieth century. We will look at race relations during slavery and how they changed during Reconstruction and post-slavery. Around the turn of the century, topics include the dealing of different social groups with big events like the large-scale industrialisation, the prohibition and the “roaring twenties”. Lectures will show how these developments influenced the growth of social and emancipating movements such as labour unions and, in general, the start of social security and welfare. We will learn how whiteness was affected by the Second World War and, after that, how a Civil Rights revolution came into being with equal rights for African Americans being promoted. Chronologically, this course will conclude with the Latin American immigrants in the country. All these subjects will be studied with the help of relevant literature and a number of contemporary texts.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student can:

  • 1) organise and use relatively large amounts of information

  • 2) reflect critically on knowledge and understanding as presented in academic literature

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  • 3) The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically in the specialisation Social History of the differences of class, gender, ethnicity and religion; the transfer of people, goods and ideas; connections between people (individually and collectively), companies, states and (international) organisations (including churches) from 1600. Insights from this are used to explain current events and developments.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific lecture course

  • 4) The student will gain a firm understanding that whiteness is a social construction and has been continually changing and re-shaped since the nineteenth century.

  • 5) The student will understand and be able to explain how whiteness aims (and has aimed) to exclude people and groups who do not qualify for this definition at a given time.

  • 6) The student will gain a thorough understanding of whiteness and its contrast to the social construction of other ethnicities over time. They will understand its relation to power, resistance, ideological values, and cultural domination.


The timetable is available on the BA Geschiedenis website

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

Course Load

Total course load 5 EC x 28 hours= 140 hours

  • Lectures: 24 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 110 hours

  • Exam(s): 4 hours

Assessment method


The course and all its learning objectives will be assessed through two exams, both of which will test the learning objectives listed above:

  • midterm examination (subtest 1): written examination with essay questions.

  • final examination (subtest 2): written examination with essay questions.


  • Subtest 1: 50%

  • Subtest 2: 50%

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


The resit exam will take place on one single resit, at which both subtests are offered. For this resit three hours will be reserved, so that students will be able to retake both subtests, if necessary.

Rules regarding the admission to resits can be found in Article 4.1 of the BA Course and Examination Regulations

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.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Communication with students

  • Announcements

Reading list

To be announced.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in [English]) and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration (Contractonderwijs](


Mw. E.W. Rosen Jacobson MA Mw. V.F. Müller MA