History in the Present

Format AMA

Volume of 1500 – 1800 words (6 pages)

Assignment type : Essay

To study history is to study both change and continuity over time. In other words, history tells us not just about the past, but about the past’s relationship to the present. For your final paper, you are to draw on the history of the abolitionist movement, the Civil War, emancipation, and/or Reconstruction to shed light on a contemporary social issue or political debate. This comparison should be neither facile nor overwrought. For example:

Weak: “Unless we find a way to compromise in politics we risk fighting another Civil War”

Better: “Most politicians and political commentators argue that compromise is a virtue and that Americans can unite over common values. However, the history of slavery and the Civil War shows us that sometimes compromise is not an option, that all political positions are not equally valid, and that different segments of society have very different political interests.”

Weak: “Slavery never ended because black people are still oppressed today.”

Better: “The institution of slavery was more than simply forced, uncompensated labor and the legal ownership of one human being over another. Enslaved people themselves often emphasized arbitrary physical punishment, separation from their families, and sexual violence as things that distinguished slavery from other forms of coerced labor. Today’s system of mass incarceration exhibits many of these same dynamics, drawing a through line from slavery to prisons.”

Use this assignment to mediate on something that you’re passionate about or that has dominated the news in recent months. What does John Brown tell us about the ethics of punching white supremacists? How does the Fugitive Slave Act get us to think differently about immigrant raids and travel bans? Does the violent Southern response to the gains of Reconstruction offer any lessons for thinking about contemporary conservative responses to gains in women’s and LGBT rights?

For this assignment, your sources should include a deep engagement with at least two readings from Units IV or V (Rael, Dew, Lande, Du Bois, Downs, White, Rosen, and Blight) as well as contemporary news stories. Please be cognizant of the origin and author of such stories—do your research and make sure your sources are reputable.

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