American Reckonings: Race, Historical Memory, and the Future of American Democracy

On January 6th, 2021, a right-wing mob violently attacked the U.S. Capitol using guns, clubs, and fists. But perhaps their most powerful weapon was not physical, but ideological: a white supremacist version of America’s revolutionary past. This course examines the complex interplay between historical memory and present-day social and political realities. We will consider how stories, symbols, and artifacts shape popular understandings of the past, and in turn, how historical memory legitimizes social attitudes and systems. How do American civic myths of freedom and democracy elide genocide, slavery, Jim Crow and other systems of inequality? How does the memory (and erasure) of slavery impact policy decisions and racial attitudes? How does memory of pivotal events in U.S. history shape individual, ethnic, racial, and national identities? Students will examine a range of cultural artifacts, including fiction, film, monuments, museum exhibits, speeches, social media, DNA tests, and the Wellesley College archives. These items provide tangible links to the past that will shape the future of democracy in America.

Units: 1

Max Enrollment: 25

Prerequisites: None.

Instructor: E. Battat (Writing Program)

Distribution Requirements: HS - Historical Studies

Typical Periods Offered: Spring

Semesters Offered this Academic Year: Not Offered

Notes: This course is recommended for students who have some familiarity with American history and critical reading and analytical writing in the humanities.