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Race and Society

Lizabeth Johnson,

Course Description

Long before the United States fought the American Civil War over slavery and the Nazi government of Germany touted its ideas of racial superiority, the concept of race had been used to justify the conquest, colonization, or enslavement of groups of people all over the world. The concept of race dates back to ancient Greek and Roman society. The Greeks used the concept of race to set themselves apart, and above, non-Greek peoples, who were largely lumped together as barbaroi, or barbarians. Similarly, the Romans used the concept of race to set themselves apart, and above, all non-Roman peoples, especially the peoples of western and northern Europe, whom the Romans subsequently conquered, ruled, and enslaved. Because medieval and modern European society inherited these same concepts, when medieval and modern Europeans came into contact with people unlike themselves, regardless of whether this difference was due to skin color, religion, or cultural practices, they applied these concepts of racial superiority to those people and, more often than not, used these concepts to justify conquering entire peoples or territories in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. And despite the fact that these same European nations eventually relinquished their control over these subjugated lands and peoples, the same concepts of racial superiority remained in place in the political and cultural relations between the Europeans and their former subject peoples and continue to affect relations between those states even in the 21st century. In this class, we’ll examine historical, literary, religious, scientific, legal, and political texts that describe the creation and perpetuation of concepts of race from the ancient period forward and the consequences of those concepts for the people believed to be racially inferior as well as for the people who saw themselves as racially superior.

Readings and Texts

Tacitus, "Germania," Penguin Books, 2010. 
Gerald of Wales, "History of Ireland," Penguin Books, 1983. 
Solomon Northup, "Twelve Years a Slave," Dover Thrift Editions, 2014. 
Doris Pilkington, "Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence," University of Queensland Press, 2013. 
Ta-Nehisi Coates, "Between the World and Me," Spiegel and Grau, 2015. 

Articles on Race and Racism from the Encyclopedia of Sociology; Excerpts of Herodotus on non-Greek peoples; 
Excerpts of Pliny the Elder on non-Roman peoples
Excerpts from Athanasius’ Life of Antony and Gregory the Great’s Life of Benedict; Articles by Peter Biller, “Black Women in Medieval Scientific Thought” and “A ‘Scientific’ View of Jews from Paris around 1300”; Excerpts of Bartholome de las Casas and Bernal Diaz del Castillo on the Spanish conquest of the Americas; Excerpts of Montaigne, Voltaire, and Rousseau on racism and imperialism; Thomas Carlyle’s pro-slavery letter to Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country c. 1850; John Stuart Mill’s rebuttal on “The Negro Question”; the 13th amendment; Plessy v. Ferguson; Excerpts of Social Darwinist texts; Articles on racism in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia; Articles on racism in Imperial Japan and the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII; Excerpts of Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823), The Dawes Act (1887), Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990), Cobell v. Salazar (2009); Articles on Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, and the 1968 Olympics Black Power Salute; Excerpts of Bad Blood: the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment; Articles on Apartheid-era South Africa; Excerpts of Brown v. Board of Education (1954); The Voting Rights Act (1965); Shelby County v. Holder (2014); Articles on "Black Lives Matter" versus "All Lives Matter"

Films and Other Course Materials

The Sapphires (2012); When the Legends Die (1972); Hotel Rwanda (2005)

Student Requirements

--Active participation in class discussions 
--Leadership of one class discussion, including providing discussion questions on the day’s topic 
--Three 5-page papers, each analyzing a specific reading from class 
--One 15-page research paper on a topic of the student’s choice, but addressing the problem of how science, art, fiction and non-fiction literature, and laws and governmental policies have influenced/perpetuated the concept of race and the problem of racism in any region of the world 
--An oral presentation on the student’s research topic

About the Instructor

Lizabeth Johnson earned her MA in History from UNM in 2000 and her Ph.D. in History from University of Washington, Seattle in 2008. Her research in English imperialism in the medieval and early modern period has led her to a broader interest in imperialism in the early modern and modern era, particularly as it regards relations between Western nations and the people affected by Western imperialism in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.