I’ve been studying the history of slavery for years. It began with an interest in the Civil War and the American Slave Trade in high school, turned into a study of Roman and Christian forms of slavery in graduate school and then evolved over the last decade to a study of advocacy movements in history and modern forms of slavery.
Currently, one of the classes I’m teaching in the Master of Arts program at Kilns College is called, “Slavery: A History.”
The course is designed in a seminar style with the entire grade coming primarily from reading and class dialog. Students read historical overviews of slavery and forms of social death as well as primary source material discussing the topic of slavery taken from the Great Books of the Western World.
It has been one of the more rewarding courses and conversations I’ve enjoyed in a long time. Additionally, it gives me an excuse to further my own studies in the topic.
Along those lines, here are a few of the books I’m currently reading and enjoying:
The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, by Eric Foner
A detailed and methodological approach to the evolution of Lincoln’s views and engagement on the topic of slavery and race. This book humanizes Lincoln and sets both his strengths and weaknesses on the topic of slavery in historical context. Highly recommended for those wanting a readable book on Lincoln that walks the line between romanticizing or critiquing Lincoln.
Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War, by Tony Horwitz
The figure of John Brown and the role his raid on Harpers Ferry, designed to incite rebellion among the slaves and begin a revolution, played in the galvanizing of Northern and Southern sentiment has long been overlooked. Horwitz is an intriguing historian and writes with a captivating style. All history lovers need to dive deeper into the events leading up to Lincoln’s election and the seceding of the Southern States from the Union.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglass
The autobiography of one of America’s great orators and abolitionists, this book sheds light on the details of the institution of slavery and the mindset of oppressors and the oppressed. Douglass wrote his autobiography, in part, to dispel rumors and suggestions that such a well-spoken and literate individual could not have been a former slave. It was after this book that Douglass lived in England for fear of being captured by slave hunters until his abolitionist friends were able to purchase and procure his freedom from his former owner.