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University of Pennsylvania

History of the Slave South

University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

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Within the United States, the pre-Civil War South was a distinct region of plantations, enslaved labor, and agricultural production for the export market. It was always part of a global economy, tied into networks of capital, labor, and commodity markets that spanned continents. The wealth of the slave South was absolutely central to the political and economic growth of the U.S. and its emergence as a continental empire in the nineteenth century, but ultimately that system had to be destroyed for the country to claim its place as a world power.

Why that was – why the U.S. experienced a brutal Civil War in the 1860s – is a matter of considerable contention among scholars and a central theme of the course. The history of the South is a crucial part of the story of the rise of the U.S. as a global power and it is particularly compelling because of its history as a slaveholding society, the wealthiest in the western world in 1860. This course is about the ethical and political questions that history necessarily poses about the relationship between slavery, capitalism, and democracy in U.S. and world history.  It is about the rise and fall of the slave South from the beginning of the seventeenth century to the end of the American Civil War.


Week One (January 19-January 25)

Lecture 1: New Worlds in the Making 

Lecture 2: Slavery and the Making of the Atlantic World


Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Life of Olaudah Equiano; Or, Gustavus Vassa (1789). (Read OnlyFrontmatter, Chapters 1 and 2)


Discussion Board Post 1 – Suggested Due Date: 01/25 at noon (EST)

Week Two (January 27-February 02)

Lecture 3: Servitude and Slavery on the Periphery

Lecture 4: Emergence of Southern Slavery


State of Virginia, "Enactment of Hereditary Slavery" (1662)

State of South Carolina, "An Act for the Better Ordering and Governing Negroes and Other Slaves in this Province" (1740).


Discussion Board Post 2 – Suggested Due Date: 02/01 at noon (EST)

Week Three (February 03-February 09)

Lecture 5: William Byrd’s World

Lecture 6: Planters’ Revolution


William Byrd II, "William Bryd II to Charles Boyle, Earl of Orrery" (1726). (Read OnlyPages 59-62).

Earl of Dunmore, "Proclamation" (1775).   

Thomas Jefferson, "The Declaration of Independence" (1776). 


Discussion Board Post 3 – Suggested Due Date: 02/10 at noon (EST)

Week Four (February 10-February 16)

Lecture 7: Slaves’ Revolution

Lecture 8: Jefferson and Slavery


Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1785). (Read OnlyQueries XIV and XVIII)


Discussion Board Post 4 – Suggested Due Date: 02/16 at noon (EST)

Writing Assignment 1 – Suggest Due Date: 2/18 at noon (EST)

Peer Feedback 1 – Suggested Due Date: 02/22 at noon (EST)  

Week Five (February 17-February 23)

Lecture 9: Slavery’s Constitution

Lecture 10: Empire of Cotton


Committee and Council of the Cherokee Nation "Address of the Committee and Council of the Cherokee Nation Convened to the People of the United States" (1830).

Charles Ball, Fifty Years in Chains; Or, The Life of an American Slave (1859). (Read OnlyChapters 2 and 5)


Discussion Board Post 5 – Suggested Due Date: 02/21 at noon (EST) 

Week Six (February 24-March 02)

Lecture 11: Plantation Regime

Lecture 12: Masters and Slaves


James Henry Hammond, "Letter to an English Abolitionist" (1845).


Discussion Board Post 6 – Suggested Due Date: 03/01 at noon (EST)

Week Seven (March 03-March 09)

Lecture 13: World the Slaves Made

Lecture 14: Yeoman Farmers and Slaveholder’s Democracy

Solomon Northrup, Twelve Years a Slave (1853). (Read OnlyChapter XII)

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861). (Read OnlyChapters V, VI, VII, X, and XIV)


Discussion Board Post 7 – Suggested Due Date: 03/08 at noon (EST)

Writing Assignment 2 – Suggested Due Date: 03/12 at noon (EST)

Peer Feedback 2 – Suggested Due Date: 03/17 at noon (EST) 

Week Eight (March 10-March 16)

Lecture 15: Democracy and Empire or The Problem of the Territories

Lecture 16: Political Collapse 


John Archibald Campbell, "Nashville Convention of 1850: Resolutions" (1850). (Read OnlyPages 122-125)

State of Georgia, "Georgia Platform" (1850).

James Henry Hammond, "Cotton is King Speech" (1858).


Discussion Board Post 8 – Suggested Due Date: 03/15 at noon (EST) 

Week Nine (March 17-March 23)

Lecture 17: Secession Solution

Lecture 18: Confederate Republic


State of Mississippi, "A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union" (1860).

The Confederate States of America, "The Confederate Constitution" (1861).

Alexander Stephens, "Corner Stone Speech" (1861).


Discussion Board Post 9 – Suggested Due Date: 03/22 at noon (EST)

Writing Assignment 3 – Suggested Due Date: 03/26 at noon (EST)

Peer Feedback 3 – Due on 03/31 at noon (EST)

Week Ten (March 24-March 30)

Lecture 19: Confederate Reckoning

Lecture 20: The Slaves’ Civil War or the Fall of the Slave South


Patrick Cleburne, "Patrick Cleburne's Proposal to Arm Slaves" (1864).


Discussion Board Post 10 – Suggested Due Date: 03/29 at noon (EST)

Taught by

Stephanie McCurry


4.7 rating, based on 6 Class Central reviews

Start your review of History of the Slave South

  • While I rarely admit to having completed two Ph. D. programs, I will do so willingly in this case because I feel that it will put into perspective my claim that this course was the best, most informative, perspective altering course I have ever taken.
  • Valorie Hamachek
    Wonderful course. Will teach you a lot about our country. I thought I knew a lot about slavery and that time period but I learned a tremendous amount. I then went on to do Professor Foner's 3 module course on the Civil War from Columbia University which was a fabulous experience.
  • Jenny Vaught
    Stephanie McCurry presents an outstanding class. Her lectures are inciteful and well planned and the assignments and discussions are thought provoking. Great class.
  • Alan Salsac
  • Kostis Papadantonakis

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