W.E.B. DuBois made the notable statement in 1903 that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” This declaration had much resonance for the 20th century and still is highly relevant in the 21st century. Historians James and Lois Horton identify the “nation’s most enduring contradiction: the history of American slavery in a country dedicated to freedom.”

In order to work towards fixing the issues pointed out by DuBois', Professor Martin Blatt lead a spring 2017 course for graduate students in public history. The course examined the difficult challenges in addressing slavery in public history venues. Students reviewed an overview of the history of slavery in the United States but concentrated on how that history has been interpreted and distorted. They also explored the public history of slavery over time and assessed several case studies involving commemorations, educational programming, tours, exhibits, and films. Several guest speakers enhanced the course content.

By the end of the course students developed an understanding of how slavery has been treated in public history contexts; had a clearer picture of how critical a role race plays in the American narrative; forged a solid grasp of controversies with respect to slavery and public history; and were exposed to a variety of approaches to address slavery in public history.

The final assignment was a digital essay focusing on the topics covered in the class or closely related subjects; each had to include a Boston focus and/or feature an aspect of Boston history. These projects are now featured below.

Education as Freedom?: The Links Between American Educational Institutions and Slavery

Public History of Slavery in Boston