Slavery in Contemporary Imagination

Students in this Endeavor program will learn about histories of enslavement to better understand racial justice movements today. We will explore Richmond's history as the second largest site for the trade of enslaved people in the nation as well as the rebellions against enslavement nurtured here as a result. We will connect that history to how and why Richmond has become ground zero for anti-racist activism today, with the toppling of confederate statues along the city's well-known Monument Avenue making national headlines in the summer of 2020.

As part of this class, we will hone our ability to connect the past to the present in order to work toward a more equitable future. We will study contemporary film, art, books, plays, graphic novels, music and more to do this work. We also will explore the city together: walking the downtown Slave Trail as well as Monument Avenue, visiting the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and touring the many murals around the city to explore the use of art as activism. We also will meet with present-day activists to hear their visions for racial justice in the city and beyond.

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  • Coursework Overview

    The coursework for this Endeavor community involves taking a one-unit course in the fall semester and a half-unit course in the spring semester, both taught by Dr. Ooten.

    Fall 2024 Semester

    Spring 2025 Semester

    FYS 100: Slavery in Contemporary Imagination (1 unit)

    IDST 190: Slavery in Contemporary Imagination Seminar (.5 unit)

    FYS 100 satisfies a general education requirement; students are required to take one first-year seminar (FYS) during their first semester at Richmond.

    IDST 190 is a half-unit project based course part of the Endeavor program.

  • Specific Course Information

    FYS 100: Slavery in Contemporary Imagination

    We will learn about the historical context of slavery while also exploring contemporary films, music, art, literature, and public history sites that grapple with slavery and its meanings and impacts in our society today. Examples range from Oscar-winning films like 12 Years a Slave and Black Panther to Childish Gambino’s Grammy-winning song “This is America.” Prominent historian Ira Berlin’s seminal article, “American Slavery in History and Memory and the Search for Social Justice” will serve as a framework for our exploration. Berlin asserts that U.S. history cannot be understood without slavery yet it has only been in the 21st century that prominent dialogues about the continuing meaning of slavery have taken place. Berlin ultimately argues that slavery has become “a language, a way to talk about race in a society in which race is difficult to discuss.” This course, then, will give students a strong grounding in the history of slavery in the U.S. in order to critically analyze popular material to better understand this “language.”

    IDST 190: Slavery in Contemporary Imagination Seminar

    The proposed project is a community-engaged mapping project. Students will choose sites in the city on which to conduct both primary and secondary research. We will collectively visit these sites of interest in the city. Students will work in small groups to research their sites, and the class will eventually compose a collective map of their sites (or they may choose to re-interpret an existing city map or trail, like the Richmond Slave Trail).


  • Faculty Information

    Dr. M. Ooten
    Dr. Melissa Ooten is Director of the will Program and Affiliated Faculty in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

  • Endeavor Short Course Information

    As part of the Endeavor program, you will particiapte in the popular Endeavor Pre-Orientation program, where you will take a short course led by Dr. Ooten.

    Short Course Description: Social Justice and the City

    Who are cities for? All of us – the haves and the have-nots, the powerful and the powerless – experience the city differently. While cities produce the majority of the world’s wealth and promise progress and prosperity, they also give rise to extreme forms of poverty and inequality. How do we make sense of these contradictions? How can we build cities that promote ‘the good life’ for all residents equally? In this short course, we will think critically about the city in order to gain a better understanding of social justice, inequality, and access as they relate to urban space. We will explore different ways of “knowing” the city as we highlight the roles of race, class, gender, sexuality, and resistance in shaping both the physical and social geographies of cities. The city of Richmond will serve as our case study and laboratory as we come to better understand how it embodies both the problems and opportunities inherent in modern cities.