BA Ancient History and History

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
From Jamestown to James Brown: African-American History and Culture

Course unit fact file
Unit code AMER20141
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


This module examines the African American experience in the United States from the colonial period to the contemporary era. It is interdisciplinary in design, using different approaches to considering the history and culture of Africans who gradually became African Americans as the British American colonies became the United States.

In the nineteenth century, the American South was not merely a society with slaves but was a genuine slave society, although blacks were found in the American North as well and slavery was critical to the development of the United States as a whole. During the Civil War and Reconstruction, slavery was eventually abolished and African Americans were granted full citizenship rights, but the imposition of segregation in the southern states in the late nineteenth century took away many of those hard-earned concessions. In the early twentieth century, African Americans struggled to combat the material and psychological effects of statutory and habitual racial discrimination.

This module explores the ways in which African Americans fashioned vibrant forms of popular culture and pioneered various tactics of political and economic resistance. These efforts provided the foundations for a civil rights movement that gathered momentum in the era of World War Two and reached its zenith in the 1960s. The course will consider the cultural and political dynamics of that movement and the transition to Black Power. It finally addresses the contemporary black experience, allowing some reflection on the long history of African Americans in North America.


  • To encourage students to understand, appreciate, and engage critically with concepts and issues in the history and culture of African Americans;

  • To allow students to read and respond to a variety of texts, including primary and secondary sources drawn from a variety of genres and historical contexts;

  • To develop students' research skills and their ability to work individually, researching chosen topics for essay and examination assessment;

  • To promote excellence in written expression, deploy critical and analytic modes of thought, and to make use of evidence to form a lucid and coherent argument appropriate to the second-year level of student assessment.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students will have demonstrated:

  • A knowledge of the experiences of African-Americans from the beginnings of plantation slavery up to the contemporary era;

  • A degree of familiarity with the interdisciplinary nature of American Studies;

  • Proficiency in locating, studying, and analysing sources of information;

  • An ability to construct and sustain written arguments to a level appropriate to second-year students.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Students taking this unit will be able to analyse and evaluate arguments and texts. Above all, committed students will emerge from this course unit with an advanced capacity to think critically, i.e. knowledgeably, rigorously, confidently and independently.
Group/team working
Students taking this unit will be able to work courteously and constructively as part of a larger group.
On this unit students are encouraged to respond imaginatively and independently to the questions and ideas raised by texts and other media.
Students on this unit must take responsibility for their learning and are encouraged not only to participate in group discussions but to do so actively and even to lead those discussions.
Project management
Students taking this unit will be able to work towards deadlines and to manage their time effectively.
Oral communication
Students taking this unit will be able to show fluency, clarity and persuasiveness in spoken communication.
Students on this unit will be required to digest, summarise and present large amounts of information. They are encouraged to enrich their responses and arguments with a wide range of further reading.
Written communication
Students on this unit will develop their ability to write in a way that is lucid, precise and compelling.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 50%
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%

Creative Assignment

Feedback methods

Written feedback on essays; additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment)

Recommended reading

Summer reading

Scott and Shade, Upon These Shores: Themes in the African American Experience
Wright, Black Boy: American Hunger
Hine, Hine and Harrold, African Americans: A Concise History
Finkenbine, Sources of the African American Past: Primary Sources in American History
Kolchin, American Slavery, 1619-1877
Hahn, A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration
Litwack, Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow
Grossman, Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration
Lemann, The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America
Sitkoff, A New Deal for Blacks
Cook, Sweet Land of Liberty: The African-American Struggle for Civil Rights in the Twentieth Century

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Natalie Zacek Unit coordinator

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