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Whiteness: An American History (HI3J9)

In this final year module, students will critically engage with the concept of "whiteness" in the United States from theoretical, social, and cultural perspectives. We will discuss how whiteness has been constructed as a means of opposition, domination and control of "others" (especially African Americans) from the antebellum period to the present. We will chart how the definition of whiteness has changed over time to include or exclude certain groups, and we will delineate the distinctions, tensions, and connections between "white supremacy," "white nationalism," "white privilege," and other structures of white power. In doing so, we will analyse how violence has been used to uphold white supremacy, the intersections between whiteness, class, and gender, and the role of popular culture in constructing white identity and perpetuating white privilege.

The module will draw upon both the lived experience of "white" people and the writings of people of colour in order to enable students to analyse the role of whiteness as both personal identity and socio-political force. Although the module focuses predominantly on the United States, students will be encouraged to draw upon their learning in other modules to bring comparative perspectives to their understandings of whiteness.

Student Reviews
  • "Seminars are great. Lively discussion which always introduces a wealth of new perspectives and ideas."
  • "The discussions in seminars are very thought-provoking, the way the seminars are structured allows us to have interesting debates and discussions about very thought-provoking questions."
  • "The study of whiteness itself has offered me a new form of access, perspective, and understanding of American racial history."
Learning Outcomes
  • Demonstrate a systematic knowledge and understanding of the history of the social construction of whiteness in the United States
  • Critically analyse and evaluate a broad range of primary sources relating to whiteness as both a personal identity and a socio-political force
  • Effectively communicate ideas, and make informed, coherent and persuasive arguments, relating to the history of whiteness in the United States
  • Critically review and consolidate theoretical, methodological, and historiographical ideas relating to whiteness and its role in American history and society
  • Take responsibility to identify, design, and produce a coherent project on whiteness, white supremacy, white nationalism and/or white privilege
  • 1500 word essay (10%)
  • 3000 word applied history assignment (group project) (40%)
  • 3000 word essay (40%)
  • Seminar Contribution (10%)
Smith, In The Crowd
Shawn Michelle Smith, In the Crowd" (2007)
Module Convenor:
Dr Lydia Plath
General Reading
Talis Aspire Reading List

In 2022 HI3J9 runs full year on Tuesdays 2-4, Wednesdays 11-1 or Fridays 11-1.