Rethinking WashU’s Relation to Enslavement

A First-Year Ampersand Program

Rethinking WashU’s Relation to Enslavement

This full-year course will engage first-year students in original research projects pertaining to the history of Washington University and its many and complex relationships to the institutions of enslavement.  In this discussion-driven class, presentations by the instructors and by the students will be integrated with readings about the history of the University, St. Louis, Missouri, and the United States, along with occasional field trips and fieldwork.  The payoff of this varied engagement with the history of the University in these rich contexts, from day one, will be the launching of individualized archival research projects to produce original scholarship that helps us to re-interpret how the university developed the structures and narratives that continue to shape it, how it fit and fits into the wider St. Louis community, how it has been shaped by the Black experience, and how it has been entangled with the United States's vexed and violent histories of enslavement, colonialism, and race.  Students will gain first-hand experience doing archival research, will learn to interrogate the "slavery archive," with its distortions, erasures, silences, and ethical challenges, and will acquire skills in the textual and digital humanities while they reflect on historical evidence and the possibilities and opportunities for knowing and making sense of the past.

How to Apply

The application process for first-year programs and seminars opens in mid-May. You will need your WUSTL Key to apply, so please be sure to sign up for your WUSTL Key at least 24 hours in advance to activate. There will be a link to the application webform on the First-Year Programs homepage during this time for you to sign up. A statement of interest (no more than 500 words) is required when you submit your application online.

First-Year Program Homepage

The Courses


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Explore Washington University’s entanglement with the institution of ​slavery over its 168-year history.  This full-year course guides students into independent research that engages the distortions, erasures, and silences of the "slavery archive," especially as they pertain to ​Black lives in St. Louis whose stories ​shape ​the University’s long and important tradition. Use textual and digital methods in an endeavor to understand this past, learn how it shapes our present, and consider how it ought to shape our institutional future.