SMNR: Race, Law and U.S. Society

Class Unique: 29270
This seminar examines the intersection of racial ideology and legal culture in the United States. We will take a broad historical approach that spans the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but we will also survey a range of contemporary sites where racial discourses permeate American law and conceptions of the rights and responsibilities of citizens. By considering the long trajectories of race, law, and social transformation, we will begin to see how racial reasoning has informed many aspects of U.S. legal culture-including the development of property law, family law, immigration law, and civil rights law. From week to week, our readings will examine a cluster of concerns emanating from a particular set of court cases and/or legislative action. Some of our salient transits will be: the Cherokee cases; Dred Scott v. Sandford; Plessy v. Ferguson; Korematsu v. United States; Brown v. Board of Education; Loving v. Virginia; and Regents of University of California v. Bakke-among others. By considering recent interdisciplinary legal scholarship, we will put these cases in conversation with literature, film, social scientific writings, music, and other pertinent material. The goals of this course include 1. exploring the social construction of race at various moments in American history from antebellum slavery to late 20th century multiculturalism; 2. understanding the intersection of race, gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality, and other markers of identity; 3. examining the interpenetration of law and popular cultural forms; and 4. determining how race has informed American conceptions of a wide variety of issues, such as privacy, property, citizenship, national security, and sovereignty. Grades will be based on a major research paper, short presentation of the paper, leading discussions focused on the readings, and class participation. There is no standard seminar textbook; a selection of several books and articles will be assigned (the latter will be available as a course packet). Enrollment is limited to 7 students.

Class Details

Meeting Days Time Location
Tuesday 9:00 am - 12:00 pm TNH 3.114
Evaluation Method Date Time Alpha Range Room

Additional Information

Course Type


Thompson, Shirley E Thompson, Shirley E