The Law in Slavery and Freedom: From the Historical to the Contemporary
This seminar offers an opportunity to carry out both legal analysis and historical research on a set of issues that have been central to the history of the Americas. We will explore the ways in which slavery, long defined as the ownership of property in human beings, interacted with the structures and practices of law, both in the United States and in Latin America. We will examine how law addressed the category of "slave" and codified the power of slave owners, and how those held as slaves interacted with legal institutions and practices, both civil and criminal.
In a final unit, we will look at cases of contemporary slavery and human trafficking, and at legal strategies that have been employed to combat such practices, including the use of domestic criminal law, new statutes aimed at human trafficking, international law, and longstanding labor law.
Course readings include works by legal scholars and historians, as well as files from Supreme Court cases and everyday legal challenges. We will pay particular attention to the cases of The Antelope; Prigg v. Pennsylvania; and The U. S. v. The Libellants and Claimants of the Schooner Amistad. We will also examine a state criminal case (Celia, A Slave) and court records from freedom suits, including one from Cuba, one from Louisiana, and one from the period of British rule of the Gold Coast (in what is now Ghana). We will examine voting in the face of terrorist violence during the period of Reconstruction (including U. S. v. Cruikshank).
Students will work together on panels for the presentation of specific cases. Each student will submit a short paper, a research prospectus, and a longer primary source document analysis.