Introductory Seminar in U.S. History

American Slavery and the Law

This seminar will explore the legal history of American slavery between 1619 and 1877.  Students will delve into the legalities of slavery in the United States, from examining colonial slave statutes and eighteenth-century gradual emancipation laws to considering the legal ramifications of federal fugitive slave acts and the Reconstruction Amendments.  During the semester, we will discuss topics that include: the meaning of freedom in a slave society, the legal logistics of gradual emancipation, enslaved peoples’ property ownership, and the legal relationship between slaves, slaveholders, non-slaveholders, and free people of color.


In addition to learning about law and slavery in America, this course will introduce students to historical research, analysis, and writing.  Each week, students will read primary accounts of historical events and scholarly analyses of those events.  Students will learn how to think and write critically about the subject matter using a variety of sources, from slave narratives to court transcripts.  Students will interpret primary sources, craft motivating research questions, and frame compelling arguments.  In addition, students will conduct research and wade into secondary literatures with the goal of writing a final research essay due at the end of the semester.

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904


(434) 924-7147
(434) 924-7891
M-F 8am to 4:30pm
Department Contacts