The Law in Slavery and Freedom: From the Historical to the Contemporary
This seminar offers an opportunity to explore the interplay of historical research and legal analysis around an issue that was central to the constitutional history of the United States. We will analyze the ways in which slavery, long defined in the Americas as the ownership of property in human beings, interacted with the structures and practices of law, both in the United States and in the Caribbean and Latin America. We will examine how law created the category of "slave" and codified the power of slave owners. At the same time, slaves themselves were on occasion able to make use of law to advance their own interests and, in some instances, achieve their freedom.
In a final unit, we will analyze cases of contemporary slavery and human trafficking, and explore several legal strategies that have been employed to combat such practices, including the use of domestic criminal law, international law, new statutes aimed at human trafficking, and (in the case of Brazil) longstanding labor law.
Course readings include monographic 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; The United States v. The Libellants and Claimants of the Schooner Amistad; and Dred Scott v. Sandford, from the United States; and the modern case of Siliadin v. France, from the European Court of Human Rights.
Students will work together on panels for the presentation of specific cases. Each student will submit two short papers, followed by a longer primary source document analysis.
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