This course treats persecution in America as a site of public history and ethics. Focusing on three historical cases—the Salem Witch trials, the Underground Railroad, and Cold War-era McCarthyism—we will explore how hunts for witches, runaway slaves, and communists (along with their fellow travelers) have shaped American political culture. Literary, historical, theoretical, and cinematographic sources will figure prominently, along with field trips to Salem, Danvers, and various other points around Boston. Using René Girard’s work on violence and persecution to help connect the dots across the centuries, we will try our hands at crafting public history, meditate on efforts to engage “everyday ethics,” and write short pieces on ethical issues for popular audiences. In the final weeks of the course, we will consider how today’s anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sensibilities relate to longstanding impulses to identify and root out alien elements in the body politic.
Faculty: K. Healen Gaston
School: Harvard Divinity School
Semester: Full Spring Term
Time: 12:00PM – 2:00PM Thursday