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Institutional History at the University of Richmond

Building on the work of students, faculty, and staff to better understand UR's institutional history, and at the Presidential Commission on University of History and Identity's recommendation, the Provost's Office is supporting a pilot faculty cohort on institutional history.

During the fall 2019 semester, seven faculty will meet to discuss UR's past and to workshop ways they will feature institutional history in their spring 2020 courses. These courses will expand our knowledge of UR's history and its legacies, deepen student learning, and contribute to the goals of belonging and capability in the Making Excellence Inclusive report.

FYS 100: Capitalism and Its Discontents

Professor: Eric Yellin

This course will consider how philosophers, novelists, social reformers, economists, and ordinary people have understood, promoted, opposed, and sought to reform capitalism since the eighteenth century. Focused on the history of the United States, the course will encourage students to think about the social and political implications of capitalist and anti-capitalist ideologies.

Readings will analyze inequality, work, gender roles, and class and racial hierarchies in the past and today, and part of the coursework will involve students examining the history of the UR campus’s development and location in the context of these issues. Authors include Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Franklin Roosevelt, Milton Friedman, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Thomas Piketty.

DANC 319/AMST 381/WGSS: Collaborative Arts Lab: Dance, Humanities, and Technology

Professors: Alicia Diaz and Patricia Herrera

This co-taught course explores how to use dance and the arts as a vehicle for, what historical strategist Free Egunfemi calls, Commemorative Justice. Using the University of Richmond as a site of inquiry, we will reckon with the history of our own campus from a plantation before the Civil War to a black-owned land and home of a mutual aid society.

Gravesites are constant reminders of people’s living stories. When we deny the existence of a cemetery, we deny the existence of people. We will thus pay particular attention to three burial grounds—the burial ground for enslaved people located behind the administrative offices of UR, the Sons and Daughters of Ham Cemetery on the outskirts of campus and the East End Cemetery in the City of Richmond. We will work on two site-specific commemorative projects that will engage with the history of these burial grounds and honor the lives of black people who are buried beneath the land we walk on. It is in the process of embodying this history that we can collectively grapple with a racial past that still haunts us today.

HIST 199: Slavery and Freedom in Early America

Professor: Samantha Seeley

This course will explore the history of slavery and freedom in Early America, from the beginnings of the Atlantic slave trade to the eve of the Civil War. We will examine the varied kinds of evidence that historians have used to tell this history—from ships logs and plantation records to slave narratives and material culture. Questions about evidence are particularly important in our class because the archive of slavery is filled with silences. Libraries, universities, and historical societies are places of power and privilege. Many of them long neglected the story of slavery. To that end, we will spend part of this course exploring the University of Richmond’s relationship to slavery and enslaved people. Throughout the course, we will pair primary and secondary sources to ask how historians locate, interpret, and write about slavery’s archive.  

LAIS 497/THTR 312/AMST 391 & WGSS: Gender, Race, and Performance Across the Americas

Professors: Patricia Herrera & Mariela Méndez

The body serves as a site of negotiation, discipline, and a means of expression and meaning. This co-taught class examines how bodies throughout the Americas articulate race, class, sexuality, ethnicity, and gender. Drawing from critical race studies, feminist and queer theory, and performance studies, we will unpack how race, gender, and sexuality are constructed and maintained through performance—both on-stage and off.  We will pay special attention to the politics of the body locally and globally.

From commemorative performances to interventionist performances, we will wrestle with issues that invite us to think in new ways about gender, race, and the construction of identities across the Americas. This course is designed for students who have some communicative ability in Spanish. Our readings and discussions will be conducted in English, Spanish, and Spanglish. A cohort of 8-10 students from the class will travel to Cuba to the biennial Havana Theater Festival, Mayo Teatral, with the support of the EnCompass program. Enrollment in the course pending conversation with professors. If you are interested in the class or have any questions, contact Professor Patricia Herrera at pherrera@richmond and Professor Mariela Méndez at

RHCS 412: Streets, Spaces, and Structures

Professor: Nicole Maurantonio

In recent years, college campuses across the United States have been compelled to confront the question, “What’s in a name?” As the Chronicle of Higher Education summarized, “And what is a university’s responsibility when the name on a statue, building, or program on campus is a painful reminder of hard to a specific racial group?” Joining a national conversation surrounding the meaning of the names of streets, spaces, and structures, the University of Richmond considers a response to calls to rename Ryland and Freeman Halls on campus.

 Over the course of the semester, students will engage the debates surrounding building renamings by focusing on a particular case study on the University of Richmond campus: Freeman Hall. Named after Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Robert E. Lee, Douglas Southall Freeman was a journalist and editor of the Richmond News Leader. A man known to have saluted the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue each day as he passed en route to his office, Freeman is a mythical figure whose name not only commemorates a dorm on UR’s campus but local schools across the region.  

Engaging with a range of primary source documents and contributing to the growing inquiry into Freeman’s life, students will analyze Freeman’s editorials as well as writings about Freeman to better understand and contextualize a man who was both actively constructing his own myth as well as being defined by popular media. In this way, the course aims to explore the many Douglas Southall Freemans in public circulation, reading them within the context of the Lost Cause in popular and public culture.

LDST 101: Leadership and the Humanities

Professor: Lauranett L. Lee

This introductory course in leadership studies will engage students in the process of historical inquiry through the lens of university history. Students will learn to collaborate, communicate and cooperate by working in small groups as they build consensus. Throughout the semester they will research, write, debate and present their findings about the university’s history as well as their own process of discovery. Simultaneously, students will be introduced to the founders, concepts and theories in the field of leadership studies.

Inclusive Excellence

At the University of Richmond, we believe diversity, equity, and inclusion are inextricably linked to educational quality for our students. The health and vibrancy of our intellectual community depends on the rigorous and respectful exchange of different perspectives. In order to fulfill our mission to educate students for lives of purpose, thoughtful inquiry, and responsible leadership in a diverse world, we must work together to make Richmond a welcoming place for people from all backgrounds, identities, viewpoints, and experiences.

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