The History of American Protest

The History of American Protest

Led by: Prof. John Stauffer (Harvard University)
Course Number: AMHI 691
Semesters: Fall 2019, Summer 2021, Summer 2024



Image: Warren K. Leffler, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963 (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Civil Rights March

Course Description

This interdisciplinary course examines the rich tradition of “protest literature” in the United States from the American Revolution to the present. The primary focus is on three enduring strands of protest: civil rights (beginning with antislavery); women’s rights; and workers’ rights. Using a broad definition of “protest literature,” we pay particular attention to the cultural production and consumption of dissent as a powerful “voice” of both individuals and movements. We examine a wide range of print, visual, and oral forms of dissent, and explore how various expressions of dissent function as political, ideological, rhetorical, aesthetic, and performative texts within specific contexts. “Readings” are mostly primary sources, ranging from pamphlets, speeches, essays, and poetry to photographs, music, sociology, and history. 

Download Draft Syllabus

Lecture Preview

Lecture 1: “What Is American Protest Literature?”

About the Scholar

John Stauffer, Sumner R. and Marshall S. Kates Professor of English and of African and African American Studies, Harvard University

John Stauffer is the author or editor of twenty books and over one hundred articles that focus primarily on antislavery, social protest, or photography. Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln was a national bestseller. The Black Hearts of Men was the co-winner of the Frederick Douglass Book Prize and the Lincoln Prize second-place winner. Picturing Frederick Douglass was a Lincoln Prize finalist. His essays and reviews have appeared in Time, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and in scholarly journals and books. Stauffer has been on national radio and TV, including The Diane Rehm Show, Fresh Air, and Book TV. He has served as a consultant for several films and exhibitions, including Django Unchained, The Free State of Jones, The Abolitionists, and WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY. And he has been a speaker and scholar for the US State Department’s International Information Program. 

The views expressed in the course descriptions and lectures are those of the lead scholars.