College Park's Links To Slavery on Syllabus

Monday, February 18, 2008

Next fall, 30 students at the University of Maryland at College Park will begin a year- long effort to research the history of slavery on the campus.

Prof. Ira Berlin, an award-winning researcher and author on U.S. history and slavery, has designed a two-semester course that will teach students how to do historical research and then send them out to learn what they can.

The course was developed as a way for the university to address its past, Berlin said.

Maryland lawmakers approved a measure last year that expressed "profound regret" for the state's role in the slave trade. Some professors have criticized university administrators for not acting more decisively to investigate the school's history.

"This question is alive in our society and alive on our campus," said Berlin, adding that the issue has been discussed since the school's 150th anniversary in 2006, when a documentary film produced as part of the celebrations discussed Charles Benedict Calvert, the school's founder.

"Like everybody else, we celebrated all the things we wanted to celebrate, and like everybody else, there were things that came up which probably we weren't quite as happy about, such as the fact that our founder was a slaveholder and that the land he donated to create this campus was part of his estate," said Berlin, who will be assisted in teaching the class by a doctoral student.

The university's archivist has collected material on the issue, he said, but much remains unexplored. The students will assemble their findings in a report to President C.D. Mote Jr. and provide recommendations on further steps.

-- Valerie Strauss

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