New class takes a unique approach to studying the history of slavery

There is a new general education class at Fresno State that offers a different approach to a well-known issue.

The class, Slavery and the American Experience, is the work of Yaw Oheneba-Sakyi, Ph.D., a professor at Fresno State and former coordinator of the Africana and American Indian Studies program. The course is loosely inspired by a PBS documentary with a similar title.

Oheneba-Sakyi established the class, he said, because there was a need for curriculum specific to the topic of slavery.

“This course was much more relevant,” said Oheneba-Sakyi, comparing the new class with previous courses that only briefly examined the subject.

The current coordinator of the program, Malik Simba, Ph.D., said there is a difference when switching perspectives of history.

Typical history, or top-down history, is taught from the institutional level, Simba said. Bottom-up history focuses on the individual.

Bottom-up history is much harder to teach because little is known about the lifestyles and customs of slaves in America more than 100 years ago.

“Slavery is talked about, but not the slave,” Simba said.

Simba said that since the 1950s and 1960s, there has been an overwhelming rise in research about slavery and the lives of the oppressed to make, up for the absence of centuries past.

Slavery and the American Experience, AAIS 15, is now one of the lower-division requirements of the major. It is also a general education breadth course in the social science category.

This semester, the course is being taught by Deanna Reese, Ph.D., who worked with Oheneba-Sakyi in deciding the details of the class.

Students in the class will conduct a research project on a topic related to slavery. The material learned will cover facts and references from the pre-United States period all the way to the civil rights movement.

“In order to really do justice to the course, you have to relate it to today,” Oheneba-Sakyi said.

Slavery has predominated in many countries and still exists today, but this class focuses on the specific effects slavery has had in the United States.

Simba said education about slavery influences perceptions in modern times.

“People have always been fascinated with slavery as it relates to the American experience because of what they see today,” Simba said.

Oheneba-Sakyi is expecting that the course will continue as a critical component to the AAIS program in years to come. He is confident that it will supply students with “knowledge that they don’t get in high school.” Furthermore, he hopes that it will contribute to a sense of history that can help people relate to current situations and improve them for the good.

“It is important that we correct the past so we can hope for a better future,” Oheneba-Sakyi said.

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