Teaching Hard History Key Concept Videos

In these videos, scholars and historians explore the Key Concepts of the Teaching Hard History framework by discussing slavery’s impact on the lives of enslaved people in what is now the United States and the nation’s development around the institution. They also explain how enslaved people influenced the nation, its culture and its history.


Key Concept 1

Slavery, which Europeans practiced before they invaded the Americas, was important to all colonial powers and existed in all North American colonies.

Historian Ibram X. Kendi uses the case of Elizabeth Key to trace how Virginians changed British law to protect the growing institution of slavery in the 17th century. 

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Key Concept 2

Slavery and the slave trade were central to the development and growth of the colonial economies and what is now the United States.

Historian Adam Rothman traces how the labor of enslaved people in an area just outside New Orleans rippled across the globe to create wealth for the growing nation. 

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Key Concept 3

Protections for slavery were embedded in the founding documents; enslavers dominated the federal government, Supreme Court and Senate from 1787 through 1860.

Scholar Annette Gordon-Reed explores how the Constitution, written when slavery was seen as a “dying institution,” actually protected the institution and allowed enslavers to aggressively defend its expansion. 

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Key Concept 4

“Slavery was an institution of power,” designed to create profit for the enslavers and break the will of the enslaved and was a relentless quest for profit abetted by racism.

Historian Daina Ramey Berry describes the sale of an infant named Rachel to explore how enslaved people were commodified. 

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Key Concept 5

Enslaved people resisted the efforts of their enslavers to reduce them to commodities in both revolutionary and everyday ways.

Historian Tera Hunter discusses Henry “Box” Brown’s escape from slavery and his work as an abolitionist. 

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Key Concept 6

The experience of slavery varied depending on time, location, crop, labor performed, size of slaveholding and gender.

Historian Edward L. Ayers describes how the age and gender of enslaved people, along with the labor needs in different parts of the country, affected the domestic slave trade. 

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Key Concept 7

Slavery was the central cause of the Civil War.

Scholar Christy Coleman discusses the importance of slavery to the economies of Southern and Northern states, its central role in leading to the Civil War and ensuing myths about that role.

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Key Concept 8

Slavery shaped the fundamental beliefs of Americans about race and whiteness, and white supremacy was both a product and legacy of slavery.

Historian Martha Jones traces the development of racist ideas about people of African descent from the colonial period through the early 19th century. 

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Key Concept 9

Enslaved and freed people worked to maintain cultural traditions while building new ones that sustain communities and impact the larger world. 

Historian Ibram X. Kendi discusses how the foodways and music of enslaved Africans helped shape American culture as we know it today. 

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Key Concept 10

By knowing how to read and interpret the sources that tell the story of American slavery, we gain insight into some of what enslaving and enslaved Americans aspired to, created, thought and desired. 

Scholar Annette Gordon-Reed discusses the challenges of using texts created by enslavers to understand the lives of enslaved people. 

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