Violence in the American South, 1865-1955

Dr. Bruce E. Baker (Royal Holloway, University of London)


This MA option considers the history of interpersonal violence, particularly collective violence and political violence, in the American South from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the civil rights movement.

The first section of the course puts the experience of the American South in comparative perspective by surveying the conditions of the antebellum period that set the stage for the violence of Reconstruction and also by examining the methodological and historiographical issues involved. It will include a brief overview of the region's history during this period.

The second section of the course covers political violence associated with Reconstruction and the establishment of a social and judicial framework that would tolerate levels of interpersonal violence far exceeding those in the rest of the nation.

The third section of the course traces the rise and fall of racial violence, including individual attacks but especially focusing on collective violence in the form of lynchings, urban riots, and pogroms.

The fourth section of the course expands our conception of violence in the American South to include violent episodes related to labor struggles.

Learning Outcomes

The learning outcomes of this MA option are designed to enable students to understand the central role that violence played in shaping the social and political experience of the American South between the Civil War and the civil rights movement. Students who successfully complete the course should be able to draw on a wide body of secondary literature to discuss violence in the American South in comparison to other regions and to explain the major developments in the historiography of the subject. They should be able to use this general understanding to produce research-based essays that demonstrate a familiarity with appropriate primary sources and an ability to analyze them as well as an understanding of relevant secondary literature.

Teaching Methods

Classes are conducted through a mixture of class discussion with tutor; independent student discussion in small groups with feedback from tutor and classmates; and research-based student presentations, linked to topics and essay questions.

Weekly Assignments

Each class has a basic set of readings, questions, and suggestions for further reading. At the beginning of each class, readings and assignments will be set for the following week, when more detailed advice on suggested primary readings and secondary readings will be given.


This MA Option is assessed by one 5,000 word essay based on class topics and course themes.

Introductory reading

  • W. Fitzhugh Brundage, Under Sentence of Death: Lynching in the South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997)
  • Sheldon Hackney, “Southern Violence,” American Historical Review, 74:3 (1969)
  • Christopher Waldrop, The Many Faces of Judge Lynch: Extralegal Violence and Punishment in America (New York: Palgrave, 2002)
  • Bruce Baker, This Mob will Surely take My Life: Lynching in the Carolina, 1871-1947 (New York: Continuum, 2008)