Teaching “How the Word is Passed” Through the Block’s Collection [PDF]

“The history of slavery is the history of the United States. It was not peripheral to our founding; it was central to it. It is not irrelevant to our contemporary society; it created it. This history is in our soil, it is in our policies, and it must, too, be in our memories.”
– Epilogue, How the Word Is Passed

Throughout 2022-23 the One Book One Northwestern shared text will be is How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with The History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith.

In How the Word Is Passed, Clint Smith examines how we understand who we are as a nation through what we choose to remember. Smith focuses specifically on the legacy of slavery, a foundational aspect of our history, by traveling to different historic sites such as the Monticello Plantation, an institution reckoning with Thomas Jefferson’s relationship to slavery, and Galveston Island, where Smith witnesses young students contextualizing the significance of Juneteenth. Smith also relays stories of white supremacy that are closer to home through conversations with his grandparents, who lived through eras of intense segregation and anti-Black violence and accounts about his hometown of New Orleans, where streets and monuments had been named after notorious enslavers.

Throughout his travels, Smith meets people with a range of relationships to the past, including some who actively resist acknowledging the horrors of slavery and others who are working hard to bring it to light.

This selection of artworks from The Block’s collection—including photographs, prints, sculpture, and an installation—adds to the conversation by highlighting artists who use different strategies to reckon with the history of slavery, white supremacy, symbols of nationhood, and social inequity.

We invite members of the Northwestern community and beyond to use these artworks as opportunities to connect to the themes of the text, whether they are used for private contemplation or as a springboard in discussion with others.

We are happy to provide a shareable pdf booklet and downloadable images for teaching and engagement. If you are interested in collaborating with us in your research or teaching, contact Corinne Granof at c-granof@northwestern.edu. Schedule a class visit to discuss these works in person in our study center by contacting essi.ronkko@northwestern.edu

Download the Resource

View Package in Collection Database

This package of selected artworks and accompanying texts is published as a PDF for classroom use and viewable within the Collection Database within the Block Museum’s database.

About One Book, One Northwestern

One Book One Northwestern is a community‐wide reading program hosted by the Office of the President. It aims to engage the campus in a common conversation centered on a carefully chosen, thought-provoking book. It began in 2005 for students in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and has since evolved into a community-­wide program involving students, faculty and staff from all majors and departments.

Everyone is encouraged to read the One Book selection. The Office of the President sends a free copy to incoming first-year and transfer students the summer before they arrive on campus.

Throughout the year, events like lectures, films, and discussion groups provide an opportunity for individuals to gather and talk about the issues presented in the book. Many of these events are open to the public and the entire community is invited to participate.

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