HIS4225 – Racism: The History of a Powerful Idea

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

The current debates on blackfacing, Liam Neeson, and Black Lives Matter have taught us that racism still matters. For a long time seen as a phenomenon largely unique to Nazism and thus as an aberration of western values, more recently scholars have acknowledged that racial thought and action fundamentally shaped politics, societies, and cultures across the modern world. Taking a comparative perspective, we will look at the social construction of race and ethnicity, with the aim of understanding the intricate ways the notion of race has functioned in various societies and political systems and affected fields as diverse as housing, educational systems, or the workplace.

In the course, students will respond in writing to assigned readings, building their skills at discerning and assessing scholarly interpretations, and will meet to discuss the readings in small working groups. It will emphasize published scholarship and it will give students a sense of the “state of the field” in key areas of research.

General topics for course units will include the following areas: problems of conceptualizing academic works on racism; colonialism and decolonization; the role of science; and multiculturalism and immigration.

Learning outcome

Upon completion of this course, students will have

  • learned how ‘race’ was constructed and reshaped in changing historical contexts
  • acquired knowledge of the racial histories of selected societies across the globe
  • further developed the skills of the historian, including taking a strictly historical perspective
  • further developed their skills in writing argumentative essays


After taking this course, a student will be able to:

  • initiate and participate in discussions of academic texts;
  • read different types of academic texts in a critical and independent manner;
  • comment on and discuss remarks from other students;
  • work with others in small groups;
  • present about one’s own and others’ work to an entire class;
  • give feedback on others’ work.


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

Students enrolled in other Master's Degree Programmes can, on application, be admitted to the course if this is cleared by their own study programme.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.

This course is reserved for students at the master's programme of history and students doing their master's specialization in history at the lecturer education at UiO.


Recommended previous knowledge

A good ability to read and understand English is required for this course.



The seminar will meet 10 times for two hours at each meeting, for a total of twenty classroom hours. It also will include an introductory session and a midway research and writing workshop, where students and teachers will work on developing appropriate research questions, research plans and writing plans for the term essay. The list of readings is set at approx. 650 pages to allow for a discussion of all texts of the curriculum in class. The students will find literature in addition to this, in order to write their papers.

Information of required readings and other preparations will be given in class. Resources and information will be provided via Canvas.


Mandatory activity

The learning outcome of this course depends on active student participation. To this end, students need to attend prepared and participate in class. Different types of activities will require participation throughout the semester. Specific information about mandatory activities will be announced at the first meeting and published on Canvas. Absence of up to two seminars can be approved by agreement with the teacher(s).


This is how you apply for a valid absence from compulsory activities/compulsory attendance if you're sick etc.

The mandatory activities has to be approved as a prerequisite for taking the exam.


Graded work will consist of a “mappe” or portfolio, consisting of

a) an individual essay of max 8 pages (18000-22000 characters without spacing*, bibliography and references excluded), with a theme chosen by the student under supervision;

b) an abstract of max 3 pages of the term essay. This abstract will be previously published in Canvas and discussed during a workshop in a sort of peer-reviewing among students;

c)  a short text of max 1 page elaborated within working groups after an oral presentation at a seminar. 

Detailed information will be given in class and in Canvas.

*Please note the span of the character count. This means that students should not submit assignments that are longer or shorter than this.

Submit assignments in Inspera

You submit your assignment in the digital examination system Inspera. Read about how to submit assignments in Inspera.

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Language of examination

You submit your portfolio in English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Facts about this course






Spring 2021

Spring 2020

This course is offered irregularly


Spring 2021

Spring 2020


Teaching language