The deep recesses of the Seymour Library play home to many Knox students busying themselves with research projects. Senior Christopher Guthrie is one of these students, and is currently working on his honors project “Dialogue and Race: Public Debate over the Institution of U.S. Slavery, 1830-1860.”
“I’ve always been interested in the formation of racial ideologies and how they are used,” said Guthrie, a History/Black Studies double major.
“I wanted [to major in] history since high school. Around junior or senior year I started getting into history of race, especially the black power movement. Freshman year at Knox I took classes in both history and black studies. It was something I felt really clicked and fit,” said Guthrie.
Guthrie’s interest in pursuing an honors project goes almost as far back as his interest in history.
“I remember as a prospective student going on the library tour. The tour guide showed us the skylight room, and I thought, ‘I’ll have one of those student offices someday,’” he said.
Guthrie chose to follow the three basic perspectives on slavery within mainstream political thought: the abolitionists, the advocates of slavery, and the free-soil idea that black slavery was competition for white workers. To accurately embody these perspectives and the influences on them, Guthrie looked to publications of the era. These included essays in newspapers, books, and published Senate speeches. By looking through these resources, Guthrie hoped to find “writers and intellectuals who represented the larger thought.”
“I wanted to look at things that had public influence on race, not just microcosms,” said Guthrie.
Guthrie intends to focus on how the three main perspectives of the era chose to use race.
“Abolitionists believed that slavery was morally wrong, but some people within the group still had very racist ideas,” said Guthrie.
Guthrie also heavily researched as secondary sources the discourse of historians who had already examined the subject, as much of what he is researching is open to opinion.
“They’re all very inspiring,” said Guthrie of the historians whose works he has studied, “even the ones I disagree with.”