Teaching Difficult History: Eric Williams' Capitalism and Slavery and the Challenge of Critical Pedagogy in the Contemporary Classroom

Cameron McCarthy, Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A fear of the past can inhibit the freedoms of the present as pedagogic practices that deny complex, and even contradictory, histories bind learners to normative narratives. The failure to recognize the complexities of difficult historical themes – presenting and representing them as something so much simpler so that they may fit in with dominant ways of being – disempowers both the ‘ordinary’ people who shaped history and those whose lives emerge from those histories: if we do not know where we came from, how can we know who we are? The authors examine this concern here through the teaching of the transatlantic slave trade and, in particular, through Eric Williams' seminal book Capitalism and Slavery (1944). Williams released a petrified history into the present and the authors argue that his engagement with history provides a model of post-colonial pedagogy that is urgently relevant to today's classroom. Moreover, his work is highly pertinent to the teaching of the histories of subjugated and even subversive groups struggling to assert their identities against past and present discourses centering upon race, class and gender.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-84
Number of pages10
JournalPower and Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science


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