February 22, 2010

American Universities Confront their Past: Slavery and Racial, Ethnic, Religious, and Gender Discrimination

Author and historian James Campbell will deliver annual Jones Visiting Lecture on Tuesday, March 23

An expert on the history of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade will discuss the entanglements of American universities with slavery and the historical exclusion of students due to ethnic, gender, racial, and religious discrimination.

James T. Campbell, the Edgar E. Robinson Professor of United States History at Stanford University, will deliver Lafayette’s annual Thomas Roy and Lura Forrest Jones Visiting Lecture at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 23, in the auditorium of Kirby Hall of Civil Rights. His talk is open to the public free of charge. Following his lecture, there will be a book signing and public reception in the lobby of Kirby Hall. Copies of his books will be available for sale.

Campbell was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in history for his book Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005, published in 2006 by The Penguin Press. He chaired the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice at Brown University, which was established to investigate the university’s historical relationship to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

In his talk, “Race and the Politics of Memory: American Universities Confront their Pasts,” Campbell will discuss the growing number of American universities that have endeavored to face the less savory aspects of their past. He says, “Few institutions commemorate their histories as conspicuously as universities. Yet American universities have also proved adept at forgetting, overlooking their historical entanglements with such institutions as slavery and Jim Crow, as well as long histories of racial, religious, gender and ethnic exclusion.” He will delve into whether recent official apologies and memorials are a sign of institutional health and maturity or just further evidence of American universities’ drift toward “political correctness.”

An expert on African American history, Campbell will visit two classes during the day and lead an afternoon roundtable discussion with students on historical reconciliation. The discussion will be based on Campbell’s essay “Settling Accounts? An Americanist Perspective on Historical Reconciliation,” which appeared as part of a series in the October 2009 American Historical Review.

His books also include Songs of Zion: The African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and South Africa (Oxford University Press, 1995), and the co-edited volume Race, Nation and Empire in American History (University of North Carolina Press, 2007).

His awards include the Organization of American Historians’ Frederick Jackson Turner Prize, Carl Sandburg Literary Award for Nonfiction, Lois P. Rudnick Prize of the New England American Studies Association, and Mark Lynton History Prize.

Campbell holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. from Stanford and a B.A. from Yale University. Before joining the faculty at Stanford, he taught at Northwestern University, the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and Brown.

The Jones Visiting Lecture is a major event on Lafayette’s calendar. The lectureship was established by Trustee Emeritus Thomas Roy Jones in 1973 to provide students with the opportunity to hear presentations each year by individuals of exemplary accomplishment in the academic world or in public life.

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