Slavery’s past confronted at Brown, Harvard

Historians in the News

Ignoring the convention of separating personal stories from academic discourse, President Ruth Simmons shared her connection to slavery as the great-granddaughter of slaves in an emotional keynote address that kicked off this weekend's "Slavery's Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development" conference Thursday in Salomon 101.

The conference — which highlighted the North's connections with slavery and was hosted by Brown and Harvard — drew students, community members and scholars from around the country.

"Ideas that have been flowing back and forth are radical in their potential to re-define history," said Seth Rockman, associate professor of history.

Ronald Bailey, professor emeritus at Northeastern University, addressed Simmons directly when he said at the conference, "I've been waiting for a college president to do this for 30 years, and you stepped forward." Four years ago, the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, convened by Simmons, published findings that linked the University to its own slavery-ridden history. This weekend, she opened up about her own history.

"Slavery is not just about the history of one region but really the history of the nation as a whole," added Sven Beckert, a professor of history at Harvard, who said Simmons inspired him to teach a course titled "Harvard and Slavery."...

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