Historians dominate Yale committee reviewing racist names on campus

Historians in the News
tags: Yale, racism



... Comprising six faculty members, three alumni, and two students, the group’s scholars have expertise in history, law, and political science.

John Witt, the committee chair and a professor of history and of law. said the panel is strengthened by faculty members who have spent their careers studying race. Instead of having to produce a recommendation on a specific building, he said, they can think about the implications of such names in broader terms.

"It’s the promise of scholarly expertise and serious engagement with questions about history and questions about historical memory," he said. "We’ll be in a pretty good position to be able to step back, away from the political controversy of the moment, and identify principles that might be enduring and last for the university."

Mr. Witt said he hoped that the committee would create a model for other colleges.

David W. Blight, a history professor who is a special historical adviser to the committee, said one of the challenges is understanding what principles were used originally to name the buildings.

The group will try to contextualize why and how buildings were first named, especially those with names that don’t have close ties to donor dollars, he said.

"Every monument or name on a building, every memorial is always to some extent about the moment it was designated," Mr. Blight said. "This business of naming is not just wholly political or wholly emotional. It’s actually based on some understanding of a historical process."

Even though it’s important to understand Calhoun College’s history, he said, the building doesn’t have to be named after the 19th-century politician for teaching purposes. What’s important is for students to understand who he was and how he reshaped the country. Calhoun, a Yale alumnus, was a U.S. vice president, senator from South Carolina, and fierce defender of slavery. ...




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