A historian moves to Princeton and starts digging into the town’s history of slavery

Historians in the News
tags: slavery, Princeton, Martha A Sandweiss



Soon after moving to Princeton eight years ago and becoming a history professor at Princeton University, Martha A. Sandweiss began thinking about a project examining the town’s relationship to slavery. She was aware that other universities were involved in similar endeavors, and thought there might be a relationship worth investigating in Princeton.

What she imagined would be “a one-off class,” Sandweiss says, has mushroomed into a community-wide series of programs and events, a four-day symposium with Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison as keynote speaker (to be introduced by poet and University professor Tracy K. Smith), and a special website scheduled to go live next month.

The Princeton & Slavery Project got underway in late September with the exhibit “Making History Visible: Of American Myths and National Heroes” at Princeton University Art Museum; and a book discussion, “Einstein on Race and Racism,” led by University professor Ruha Benjamin at Princeton Public Library. Additional events including exhibits, discussions, screenings, plays, and author talks are scheduled through the end of the year.

“After that first semester, I began to see that this could be a bigger project,” says Sandweiss. “I reached out to the community, and everybody from all of these organizations was interested in becoming a part of this. They are like my dream team. I want to emphasize that this is such a collaborative project between students and community organizations.”

Since 2013, graduate and undergraduate students at the University have been working on the project under the guidance of University Archivist Dan Linke. The Historical Society of Princeton, the University’s Center for Digital Humanities, McCarter Theatre Center, Not in Our Town, and Princeton Public Schools are on board along with the Princeton Public Library (PPL) and University museum.

With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), PPL is presenting a variety of programs. Among the highlights is an exhibit of actual historical documents from the University’s archives and the Historical Society of Princeton. Included are such disturbing reminders of Princeton’s past as a 1777 receipt for the purchase of a slave. It reads “To be sold…two Negro women, a negro man, and three negro children.” ...




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