2021 Annual Conference


Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition
The MacMillan Center at Yale University
23rd Annual Conference
Yale and Slavery in Historical Perspective
Oct. 28-30, 2021 | Yale University, New Haven, CT

The conference will be conducted remotely. REGISTER HERE: https://tinyurl.com/38nfsj4m

Commissioned by President Peter Salovey, a working group of historians, librarians, student researchers, and community members is conducting a thorough research study of Yale University’s historical relationships with slavery, racism, and their aftermaths. On October 28-30, 2021 the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at the MacMillan Center at Yale will host a conference on “Yale and Slavery in Historical Perspective,” presenting the research findings in process. Topics will include the university’s 18th century theological roots, the economics of slavery-created wealth, the place of Southern slaveholders at Yale, medical and scientific legacies of race at Yale, forces of abolition at the university, the labor history of the building of the institution over three centuries, and Yale’s extraordinary reconciliationist Civil War memorial, dedicated in 1915. The conference will engage the Yale and New Haven communities as well as the national context of reckoning with the past.

Email comments & questions regarding this conference  to gilder.lehrman.center@yale.edu


THURSDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2021


4:15pm Welcome: Peter Salovey (President, Yale University)
4:30—6:00pm KEYNOTE: Universities, Slavery, and Memory

  • David W. Blight* (Chair of the Yale and Slavery Working Group; Sterling Professor of History; and Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at the MacMillan Center at Yale) in conversation with
  • Elizabeth Alexander (President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) and
  • Jonathan Holloway (President of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey)

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2021


8:45am–9:00am Welcome and Introduction

  • Peter Salovey (President, Yale University)
  • David W. Blight* (Director, Gilder Lehrman Center; Sterling Professor of American History, Yale University)

9:00am—10:30am Slavery & the University
Leaders of slavery studies at their respective universities will explore comparative experiences associated with projects designed to probe the depths of their institution’s histories, memorializations, and interpretations. Panelists are invited to share insights from which Yale and other institutions might learn.

  • Moderator: David Blight*
  • Daina Berry (Oliver H. Radkey Regents Professorship in History, University of Texas at Austin)
  • Dorothy Roberts (George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights, University of Pennsylvania)
  • Kirt von Daake (Assistant Dean and Professor of History, University of Virginia)
  • Deborah Gray White (Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History, Rutgers)

10:30am—10:45am BREAK

10:45am—12:15pm Slavery and the Economic Landscape of Colonial and 19th Century Connecticut
Yale University emerged in the midst of the colonial eighteenth century British Empire, based in a British colony that was founded through the conquest of Native American lands. The colonies of New Haven, Connecticut, and New England at large were immersed in the realities of slavery, both through settler colonial conflict with Indian cultures and livelihoods and through robust trade with the slave-based economies of the West Indies. This session will explore the economics and legacies of these encounters.

  • Moderator: Edward Rugemer* (Associate Professor of African American Studies & History, Yale)
  • Christine M. DeLucia (Associate Professor of History, Williams College)
  • Anne Farrow (Journalist, editor, researcher, and public history consultant, author of The Logbooks: Connecticut’s Slave Ships and Human Memory and co-author of Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged and Profited from Slavery)
  • Marcus Rediker (Distinguished Professor of History, University of Pittsburgh), presenting a summary of the work of the late Eric B. Kimball (formerly Assoc. Professor of History, University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg)

12:15pm—1:30pm LUNCH BREAK
Break-out session: Discussion of “New light on the group portrait of Elihu Yale, his family, and an enslaved child” with Courtney J. Martin (Director, Yale Center for British Art) and Edward Town* (Head of Collections Information and Access, Yale Center for British Art)

1:30pm—3:00pm Slavery, Religion, and Yale
During its first century and more, Yale’s identity and purpose were deeply tied to its religious mission and the training of Christian ministers. The enslavement of African and Native American people was interwoven into this mission, as was the beginnings of antislavery debates. This session will explore a foundational element of Yale’s history and early leadership.

  • Moderator: Willie Jennings* (Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Africana Studies, Yale Divinity School)
  • Catherine Brekus (Charles Warren Professor of the History of Religion in America, Harvard Divinity School)
  • Ken Minkema* (Executive Editor, Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale Divinity School): “Religion and Attitudes on the Slave Trade in Early New England”
  • Frank Mitchell (Curatorial Adviser, The Toni H. & Wendell C. Harp Historical Museum at The Dixwell Community House)
  • Charles Warner, Jr.* (Chairman, Connecticut Freedom Trail; History Committee Chair, Dixwell Congregational UCC)

3:00pm—3:15pm BREAK

3:15pm—4:45pm Finding Slavery in the Archives
This session will reveal and analyze numerous findings emerging from the Yale & Slavery Working Group’s extensive archival work, led by our research team leaders, one on each of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. Panelists will focus on particular episodes, leaders, and themes of Yale’s involvements with slavery, its abolition, and its commemoration. The presentation will be framed by a discussion of contemporary archival practices and the challenges and possibilities of working through archival absences and biases.

  • Moderator: Crystal Feimster* (Associate Professor of African American Studies; History; and American Studies, Yale University)
  • Teanu Reid* (PhD Candidate, African American Studies and History, Yale)- 18th century findings
  • Bennet Parten* (PhD Candidate, History, Yale)- 19th century findings
  • Steven Rome* (YC ’20)- 20th century findings
  • Michael Lotstein* (University Archivist, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University)

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2021


9:00am–10:30am Race, Art, and Iconography at Yale and Beyond
With experts from Yale and other universities, this session will examine artistic representations on campuses of people, places, and events associated with slavery and racial ideologies. Panelists will consider the place of iconography and memorialization over time as institutions have made aesthetic and moral choices in how to represent their pasts.

  • Moderator: John Stuart Gordon* (Benjamin Attmore Hewitt Curator of American Decorative Arts, Yale University Art Gallery)
  • Cheryl Finley (Director, AUC Art History + Curatorial Studies Collective; Distinguished Visiting Professor, Department of Art & Visual Culture, Spelman College)
  • Louis P. Nelson (Professor of Architectural History and the Vice Provost for Academic Outreach at UVA)
  • Romita Ray (Associate Professor of Art History, Syracuse University)
  • Barbara Earl Thomas (Artist, Writer, Thinker- Seattle, Washington)

10:30am–10:45am BREAK

10:45am–12:15pm History of Medicine and Sciences at Yale
As early as Yale established the study of medicine and natural science, it left a record of the institutionalization of ideas about race. This panel examines the production of scientific knowledge and curricula as key elements in the construction of ideologies of racial differences and the social hierarchies that accompany them. This session will explore that history for the nineteenth century and through the university’s pivotal role in the eugenics movement of the early twentieth century.

  • Moderator: Deborah Coen* (Professor of History, Chair of the History of Science & Medicine Program, Yale University)
  • Student researcher presentations*
  • Paola Bertucci* (Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, History of Science and Medicine Program, Curator of the History of Science and Technology Division, Peabody Museum): Sheffield Scientific School
  •  Carolyn Roberts* (Assistant Professor, History of Science & History of Medicine; African American Studies, Yale University)

12:15pm—2:00pm LUNCH BREAK

2:00pm–3:30pm Concluding Roundtable: Race, Slavery, and Yale’s Construction of its Memory
This panel of experts and writers with wide-ranging interests in the legacies of slavery will address the broad subject of how universities or other institutions face their past or present engagements with racial ideologies and racist practices. A particular focus will be how Yale has forged its own historical memory over time in regard to these topics. Presenters are invited to share ideas for how Yale and other universities can move forward.

  • Moderator: David Blight*
  • James Forman, Jr.* (J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law, Yale Law School)
  • Adrienne Joy Burns* (Physician Assistant, Smilow Cancer Center, Yale; The Amistad Committee)
  • Willie Jennings* (Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Africana Studies, Yale Divinity School)
  • Michael Morand* (Communications Director, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale)
  • Kymberly Pinder (Stavros Niarchos Foundation Dean of the Yale School of Art)
  • Craig Wilder (Barton L. Weller Professor of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

    * Denotes member of the Yale & Slavery Working Group