Harvard University Launches a New Intitiative to Examine its Historical Ties to Slavery

Over the past several years Harvard University has taken several steps to address its historical ties to slavery. (For example, see JBHE posts here and here.) But now Harvard president Larry Bacow has announced a comprehensive new effort to study the issue of Harvard’s ties to slavery.

In a letter to the campus community, President Bacow stated that “it is my hope that the work of this new initiative will help the university gain important insights about our past and the enduring legacy of slavery — while also providing an ongoing platform for our conversations about our present and our future as a university community committed to having our minds opened and improved by learning.”

A 12-person committee of Harvard faculty across a wide range of disciplines will give shape and direction to the effort under the initiative which will be called Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery. Tomiko Brown-Nagin, dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School, and a professor of history, will chair the new initiative.

Professor Brown-Nagin stated that “this committee is a powerhouse. It includes scholars of great integrity who have dedicated their lives to thinking about inequality and its consequences. We selected committee members from a broad range of disciplines and professional backgrounds. It includes leading scholars on slavery, medical anthropology, law, and more. I look forward to benefiting from their expertise and creativity as we work together to produce a set of recommendations for how to move forward; how to commemorate; and how to engage the public, the community, and students. This is deeply important work.”

Dr. Brown-Nagin is a summa cum laude graduate of Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. She earned a juris doctorate at Yale Law School and a Ph.D. in history at Duke University. Her book Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement (Oxford University Press, 2011), won the Bancroft Prize in U.S. History.

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