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2022-23 Seminar

"Visions of Slavery: Histories, Memories, and Mobilizations of Unfreedom in the Black Atlantic"

With a $225,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation, this seminar brings together humanities and social science faculty from Emory University and a diverse range of Atlanta-area colleges and universities for a yearlong series of workshops to explore the manifold ways slavery in the Black Atlantic has been archived, interpreted, memorialized, mobilized, and resisted. The Atlantic slave trade birthed the racial world order, setting the logics of racial inequalities, terror, and violence that resonate throughout the Atlantic world. Understanding the histories of slavery and the struggles against it are necessary components to overturning centuries of racial hierarchy and violence that continue to devalue Black lives. We also seek to assess historical and contemporary forms of “unfreedom”—the various modes of forced labor inclusive of, and extending beyond, chattel slavery, such as peonage, indentured and debt servitude, convict leasing and prison labor, child labor, and sexual exploitation. Our focus on slavery and unfreedom arises from our commitments to social and reparative justice movements in the here and now.

The Sawyer Seminar working group includes Mariana Candido (Associate Professor of History), Adriana Chira (Assistant Professor of History), Bayo Holsey (Associate Professor of Anthropology & Director of Emory’s Institute of African Studies), Walter C. Rucker (Professor of African American Studies & History), Dianne Stewart (Professor of Religion & African American Studies), and Meina Yates-Richard (Assistant Professor of African American Studies & English).

With a concentration of 20 faculty working on various aspects of historical and contemporary forms of slavery and unfreedom, Emory is particularly primed to host the “Visions of Slavery” seminar. These faculty hail from a range of Emory College departments and programs including African American Studies (AAS), Anthropology, Comparative Literature, English, History, Latin American & Caribbean Studies, Middle Eastern & South Asian Studies, Philosophy, Religion, and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies (WGSS)—as well as from schools throughout Emory University including the Candler School of Theology, the Law School, and the Rollins School of Public Health. Several outstanding doctoral students associated with the Emory faculty targeted for participation in the proposed seminar further augment the number of conversation partners and interlocutors. During the 2022-23 academic year, members of the working group have committed to offering graduate-level courses related to “Visions of Slavery”—including a team-taught and crosslisted offering entitled “The Black Atlantic” (Anthropology/History)—to incentivize active participation in the Sawyer Seminar. In addition, the working group will hire a postdoctoral fellow and appoint two dissertation fellows to participate in the seminar.

Importantly, the seminar will also include faculty experts from local colleges and universities in and near Atlanta, including Agnes Scott College, Clark-Atlanta University, Georgia State University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, and the University of Georgia. This diverse group of more than a dozen external scholars include faculty in departments of African American Studies, Art History, English, History, and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. These faculty come from a diverse range of institutions, ranging from historically Black colleges and universities, to small, women-centered liberal arts colleges, to large, public research universities.