Critical Race Conversations

A Folger Institute Fiftieth Anniversary Project

Supported by the Mellon Initiative in Collaborative Research

Constructions of race have upheld racist structures of inequality for hundreds of years. These constructions were founded upon many types of difference, based on faith, on family, on blood and body, on ways of acting and thinking and being in the world. They were so pervasive that they became operative in lived experiences, medical discourses, founding principles, and legal statutes. Racial injustice has been and continues to be systemic and damaging. Today, premodern critical race studies scholars are offering new insights into the prehistory of modern racialized thinking and racism. They are helping to create anti-racist spaces. And they are furthering an overdue and necessary push towards reinvigorated investigations, innovative teaching agendas, and social and political activism, all with the goal of creating a more just, inclusive academy and society.

Across the 2020–2021 academic year, the Folger Institute will host a series of free online sessions to address an expansive range of topics in the field of early modern critical race studies. The Institute is providing the framework and platform, but, as is our practice, we turn to scholars across disciplines and career stages to lead discussions from their own experience and expertise. We strive to feature scholars who will write fuller histories of this transformative period that is early modernity, who will acknowledge deeper and more complex roots to enduring social challenges, and who will conduct more inclusive investigations of our contested pasts. We have much to learn.

A major premise of this series is that we are our most generative selves in conversation with each other. We want those we invite to be able to speak with their colleagues, to ask each other engaging questions that advance knowledge on the aspects of critical race studies that they choose to discuss, all against a backdrop of powerful readings and other resources that they select to situate their conversations.

This series is only part of a much wider and ongoing conversation. We aim to provide a platform that experts in the field can use to launch further work on critical race studies. We will amplify their voices in support of more equitable research agendas for a more inclusive future.

To follow this conversation on Twitter, use #FolgerCRC 


Past Critical Race Conversations

Race, Philosophy, and Political Thought

June 17, 2021
3-4:15pm EST
Free  |  Folger's YouTube channel 
available now as an archived video, captions coming soon
Associated with the Center for the History of British Political Thought
Moderated by Sharon Achinstein (Johns Hopkins University), who is joined by Charles W. Mills (City University of New York), Jennifer L. Morgan (New York University), and Robert Bernasconi (Pennsylvania State University)
How can thinking with the category of race organize a conversation in the history of political thought? Morgan, Mills, and Bernasconi bring their three different disciplinary perspectives to this question. What key understandings emerge out of recent critical work in race history and philosophy that ask for a significant reconceptualization of the field? How can the archive be brought to recontextualize such a history?  What can the history of political thought help to explain about the formation of racialized hierarchies of power? How can scholars write within and against a disciplinary tradition that has been interested in discourses of will, property, agency, contract, choice, humanity, and freedom yet has been late to reckon with the forms of unfreedom and racialized categories that coexisted with and, some would say, served to underwrite those discourses? This conversation will explore interpretive tools or vocabularies needed to approach histories of racialization in the early modern period.
Dr. Charles W. Mills is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. He works in the general area of social and political philosophy, particularly in oppositional political theory as centered on class, gender, and race. He is the author of over a hundred journal articles, book chapters, comments, and replies, and six books, including his first, The Racial Contract (1997), which won a Myers Outstanding Book Award for the study of bigotry and human rights in America.

Dr. Jennifer L. Morgan is Professor of History in the department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University where she also serves as Chair.  Her research examines the intersections of gender and race in in the Black Atlantic world. Her recently published work, Reckoning with Slavery: Gender, Kinship and Capitalism in the Early Black Atlantic considers colonial numeracy, racism and the rise of the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in the seventeenth-century English Atlantic world. 

Dr. Robert Bernasconi is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Philosophy and African American Studies at Pennsylvania State University. In addition to his work in nineteenth and twentieth century European philosophy he has written essays on Otttobah Cugoano, Frederick Douglas, Antenor Firmin, W. E. B. Du Bois, Alain Locke, and Frantz Fanon. He has extensively challenged the way that the philosophical canon has excluded or marginalized non-Western philosophy, actively exposing the racism of such philosophers as Locke, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Arendt.

Dr. Sharon Achinstein, the Sir William Osler Professor of English at Johns Hopkins University and member of the Folger Institute Center for the History of British Political Thought Steering Committee, explores the intersection of literature and political communication in the early modern period. Her work often places literature in relation to the emerging public sphere and challenges to political and religious authority. Her most recent research faces the history of marriage towards literature, law, politics, and theology, directions she pursued in her forthcoming edition of Milton's writings on divorce.

Premodern Race and Religion

May 27, 2021
3-4:15pm EST
Free  |  Folger's YouTube channel 
available now as an archived video, captions coming soon
M. Lindsay Kaplan (Georgetown University), Mayte Green-Mercado (Rutgers University), and Rachel Schine (Arabic Literature and Culture, University of Colorado Boulder and, as of this fall, Humanities Research Fellow, New York University-Abu Dhabi
Religious identity is easily understood as a source of difference-making, but not readily understood as racialized. In this conversation, scholars speaking across disciplines will discuss how tropes established about certain religious identities travel and were often then applied to other groups in premodern visual and historical representations. Significant shifts in the formation of canon laws, infrastructure, and economic systems also led to legacies of oppression still felt today. Speakers will explore a variety of sources as a means of considering how the premoderns originally constructed whiteness as a religious identity.
Dr. M. Lindsay Kaplan, Professor of English at Georgetown University, teaches courses on Shakespeare and early modern drama, focusing on gender, race and religious difference. Her most recent publications include a monograph, Figuring Racism in Medieval Christianity (2019) and a volume of essays on The Merchant of Venice in the Arden State of Play series (2020). Her current book project, Medieval Merchant of Venice, traces through the play the persistence of residual medieval Catholic ideas as well as emerging Reformation concepts of Jewish identity in early modern England.

Dr. Mayte Green-Mercado, Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University-Newark, specializes in Islamic Studies. She is the director of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Minor and teaches courses on Islamic Civilization, Islamic history in Spain and North Africa, and early modern Mediterranean history. Her courses deal with questions of religion, politics, identity, and race and ethnicity in the medieval and early modern periods. In addition to many articles on Iberian and Mediterranean apocalypticism, she authored Visions of Deliverance. Moriscos and the Politics of Prophecy in the Early Modern Mediterranean (2019). Her current book project is concerned with histories of displacement, migration, and refugees in the early modern Mediterranean.

Dr. Rachel Schine is a Postdoctoral Associate in Arabic Literature and Culture at the University of Colorado, Boulder. This fall she will join NYU Abu Dhabi as a humanities research fellow. Her courses focus on identity and community as expressed through the literature, philosophy, and arts of Arab and Muslim societies. Her research interests include storytelling practices, kinship structures, gender / sexuality, and race / racialization in Arabic writings. She has authored and co-authored multiple articles on reading the 1001 Nights (Alf Layla wa-Layla) as well as Arabic epics in the context of histories of gender, race, and place. Her current book project, Black Knights: Arabic Epic and the Making of Medieval Race, analyses the racialization and representation of Sub-Saharan Africans and their descendants in Arabic popular literature.

This is not who we are?

April 22, 2021
3-4:15pm EST
Free  |  Folger's YouTube channel 
available now as an archived video with captions
Download the transcript
Ian Smith (Lafayette College) and Michael Witmore (Folger Shakespeare Library)
America lives with both a history of racial oppression and incidents of racial violence. When that violence breaks out into public view, we hear the phrase, “This is not who we are.” In this session, participants explore ways in which this widely repeated statement is also a pressing question. Do continuing incidents of racial hostility and violence really contradict what we see in the broader systems that organize contemporary life, in particular those of the academy? How immune to this question are academic professional organizations, conferences, research institutions, and of course, attitudes toward scholarship? A year after our first virtual Shakespeare’s Birthday conversation, Ian Smith returns in conversation, this time with Michael Witmore, to examine how this question highlights the tension between the optimism usually associated with the phrase and the denials that are at the core of our nation’s grappling with race.

Dr. Ian Smith, Professor of English and Richard H., Jr. ’60 and Joan K. Sell Chair in the Humanities at Lafayette College, discovered Shakespeare while studying French classical theater at the University of Paris before completing his Ph.D. at Columbia University. Author of numerous scholarly articles involving Shakespeare’s preoccupation with race, Professor Smith has published Race and Rhetoric in Renaissance England: Barbarian Errors and is currently writing Black Shakespeare, which examines the racial blind spots of modern criticism in relation to Shakespeare’s pervasive interest in blackness and race. In 2016 he was a guest on the Folger’s Shakespeare Unlimited podcast for an enduringly popular episode about Shakespeare, race, and early modern theatrical practices.

Dr. Michael Witmore, seventh Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, was formerly professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and associate professor of English and assistant professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University. He earned a B.A. in English at Vassar and an M.A. and Ph.D. in rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. He has written numerous articles, website resources, and book chapters as well as five books, including:  Shakespearean Metaphysics and Culture of Accidents: Unexpected Knowledge in Early Modern England. His work in progress focuses on a study of early modern wisdom literature and the nature of digital inquiry in the humanities.



Reading, Writing, and Teaching Black Life and Anti-Black Violence in the Early Modern World 

March 18, 2021
3-4:15pm EST
Free |  Folger's YouTube channel  available now as an archived video with captions

Organized by Jessica Marie Johnson (Johns Hopkins University), who is joined by Cécile Fromont (Yale University) 

Black life was central and vital to the early modern world. Anti-Black violence simultaneously and indelibly marked global interactions in this time and place. Drs. Johnson and Fromont will discuss what it means to center the African continent in our study of the “early modern”; they will consider how to grapple with and overcome the invisibility and disavowal of Black life in the early modern archive; they will share how students respond to these topics and what kinds of conversations this study engenders in both undergraduate and graduate classrooms. 

This session is organized by Dr. Jessica Marie Johnson, an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the Johns Hopkins University. Johnson is a historian of Atlantic slavery and the Atlantic African diaspora. She is the author of Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy, and Freedom in the Atlantic World (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020). She is co-editor with Dr. Mark Anthony Neal (Duke University) of Black Code: A Special Issue of the Black Scholar (2017), a collection of work exploring the field of Black Code Studies. As a historian, Johnson researches black diasporic freedom struggles from slavery to emancipation. As a digital humanist, Johnson explores ways digital and social media disseminate and create historical narratives, in particular, comparative histories of slavery and people of African descent.

Dr. Cécile Fromont is an Associate Professor in the History of Art Department at Yale University. Her writing and teaching focuses on the visual, material, and religious culture of Africa and Latin America and on the Portuguese-speaking Atlantic World. Her first book, The Art of Conversion: Christian Visual Culture in the Kingdom of Kongo (University of North Carolina Press 2014) received a number of prizes, including the 2017 Arts Council of the African Studies Association Triennial Arnold Rubin Outstanding Book Award, the 2015 American Academy of Religion Best First Book in the History of Religions, and the 2015 Albert J. Raboteau Prize for the Best Book in Africana Religions. In 2020-2021, she is a fellow at the Paris Institute for Advanced Studies.



Race and the Archive

March 8, 2021
3-4:15pm EST
Free  |  Folger's YouTube channel 
available now as an archived video with captions

Organized by Urvashi Chakravarty (University of Toronto), who is joined by Brandi K. Adams (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) 

This conversation addresses the meaning and implications of the archive for premodern critical race studies. What is the archive, and how do its spaces, artifacts, traces and absences affect the shape and terrain of critical race studies? What kinds of archival approaches does this work enable, reveal or require? This conversation explores the different methodological, conceptual, narrative and material affordances of the archive, interrogating how we see the archive, and how—and whether—it sees us.

Dr. Urvashi Chakravarty is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Toronto and works on early modern English literature, critical race studies, queer studies, and slavery and servitude in early modern England and the Atlantic world. Her first book, Fictions of Consent: Slavery, Servitude, and Free Service in Early Modern England, will be published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, and her second book, currently in progress, is titled Dark Futures: Slavery and the Reproduction of Race in the Early Modern British Atlantic World. Her articles appear or are forthcoming in English Literary RenaissanceShakespeare Quarterly, the Journal of Early Modern Cultural StudiesSpenser Studiespostmedieval, and the edited collections The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and RaceShakespeare/Sex: Contemporary Readings in Gender and Sexuality, and Queering Childhood in Early Modern English Drama and Culture

Dr. Brandi K Adams is an independent scholar and Undergraduate Program Manager at MIT. In August of 2021, she will start a position as an Assistant Professor of English at Arizona State University. She has forthcoming work in Shakespeare on ‘unbookishness’ in Othello and Keith Hamilton Cobb’s American Moor and on the ‘fairness’ in the fair/foul binary of early modern literary texts in Shakespeare/Text edited by  Claire M.L. Bourne. Her research interests include the history of reading, history of the book, history of early modern theatre, premodern critical race theory, and modern editorial practices. She also writes about contemporary theatrical retellings of early modern drama and history.



Race in the American South

February 18, 2021
3-4:15pm EST
​Free  |  Folger's YouTube channel 
 > available now as an archived video with captions

Moderated by Heather Miyano Kopelson (University of Alabama), who is joined by Robbie Ethridge (University of Mississippi), Miles Grier (Queens College, City University of New York) and Elizabeth Ellis (New York University)

Did the American South have a Renaissance? How did “race” signify in it, and with what lasting repercussions? Join scholars of anthropology, literature, and history as they consider the early modern contours of the American South by re-thinking its temporal and geographical boundaries. They will explore the multiple meanings of the American South through the prisms of race, slavery, and indigeneity in the centuries surrounding the arrival of Europeans and Africans in the Americas, especially the specific ways that members of Indigenous, European, and African cultures interacted with each other and fundamentally reshaped their respective world views in light of often painful realities that still resonate today.

Dr. Heather Miyano Kopelson is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Alabama and is also affiliated with the Gender and Race Studies Department. She is the author of Faithful Bodies: Performing Race and Religion in the Puritan Atlantic (2014) and is currently writing a book with the working title, “Speaking Objects: Indigenous Women and the Materials of Dance in the Americas, 1500-1700.”

Dr. Robbie Ethridge is professor of anthropology at the University of Mississippi with expertise in historical anthropology and environmental anthropology, who focuses on the ethnohistory of Native peoples of the Southern United States. Her current research engages with the transformation of the pre-contact Mississippian chiefdoms following the European invasion by working to reconstruct the late Mississippian world and then following each instance of collapse and restructuring across the American South, during the first 150 years of colonization set within a broad regional framework. Another monograph explored the social, environmental, and economic history of the Creek Indians during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Professor Ethridge is a founding editor of the journal Native South and the former North American editor for the journal Ethnohistory.

Dr. Miles Grier is assistant professor of English at Queens College of The City University of New York. He is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Inkface: Othello and the Formation of White Interpretive Community, 1604-1855 that follows Shakespeare’s blackamoor across two-and-a-half centuries of print and stage iterations. One of these is the famous performance an influential Cherokee woman interrupted during a trade summit in Williamsburg, Virginia. Rather than assuming that versions of Othello passively reflected scientific or legal racism, Professor Grier suggests that the play’s business with paper props and transferable black face paint offered white audiences an experience of reading texts or people as an exclusive white capacity.

Dr. Elizabeth “Liz” Ellis is an assistant professor of history at New York University. Prior to joining NYU, Professor Ellis was the Barra Postdoctoral Fellow and a visiting assistant professor at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Liz’s current book project examines the histories of the smaller Native nations of the Lower Mississippi Valley. Her research is broadly focused on the formation of Native nations in the early southeast and the ways that Indigenous peoples shaped and limited the extent of European colonization. Liz also writes about contemporary Indigenous issues and political movements. She is a citizen of the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma.



Shakespeare and Race in Performance

December 10, 2020
3-4:15pm EST
Free  |  Folger's YouTube channel available now as an archived video with captions

Tyler Fauntleroy (Actor, New York City), Rosa Joshi (Seattle University), and Farah Karim-Cooper (Shakespeare's Globe)

Whether as members of audiences or readers of Shakespeare, we all have our various pathways into his works. So do actors, directors, and those with institutional commitments to anti-racist practices in the fields of Shakespeare studies and performance. In this session, Tyler Fauntleroy, Rosa Joshi, and Farah Karim-Cooper discuss the ways theatrical practice, history, and theory inform each other, even as they work with different vocabularies and starting points. From their lived experiences, they ask what we have to learn and unlearn about the effects of elitism and gatekeeping in stagecraft. How can the rehearsal space address unconscious biases that give rise to and may perpetuate color-blindness? Where might we go from here with our engagements with Shakespeare and race in performance?

Tyler Fauntleroy is a New York based actor and singer. Tyler attended Virginia Commonwealth University where he earned a BFA in Theatre with a concentration in Performance. Tyler’s regional theatre credits include 1 Henry IV at Folger Theatre where he played Hotspur, Romeo and Juliet (Westport Country Playhouse), and Next to Normal (Syracuse Stage), among others. He has made appearances in television shows such as SuccessionFBI, and The Oath. Tyler recently originated a lead role in New Federal Theatre’s production of Looking For Leroy, for which he received an Audelco “Viv” Award, an award celebrating excellence in black theatre in New York City. 

Rosa Joshi is a director, producer and educator. Her directing work spans from Shakespeare to modern classics and contemporary plays. Her work has appeared at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Seattle Shakespeare Company, as well as at Folger Theatre, where she directed 2019's 1 Henry IV. In 2006, she co-founded upstart crow collective, a company committed to presenting classical plays with diverse female/non-binary casts.  For upstart crow she has directed major productions of Richard III (in partnership with Seattle Shakespeare Company), Bring Down the House (in association with with Oregon Shakespeare Company), Titus Andronicus, and King John. As Interim Artistic Director of Northwest Asian American Theatre, Joshi produced a range of Asian American performance including: A-Fest, an international performance festival; Traces, a world premiere multi-disciplinary, multi-media, international collaborative work; and the work of Chay Yew, Susie Kozawa, and Eugenie Chan, among others. She also served as a Resident Director and Artistic Director of the Second Company at New City Theater. Joshi is currently the Chair of Performing Arts and Arts Leadership at Seattle University where she teaches directing and theatre history in the Theatre program. She has taught at Hong Kong University, Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, and has directed at Cornish College of the Arts.

Dr. Farah Karim-Cooper is Professor of Shakespeare Studies, King’s College London and Head of Higher Education & Research at Shakespeare’s Globe. She is Vice-President of the Shakespeare Association of America. She is on the Advisory Council for the Warburg Institute and has held Visiting fellowships around the world. She leads the architectural enquiries into early modern theatres at Shakespeare’s Globe, overseeing the research into the design and construction of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the Globe’s indoor Jacobean theatre. She has written two books: Cosmetics in Shakespearean and Renaissance Drama (Edinburgh University Press, 2006, revised ed. 2019) and The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage: Gesture, Touch and the Spectacle of Dismemberment (Arden 2016). Dr. Karim-Cooper is currently writing a book on Shakespeare and race. In 2018 she curated the Globe’s first Shakespeare and Race Festival and is an executive board member for RaceB4Race, a consortium of Scholars and institutions that seek racial justice in the field of pre-modern literary studies. In the UK she is creating the first ever Scholars of Colour network.



We Are What You Eat: Conversations on Food and Race

October 15, 2020
3 - 4:15pm Eastern Time

Free |  Folger's YouTube channel  > available now as an archived video with captions

Associated with Before 'Farm to Table': Early Modern Foodways and Cultures
Gitanjali G. Shahani (San Francisco State University) and Jennifer Park (University of North Carolina at Greensboro)

To map out the histories of everyday foodstuffs—sugar, spice, coffee, tea—is to map out the histories of race and colonialism. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, during England’s formative ventures across the globe, some of the earliest encounters with racial, cultural, and religious difference were registered via these foodstuffs. Long before the average English household encountered ‘an Indian,’ it encountered nutmeg and pepper from the Indies in pies and possets, in homemade contraceptives and ‘morning after’ treatments. Likewise, the English housewife in the seventeenth century had no direct contact with the enslaved people of the Caribbean plantation, but she sprinkled the products of their labor into her preserves and confections. It is in the writing about these foods that we can start to trace the intersections between food and race.

In this “Critical Race Conversation,” Dr. Gitanjali Shahani (she/her/hers) and Dr. Jennifer Park (she/her/hers) explore the ways in which food studies, critical race studies, and early modern studies inform and enrich each other. They look to modern and early modern foodways, in order to examine different forms of what bell hooks has famously called ‘eating the other.’ Interrogating the blurred criteria of what marks matter as edible or inedible, digestible or indigestible, Shahani and Park explore the range of substances, as well as the bodies themselves, that stand in for or comprise a culture’s “racial others,” in order to trouble the racialized assumptions complicit in the dietary commonplace that “you are what you eat."

Dr. Jennifer Park is Assistant Professor of English, specializing in early modern drama, at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her work focuses on the intersections of literature, science and medicine, race, gender, and performance in early modern England. Her most recent publications focus on early modern recipe culture, including an article in Studies in Philology on candying, food preservation processes, and race in Antony and Cleopatra; an article in Performance Matters on gender, glass vessels and alchemical performance; and an essay in the volume Food and Literature, edited by Gitanjali Shahani, on blood drinking as a form of strange eating. She was a 2019 research fellow with the Before 'Farm to Table': Early Modern Foodways and Cultures project at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and she is currently working on a book-length project on early modern recipes, science and medicine, and race in the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

Dr. Gitanjali Shahani is Professor of English at San Francisco State University, where she teaches courses on Shakespeare studies, postcolonial studies, and food studies. She is the author of Tasting Difference: Food, Race, and Cultural Encounters in Early Modern Literature (Cornell University Press, 2020). She has edited two collections, Food and Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2019) and Emissaries in Early Modern Literature & Culture (Routledge 2016, Ashgate 2009, with Brinda Charry). Her articles on race and colonialism in early modern literature have been published in numerous collections and journals, including ShakespeareShakespeare Studies, and The Journal of Early Modern Cultural Studies



The Sound of Whiteness, or Teaching Shakespeare’s “Other ‘Race Plays’” in Five Acts

July 16, 2020
3 – 4:30pm Eastern Time

Free  |  Folger's YouTube channel  > available now as an archived video with captions
Download the transcript

David Sterling Brown and Jennifer L. Stoever (Binghamton University)

Quiet as it’s kept, every humanities professor already teaches profound lessons about race. Whether or not they intend them or are even aware of such lessons, the lessons are nonetheless happening. Thus, a large and important part of dismantling racism involves actively centering Black and Brown voices in the classroom and on syllabi. However, an equally critical element of anti-racist pedagogy involves identifying and challenging white centrality and the ways we work—consciously and unconsciously—to reproduce it in our various modes: syllabi, classrooms, universities, research agendas, critical fields, career pipelines, citation networks, and even publishing protocols.

In this “Critical Race Conversation,” a Black Shakespearean, Dr. David Sterling Brown (he/him/his), and a white African American Studies scholar, Dr. Jennifer Stoever (she/her/hers), offer an important and timely discussion that merges Shakespeare and Early Modern English Studies with Black Studies and Sound Studies to showcase accessible ways of integrating critical race studies into the premodern classroom. Implicitly critiquing the performativity of race, Brown and Stoever will explore anti-racist teaching practice in five Acts.

Dr. David Sterling Brown—a Shakespeare and premodern critical race studies scholar—is Assistant Professor of English at Binghamton University and executive board member of the RaceB4Race conference series. His anti-racist research agenda informs his pedagogy and engages critical race theory, whiteness studies and the psychology of racism. His scholarship is published or forthcoming in Shakespeare StudiesRadical TeacherHamlet: The State of PlayThe SundialWhite People in ShakespeareThe HareEarly Modern Black Diaspora StudiesShakespeare and Digital Pedagogy, and other venues.

In 2016, David was awarded a Folger Shakespeare Library NEH-sponsored Grant ($6,000), Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates. In addition to providing David access to several Folger workshops— such as "Shakespeare in America: America's Shakespeare"— this grant supported the development and teaching of a co-taught digital humanities course, "Diversifying Shakespeare," which also resulted in David and his collaborators contributing to Folgerpedia and organizing a statewide undergraduate conference in Arizona. And in 2019, David was invited to join a select group of high school teachers and Shakspeare scholars to participate in Folger Education's "Teaching Race Everyplace" think tank summit. As part of his efforts to diversify the teaching of Shakespeare, and expand the reach of early modern race studies scholarship and antiracist pedagogy beyond higher education, David engages in ongoing work with the Folger. 

Dr. Jennifer Lynn Stoever—a scholar of African American literature and culture—is Associate Professor of English at Binghamton University and Editor-in-Chief of Sounding Out: The Sound Studies Blog. Her anti-racist research agenda explores the relationship between race and sound; a recent article “‘Doing fifty-five in a fifty-four’: Hip hop, cop voice and the cadence of white supremacy in the United States” (JIVS 3.2) received an Outstanding Article Honorable Mention at the 2019 Association for Theatre in Higher Education Awards. The Sonic Color Line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening (NYU Press, 2016) is her first book.

For this program, we will be collecting questions for our presenters to address in advance. Please send those to by Thursday, July 16, 2020, at 10:00am.

The presenters for “Critical Race Conversations: The Sound of Whiteness, or Teaching Shakespeare’s ‘Other “Race Plays”’ in Five Acts” recommend that those attending the event read the following six short selections in advance:

Hall, Kim F. “Beauty and the Beast of Whiteness: Teaching Race and Gender” in Shakespeare Quarterly 47.4 (Winter, 1996): 461-475.*

Du Bois, W. E. B. “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” and “Of the Dawn of Freedom,”  Chapters I & II of The Souls of Black Folk (Project Gutenberg, 2008)—originally published in 1903.

Sterling Brown, David. “(Early) Modern Literature: Crossing the Color-Line” in Radical Teacher 105 (Summer 2016): 69-77.

Stoever, Jennifer Lynn. “The Sonic Color Line, Black Women, and Police Violence” in Black Perspectives, Journal of the African American Intellectual History Society (July 9, 2018).

Sterling Brown, David. “The ‘Sonic Color Line’: Shakespeare and the Canonization of Sexual Violence Against Black Men” in The Sundial (Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, August 2019).

Stoever, Jennifer Lynn. “Introduction” to The Sonic Color Line (New York: NYU Press, 2016)—access courtesy of NYU Press.

The Folger Institute encourages everyone to engage conscientiously the work of Black and indigenous scholars, and scholars of color, by reading their scholarship, productively incorporating it into syllabi, and using it to frame generative lessons. 

*This article is open and freely available from July 10, 2020, through the end of the month courtesy of Shakespeare Quarterly and Oxford University Press



Cultivating an Anti-Racist Pedagogy

July 9, 2020
3 – 4:15pm Eastern Time
Free |  
Folger's YouTube channel  > available now as an archived video with captions
Download the transcript

Ambereen Dadabhoy (Harvey Mudd College) and Nedda Mehdizadeh (UCLA)

Teaching race and cultivating an anti-racist classroom has taken on a new urgency in our current moment. The ongoing protests against police brutality and for the humanity and dignity of Black lives have mobilized our institutions, departments, and programs to stand in solidarity with our Black faculty, students, staff, and community.

In this “Critical Race Conversation,” Dr. Ambereen Dadabhoy (she/her/hers) and Dr. Nedda Mehdizadeh (she/her/hers) discuss methods of manifesting such solidarity through pedagogical practice and demonstrate successful approaches to engaging in meaningful, ongoing discussions with their students about race. Drawing on their own pedagogical experiences teaching early modern literature and Shakespeare, Dadabhoy and Mehdizadeh will share strategies for creating space for conversations about race that can sometimes be difficult or fraught for students and teachers alike. They will focus on ways to overcome the fear of talking about race, provide ideas for constructing courses that reflect the centrality and importance of race, and present examples of premodern critical race pedagogy.

Dr. Ambereen Dadabhoy is an Assistant Professor of Literature at Harvey Mudd College. Her research focuses on cross-cultural encounters in the early modern Mediterranean and race and religion in early modern English drama. She investigates the various discourses that construct and reinforce human difference and how they are mobilized in the global imperial projects that characterize much of the early modern period. Dadabhoy’s work also seeks to bridge the past to the present to illustrate how early modern racial and religious discourses and their prejudices manifest in our own contemporary moment. Dadabhoy has written several articles on teaching race, including “The Moor of America: Approaching the Crisis of Race and Religion in the Renaissance and the Twenty-First Century,” and the forthcoming articles “The Unbearable Whiteness of Being (in) Shakespeare,” in Postmedieval, and “Skin in the Game: Teaching Race in Early Modern Literature” in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching. Ambereen has been a fellow at the Folger Library (2011; 2016) and a participant in a Folger NEH Summer Institute "Shakespeare from the Globe to the Global," (2011). 

Dr. Nedda Mehdizadeh teaches in Writing Programs at UCLA. Her research and pedagogical interests center on early modern transnational encounter, particularly between Persia’s Safavid natives and their English visitors, as well as Shakespeare, Critical Race Studies, and Critical Diversity Studies. Her composition courses focus on critical diversity and critical race instruction, and she trains graduate student teachers in anti-racist and inclusive classroom design and practice in her graduate seminar, “Diversity and Student-Centered Pedagogy,” for the program’s Certificate in Writing Pedagogy. She likewise designs and facilitates anti-racist and inclusive pedagogy workshops for UCLA Writing Programs’ faculty and graduate students, more broadly. She has won fellowships through UCLA’s Mellon-funded EPIC program which gives educators the opportunity to develop inclusive curriculum. Her most recent article, “Othello in Harlem: Transforming Theater in Djanet Sears’s Harlem Duet,” was inspired by conversations she had with her students during her undergraduate course, “Global Othellos.”

Her affiliation with the Folger Shakespeare Library began as a graduate student at the George Washington University when she participated in Heather Wolfe's Early Modern English Paleography course in the fall of 2007. She wrote most of her dissertation in the Folger Reading Room, was the Production Associate at Shakespeare Quarterly in the year following her graduation from GWU, and she returned to the Folger as an Advanced Early Modern Paleography participant in the winter of 2015 and later as a short-term fellow in the fall of 2017. 

The presenters for "Critical Race Conversations: Cultivating an Anti-Racist Pedagogy" recommend that those attending the event read these three pieces in advance:

Blake, Felice. “Why Black Lives Matter in the Humanities” in Seeing Race Again: Countering Colorblindness across the Disciplines, edited by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Luke Charles Harris, Daniel Martinez HoSang, and George Lipsitz, Oakland: University of California Press, 2019.

Hall, Kim F. “Introduction” in Things of Darkness : Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995.

hooks, bell. “Embracing Change: Teaching in a Multicultural World,” in Teaching to Transgress: Education As the Practice of Freedom, New York: Routledge, 1994.

The Folger Institute encourages everyone to purchase and cite works by Black and indigenous scholars, and scholars of color. However, in an effort to eliminate barriers and provide access to all who want to participate, we will provide the selected readings upon request. Please email with this request.