Critical Race Conversations

A Folger Institute Fiftieth Anniversary Project

Supported by an initiative in collaborative research funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

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 hosted a series of free online sessions to address an expansive range of topics in the field of early modern critical race studies. The Institute provided the framework and platform, but, as is our practice, we turned to scholars across disciplines and career stages to lead discussions from their own experience and expertise. We featured scholars who are writing fuller histories of this transformative period that is early modernity, who are acknowledging deeper and more complex roots to enduring social challenges, and who are conducting more inclusive investigations of our contested pasts. We aimed to amplify their voices in support of more equitable research agendas for a more inclusive future.

A major premise of this series was that we are our most generative selves in conversation with each other. We wanted those we invited 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 chose to discuss. This series is only part of a much wider and ongoing conversation at the Folger and beyond. We are grateful to our speakers for their inspirational discussions, and we hope our listeners will learn from these sessions as much as we have.

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