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 

Upcoming Critical Race Conversations

"Reading, Writing, and Teaching Black Life and Anti-Black Violence in the Early Modern World"
Organized by Jessica Marie Johnson (Johns Hopkins University), and joined by Cécile Fromont (Yale University) and Robin Mitchell (California State University Channel Islands)
September 24, 2020
3-4:15pm EDT

"We Are What You Eat: Conversations on Food and Race"
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)
October 15, 2020
3-4:15pm EDT

"Race and the Archive"
Urvashi Chakravarty (University of Toronto) and Marisa Fuentes (Rutgers University)
November 19, 2020
3-4:15pm EST

"Shakespeare and Race in Performance"
Tyler Fauntleroy (Actor, New York City), Rosa Joshi (Seattle University), and Farah Karim-Cooper (Shakespeare's Globe)
December 10, 2020
3-4:15pm EST

Additional sessions will be added as they are developed and announced.


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

Thursday, September 24, 2020
3-4:15pm Eastern Time

Free |  Folger's YouTube channel  

Organized by Jessica Marie Johnson (Johns Hopkins University), and joined by Cécile Fromont (Yale University) and Robin Mitchell (California State University Channel Islands)

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, Fromont, and Mitchell 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 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. Johnson is joined by Drs. Cécile Fromont and Robin Mitchell. 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. Mitchell is an Associate Professor of History at the California State University Channel Islands. She studies the black female body as a site of cultural meaning, arguing powerfully that the archive is personal, and a space in which all historians are implicated. Her first book is VÉNUS NOIRE: Black Women & Colonial Fantasies in 19th-Century France (University of Georgia Press, 2020). She is the author of multiple chapters and articles; most recently her work has appeared in Black French Women and the Struggle for Equality, 1848-2016 (University of Nebraska Press, 2018), and Black Venus 2010: They Called Her “Hottentot” (Temple University Press, 2010).


Past Critical Race Conversations

Cultivating an Anti-Racist Pedagogy

Thursday, 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.


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

Thursday, 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 Studies, Radical Teacher, Hamlet: The State of Play, The Sundial, White People in Shakespeare, The Hare, Early Modern Black Diaspora Studies, Shakespeare 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, 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 through the end of the month courtesy of Shakespeare Quarterly and Oxford University Press