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 

Fall 2020 Critical Race Conversations

"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
Free  |  Folger's YouTube channel

"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
Free  |  Folger's YouTube channel

RESCHEDULED: "Race and the Archive"
Urvashi Chakravarty (University of Toronto) and Marisa Fuentes (Rutgers University)
January 28, 2021
3-4:15pm EST
Free  |  Folger's YouTube channel

POSTPONED: "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)
Originally scheduled for September 24, 2020; new date TBA

Spring 2021 sessions will be announced later in the fall.


We Are What You Eat: Conversations on Food and Race

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

Free |  Folger's YouTube channel  

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.  


Shakespeare and Race in Performance

December 10, 2020
3-4:15pm EST
Free  |  Folger's YouTube channel

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 Succession, FBI, 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.


Race and the Archive

January 28, 2021
3-4:15pm EST
Free  |  Folger's YouTube channel

Urvashi Chakravarty (University of Toronto) and Marisa Fuentes (Rutgers University)

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 interdisciplinary conversation, between an historian and a literary scholar, 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. Marisa J. Fuentes is an Associate Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies and History as well as the Presidential Term Chair in African American History at Rutgers University. Her scholarship brings together critical historiography, historical geography, and black feminist theory to examine gender, sexuality, and slavery in the early modern Atlantic World. She teaches courses in the History and Women’s and Gender Studies departments on topics ranging from early modern Caribbean history and women’s and gender history in the United States to feminist theories and methodologies. Dr. Fuentes is the author of Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016) which won both the Barbara T. Christian Best Humanities Book Prize and the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians First Book Prize. Dispossessed Lives illuminates the lives of enslaved women in eighteenth-century Bridgetown, Barbados


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

POSTPONED - Originally scheduled for September 24, 2020; new date TBA
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 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.

Dr. Robin 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).


Summer 2020 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