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 of “Critical Race Conversations,” 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.
About the Speakers
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.