Brown Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice

About Us

The Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ) is a scholarly research center with a public humanities mission. Recognizing that racial and chattel slavery were central to the historical formation of the Americas and the modern world, the CSSJ creates a space for the interdisciplinary study of the historical forms of slavery while also examining how these legacies shape our contemporary world.

For the 2020-2021 academic year, the Center's work is organized around the following research clusters and projects:

Research Clusters

Human TraffickingThis project explores contemporary forms of human bondage and engages in public programming around this issue.

Freedom Archive. This project creates an inventory of materials in Brown University Library's Special Collections related to slavery and abolition to help scholars more easily access these items.

Race, Medicine, and Social Justice: This cluster explores the history and persistence of structural racism in biomedicine as it intersects with economic and social conditions. We focus on reimagining the knowledge we produce about race and health from a social justice perspective.

Education and RaceThis project focuses on questions that explore the implications for policy and pedagogy when we deepen our knowledge about the intersections between race, racism, schools and other forms of social inequality.

Race, Slavery, Colonialism and Capitalism:  This new research cluster explores the way that race, slavery, and colonialism have shaped global capitalism.  This research cluster is reshaping scholar’s understanding of the history and growth of capitalism and will bring together the best scholars in the world.  This is a three year project that is co-led by CSSJ and the International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam).

Historical Injustice and Democracy:  The making of the modern world was in part constituted by the historical injustices of colonialism and racial slavery.  These injustices have played out in contemporary phenomena such as apartheid, displacement, discrimination, and other forms of domination in which substantial portions of the human population have been deprived of rights, economic opportunity, social mobility, or even their very lives.  All these forms of historical and contemporary wrongs have generated a plethora of scholarship around different forms of justice: reparative, redistributive, transitional and, of course, reparations.  However, how do forms of historical and contemporary injustices shape practices of democracy?  Are forms of democracy adequate responses to historical and contemporary forms of injustice? This research cluster is a joint collaborative project between the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs and the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice.  

Mass Incarceration and Punishment in AmericaThe research cluster on “Mass Incarceration and Punishment in America” seeks to examine punishment and the U.S. carceral state through an interdisciplinary lens. We examine the origins and consequences of mass incarceration. In doing this work we operate from the frame that race and anti-Black racism are cornerstones to understanding the vast leviathan of punishment in America.

Public Humanities Projects

Global Curatorial Project. This exhibition and curatorial project presents both the global interconnectedness of Atlantic slavery and the slave trade, as well as illuminates an alternative view about the history of our global modernity.

Slave Trade Film Project with Filmmaker Stanley Nelson. This research and workshop project aims to support the development of a multi-part documentary series on the Atlantic slave trade. Creating a New World: The Transatlantic Slave Trade will chart the economic and human cost of the slave trade across the Atlantic basin, underscoring how this expansive system of trade, violence, and profit built the modern world.

Heimark Artist-in-Residence. The Heimark Artist in Residence program brings to campus musicians, poets, visual artists, and performers whose work grapples with the legacies of slavery on our world today.

Slavery & The Americas High School Curriculum Project. This project seeks to create a high school curriculum that will challenge myths and absences in how our schools currently teach the history of slavery. This is a collaborative project with The Choices Program which produces award-winning curricula on current and historical international and public policy.

The Imagined New. The Imagined New is an interdisciplinary platform for critical exchange and research around African and African Diasporic art practices, as they relate to questions of history, archive and the alternative imagination(s) of the Radical Black Tradition.

Seminar Series

CSSJ Advanced Knowledge Working Group. The CSSJ Advanced Knowledge Working Group is a seminar for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and other scholars affiliated with or working alongside the CSSJ to come together to think critically about the legacies of slavery and boundaries of freedom across time and space. The group meets for two hours every two weeks on Thursdays to discuss assigned readings and/or workshop dissertation/book chapters, journal articles, conference papers, and other works-in-progress. Throughout the academic year, this group will also host several locally-based, emerging scholars and artists to share ther current research and projects with the larger campus community.

Carceral State Reading Group. The Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice facilitates a year long reading group which focuses on examining the Carceral State. The reading group is a collaboration between various sectors of the Providence community and the CSSJ at Brown University. Meetings are held twice monthly to discuss issues of imprisonment, incarceration, captivity, criminalization and policing historically and in the present day.

Faculty Fellow Seminar. This interdisciplinary seminar organized by Brown faculty is open to faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and advanced graduate students from any department. Each year, a faculty fellow is selected to lead the seminar based on a proposed theme. The inaugural seminar theme in 2019 was "Slavery's New Materialism," led by faculty fellow Professor Seth Rockman.

Graduate Seminar and Reading Group on Black Aesthetics. Organized by graduate students, this seminar is focused on engaging in deep study and inquiry into the discourse of history and aesthetics as praxis. The group seeks to interrogate a set of aesthetic practices bounded up in the conventions of Western thought. The group will produce publications, mixtapes, and exhibitions and aims to develop a close intellectual and artistic partnership with the Center for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. 

Public Engagement

Slavery and Legacy Walking TourThe Slavery & Legacy Tours examine the history behind Brown University, the State of Rhode Island and their roles in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The tours help students (K-12 +college) as well as adult groups think critically about the University and state histories. 

Civil Rights Movement Initiative. In 2015, the CSSJ developed a unique initiative for Hope High School students called the Civil Rights Movement Initiative. This initiative aims to help high school students understand the Civil Rights Movement as something more than events of the past, and as a bridge to understanding the present. Students meet for weekly classes at the Center and participate in a week long visit to the South, visiting important sites in the Southern Freedom Movement and meeting with activists.