Brown Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice

Work of the Center

The Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice 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 Trafficking(led by Prof. Elena Shih): This 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: (led by Prof. Lundy Braun): 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.

Race, Slavery, Colonialism and Capitalism(led by Prof. Anthony Bogues):  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).

History, Justice and Democracy:  (TBA):  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 reserach 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 America(led by Prof. Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve): The 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. It is co-led by CSSJ and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture.

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.

PBS Companion Book, The Atlantic Slave Trade and the Making of the New World: This is a project which will accompany the Firelight Film. The book is written by Anthony Bogues and Zach Sell, visiting professor of history at Drexel University.

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.

Racial Slavery & the Making of the Modern World: Resistance, Freedom, and Legacies High School Curriculum Project. Released in August 2020, this high school level resource challenges myths and absences in how our schools currently teach the history of slavery. This curriculum fulfills part of the CSSJ’s mission to undertake public history projects which tell the story of racial slavery. In the fall of 2020 free professional development webinars will be offered that assist educators in implementing the materials in their classrooms. This is a collaborative project with The Choices Program.

The Imagined New. This project, 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 an alternative imagination(s) of Black aesthetic and curatorial practices. Presented as a collaboration between CSSJ and the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre (VIAD), University of Johannesburg, The Imagined New revolves around interdisciplinary workshop platforms, and a corresponding special edition publication of Callaloo, the premier journal of literature, art, and culture of the African Diaspora.

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.

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

Faculty Fellow Seminar. This graduate level seminar led by Brown faculty is an interdisciplinary course that seeks to explore an emerging issues in the study of racial slavery and its legacies.

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 tour examines the history behind Brown University, the State of Rhode Island and their roles in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. New digital resources 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 the 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.  In AY 21 this work will be expanded to include Mount Pleasant and Central High Schools in addition to continuing our work with Hope High School.  We also hope to double the number of students included in this program, and are looking to see if we could also provide course credit.