PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A $4.9 million grant to Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice will fund a partnership with Williams College and the Mystic Seaport Museum that will use maritime history as a basis for studying historical injustices and generating new insights on the relationship between European colonization in North America, the dispossession of Native American land and racial slavery in New England.
The collaborative project, titled “Reimagining New England Histories: Historical Injustice, Sovereignty and Freedom,” will create new work and study opportunities at all three institutions, particularly for scholars, curators and students from underrepresented groups. It will result in a new Mystic Seaport Museum exhibition on race, subjugation and power, and a “decolonial archive” spotlighting a diverse collection of stories from several New England communities.
The grant was awarded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as part of its Just Futures Initiative, which in Summer 2020 invited 38 colleges and universities to submit project proposals that would address the “long-existing fault lines” of racism, inequality and injustice that challenge ideas of democracy and civil society.
“A myth in the founding narrative of the United States is the idea of New England as a ‘city on the hill,’ a place founded on the idea of liberty for all,” said Anthony Bogues, director of Brown’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice. “But it is important to consider that this site of America’s founding was also a site of Native dispossession as well as racial slavery. Brown and Williams have told stories about both of those histories, but rarely have we explored the relationship between the two.”
Since its founding in 2012, the CSSJ has explored the history and legacies of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and racial slavery through research, study, public conversations, exhibitions and more. The groundbreaking work of the center’s researchers has catalyzed international scholarly conversations and inspired similar work at colleges and universities across the country.
But Bogues, who will oversee the grant-funded project, said that in recent months, he and his colleagues felt their mission must expand to include the investigation of New England’s role in displacing Native Americans — something he believes is as foundational a part of American history as racial slavery.