PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — With a $1.25 million grant from the Abrams Foundation, scholars at Brown University will work with partners across the globe to collect important untold stories about the history of racial slavery — revealing how that history still shapes society today.
With support from the grant, researchers at Brown’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice will collaborate with an international network of scholars in Senegal, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Belgium, Brazil and beyond to host public conversations, capture video narratives and record oral histories that seek to answer two important questions: How did slavery and colonialism shape these places, and how did they shape the world as a whole?
The historical archival project — called “Unfinished Conversations” — will play a key role in an exhibition tentatively titled “In Slavery’s Wake,” which will open in December 2024 at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington and will later travel to major museums in Europe, Africa and South America. It will also reshape the way current and future researchers understand the stunning scope of the transatlantic slave trade and the global legacy of racial slavery and colonialism, said Anthony Bogues, director of the CSSJ.
Bogues explained that scholars are at the forefront of contemporary discourse on colonialism, and their research draws mostly on conventional historical sources such as written documents from European colonial powers. “Unfinished Conversations,” on the other hand, seeks to prioritize the voices of everyday people who have fewer opportunities and resources than others as a direct result of their ancestors’ enslavement.
“This kind of oral history project has never been done before,” Bogues said. “Many will, for the first time, hear the voices and memories of people whose personal experiences are still inextricably tied to racial slavery, the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism. These moving and revealing conversations will demonstrate why we are not finished reckoning with the past.”
The $1.25 million grant comes from the Boston-based Abrams Foundation, founded by Brown alumna Amy Abrams and her husband, David. Abrams, who concentrated in history at Brown, said she was inspired to support “Unfinished Conversations” because of its unusual scope and reach — with scholarly partners working together across four continents.
“I see the project as ambitious, groundbreaking, and innovative,” Abrams said. “In documenting and giving voice to the stories, memories and narratives of the descendants of slaves, ‘Unfinished Conversations’ provides expanded resources for students and scholars. Working with this rich source material, researchers can deepen our understanding of slavery and its impact in the making of our modern world."