On Thursday, Nov. 11, the Humanities Council hosted a Belknap Global Conversation with Gregg Mitman, Vilas Research and William Coleman Professor of History, Medical History, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and Simon Gikandi, Robert Schirmer Professor and chair of English. The two scholars discussed Mitman’s newly published book, “Empire of Rubber: Firestone’s Scramble for Land and Power in Liberia.”
Esther Schor, Leonard L. Milberg ’53 Professor of American Jewish Studies and Professor of English and chair of the Humanities Council, welcomed the in-person audience in 010 East Pyne. “When I read Professor Mitman’s book, it was instantly clear that ‘Empire of Rubber’ is ideally suited to our Belknap Global Conversation series,” Schor said. “It tells a difficult transnational story with nuance and complexity; a story of great import for all readers, but of particular import for the Princeton community.” The talk was also livestreamed by the University for online attendees.
Erika Milam, Charles C. and Emily R. Gillispie Professor in the History of Science and professor of history, introduced Mitman and Gikandi.
During the 90-minute conversation, Gikandi and Mitman discussed the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company’s arrival in Liberia in the 1920s, led by founder Harvey S. Firestone Sr. The pair also talked about the Firestone legacy at Princeton, the company’s hidden archives, and the intersection of race, labor, and commodities. Mitman shared passages from the book and described connections between Firestone’s story and American capitalism.
“[This book tells] a story about America through the lens of Firestone in Liberia, and the ways in which the entrenchment of systemic racism in the United States and of corporations in the United States became exported abroad,” Mitman said.