Confronting Racism

The Humanities Council strategically incubates projects that examine systemic racism, and the inequality and injustice it engenders.

In line with our mission to engage diverse perspectives, we support initiatives that encompass a wide range of voices and broaden the scope of humanistic inquiry. Many of these projects are informed by contemporary challenges, including COVID-19, police violence, educational disparities, and climate change.

We invite you to read recent news about these Council-funded projects for 2020–2021, which are supported by our rapid response, innovation, and collaboration funding streams.

Bringing humanities scholars into innovative collaboration with artists, activists, scientists, and journalists, the following projects seek to deepen understanding, foster difficult conversations, and serve as a catalyst for structural change.

New Council-Funded Initiatives

Afro-Asian Connections in Latin America
Christina Lee (Spanish and Portuguese)
A symposium traces national and religious identities in former Spanish and Portuguese colonies to racial mixing, illuminated by bonds between Latin Americans of African and Asian descent.

American Contact: Intercultural Encounter and the History of the Book, Phase II
Rhae Lynn Barnes (History)
A published volume, case studies, digital multimedia, and web resources for K–12 and university classrooms examine the roles of material texts in cross-cultural encounters throughout the Americas.

Archival Silences
Emma Sarconi (Reference Librarian, Special Collections), Kinohi Nishikawa (English, African American Studies)
A series of public webinars is investigating inherent biases in archival practice while recovering lost voices through reckonings over structural racism, policing, and militarization.

Black Artists Lab
Tracy K. Smith (Lewis Center for the Arts), Imani Perry (African American Studies)
Featuring panels, screenings, and performances, a conference is leveraging creative and critical perspectives on blackness in art to reach a new sense of what is possible in American cultural and civic life.

Black Beckett
Maria DiBattista (EnglishComparative Literature)
A conference in Spring 2021 is inviting authors, scholars, and students from underrepresented communities to explore Samuel Beckett’s perspectives on American race laws, slavery, and segregation.

Black History Month
Humanities Council, Arts Council of Princeton
To honor the cultural impact of Black Americans, an exhibit will present legendary Black artists, a local artist will teach a workshop on making collages in light of the Harlem Renaissance, and a black and white adaptation of the United States flag will wave.

Carceral Studies Working Group 
Matthew Larsen (Humanities Council, Society of Fellows, Religion), Wendy Warren (History)
Faculty and graduate students are unearthing overlooked aspects of the history of incarceration to spotlight carceral practices and geographies.

Freedoms/Liberdades: Storying Images of Slavery and Post-Abolition in Brazil
Miqueias Mugge (Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies), Isadora Moura Mota (History), João Biehl (Anthropology)
Extracting visual materials on slavery from Brazil, an interdisciplinary group of Princeton and Brazilian scholars is launching an online symposium, as well as a website in both Portuguese and English.

Fugitive Sounds
Rhae Lynn Barnes (History)
Compiling a database about enslaved musicians in antebellum America, history and music students are recreating their songs, then playing the pieces for audiences in the Delta such as descendants of the original performers.

Gas Exchanges and the Right to Breathe
Eduardo Cadava (English), Jonathan Aguirre (Spanish and Portuguese), Zulaikha Ayub (Architecture), Daniela Gandorfer (Comparative Literature)
Responding to COVID-19, the new Loφ Lab is producing multimedia for the general public on gendered and racialized inequalities surrounding air pollution, along with the choking of Eric Garner and George Floyd.

Imagining a Higher Education Career in African American Studies
Dannelle Gutarra Cordero (African American Studies)
Ten AAS-affiliated undergraduate research assistants are receiving coaching to advocate for underrepresented populations in academia, as they prepare an article for a peer-reviewed journal about higher education.

Increasing Access: Engaging Spanish-speaking Communities with Digital Museum Programming
James Steward (Art Museum)
Translation/captioning services and custom marketing are attracting Spanish speakers to programming at the Princeton University Art Museum.

Interrogating History: The Classical Black Theater Canon
Program in Theater (Lewis Center for the Arts)
Play readings and dynamic discussions are widening the classical canon with lesser-known plays by Black writers.

Launching the Philly Community Wireless Project
Grant Wythoff (Center for Digital Humanities), Devren Washington (Movement Alliance Project)
Student interns support the building broadband networks for Black and Latinx Philadelphia residents, whose disproportionate lack of Internet access bars them from services that have moved online during the pandemic.

Medical Anthropology in the Time of COVID-19
João Biehl (Anthropology), Onur Günay (School of Public and International Affairs)
A website is critically analyzing how structural violence exacerbates vulnerability, mortality, and disparities in care for COVID-19 patients along the lines of age, class, race, gender, and geography.

Organizing Stories: Toward a Scholarly-Activist Praxis
Autumn M. Womack (African American Studies), Monica Huerta (English, American Studies)
Through virtual workshops, veteran organizers of social justice movements are teaching students to craft narratives that propel anti-racist activism. Relevant interviews, essays, bibliographies, and other resources, amassed by undergraduate research assistants, will appear on a new site called “The Organizers’ Library.”

The Pandemic Portal: Examining the Racial Dimensions of the COVID-19 Crisis
Ruha Benjamin (African American Studies)
With contributions from undergraduates and recent alumni, a “Pandemic Portal” is synthesizing public health reports, news coverage, and social media discourse to show how Black communities are affected by and responding to COVID-19.

Past, Present, and Future of Incarceration
Matthew Larsen (Humanities Council, Society of Fellows, Religion), Wendy Warren (History)
Expanding the history of incarceration beyond the prison-industrial complex, last year’s team-taught course HUM 315: “Incarceration in Antiquity” heralded this year’s Carceral Studies reading group that will culminate in an interdisciplinary conference.

Pathologies of Difference: Mapping the Art of Colonial Medicine
Anna Arabindan-Kesson (Art and Archaeology, African American Studies)
A digital database maps geographical intersections of colonialism, art, and medicine across the British Empire in Australia, South Asia, and the Caribbean, to dismantle the historical structures of racism and violence that continue to shape our present.

Promoting Cross-Cultural Understanding through Exposure to (Online) Intercultural Spoken Interaction
Adriana Merino (Spanish and Portuguese)
Recorded, transcribed, authentic, and unscripted conversations among native Spanish speakers and Spanish learners of varying proficiencies are generating material for later listeners to develop their oral comprehension, conversational strategies, and intercultural communication.

The Public Transcriptions Project
Martha Sandweiss (History) and Gabriel Swift (Librarian for Academic Programs, Special Collections)
Five History graduate students are transcribing, editing, annotating, and making online exhibitions on rare 19th-century manuscript materials from Special Collections about Western American History, Mormonism, the Civil War, and the American Colonization Society.

Race, Race-Thinking, and Identity in the Middle Ages and Medieval Studies
Program in Medieval Studies
Researchers based in North America and Europe are diving into seminars on race, race-thinking, and racialization in late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Paradigms for social categorization are emerging beyond simplistic either-or binaries like race vs. not race, race vs. ethnicity, and the United States vs. Europe.

Reckoning: Complicated Histories and Collective Identities
Tiffany Cain (Humanities Council, Society of Fellows, Anthropology)
An Anthropology and Humanistic Studies seminar, postponed to Fall 2021 because of the coronavirus shutdown, will offer field experiences to expose violent pasts through memorials, monuments, museums, and collaborative heritage.

Argyro Nicolaou (Hellenic Studies)
Bridging Princetonians around the globe, workshops on online tools for producing art and a collaborative online performance are exploring resilience and distance, as experienced amid migration along with the global pandemic.

Rupturing Tradition: The Classics and Activism
Brooke Holmes (Classics) and Dan-el Padilla Peralta (Classics)
Activists are reconfiguring scholarship on Greco-Roman antiquity to present “the classics” as a public good, including through a new graduate seminar.

Sick Architecture
Beatriz Colomina (Architecture)
Working with e-flux architecture, a publishing platform, this project will equip nine Princeton graduate students to collaborate with international scholars and scientists, write short essays on the question of illnesses, pandemics, and architecture, and present their work to an international audience of 70,000 subscribers. Five invited scholars will also contribute.

Tigers in Translation
Shawn Gonzalez (Writing Program)
Celebrating the diversity of language backgrounds among Princeton undergraduates, a podcast is building community by sharing students’ stories about code switching, English as a Second Language classes, and other navigations of linguistic identity.

Council-Funded Courses

A Global History of Monsters
Federico Marcon (East Asian StudiesHistory)
As negative objectifications of fundamental social structures and conceptions, monsters illuminate the cultures that engender them, showing how a society constructs the Other, the deviant, the enemy, the minorities, and the repressed.

Arts in the Invisible City: Race, Policy, Performance
Nathan Davis (Theater, Lewis Center for the Arts) and Donald Vance Smith (English)
Tracing how racism has shaped Trenton, students in spring 2021 will work with dramatists to consider a new play about a community-organized sculpture that was removed over concerns about “gang” culture.

Migration Reporting
Deborah Amos (Humanities CouncilJournalism)
As captured by narrative reporting, historical studies, immigration policy, and data analysis, the migration crisis is shifting amid the turmoil of a worldwide pandemic, a looming economic crisis, and social upheaval over systemic racism.

Reporting on Policing, Race and Inequality
Kimbriell Kelly (Humanities CouncilJournalism)
In spring 2021, Kelly will share her expertise from serving on the team that launched The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series on shootings by police.

Service and Social Justice in the Western Humanities Sequence
Beatrice Kitzinger (Art and Archaeology), Benjamin Morison (Philosophy), Trisha Thorme (Program for Community-Engaged Scholarship)
A new discussion feature ties the syllabus’s ancient and medieval texts to contemporary social justice, motivating students to harness their studies for the good of their communities.

What to Read and Believe in the Age of Covid
Joe Stephens (Journalism)
Equipping undergraduates to consume news during the rapidly evolving “infodemic,” JRN 260 considers the sudden tsunami of conflicting information about the pandemic, social justice protests, and myriad other topics.

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