Exciting news to share today as Harvard University has officially joined the movement of schools coming to terms with their difficult pasts.
Over the past decade, Harvard University has begun to more fully examine the history and legacy of slavery at Harvard. In April 2016, President Faust and Congressman John Lewis unveiled a plaque on Wadsworth House honoring four women and men — Bilhah, Venus, Titus, and Juba — who lived and worked there as enslaved persons in the 18th century. At the time, President Faust said, “The past never dies or disappears. It continues to shape us in ways we should not try to erase or ignore. In more fully acknowledging our history, Harvard must do its part to undermine the legacies of race and slavery that continue to divide our nation.”
President Faust also convened a faculty committee of historians from across Harvard to advise, research, and provide recommendations on University efforts and initiatives; the committee’s co-chairs are Sven Beckert, Laird Bell Professor of History and Evelyn Higginbotham, Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and of African and African American Studies.
In 2007 and 2011, undergraduate research seminars led by Professor Beckert investigated many aspects of Harvard’s ties to slavery. Since then, the University has sponsored several other efforts to acknowledge the legacy of slavery at Harvard. In 2016, then-President Drew Gilpin Faust unveiled a commemorative marker honoring several people enslaved by past Harvard presidents and appointed a faculty committee to advise the University in its pursuit of scholarship and research on Harvard’s history with slavery. The University hosted a national academic conference on March 3, 2017, which explored the relationships between slavery and universities, across the country and around the world. An exhibition at the Harvard University Archives accompanied this conference.
Research into the legacy of slavery at Harvard is ongoing. In 2018, another undergraduate seminar on Harvard and Slavery allowed current students to produce original research on a range of topics. Research from the Harvard and Slavery Project has contributed to several on-campus exhibitions, including the Harvard Map Collection’s 200th anniversary exhibit (2018).
As with so many other Universities Studying Slavery (USS) member instititutions, the work at Harvard University of research, education, and acknowledgement have proceeded hand-in-hand, often with students actively learning as they conduct research and help the school better understand its own past. We are thrilled to have Harvard University join this growing movement.
To learn more about their work, please visit www.harvard.edu/slavery