Fiscal Year 2020
Brown University Financial Report

Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice

Brown is leading the way in understanding slavery’s enduring legacy in the U.S. and across the globe, inspiring study and action at other American institutions.

Founded less than a decade ago, Brown’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ) has quickly become a powerhouse for research that is changing the way the world learns about legacies of racial slavery and the global slave trade. It is gaining a national and international reputation for fueling the work of researchers, nongovernmental organizations, museum curators, activists and policymakers across the globe who are working to confront issues of historical and contemporary inequities.

And as communities across the U.S. confront incidents that continue to cut short the lives of Black people every day — with a heightened focus on truly understanding the unjust impacts of systemic racism — the center’s work has never been more relevant.

a photograph portrait of Anthony Bogues

The CSSJ is a center in the world. Sometimes the academy tends to be isolated from the world, but we are engaged with it. We have no other option, because the issues and questions we work on demand rigorous scholarship and are critical to the world we live in today.

— Anthony Bogues, CSSJ Founding Director

As Black Lives Matter demonstrators filled city streets in spring 2020, CSSJ launched a virtual series called “This is America,” convening scholars and activists to discuss the meaning and potential impact of the protests, nationally and internationally. As part of the series, scholars from CSSJ and across the globe applied their expertise on slavery and its legacies to pressing questions about the fate of Confederate monuments, police reform and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Though CSSJ persistently reaches beyond Brown’s campus, its foundation is inextricably tied to the University’s efforts to grapple with its own history through the work of its Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, commissioned in 2003 by then-President Ruth J. Simmons. The committee investigated the University’s historical entanglement with slavery and the transatlantic slave trade in a watershed 2006 report, which called for the creation of a center that would continue the work of confronting traumatic histories, among other recommendations. Both the Steering Committee’s report and the establishment of CSSJ have prompted numerous other American universities to launch investigations into their historical ties to slavery, citing Brown’s work as a model and inspiration.

As CSSJ approaches the homestretch of its initial decade of scholarship, its faculty, staff and students continue to expand the center’s robust research and public-facing initiatives. Over the past five years, CSSJ has been awarded $450,000 in grants from organizations supporting its examinations into the legacies of slave trade and its arts programming.

The center is home to a number of research clusters focused on mass incarceration and punishment in the U.S., contemporary human trafficking, structural racism in biomedicine, and the links between colonialism and capitalism, among other cross-disciplinary subjects. Researchers within the clusters include CSSJ-affiliated faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students, and their collaborative work has sparked conversations and debates among scholars and the public.

The center regularly works with institutions across the globe to bring rigor to the way the history of slavery is studied and presented, posing critical questions: What were the conditions on the ships used to bring slaves to America? What kinds of knowledge — political, religious, agricultural, artistic and otherwise — did enslaved people create? And what are the links between slavery and present-day phenomena like racial profiling and human trafficking? CSSJ and its programs enable Brown and the larger community to ask big questions about subjects often suppressed.

With the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, the CSSJ convenes the Global Curatorial Project, a group of curators from major museums in South Africa, Senegal, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the U.S. Since 2014, the project’s members have met regularly to discuss and improve upon curatorial practices for exhibitions on slavery and colonialism.

“Memory Dishes,” an exhibit on display at CSSJ in 2019, examined the unique ways in which food traditions evolve when families from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America immigrate to the U.S. The exhibit, which highlighted the cooking practices of six Providence families with West and Central African ancestry, used food to examine the ways in which colonialism and slavery transformed individual families and households.

The work of the CSSJ and the Steering Committee’s report have also impacted how the history of slavery is represented near Brown’s home in Rhode Island. In recent years, CSSJ has worked with local high school-aged interns to develop a Slavery and Legacy Walking Tour on and around College Hill, which it offers throughout the year to visiting families and the greater Providence community. And the center frequently engages with students through tours and exhibitions and through its Civil Rights Movement Initiative. Through the initiative, students from Providence’s Hope High School take a six-week course and spend a week traveling to historic sites and museums in the South, meeting with movement veterans and activists.

CSSJ is also drawing on its historical knowledge to help shape pivotal conversations about racial justice, freedom and equality, both nationally and within the Brown community. For example, its Carceral State Reading Group, organized each year by an undergraduate and a Ph.D. student, creates a space for educators, students, activists and formerly incarcerated community members to discuss the prison system together, raising awareness of pressing social issues in the larger community.

five people in active discussion sitting at a table
Award-winning director and MacArthur “Genius” Fellow Stanley Nelson, who has examined the history and experiences of African Americans in films such as “Freedom Riders,” enlisted the help of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice for a forthcoming documentary that will chart the economic and human cost of the slave trade across the Atlantic basin. Zach Sell (right), a visiting scholar in slavery and justice, is working with several undergraduate students and Nelson’s Firelight Media to bring together the best and most recent scholarship on this less understood aspect of slavery.

The center is also catalytic in training the next generation of educators and cultural leaders. Past recipients of the Public History of Slavery Fellowship — a two-year funded master’s program offered jointly by the CSSJ, the Graduate School and the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities — have gone on to make a positive impact in careers across the cultural heritage sector. These alumni are developing exhibitions on the legacy of slavery at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, preserving and interpreting African American landmarks at the National Trust and more.

The University has committed to increasing the center’s capacity to propel new areas of scholarship and teaching to change the ways that Brown and the world learn about the consequences of human bondage.

Additional Areas of Impact:

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