MIT and the Task of History

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege to participate in one of the most interesting and important dialogues I have been involved in as a historian.  The occasion was the second of a series of forums on the “MIT and Slavery” project, an investigation of MIT’s relationship to slavery that MIT’s President Rafael Reif commissioned at the end of last academic year.  The project has been spearheaded by my colleague Craig Wilder, who had the brilliant idea of creating an undergraduate research seminar (along with MIT archivist Nora Murphy) to undertake the investigation.  The first forum in the series featured Craig and Nora as well as T.A. Claire Kim and a genuinely spectacular cohort of undergrads, who spoke on that day with a composure and degree of insight one would expect to see from an advanced historian (video here).  The second forum, in which I was joined by Craig and MIT SHASS Dean Melissa Nobles as well as historians Tanalís Padilla and Lerna Ekmekçioğlu, was a follow-up response to questions from the MIT community about the purpose of studying this chapter of MIT’s past.  The panel opened up onto a broader discussion of “the power of historical knowledge to make a better world,” from which I learned a great deal (not least by way of the lively Q&A with the audience that followed).  A video recording of the event can be found here, and a news summary here.  The event was organized by Emily Hiestand of the MIT SHASS Dean’s office.

MIT “Black Lives Matter” Conversation

Boston area friends,

The Black Students’ Union at MIT is hosting a conversation on April 22, from 2-4pm, entitled “What does Black Lives Matter have to do with YOU?” at the Stratton Student Center, Mezzanine Lounge (W20-307).  Please attend if you can and share with interested folks.

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“How to Stage a Revolution”

For a long time (longer than I care to admit) I have wanted to teach a history course on the Atlantic revolutionary era that would bridge the American, French, and Haitian revolutions.  Last fall, I offered a legal history seminar entitled “Law and Revolution” that was a first effort towards this end.  This fall, in conjunction with my wonderful new colleagues Craig Wilder and Jeff Ravel, I am finally doing so for an undergraduate audience.  Together, the three of us are co-teaching a mainstay of the MIT History curriculum, a course entitled “How to Stage a Revolution,” a unique offering founded some years ago by Meg Jacobs.  Each year the content of the course varies: some years, for example, the Russian and Turkish revolutions are in, and others out.  This fall the modules have converged around an eighteenth-century Atlantic focus (with a contemporary overlay featuring Egypt between 2011 and the present), and so far I am having more riotously good fun than should be legal in a well-ordered society.  (I suppose we could always rename the course “How to Quash a Revolution” if word gets out and/or this continues!)  We are part-way through the American Revolution module (taught by Professor Wilder) and, after a long hiatus from “pure” history teaching, I am re-learning things about the revolutionary era that had begun to fade from memory (when was the last time you reread your high school copies of Richard Hofstadter and Edmund Morgan?!), and learning anew many others — in this module, particularly about the intersection between American Indians and the revolutionary crisis.  You can find the syllabus here, and the MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) site for a previous version of the course here.  Long live “How to Stage a Revolution”!