Past Lectures

2016 Lecture

Beyond the Popular: Epistemological and Historiographical Politics of African Music

Mhoze Chikowero, Associate Professor of African History
University of California, Santa Barbara

In this Frost Lecture, Mhoze Chikowero centers his newly published book, African Music, Power and Being in Colonial Zimbabwe to present a multilayered history of African music in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa beyond the conventional framing of the “popular.” He proffers a new, critical intervention that engages with questions of power in both the musical cultures and the epistemological and historiographical battles thatcharacterize scholarship on the subject. Much more than write a history of music, Chikowero utilizes music as an archive to write history from a critical African perspective. So central to African spirituality and wellbeing was music that, starting in the 1890s, European missionaries, ethnomusicologists and the incipient state targeted and sought to destroy, subvert or domesticate it in their bid to culturally disarm and colonize the Africans. And it was partly through the same musical practices that Africans fought colonial subjugation both during the First Chimurenga (war of self-liberation) in the 1890s and the Second Chimurenga in the 1960s-70s. For Chikowero, Zimbabwean (and much of Southern African) song therefore constitutes a Chimurenga archive for writing robust, hitherto silenced histories of African being and self-liberation.

2015 Lecture

Capitalism and Slavery: Not an Accidental Connection

The story of capitalism's origins is a story about our origins. In his controversial new book, Cornell historian Ed Baptist argues that slavery in the United States was much more deeply connected to the origins of American capitalism than we like to think. He will talk about how and why he came to research this connection, and its human consequences.

Ed Baptist grew up in Durham, North Carolina, and received his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University. He did his graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania. Since then, he has taught first at the University of Miami, and, since 2003, at Cornell University. He will be speaking about his new book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, published by Basic Books in September 2014 (reviewed in the New York Times.

Ten years in the making, this sweeping history of the United States from the Revolution to the Civil War puts enslaved African Americans at the center of the story. Using interviews with ex-slaves, personal narratives written by survivors who escaped slavery, the business papers and secret letters of enslavers, as well as the newspapers and more public documents of American communities, this book argues that one can not understand how the American past is today’s prologue without understanding how American slavery grew and changed, became modern, and shaped the American nation.

Baptist has also published Creating an Old South: Middle Florida’s Plantation Frontier Before the Civil War (UNC Press, 2002), and with the late Stephanie Camp, New Studies in the History of American Slavery, (University of Georgia Press, 2006). He and Louis Hyman have also published a co-edited book called American Capitalism: A Reader, which was published by Simon and Schuster as an e-book.

At Cornell, Baptist teaches about the history of slavery, the U.S. Civil War, American capitalism, and digital history, as well as a service-learning course that brings American students to work in the schools of a community in rural Jamaica.

Along with Louis Hyman, he has developed and taught The History of American Capitalism, a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) for CornellX. He conceived of this as being more of a multi-form, dynamic textbook for use by other teachers in their own classrooms than a stand-alone course. Baptist is also leading a project called Freedom on the Move, a collaborative effort in digital history that is building a crowdsourced database of all fugitive slave ads.

2014 Lecture

Reckoning with the Confederacy: Reflections on Historical Practice

In her talk, Professor Stephanie McCurry reprised about the main arguments of her 2010 book Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South (Harvard University Press, 2010): the nature of the Confederate nation-making project; the terrible reckoning - including with its own people - that came with war; and the radically transformative consequences of white southerners' risky gamble on proslavery nationalism. She reflected on the methodological challenges involved in trying to write a new kind of political history focused on the disfranchised.