Inaugural Hayden White lecture to explore the afterlife of slavery with author Saidiya Hartman

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Saidiya Hartman (Photo courtesy of John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)
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UCSC associate professor of history Greg O’Malley
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UCSC professor of literature Vilashini Cooppan

Award-winning literary scholar and cultural historian Saidiya Hartman will be the featured guest at the inaugural Hayden V. White Distinguished Annual Lecture, a virtual event that takes place on April 19.

A scholar of African American literature and cultural history, Hartman explores the afterlife of slavery in modern American life, bringing to light stories of rarely documented lives that have been systematically excluded from historical archives.

She is the author of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments; Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route; and Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America. 

The recipient of a 2019 MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, Hartman has been a Guggenheim Fellow, Cullman Fellow, and Fulbright Scholar. She is a professor at Columbia University and has contributed to The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and such journals as South Atlantic Quarterly, Brick, Small Axe, and Callaloo.

In an article last October in the New Yorker titled “How Saidiya Hartman Retells the History of Black life,” writer Alexis Okeowo observed:

“In three books and a series of essays, Hartman has explored the interior lives of enslaved people and their descendants, employing a method that she says ‘troubles the line between history and imagination.’ Her iconoclastic thinking on the legacy of slavery in American life has prefigured the current cultural moment. In 2008, five years before Black Lives Matter was founded, she wrote of ‘a past that has yet to be done, and the ongoing state of emergency in which black life remains in peril.’ Her writing has become a lodestar for a generation of students and, increasingly, for politically engaged people outside the academy.”

As Hartman noted in her book, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route: 

“If slavery persists as an issue in the political life of black America, it is not because of an antiquarian obsession with bygone days or the burden of a too-long memory, but because black lives are still imperiled and devalued by a racial calculus and a political arithmetic that were entrenched centuries ago. This is the afterlife of slavery--skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration, and impoverishment.”

In the interdisciplinary spirit of the late innovative scholar and historian Hayden White, Hartman will engage in a public conversation with two UC Santa Cruz humanities scholars—professor of literature Vilashini Cooppan and associate professor of history Greg O’Malley.

O’Malley is the author of Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619-1807, a 2015 book that has won multiple awards for helping to redraw the map of the forced African migration during the slave trade era. They include the American Historical Association’s Forkosch Prize for British history; the AHA’s Rawley Prize for Atlantic history; The Owsley Award from the Southern Historical Association; and the Goveia Prize from the Association of Caribbean Historians. He is currently working on a new book, The Escapes of David George: An Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom in the Revolutionary Era.

Cooppan teaches comparative and world literature, with an emphasis on postcolonial theory, genre theory, memory studies, and affect theory. She has published extensively on world literature, and on memory and trauma. Cooppan is the author of Worlds Within: National Narratives and Global Connections in Postcolonial Writing and is completing a book titled The World at Large: Memoryscapes in World Literature.

The Hayden V. White Distinguished Annual Lecture Series is made possible by the support of the Thomas H. and Josephine Baird Memorial Fund, an endowment that supports yearly lectures relevant to historical and cultural theory, and to ensure that Hayden White’s legacy and intellectual spirit is honored and sustained. 

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The inaugural Hayden V. White Distinguished Annual Lecture featuring Saidiya Hartman takes place online April 19, beginning at 4 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public with registration. This event is presented by The Humanities Institute at UC Santa Cruz.