“Jane and Cicely might be where the Negro burying area of the old cemetery was,” Ur said. “It’s an interesting opportunity for us to put some people literally on the map who lived in Cambridge but are otherwise under-recognized.”
Durba Mitra, Richard B. Wolf Associate Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, is doing a deep dive into the report, asking her students to consider its very framing and usage.
“I want students to think about how Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery is an account of the histories that live in the institutional spaces that we occupy every day,” she said. “The report does critical labor to demonstrate what histories exist within the shelves of the University archives and across the landscape of Harvard’s campus. It documents the fragmentary lives that appear and are disappeared in these documents. The report brings out histories that physically live in the walls of the institution.”
Last fall, Mitra collaborated with Robin Kelsey, dean of arts and humanities, and Lauren Kaminsky, director of studies and associate senior lecturer in the Committee on Degrees in History & Literature and a faculty associate at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, in their course “Making It: Mahindra Scholars Seminar.”
Mitra, who writes about reports as a dominant genre in politics, discussed how reports are one way institutions hold themselves accountable for their histories, and how those in the minority can use the reports to substantiate claims against institutions.
“I believe that Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery report should be central to every aspect of our curriculum, because it is a testament to interdisciplinary practices of evidentiary research. The report speaks to the history of the institution in which we work and live,” she said.
Going forward, Mitra and Ur said they envision the report becoming a permanent fixture in their courses.
“It is vitally important that we remember that this work did not start in the president’s office,” the Bok Center’s Beaver said. “It started in a single seminar room, in the notebooks of a handful of curious undergraduates and a single professor who dared to ask themselves some uncomfortable questions about the lives and experiences of their forebears at this institution. I always believe this is Harvard at its best — an intergenerational community of faculty and students willing to set aside its own hierarchies and mythologies in pursuit of the kind of truth that can change the way we see the world around us.”