Slavery and Abolition: Formative Moments of the American University in the Northeast

Wednesday, April 28, 2021, 5:30 - 7:30pm

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In 2003, President Ruth Simmons of Brown University appointed a special committee to explore Brown University’s historical relationship to slavery and the slave trade. Since then, this archival project has spread to other institutions including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where an undergraduate class is investigating how technical institutions fit into this past. In spring of 2020, The Cooper Union invited two student leaders, Danielle Geathers and Mahalaxmi Elango, from the MIT & Slavery Project, and the instructors, historian Craig Steven Wilder and archivist Nora Murphy to present their research to The Cooper Union community. Based on the conversations during the talk, Hunter College Professor of African American literature Janet Neary was inspired to develop and teach a course titled “CUNY & Slavery” in Spring 2021.

The Cooper Union is hosting an online symposium of professors and students who have undertaken archival research on their universities’ ties to the Atlantic slave trade and slavery. The goal of this symposium is to provide a platform for institutional reckoning with the past and to collectively imagine paths forward to building actively anti-racist institutions. Participants include:

  • Peter Buckley, Associate Professor of History, The Cooper Union, and Lisa Norberg, Director of The Cooper Union Library – abolitionist history at Cooper; the place for anti-slavery conversations
  • “MIT and Slavery” class 
  • “CUNY and Slavery” class

Registration is required.

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.