The Somerset v. Steuart trial of 1772 has emerged as an event of much discussion in the history of transatlantic antislavery. Scholars have debated the decision’s importance and centrality to the emancipatory impulses in the British Atlantic, and, more recently, weighed its possible role in the coming of the American Revolution. Some have argued that Lord Mansfield’s decision in James Somerset’s favor was a central, even epochal event, while others maintain that North Americans scarcely noticed the decision.
Join the American Philosophical Society for a roundtable virtual discussion with four leading scholars who have written about varied aspects of slavery, antislavery, and the American Revolution will discuss what these events of 1772 meant in history and what they have come to mean in the present.
The event will be moderated by David Waldstreicher, Professor of History at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, who will be joined by Holly Brewer, Burke Professor of American History and Associate Professor at the University of Maryland; Christopher Brown, Professor of History at Columbia University; Manisha Sinha, Draper Chair of American History at University of Connecticut; and Alan Taylor, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor of History at the University of Virginia.
The event will take place on Wednesday, November 30 at 1:00 p.m. ET via Zoom Webinar. The event is free to attend but registration is required. Register here.
David Waldstreicher teaches history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and is the author of three books concerned with the American Revolution and nation-making: In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism, 1776-1820; Runaway America: Benjamin Franklin, Slavery, and the American Revolution; and Slavery’s Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification. Most recently he has co-edited, with Van Gosse, Revolutions and Reconstructions: Black Politics in the Long Nineteenth Century, and his new book, The Odyssey of Phillis Wheatley, will be published in March 2023.
Holly Brewer is Burke Professor of American History and Associate Professor at the University of Maryland. She is currently finishing a book that examines the origins of American slavery in larger political and ideological debates: it is tentatively entitled Slavery & Sovereignty in Early America and the British Empire, for which she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2014 as well as fellowship support from the NEH, National Humanities Center, and the Cromwell Foundation. She is also Principle Investigator for a documentary editing project, supported by the NHPRC, called “Slavery, Law, and Power” which seeks to provide access to important (but often obscure) documents that help to put the emergence of slavery in early America into an imperial context, particularly that of the British empire, and to consider what that means for the American Revolution.
Christopher Brown is Professor of History at Columbia University, where he has served as the Director of the Society of the Fellows in the Humanities (2011-2017), Chair of the University-Wide Tenure Review Advisory Committee (2014-2015), and as the inaugural Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs (2015-2018). Brown is a historian of Britain and the British empire, principally in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with special emphasis on the comparative history of slavery and abolition. Completed projects include Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism (University of North Carolina Press) and, with Philip D. Morgan, Arming Slaves: Classical Times to the Modern Age (Yale University Press). His work has also been published in The Nation, The New York Times, and the London Review of Books, among other outlets.
Manisha Sinha is the Draper Chair in American History at the University of Connecticut and a 2022 Guggenheim fellow. She is the author of The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina, named one of the ten best books on slavery by Politico and featured in the 1619 Project, and The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition, which won the Frederick Douglass, Avery Craven, James Rawley, and SHEAR Best Book prizes, was also long listed for the National Book Award for Non-Fiction. She is the author and editor of many other books and articles and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Times Literary Supplement, The New York Review of Books, and The Nation, among other media outlets. She is the recipient of numerous fellowships, including two from the National Endowment for the Humanities and two from the Mellon Foundation. In 2018, she was a visiting Professor at the University of Paris, Diderot and in 2021, she received the James W.C. Pennington award, from the University of Heidelberg, Germany. A historian of the long nineteenth century, her research interests lie in the transnational histories of slavery, abolition, and feminism and the history and legacy of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Her book, The Rise and Fall of the Second American Republic: A Long History of Reconstruction, 1860-1900 is forthcoming from Liveright.
Alan Taylor is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor of History at the University of Virginia. Taylor has published ten books, many of which have won awards, including William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early Republic (1995), which won the Bancroft, Beveridge, and Pulitzer Prizes. The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia (2016) likewise won the Pulitzer Prize for American history and the OAH’s Merle Curti Prize for Social History. For a dozen years, he served as the faculty advisor for the California State Social Science and History Project, which provides curriculum support and professional development for K-12 teachers in history and social studies; In 2002 he won the University of California at Davis Award for Teaching and Scholarly Achievement and the Phi Beta Kappa, Northern California Association, Teaching Excellence Award. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2016) and the American Philosophical Society (2020).