JULY 2022

Three questions with...
2022 Fellow Keisha N. Blain

Your Fellows project will be a new history of human rights framed by the ideas and activism of Black women in the United States from 1865 to the present. What inspired you to take on a project of such magnitude?

Over the last few years, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the crucial role Black women play in shaping American politics and how their political work on a national scale also has global implications—and global reach. After writing an essay for Foreign Affairs in which I outlined some of the significant links between the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and earlier political movements, I kept coming back to the theme of Black women’s leadership. Some of the most dynamic and enduring political movements have been led by Black women, especially working-poor women organizing at the grassroots level. The more I kept writing about these women—from different backgrounds and in different time periods—it became evident that I had an important story to tell. My book will reveal how Black American women and activists fundamentally shaped human rights history.

In a recent story for the Atlantic, you wrote about a young Black woman, Joetha Collier, who was murdered in 1971. What role do personal memories of these “forgotten” stories play in your work?

Personal memories and private recollections are crucial to my work. Black women are often excluded from traditional archives (the ones we generally find at libraries and universities), or when they do exist in these archives, representations are often skewed. As someone who is very committed to unearthing the histories of Black working-class and working-poor women, I have had to move beyond the traditional archive. To be clear, I still rely on archives to answer questions as they arise. But the judicious use of oral histories significantly enriches my writing and research. They have helped me fill in gaps of information, and they allow me to write narratives that would otherwise not be possible.

You recently joined the faculty at Brown University, congratulations! What is most important for young historians to learn today?

Thank you—I am excited about the new position at Brown! I think it’s important for young historians to be bold and creative, and I think it’s important that they commit to blazing their own trails and doing the work that matters most to them. I took many risks in my career. For example, I accepted visible leadership positions and wrote widely for national publications while untenured. I was also involved in nationally recognized projects that revealed my activist commitments and my political views. Some of my mentors suggested that I should not have been doing these things without tenure. I am not dismissing their advice—and I am grateful that they cared enough to warn me. But I needed to take the path that felt right for me. By doing the work that matters most to me, I found joy and fulfillment as a scholar.

Two Cents

Fellows share the albums they're working to now.

1: Flying, Garth Stevenson. — Sara Hendren, Class of 2018

2: Brave New World Symphony, Shanghai Restoration Project. — Yi-Ling Liu, Class of 2021

3: Riverside Profiles, Bill Evans. — Mike Giglio, Class of 2022


Marcia Chatelain was awarded the James Beard Foundation Book Award for Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America. 

Matthieu Aikins received the 2022 Osborn Elliott Prize for Excellence in Journalism on Asia for his reporting in the New York Times Magazine

Azmat Khan was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Journalism Award for New Media, as well as the John Siegenthaler Courage in Journalism Award. 2017 for her work in the New York TimesMatthieu Aikins contributed to the winning reporting package. 

Keisha N. Blain wrote about Juneteenth and importance of reparations for MSNBC and was interviewed about the subject in Elle.

Caleb Gayle appeared on WNYC's All Of It to discuss his new book, We Refuse to Forget. 

Francesca Mari examined the challenges of the current housing market on The Daily from the New York Times.

Reuben Jonathan Miller was awarded the Law and Society Association's Herbert Jacob Book Prize for Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration.

Two Cents

Reading this month

Terrific writing, sharp and original thinking, scholarly ideas brought alive for the non-expert reader. 
Sara Hendren, 
Class of 2018

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This book not only asks readers to check their privilege but to change it. Upend it, particularly via public and government solutions. It makes critical distinctions between fighting poverty and battling inequality.
— Melissa Segura,
Class of 2019

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Hilarious and brilliant.
— Jonathan M. Katz
Class of 2019

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Free Swag

Fill out the form below for a chance to win a copy of The Mind and the Moon by Daniel Bergner, Class of 2021.

Please submit by Monday, July 11th to be considered.

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