The Library's newest initiative, African Americas, draws attention to the JCB's significant archive of materials related to the history of Africans in the Americas and sponsors new ways of engaging with the collection at all levels. In addition to an annual lecture, activities will include earmarked short-term fellowships, a scholar-in-residence program, teaching fellowships, professional development opportunities for students and librarians, and undergraduate research opportunities. A lecture on October 4, 2019 by noted historian Herman Bennett (CUNY Graduate Center) on his most recent book, African Kings and Black Slaves (Philadelphia, 2019), inaugurated this initiative, with other activities related to the history of Africa, Africans in the Americas, and the history of slavery and the slave trade throughout the Americas planned for the 2020-2021 academic year and beyond.
The Library’s Indigenous Studies initiative has sparked conversations about how the JCB can best acknowledge, encourage, and provide support for indigenous studies as a central node in the history of the Americas. Focused on the use of the Library’s collections, the initiative has provided a dedicated space – through lectures, fellowships, symposia, and exhibitions – to highlight new approaches and new questions posed by scholars of indigenous history, literature, language, and culture. An exhibition on “Race and Indigeneity in the Americas” emerged from this initiative that was curated by nine undergraduate students as part of a special seminar co-taught by Director/Librarian Neil Safier and a postdoctoral fellow in the history of the book, Hannah Alpert-Abrams.
Starting in the spring of 2015, the Library launched a yearly series that took a fairly straightforward concept – the cultural significance of earth, air, fire, and water to the diverse populations of the Americas – and examined human engagement with these elements as a window onto changing ecological relationships. Culminating in 2020 with an exhibition on “The Celestial Sphere: Astronomy in the Americas,” the Library has embarked on a publication project with former research fellows and a few invited specialists to produce a museum-grade catalog (and possible traveling exhibition) that brings attention to early modern collections for understanding present-day climatic change and the deeper relationship between imperialism, industrialization, and the environment. Associated programming has attracted biologists, geologists, anthropologists, and archaeologists, and the Library has received an NEH planning grant from the Division of Public Programs to expand the initiative’s digital outreach.
Outreach to Brown
As part of its academic and public outreach mission, the JCB regularly hosts undergraduate class visits, organizes show-and-tells of rare materials, and invites all of the Brown community to its public events. The Library awards the J.M. Stuart Fellowship as an academic-year fellowship for a Brown graduate student and participates in the Graduate School's Interdisciplinary Opportunities fellowship program by hosting one fellow per academic year. The Library's Academic Advisory Committee, which guides the JCB's academic programming and selects each year's cohort of short-term fellows, includes equal numbers of Brown faculty and faculty drawn from institutions elsewhere.