image of Saidiya Hartman looking at the camera and smiling

Saidiya Hartman

The Jordan Lecture: Saidiya Hartman

Apr 1, 4:30–6 PM
Newhouse Center for the Humanities
Free and open to the public

Saidiya Hartman is a scholar of African American literature and cultural history whose works explore the afterlife of slavery in modern American society and bear witness to lives, traumas, and fleeting moments of beauty that historical archives have omitted or obscured. She weaves findings from her meticulous historical research into narratives that retrieve from oblivion stories of nameless and sparsely documented historical actors, such as female captives on slave ships and the inhabitants of slums at the turn of the twentieth century.

Hartman’s most recent book, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (2019), is similarly inventive in its mode of presentation and immerses readers in the interior lives of young black women who fled the South and moved to Northern cities in the early twentieth century. While drawing from sociological surveys, tenement photographs, reformatory case files, and other sources, she critiques the pathologizing portrayals these official documents present and recovers stories of resistance enacted by famous women (such as Ida B. Wells) and numerous anonymous others who looked outside the bounds of the law to find kinship, intimacy, and freedom. By addressing gaps and omissions in accounts of trans-Atlantic slavery and its aftermath, Hartman has influenced an entire generation of scholars and afforded readers a proximity to the past that would otherwise be foreclosed.

Saidiya Hartman is a 2019 MacArthur fellow and a scholar of African American literature and cultural history whose works explore the afterlife of slavery in modern American society and bear witness to lives, traumas, and fleeting moments of beauty that historical archives have omitted or obscured. She weaves findings from her meticulous historical research into narratives that retrieve from oblivion stories of nameless and sparsely documented historical actors, such as female captives on slave ships and the inhabitants of slums at the turn of the 20th century.