In The News: Hamilton, Harvard, Georgetown, Native American slaves

‘Hamilton’ and History: Are They in Sync?

By JENNIFER SCHUESSLER | APRIL 10, 2016 | New York Times

As “Hamilton” fever has swept America, historians have hardly been immune. The megahit Broadway musical’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, has won prestigious honors from the profession, including the 2015 George Washington Book Prize.  More than one scholar has marveled at the show’s detailed presentation of the founding period’s complicated politics — not to mention the way Mr. Miranda’s dazzling rap lyrics pull off rhymes like “line of credit” and “financial diuretic.”

But even among historians who love the musical and its multiethnic cast, a question has also quietly simmered: does “Hamilton” really get Hamilton right?

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Harvard unveils plaque in memory of slaves

By Laura Krantz | The Boston Globe | April 06, 2016

CAMBRIDGE — Harvard president Drew Faust unveiled a plaque Wednesday to honor four slaves who worked at the school in the 1700s, part of a new push by the college to acknowledge slavery’s role in its history.

Faust was joined by US Representative John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights leader who said the best way to cleanse the country of slavery’s stains is not to wipe out its traces but to acknowledge them.

The ceremony came a week after Faust wrote an op-ed in the Harvard Crimson that the “presence and contributions of people of African descent at Harvard have remained a largely untold story.” She has set up a committee of historians to advise her on additional ways Harvard should remember its own ties to slavery and plans to hold a conference on slavery at Harvard soon.

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Horrors Pile Up Quietly In ‘The Other Slavery’

April 17, 2016 | Genevieve Valentine | NPR

 “I preferred a country where I should be absolute master.”

 In 1839, Captain John Sutter arrived in California and began acquiring Native American slaves from several nations to work the land he purchased.  He eventually owned several hundred “Indian slaves,” whom he treated notoriously badly even by the standards of fellow slave-owners.  The circumstances that let Sutter keep these slaves in an ostensibly free territory are part of the complex political and social forces that Andrés Reséndez sets out to unpack in The Other Slavery. But if the book makes anything clear, it’s that the single organizing force was simple: greed, and an absence of empathy that meant a slow genocide for the victims.

The Other Slavery is a necessary work that occupies a loaded historical landscape; Reséndez keeps a deliberate scholarly distance from the material, bringing forth evidence and constructing careful — even conservative — arguments.  But that evidence speaks for itself, and the horrors quietly pile up. The enslavement of communities from North America and the Caribbean broke down entire nations, and irreparably erased cultural and political ecosystems.  American schoolchildren are taught that smallpox was the epidemic that gutted Native American populations after exposure to Europeans; an illness to which they had no immunity ravaged their numbers.  Reséndez suggests nothing less than that the epidemic was actually the Europeans themselves.

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272 Slaves Were Sold to Save Georgetown. What Does It Owe Their Descendants?

By RACHEL L. SWARNS | APRIL 16, 2016 | New York Times

WASHINGTON — The human cargo was loaded on ships at a bustling wharf in the nation’s capital, destined for the plantations of the Deep South.  Some slaves pleaded for rosaries as they were rounded up, praying for deliverance.

But on this day, in the fall of 1838, no one was spared: not the 2-month-old baby and her mother, not the field hands, not the shoemaker and not Cornelius Hawkins, who was about 13 years old when he was forced onboard.

Their panic and desperation would be mostly forgotten for more than a century.  But this was no ordinary slave sale.  The enslaved African-Americans had belonged to the nation’s most prominent Jesuit priests.  And they were sold, along with scores of others, to help secure the future of the premier Catholic institution of higher learning at the time, known today as Georgetown University.

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