Historians against Slavery: Tiya Miles

In this special guest post, Tiya Miles, professor of history at the University of Michigan, a 2011 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship winner, and founder of ECO Girls, shares her thoughts on a recent conference connecting the history of enslavement to the continuation of unjust confinement and incarceration today. As she notes, the conference raised questions for many attendees about our responsibilities as historians in the present when confronting problems like human trafficking and modern-day enslavement.

The 15th Annual Gilder Lehrman Center (GLC) International Conference at Yale University, held in November 2013, focused on the theme of Indigenous Enslavement and Incarceration in North American History. Conceived by Native American history scholar, Ned Blackhawk, in collaboration with GLC Director, David Blight, and organized by Blackhawk, Blight, and the fantastic GLC staff members: Assistant Director, David Spatz, Melissa McGrath, and Thomas Thurston, the conference generated insightful, intense and heartfelt discussion. According to Blackhawk, this two-day symposium garnered the largest pre-registration in the history of the GLC, a testimony to the high interest in slavery in native experience, in the intersections of slavery (past and present) and incarceration, as well as in the overlaps and echoes between Native American and African American histories.

The interdisciplinary event drew together scholars of Native American studies, slavery studies, African American studies, and legal studies, as well as legal and mental health practitioners from the U.S. and Canada and numerous members of the New England native and black communities. The conversations ranged from a collective meditation on the power of dreams as a force outside of colonialism (inspired by literary scholar Beth Piatote) to confining images of native people in children’s literature (spurred by education studies scholar Debbie Reese), to the jailing of children in present-day Montana (noted by sociologist Luana Ross).


(Photo I took last day of conference at YALE – Tiya is seated in the middle)

And I shared links to this important conference here – you can watch online!



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