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Jewish Studies and Black Studies in Conversation Series: Black and Jewish in Early America

Tuesday, October 5
4 – 5:30 p.m.

Even as recently as the early 2000s, when a large range of scholarship was dedicated to Black-Jewish relations, nearly all of these discussions were framed by a Black-Jewish binary, with Jews on one side and Blacks on the other. Such a history, however, ignores not only the experiences of Jews of color in the U.S. today, but also in the past. In this conversation between Fordham’s Westenley Alcenat and Laura Leibman, professor, Reed College, the latter draws from her new book about a multiracial Jewish family in the early Atlantic world to illustrate how emphasizing the long history of Jews of color forces us to reshape and reconsider what we know about Jews in the Americas.

About the Speakers
Leibman is a professor of English and humanities at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and author of The Art of the Jewish Family: A History of Women in Early New York in Five Objects (Bard Graduate Center, 2020), which won three National Jewish Book Awards. Her earlier book, Messianism, Secrecy and Mysticism: A New Interpretation of Early American Jewish Life (2012), won a Jordan Schnitzer Book Award and a National Jewish Book Award. Her work focuses on religion and the daily lives of women and children in early America, and uses everyday objects to help bring their stories back to life. She has been a visiting fellow at Oxford University, a Fulbright scholar at the University of Utrecht and the University of Panama, and the Leon Levy Foundation Professor of Jewish Material Culture at Bard Graduate Center.

Alcenat is a 19th-century historian of the U.S and Caribbean who teaches at Fordham. His scholarship covers the shared histories of African Americans and Afro-Caribbean people in connection with the wider African diaspora in the Atlantic world. His manuscript in revision, “Children of Africa, Shall Be Haytians: Prince Saunders and the Foundations of Black Emigration to Haiti, 1775-1865,” is a study of the radicalism and ideologies of African American settlers who emigrated to Haiti in the antebellum era. Alcenat is a past recipient of the Richard Hofstadter Fellowship from Columbia University. He has been awarded fellowships from the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Hoover Institute’s Library and Archives, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Social Science Research Council-Mellon Mays Graduate Initiative Grants, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and the Schomburg Center for Research in African-American Culture.

From 2015 to 2016, he was a visiting scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a visiting associate fellow at the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History at Harvard University. Before arriving to Princeton, he was a residential postdoctoral research associate at the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University’s MacMillan Center. Alcenat has written or provided commentary for The Jacobin Magazine,, and The Immanent Frame. He is also a contributing guest writer for the Black Perspectives Blog, the official publication of the African American Intellectual History Society.


This event is open to the public.