When Langston Hughes wrote “America never was America for me” in 1938, he encapsulated the great contradiction in our history: the ideal of America continues to inspire and magnetize people around the world, and yet it is premised on an enduring legacy of exploitation, exclusion, inequality, and imperial violence. This project will treat American “freedom” and “equality” as a set of global social relations rather than abstract ideals. It will ask, along with Hughes, freedom for whom at the expense of whom? The purpose is not to debunk the ideals that have inspired so many, but rather to trace the historical and social conditions of the various freedom projects that have characterized the history of the United States: from Jefferson’s ‘Empire for Liberty’ through to Donald J. Trump’s ‘Greatness’. All our programs of national development – of the specification and realization of “equality” and “freedom” within the United States – were framed and enacted within a global economic, diplomatic, and military architecture. We will bring together faculty who examine the question and paradox of American inequality within the context of the economic, military, and cultural history of the United States in the world.
Faculty Lead: Walter Johnson, Winthrop Professor of History; Professor of African and African American Studies