‘Thinking With the Past’ lecture series moves to Central Library

Penn’s “Thinking With the Past” lecture series has returned with a fresh lineup of speakers, but in a new home: the Parkway Central Library at 1901 Vine St.

The series, which debuted last spring, features Penn history professors discussing and signing their recent books. All of the lectures are free and open to the public. Each talk will begin at 7 p.m. in Room 108 of the Free Library. The Penn Book Center will provide books for sale.

Eve Troutt Powell, an associate professor in the Department of History, will kick off the lecture series on Wednesday, Dec. 12, with a talk titled, “Other People’s Help: Studying Slavery in Cultures Not Your Own.” To attend, register online.

As part of the lecture, Troutt Powell, a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, will focus on the legacies of slavery in the Middle East, the pitfalls of her research, and her latest book, “Tell This in My Memory: Stories of Enslavement from Egypt, Sudan and the Ottoman Empire.” She will also address themes depicted in the Hollywood film “The Help” and representations of black women in the movie.

“My work explores narratives told by former slaves, often to missionaries, religious orders, and abolition movements,” Troutt Powell says. “In the Middle East, refugees from Darfur, for example, and from other parts of the Sudan who’ve gone into Egypt, are following the same migratory patterns that slaves [historically] followed. They look like the people that were classified as slaves by their skin color. When they get to Egypt, they get called ‘abid,’ which means slave. They don’t know why they’re being called this.”

Troutt Powell will tackle questions about the way societies outside of the United States integrate the experience of slavery in their histories, and how their constructions of racial or ethnic identities differ from the way Americans identify connections between race and slavery.

In the Middle East, historically, many slaves were not black, she says. “What kind of legacies can slavery have when it’s not just racial?” she asks.

The next lecture in the “Thinking with the Past” series will feature Kathy Peiss, the Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History, on March 20, 2013. The final installment of the series, on April 10, 2013, will feature Jonathan Steinberg, the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Modern European History.

Thinking Library