Renee Romano is the Robert S. Danforth Professor of History and a professor of Comparative American studies and Africana studies at Oberlin College, where she teaches and writes about race, historical memory, museums and public history in the post–World War II United States. She is the author of Racial Reckoning: Reopening America's Civil Rights Trials (2014) and Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America (2003), as well as a coeditor, with Claire Potter, of Historians on Hamilton: How a Blockbuster Musical Is Restaging America's Past (2018) and Doing Recent History: On Privacy, Copyright, Video Games, Institutional Review Boards, Activist Scholarship, and History that Talks Back (2012) and, with Leigh Raiford, of The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory (2006). Romano has served as a consultant for a range of public scholarly projects, including working with the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Kent State University's May 4th Walking Tour and Visitor's Center, and the Brooklyn Historical Society. She directs both Oberlin's Public Humanities concentration and the History Design Lab, which supports undergraduate digital history projects.
In the summer of 2020, in the wake of the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, books about America’s racial history surged on national best-seller lists as many Americans decided that they needed to educate themselves about the nation’s past if they wanted to be part of the fight against systemic racism in the present. This talk explores, historicizes, and assesses the belief that reckoning with America’s racist past is vital to the struggle for social justice in the present. Drawing on the ideas of thinkers like James Baldwin and activists in the historical justice movement, the lecture explores why promoting a deeper understanding of America’s racial history may be a precondition for achieving a more equitable society, how activists have sought to force a reckoning with history, and the pitched battles that have resulted from these efforts to challenge and change America’s historical narratives.