Black History and the Plantationocene: A Roundtable

Solicited by the Labor and Working-Class History Association (LAWCHA) Endorsed by OAH Committee on the Status of ALANA Historians and ALANA Histories and the Agricultural History Society

Friday, March 31, 2023, 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: African American; Environment; Labor and Working-Class


In recent years, interdisciplinary scholars have argued for renaming our current geological era, the Anthropocene, to the “Plantationocence,” to better account for the ways racism, colonization, and capitalism have shape today’s climate crisis. But historians have been slow to engage with this concept. The scholars on this panel will discuss how scholars of African American history can engage with this new framework, and the history of climate change more broadly, by exploring relevant episodes in African American history, from the era of slavery to the present.

Session Participants

Chair: Amy K. Jordan, Hampshire College
Amy Jordan, associate professor of African American history and Co-Dean of Institutional Diversity & Inclusion at Hampshire College. Professor Jordan has conducted oral histories with welfare rights activists and small farmers in Mississippi, and has conducted workshops on the history of anti-poverty and welfare rights activism. Her essay, "Fighting for the Child Development Group of Mississippi: Poor People, Local Politics and the Complicated Legacy of Head Start," is part of a forthcoming collection entitled War on Poverty & Struggles for Racial and Economic Justice. She is currently working on a book entitled From Rural Rehabilitation to Welfare Rights: Rural Relief, Land Ownership and Welfare Rights Activism in Mississippi. Professor Jordan received a doctorate in history from the University of Michigan in 2003.

Panelist: Eric Herschthal, University of Utah
Eric Herschthal is an assistant professor of history at the University of Utah. His research focuses on slavery and abolition; early American history; African American history; and climate history. His first book, The Science of Abolition: How Slaveholders Became the Enemies of Progress, was be published by Yale University Press in May 2021, and his research has appeared in peer-reviewed journals including Slavery & Abolition, The Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, The Journal of the Early Republic, Early American Studies, as well as several edited volumes. His research has been supported by the American Philosophical Society, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Huntington Library, and the McNeil Center at the University of Pennsylvania, among other institutions. He received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University, and as a former journalist, he continues to write for publications including The New York Times, The New Republic, The Washington Post, and The New York Review of Books.

Panelist: James Timothy Roane
J.T. Roane is assistant professor of Africana Studies and Geography and Andrew W. Mellon chair in Global Racial Justice in the Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice at Rutgers University. He received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University and he is a 2008 graduate of the Carter G. Woodson Institute at the University of Virginia. He is the former co- senior editor of Black Perspective the digital platform of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS). Roane's scholarly essays have appeared in Souls Journal, The Review of Black Political Economy, Current Research in Digital History and, Signs. His work has also appeared in venues such as Washington Post, The Brooklyn Rail, Pacific Standard, and The Immanent Frame.

Panelist: Monica M. White, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Dr. Monica M. White is the Distinguished Chair of Integrated Environmental Studies (2021-25) and associate professor of Environmental Justice at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. She holds a joint appointment in the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology and the Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies. She is the first Black woman to earn tenure in both the College of Agricultural Life Sciences (established 1889) and the Nelson Institute (established 1970). Her research investigates Black, Latinx, and Indigenous grassroots organizations that are engaged in the development of sustainable, community-based food systems as a strategy to respond to issues of hunger and food inaccessibility in both contemporary times and the twentieth century.
As the founding director of the Office of Environmental Justice and Engagement (OEJ) at UW-Madison, she works toward bridging the gap between the university and the broader community by connecting faculty and students to community-based organizations that are working in areas of environmental/food/land justice toward their mutual benefit. Her first book, Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement (University of North Carolina Press, 2019) received the First Book Award from the Association of Association for the Study of Food in Society (2020), the Eduardo Bonilla-Silva Outstanding Book Award from the Division of Race and Ethnic Minorities Section of the Society for the Study of Social Problems (2019), and an Honored Book Award from the Gendered Perspectives section of the Association of American Geographers (2019).

Panelist: Teona Williams, Rutgers University
Teona Williams is a doctoral candidate in History and African American Studies at Yale University. Her work revolves around U.S. environmental history, political ecology, Black Geographies,and African American history. Her current work explores the role of disaster and hunger, in shaping Black feminist ecologies during key moments in the long civil rights movement. Before Yale, she completed a master’s degree in Environmental Justice at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. There she researched how African American college students navigated the outdoor recreational landscape. In 2017, she won the Clyde Woods Prize for best graduate paper in Black Geographies, for her paper "Build A Wall Around Hyde Park:" Race, Space and Policing on the Southside of Chicago 1950-2010, published by The Antipode in March 2020. She is the author of the essay “Islands of Freedom: The struggle to desegregate Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountain National Park 1936-1941” in the forthcoming edited collection Not Just Green, Not Just White: Race, Justice, Environmental History. In Fall 2022 she will join Rutgers University as a Presidential postdoctoral fellow.