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What is the Role That Memory and History Can Play in Making Sense of Places? Clint Smith

Festival of the Future City
Clint Smith

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Writer Clint Smith takes a tour of monuments and landmarks – those that are honest about the past and those that are not – that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping America's collective history.

How cities and places deal with the legacy of slavery is a huge issue worldwide. In his new book, How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, the topics covered by Smith include the Monticello Plantation in Virginia – the estate where Thomas Jefferson wrote letters espousing the urgent need for liberty while enslaving more than 400 people; the Whitney Plantation, one of the only former plantations devoted to preserving the experience of the enslaved people whose lives and work sustained it; Angola, a former plantation-turned-maximum-security prison in Louisiana that is filled with Black men who work across the 18,000-acre land for virtually no pay; and Blandford Cemetery, the final resting place of tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers.

In conversation with Tim Cole (historian, writer and chair of the Bristol History Commission), Smith offers a new understanding of the hopeful role that memory and history can play in making sense of the United States and how it has come to be and what the lessons might offer for other places.

Buy a copy of Clint Smith’s How The Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America from Waterstones, our bookselling partners.

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Clint Smith

Clint Smith is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of the poetry collection Counting Descent, which won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. Smith has received fellowships from New America, the Emerson Collective, the Art For Justice Fund, Cave Canem and the National Science Foundation. His writing has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Poetry Magazine, The Paris Review and elsewhere. His most recent book is How the World Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America.

Image credit: Carletta Girma
Tim Cole

Tim Cole is Professor of Social History and the director of Brigstow Institute, University of Bristol, and chair of the Bristol History Commission. He has wide-ranging interests in social and environmental histories, historical geographies and digital humanities and also works within the creative economy. His core research has focused in the main on Holocaust landscapes – both historical and memory landscapes – writing books on Holocaust representation, ghettorization in Budapest, social histories of the Hungarian Holocaust and the spatiality of survival as well as co-editing a collection of essays emerging from an interdisciplinary digital humanities project he co-led. Alongside this research, he has also developed interests in environmental history, being a co-editor of a study of military landscapes and he is now working on a new book that explores social, cultural, landscape and environmental change in post-war Britain.

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Festival of the Future City

Festival of the Future City takes place every two years in Bristol. This year – due to the pandemic – the festival brings together live on-stage, live online and pre-recorded events. Check the project page for details and follow #FutureCity21 on Twitter.

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