What They Said - at Sarah Lawrence last semester
April 11, 2006 "Forensic Exhumations: Pursuing Justice from the Graves," a lecture sponsored by the Senior Seminar in Cultural Studies
It wasn't until we were at the gravesite near Nova Kasaba and found wire on wrists and blindfolds over faces that I started thinking beyond those who pulled the triggers-beyond organization and policy, to the planners. Who arranged for all the wire? Who cut and brought the cloth for thousands of blindfolds? Srebrenica had been under siege for more than a year; people hadn't had new clothes in all that time. No one had fuel for vehicles. Who got fuel to Cerska for the backhoe that dug the soil to cover the bodies? The stories told by the bodies beg these questions. In answering them, we recognize the need for individual accountability for these crimes. Without the planners and organizers, these crimes would not have happened.
Clea Koff, a forensic anthropologist, formerly worked for the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. In 2004 she published The Bone Woman: Among the Dead in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Croatia.
April 18, 2006 "Why Literature Matters: Slavery, Abolition and the Enlightenment"
In compiling an anthology of poems written about slavery more than 200 years ago, many surprises turned up. First was the sheer number of works about slavery in a period when we don't think of writers paying much attention to it. Another, given how terribly few black people were allowed to become literate, is the number of black writers, most of them never before anthologized. A third surprise was the number of canonical writers, including Defoe, Pope, Blake, Coleridge and Wordsworth-a reminder that in research, we often cannot see something unless we deliberately set out to look for it. But above all, I was surprised that fully three-quarters of these writers depicted slavery as evil, ugly, intolerable. They were ahead of their time, a sharp reminder to us today of why literature really matters.
James Basker is the Richard Gilder Professor of Literary History at Barnard College, Columbia University, and president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. In 2002 he published Amazing Grace: An Anthology of Poems about Slavery, 1660-1810.