2017 Conference: Speakers

The Keynote Lecture and Plenary Session Panels for “Transforming Public History from Charleston to the Atlantic World” are Free and Open to the Public
, all other conference sessions require conference registration. Click here for the Schedule at a Glance. Click here for registration. Click here for the full schedule.

Keynote Lecture

Dr. Lonnie Bunch
Lonnie G. Bunch III
, PhD,
Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum for
African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)

Historian, author, curator and educator, Dr. Lonnie G. Bunch, III is the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. On June 15th, 2017, Director Bunch brings his public history expertise to Charleston as the Keynote Lecturer for the College of Charleston’s “Transforming Public History from Charleston to the Atlantic World” conference.

Director Bunch has written on topics ranging from slavery, the black military experience, the American presidency and all black towns in the American west to diversity in museum management and the impact of funding and politics on American museums. In 2010, he published the award-winning book “Call the Lost dream Back: Essays on Race, History and Museums.” “Slave Culture: A Documentary Collection of the Slave Narratives” was published in 2014, and his most recent book: “Memories of the Enslaved: Voices from the Slave Narratives” was published in 2015.

Conference Speakers

Michael Allen, Community Partnership Specialist, National Park Service Southeast Regional Office, and Director for the National Historic Landmark Theme Study on the U.S. Reconstruction Era, 1861-1898

Mr. Michael Allen has served with distinction in various National Park Service (NPS) posts since 1980 and currently serves as the Community Partnership Specialist with the Southeast Regional Office. He has been a community activist for most of his professional life, and has worked tirelessly over the course of thirty-five years with the National Park Service and community groups in South Carolina and the Southeastern United States. He has also filled leadership roles with the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, and most recently, the National Historic Landmark Theme Study on Reconstruction, which is part of a process designed to enhance public understanding of this complex and contested period. By emphasizing the themes of black institution building, violence and civil unrest, enfranchisement and the expansion of democracy, land and labor reform, the expansion of federal power, and the remaking of the South, the Reconstruction theme study will provide a framework for an invigorated public understanding of the period.


Ana Lucia Araujo, PhD, Professor of History, Howard University

Dr. Ana Lucia Araujo is a cultural historian and a Professor of History at the historically black Howard University in Washington DC. Her work explores the history and the memory of the Atlantic slave trade and slavery and their social and cultural legacies. She is particularly interested in the public memory, heritage, and visual culture of slavery. Her book publications include Brazil Through French Eyes: A Nineteenth-Century Artist in the Tropics (2015), Shadows of the Slave Past: Memory, Heritage and Slavery (2014), Public Memory of Slavery: Victims and Perpetrators in the South Atlantic (2010), and Romantisme tropical : l’aventure illustrée d’un peintre français au Brésil (2008). She also edited a number of books African Heritage and Memories of Slavery in Brazil and the South Atlantic World (2015), Politics of Memory: Making Slavery Visible in the Public Space  (2012), Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities (2011), and Living History: Encountering the Memory of the Heirs of Slavery (2009). She is currently finishing a book titled Reparations for Slavery and the Slave Trade: A Transnational and Comparative History.

Dr R P Benjamin © Simon Webb

Richard Benjamin, PhD, Director of the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool, United Kingdom

Dr. Richard Benjamin heads the International Slavery Museum at National Museums Liverpool where he is responsible for the strategic development of the Museum, including its forthcoming education and resource centre, partnerships, research and collection policies. He is also the Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of International Slavery, a partnership with the University of Liverpool. In 2002, Benjamin was a Visiting Research scholar at the W.E.B.DuBois Institute of African and African American Research, Harvard University, and appointed as the head of the International Slavery Museum in 2006. He is a Trustee of the Anthony Walker Foundation, an Edge Hill University Governor, Board member of the Commonwealth Association of Museums and UK representative of the International Scientific Committee of the UNESCO Slave Route project.


Alissandra Cummins, Director of the Barbados Museum & Historical Society and former Chairperson of the UNESCO Executive Board

Ms. Alissandra Cummins was born in Barbados and is one of the leading experts on Caribbean heritage, museum development, and art. In addition to serving as the Director of the Barbados Museum & Historical Society, she is a lecturer in Museum and Heritage Studies at the University of the West Indies. Cummins served in lead positions for several intergovernmental committees and NGOs, in particular as the Chairperson of the Advisory Committee of the International Council of Museums, and successively President of the organization (2004-2010). She was the first female president of the organization and the first to serve from the Caribbean region. Within UNESCO, Cummins was a member of the Executive Board for two mandates, and between 2009-2011 she was elected as Chairperson of the Board’s Finance and Administrative Commission. Most recently she also chaired the Administrative Commission during the 36th session of the General Conference of UNESCO.

Rex Ellis, Smithsonian Institution

Rex Ellis, PhD, Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs, Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture 

Dr. Rex M. Ellis is presently the Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) at the Smithsonian Institution. Ellis is charged with the responsibility for planning, developing, directing, and managing all curatorial, collections, education and outreach programs and activities. Curatorial Affairs is the primary implementing office of the museum’s mission. In this regard, the office develops preserves, documents, interprets, and makes accessible to diverse audiences the scholarship and collections of the museum through exhibitions, education, and public programs. The Museum, the first of its kind on the National Mall, opened to the public on September 24, 2016.

Prior to this position, Ellis was Vice President of the Historic Area for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, where he oversaw all programs and operations. Ellis was the first African American Vice President in the Foundation’s history and served in that position for eight years.


Makiba Foster, Assistant Chief Librarian, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Dr. Makiba Foster is the Assistant Chief Librarian for the Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Prior to her role at the Schomburg, she served as Curator of Oral History and Subject Librarian for American History and Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. While at Washington University, she lead collaborations, which included faculty, students, and community members/organizations, focusing on the role of libraries and archives in advancing social justice with specific projects like Documenting Ferguson, a community sourced digital archive created after the killing of Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, MO and Mapping LGBTQ St. Louis  a Mellon Funded GIS mapping project that works to understand historically the built environment through the lens of sexuality and how those spaces further divided along the lines of race, class, and gender.


Bayo Holsey, PhD, Associate Professor of History, Rutgers University

Dr. Bayo Holsey is an Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University. Her research and writing address public culture and history in West Africa and the African diaspora. She is the author of Routes of Remembrance: Refashioning the Slave Trade in Ghana (University of Chicago Press, 2008), which won the Amaury Talbot Prize and the Toyin Falola Africa book award. Currently, she is completing a second book entitled Tyrannies of Freedom: Race, Power, and the Fictions of Late Capitalism. Holsey received her PhD in Socio-Cultural Anthropology from Columbia University and previously taught in the Department of African and African American Studies at Duke University. She is the recipient of fellowships from the National Humanities Center, the Ford Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.


Caryl Phillips, Author and Playwright

Mr. Caryl Phillips was born in St. Kitts and moved to Britain at the age of four months. He grew up in Leeds, and studied English Literature at Oxford University.  His creative work focuses on the Black Atlantic and experiences of people of the African Diaspora in England, the Caribbean, and the United States. In 1992, Phillips was named Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and was on the 1993 Granta list of Best of Young British Writers. His literary awards include the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a British Council Fellowship, a Lannan Foundation Fellowship, and Britain’s oldest literary award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He has taught at universities in Ghana, Sweden, Singapore, Barbados, India, and the United States.

Fath Davis Ruffins
, Museum Curator, Smithsonian’s National Museum for American History

Ms. Fath Ruffins is the Curator of African American History and Culture in the Division of Home and Community Life in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH). She has been a historian and curator at the Smithsonian Institution since 1981, working in several different divisions over that time. Between 1988 and 2005, she was the head of the Collection of Advertising History at the NMAH Archives Center. She is a specialist in ethnic imagery in popular culture, the history of advertising, on the history of African American preservation efforts, and on the origins of ethnic museums on the National Mall. Ruffins has curated or consulted on several major exhibitions dealing with the African-American experience, and served as guest curator for an opening exhibition on the Abolition movement at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati (2004). She is currently on the executive committee for a major project: Our American Journey: The Smithsonian Immigration/ Migration Initiative.  As part of this pan-Smithsonian effort, Ruffins is also serving as chief curator and project director for a related exhibition at the NMAH whose working title is: Our American Journey: Many Voices, One Nation opening in 2016.