Universities are distinctive institutions, whose essential tasks include the preservation of memory and the dissemination of history. But how do universities remember their own pasts, particularly when those pasts deemed difficult or problematic? To understand institutional strategies of memory work we focus on how American universities remember and commemorate their fraught relations with slavery, examining in particular two cases in which universities have been forced to remember their past involvement in slavery. Through interviews at Brown University and the University of Alabama and the analysis of news accounts, we explore the conditions of successful and less successful apologies for slavery. We argue that universities are potentially effective sites for apologies because of their commitment to active consideration, their ability to engage in the process of apology and their function, in effect, as museums of ideas. As a consequence, apologies can play a powerful and continuing role in collegiate settings.
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