Yale History Podcast, Episode 4: “Liberty and Literacy” with Alexandra McCraven

August 9, 2021
The Yale History podcast is a new project at the History Department at Yale University that will present a series of interviews with historians from our department on a wide range of historical topics based on their research and expertise. You can find this and future episodes on the Yale History Podcast playlist on Yale’s Soundcloud or listen with the player below.
In the fourth episode, we talk to Alexandra McCraven, a history major and recent graduate of Yale College, about her Yale senior thesis. Although systems of slavery have existed in numerous societies historically, the legal bases of these systems, experiences of the enslaved, and institutional legacies have varied greatly. In her Yale senior thesis, Alexandra McCraven has written about one aspect of the American slave system of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, focusing on efforts to legally prohibit and punish the teaching of literacy to enslaved people, and she has compared it to the case of Greco-Roman antiquity. By examining these systems side-by-side, she offers significant insights into how anti-literacy laws were linked to rationalizations of slavery rooted in imagined and pseudo-scientific conceptions of racial difference, and into the way that divergent practices of manumission created opportunities for literate freed slaves that were foreclosed to enslaved persons in the US South.

Alexandra McCraven is a recent graduate of Yale College from Cheshire, CT. During her time on campus, she majored in History, played on the varsity soccer team, served as a senior editor at the Yale Historical Review, and was a member of the leadership board for Yale Bulldogs for Change. She is incredibly passionate about helping others and expanding her knowledge of the world. This summer she will begin working as an analyst at the Urban Investment Group, an investing platform within Goldman Sachs that focuses on community and economic development.

She discusses her work with Kevin Gledhill (Ph.D. Yale, 2020), a 2020-2021 Graduate Alumni Fellow at Yale and historian of Iran and the Caspian Sea in the 18th and 19th centuries. Dr. Gledhill is currently affiliated with the Ehsan Yarshater Center for Iranian Studies at Columbia University.