Fiona Vernal

Fellow’s Talk: Fiona Vernal on Race and Identity in Hartford

Hartford Bound: How African Became and African American and Caribbean City. Associates Professor of History and Africana Studies Fiona Vernal, with a response by Carol Gray. April 27, 2022, 4:00pm. Humanities Institute Conference Room.

Hartford Bound: How Hartford became an African American and Caribbean City

Fiona Vernal (Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies, UConn)

with a response by Carol Gray

Wednesday, April 27, 2022, 4:00pm, Humanities Institute Conference Room, HBL 4-209

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The event will also be livestreamed with automated captioning.

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This talk explores Fiona Vernal’s current book and digital humanities project, Housing Hartford: Mobility, Race, and Identity in Post-World War II Hartford, which examines the convergence of three great migrations of African Americans, Puerto Ricans, and West Indians in the Greater Hartford region. The book project integrates oral history, archival research, and GIS methodologies to reframe the history of how Hartford became an African American and a Caribbean city. This narrative of community formation told through the lens of housing, migration, and mobility, offers counter narratives to hardened scripts of slum clearance, white suburban flight, redlining, urban renewal, and gentrification. By exploring the intersections of space, place, mobility, and identity, Hartford Bound offers new visual and spatial histories of race, ethnic belonging, and community succession.

Fiona Vernal is the director of Engaged, Public, Oral, and Community Histories (EPOCH) and Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies at the University of Connecticut. The project she will present today is part of a suite public humanities projects recently awarded the University of Connecticut’s Provost’s Awards for Excellence in Community Engaged Scholarship, a UConn Humanities Institute fellowship, and the Sustainable Global Cities Initiative (SCGI) Faculty Research Grant.

Access note

If you require accommodation to attend this event, please contact us at or by phone (860) 486-9057. We can request ASL interpretation, computer-assisted real time transcription, and other accommodations offered by the Center for Students with Disabilities.

Fellow’s Talk: Carol Gray on Law as a Site of Struggle

2021-22 UCHI fellow's Talk. Law as a site of struggle: From Tahrir Square to Egypt's Judiciary. PhD Candidate, Political Science Carol Gray. With a response by Fiona Vernal. October 20, 2021, 4:00pm. Homer Babbidge Library 4-209

Law as a Site of Struggle: From Tahrir Square to Egypt’s Judiciary

Carol Gray (Ph.D. Candidate, Political Science, UConn)

with a response by Fiona Vernal (History, UConn)

Wednesday, October 20, 2021, 4:00pm. Homer Babbidge Library, 4-209.

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The event will also be livestreamed with automated captioning.

To attend virtually, register here

Egypt has weaponized the Rule of Law against civil society, using legal statutes such as the Protest Law, Cyber Law, Terrorist Law, and NGO Registration Law to control and shut down hundreds of human rights organizations and incarcerate many thousands of political prisoners, by latest counts, approximately 60,000 people. Meanwhile, law-based NGOs have brought human rights reform to Egypt’s historically independent judiciary since the late 1990s by litigating human rights violations, often using strategic litigation aimed at striking down repressive unconstitutional laws.

This presentation, divided into three parts, will first offer examples of successful human rights litigation during the first two decades of Egypt’s human rights movement based on interviews conducted in Egypt in the wake of the Arab Spring. These successes hinged on the existence of an independent judiciary. Part two explores how the advocacy of civil society and judges themselves has strengthened the judiciary while, at the same time, certain actions of Egypt’s Executive Branch have severely undermined, and at times punished, the autonomy of judges. Finally, by examining particular cases decided by Egyptian courts post-Arab Spring, part three analyzes how judicial independence and the rule of law in Egypt are not binary concepts. Despite notable court rulings that violated fundamental human rights, there are still glimmers of courage and independence in the judiciary which remains one of the few avenues of possible reform.

Currently a Dissertation Fellow with the UConn Humanities Institute, Carol Gray is a doctoral student in Political Science and a former public defender. She was a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholar in Egypt from 2010 to February 2011 and a Fulbright Scholar in Montreal from 2013–2014 with Concordia University’s Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability. Attorney Gray holds a BA from Wesleyan University, a JD from Northeastern University School of Law, an LLM from Georgetown University Law Center and a diploma in International Human Rights Law from American University in Cairo. Her dissertation is based on an oral history she conducted in Egypt after Arab Spring of one of Egypt’s leading human rights organizations. Her research is both interdisciplinary—incorporating law, politics, and human rights—and intersectional—using critical theory to examine issues of race, class, ethnicity and gender. Her most recent publication exploring racial binaries and post-colonial national consciousness based on a play written by Frantz Fanon will be published in December in the CLR James Journal, A Review of Caribbean Ideas.

Fiona Vernal is the director of Engaged, Public, Oral, and Community Histories (EPOCH) and Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies at the University of Connecticut. With extensive teaching and research interests in African, Caribbean, and Diaspora history, her interdisciplinary work explores a wide range of themes from slavery, gender, and the law to the history of housing policies. She holds a BA from Princeton and an MA and PhD from Yale University. She consults on and curates a number of public-facing projects, including the production of a series of radio plays exploring the lives of the people and cultures in the Greater Hartford region, in partnership with Hartford Stage and Connecticut Public Broadcasting. In 2019, she curated the panoramic exhibit showcasing how Hartford became an African American and a Caribbean city: “From Civil Rights to Human Rights: African American, Puerto Rican, and West Indian Housing Struggles in Hartford County, Connecticut, 1940-2019.”

If you require accommodation to attend this event, please contact us at or by phone (860) 486-9057. We can request ASL interpreting, computer-assisted real time transcription, and other accommodations offered by the Center for Students with Disabilities.

Three UConn Faculty Awarded NEHC Seed Grants

Three UConn faculty members are among 30 scholars from across 11 New England institutions who were awarded seed grants by the New England Humanities Consortium. These competitive seed grants are awarded for research initiatives in the humanities that seek to capitalize on the collaborative network of the consortium.

Jason Oliver Chang (Department of History and Asian & Asian American Studies Institute) and Fiona Vernal (Department of History and Africana Studies Institute) serve as co-Principle Investigators on a project entitled Shade: Labor Diasporas, Tobacco, Mobility, and the Urban Nexus. This project, which will be conducted in collaboration with former UCHI fellow Jorell Meléndez-Badillo (Dartmouth College) and Sony Coranez Bolton (Amherst College), will investigate. the ways that U.S. imperialism, colonization, corporate industry, and white settler normativity have evolved and matured in the Connecticut River Valley.

The other UConn awardee is Kevin McBride of the UConn Department of Anthropology. He is a co-Principle Investigator on a project entitled Public Memory, Place, and Belonging: Unearthing the Hidden History of the Native and African American Presence on Block Island. Other co-investigators and collaborators on this project include Amelia Moore, Jessica M. Frazier, and Kendall Moore (University of Rhode Island). This project will support fieldwork and planning that will lead to the development of a temporary, traveling exhibition, opening in July 2022. After its initial display at a number of regional museums, the exhibit will eventually find a permanent residence at the Gobern family homestead on Block Island, the future site of a Manissean community center.

You Should..Listen to: The “Feel Free” Audiobook (Fiona Vernal, UConn-History)

There is only so much Netflix and Hulu one can watch and replaying Contagion and Outbreak are not the best antidote for COVID-19’s many anxieties. I suggest you find refuge in an audio-version of Feel Free, Zadie Smith’s 2018 eclectic and wide-ranging collection of essays. Banish all thought of the staid five-paragraph essays of undergraduate habitude; this collection will whisk you back to what the essay form was meant to do originally—reflect and be relevant. Even if you have not discovered White Teeth or On Beauty, you’ll get a crash course in Smith’s literary evolution from an awe-struck young writer to a mature, reflective artist. Feel Free will surprise and delight, offering ruminations on freedom, multiculturalism, aesthetics, art, dance, fiction, domesticity, middle class dreams of the British sort, optimism, family, individuality, social media, race, and narcissism. In a curious juxtaposition of characters, you’ll discover low-brow and high-brow culture, ways of seeing, ways of being, and the gulf between husbands and wives and parents and children. Where else will you find Martha Graham and John Berger; Philip Roth and Balthasar Denney; Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Vladimir Nabokov and Jay-Z; and the single-monikered Prince, Madonna, and Beyoncé?  In one of the most brilliant pieces, a bathroom becomes a lucid symbol of a father’s thwarted dream, a mother’s exile, and the sacrifices that permit their children to cross social, racial, geographic, and economic boundaries. Since you can’t have this conversation with Zadie Smith in person, listening to Feel Free is the next best option!

Fiona Vernal
Associate Professor of History
University of Connecticut

Fiona Vernal Behind a PodiumWho is Fiona Vernal? Fiona Vernal is a native of Trelawny, Jamaica and grew up in Trenton, New Jersey. She earned her MA and PhD from Yale. Since 2005 she has taught at the University of Connecticut’s Department of History. Her book, The Farmerfield Mission (Oxford, 2012) explores the relationship between African Christian converts, European missionaries, and the politics of land access, land alienation and the “civilizing” mission of African social and economic improvement in nineteenth century South Africa. She consults with the Connecticut Historical Society on oral history projects including an exhibit documenting and recording the impact of 9/11 on Connecticut victims, families, and first responders.