Lunn Lecture

This annual lectureship honors cultural historian Eugene Lunn, who during 20 years as a member of the faculty in the UC Davis Department of History distinguished himself as an esteemed teacher and mentor, and an influential scholar in the field of modern European intellectual history.

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The murder of George Floyd, a black man asphyxiated under the knees of Minneapolis police, is devastating.  The pain and horror of this event, in the midst of a global pandemic that has disproportionately devastated black and brown communities, lay bare once again the systemic racism of this country’s history.

Fifty years ago, following the Kent State University massacre, Mississippi police opened fire against student protestors at Jackson State College, ending the lives of two black students. Thirty-five years ago, Philadelphia Police dropped a bomb into the home of the community group known as MOVE. The ensuing blaze incinerated six black adults and five black children before scorching an entire city block. In March 1991, Los Angeles police officers tasered Rodney King, struck him dozens of times with batons, and kick stomped him in his back, and those officers were acquitted of assault by a jury. Each time, people called for justice, and yet the list of victims continues.  The names of Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, Ezell Ford, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddy Gray, Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, Sandra Bland, Natasha McKenna, Willie McCoy, Ahmaud Arbery, David McAtee, Sean Monterrosa, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor and many other black women and men killed by police or died in police custody have seared themselves in our collective memory.

In that darkness, people around the world have taken to the streets to demand an immediate end to police brutality. We, the faculty in the Department of History at UC Davis, join them to unequivocally condemn the killing of George Floyd and the policing practices that led to his death. We stand in solidarity with his immediate family as well as with our black and brown students who continue to confront similar threats in their daily lives.

As historians, we know these deaths resulted not only from four centuries of systemic racism and oppression, but also from present-day practices of policing in our communities, including at the University of California. We urge our own University to revise its relations with police, starting with the disclosure of police misconduct records through Public Record Act requests, as mandated by SB 1421. We call on the University to protest ballooning police budgets at a time when public funds for education shrink.  We call on all educators to oppose the growing militarization of police forces, which began with the 1033 program instituted by the National Defense Authorization Act under Bill Clinton in 1997 and reached its most recent peak in the brutal “crowd dispersal” tactics employed in Sacramento, Vallejo, Oakland, Minneapolis, New York and so many other cities over the past two weeks.

As a university dedicated to free speech and open inquiry, we call for an immediate end to any and all police suppression of the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death.  As a university committed to the Principles of Community, we need to be leaders in making the world a more just place. We join the American Historical Association, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, and historical associations around the world in this effort.

The History Department has long emphasized global slavery, race-making, emancipation, civil rights movements and their relationship to the present day, and environmental and social justice. We pledge to work with graduate students to advance racial justice through our curriculum, our research, and our advocacy.  Together with our students, we will work for true change.

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Following the campus guidelines for Coronavirus all UC Davis classes, lectures, seminars, labs and discussion sections will move to virtual instruction and remain virtual through the end of spring quarter 2020, including final exams. Given this, the department’s administrative functions have moved to remote work conditions. To contact staff members of the department via e-mail or phone, please go to our administrative staff contact page. 

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