Conference marking the 40th anniversary of the television miniseries Roots

Randy Laist's picture
January 27, 2017 to January 28, 2017
Connecticut, United States
Subject Fields: 
African American History / Studies, American History / Studies, Human Rights, Popular Culture Studies, Slavery

In the final week of January, 1977, the ABC miniseries Roots became the most-watched television program of all time.  To the surprise of the show’s producers, Roots became not only a ratings windfall, but a cultural phenomenon, articulating an African-American counter-narrative of American history, provoking a dialogue about the legacy of slavery, and presenting African-American characters with a dignity and integrity that differed sharply from the caricatured representations common to television up to that time.  In many ways, the response to the show by the media and the general public constitutes the first of many “conversations about race” that have punctuated the Post-Civil Rights era.

On January 27 and 28 of 2017, Goodwin College will host a special conference to mark the 40th anniversary of the original broadcast of Roots.  Goodwin College houses a significant repository of Alex Haley’s writings, and it is committed to promoting dialogue about social justice and opportunity for all.  We welcome 250-word proposals for conference presentations focused on any aspect of the miniseries, its impact, and its legacy. 

Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • The national and international cultural impact of Alex Haley’s Roots and the miniseries,
  • Media representations of slavery and African-Americans over the last half-century,
  • The sociological, economic, and educational impacts of inter-generational trauma,
  • Re-viewing Roots within the context of contemporary concerns such as the epidemic of mass-incarceration, the cultural heritage of the Civil War, the Black Lives Matter campaign, etc.,
  • The power of television as both an agent of change and as upholder of the status quo,
  • Interactions between the genres of oral history and novelistic fiction, and between historical iconography and televised melodrama,
  • The history of attempts to have a public “conversation about race” and their ambiguous outcomes,
  • Contextualizing the narrative of Roots within the wider scope of trans-Atlantic migration and immigration,
  • The continued impact of slavery, human trafficking, and violations of human rights within the United States and abroad,
  • Genealogy, naming practices, traditions, and African-American identity,
  • Approaches to teaching the novel and the miniseries.

In addition to scholarly contributions, we also welcome artwork, creative writing, personal narratives, and multimedia reflections on Roots for inclusion in the conference program.

Please direct proposals or requests for further information to Randy Laist at

The initial dealine for proposals is May 1, 2016

Contact Info: 

Randy Laist at

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