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Spencer Crew  //  Robinson Professor of American, African American and Public History

Robinson Professor Spencer Crew

Robinson Professor Spencer Crew

Spencer Crew has worked in public history institutions for more than twenty-five years.  He served as president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center for six years and worked at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution for twenty years.  Nine of those years he served as the director of NMAH.  At each of those institutions he sought to make history accessible to the public through innovative and inclusive exhibitions and public programs.

His most important exhibition was the ground breaking “Field to Factory: Afro-American Migration 1915 – 1940” which generated a national discussion about migration, race, and creating historical exhibitions.    He also co-curated “The American Presidency A Glorious Burden” which is one of the Smithsonian’s most popular exhibitions. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has attracted worldwide attention because of the quality of its presentations and focus on race, interracial cooperation, and issues of contemporary slavery.

Crew has published extensively in the areas of African American and Public History.  Among his publications are Field to Factory: Afro-American Migration 1915 – 1940 (1987), and Black Life in Secondary Cities: A Comparative Analysis of the Black Communities of Camden and Elizabeth, N.J. 1860 – 1920 (1993). He co-authored The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden (2002) and Unchained Memories: Readings From The Slave Narratives (2002).

Crew is an active member of the academic and cultural communities, serving on many boards that work to generate enthusiasm for history among the general public. He is the Past Chair of the National Council for History Education and serves on the Board of the National Trust for Historic Preservation as well as the Nominating Board of the Organization of American Historians.

He graduated from Brown University and holds a master’s degree and a doctorate from Rutgers University. In 2003 he was inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni.



Professor Crew Comments on the Specialization of US Cities

Participating in a recent debate in the New York Times, Robinson Professor of America, African American, and Public History Spencer Crew writes about the non-economic reasons for intercity migration.  You can read his piece here.


Professor Crew Appointed as OAH Distinguished Lecturer

Professor Crew has been appointed as an OAH Distinguished Lecturer. He is one of twenty-five speakers to join the program for the 2012-13 year. OAH lecturers speak at college campuses and conferences, as well as historical societies, libraries, museums, and teacher workshops. The OAH, Organization of American Historians, was founded in 1907 and it “is […]


Of Slaves and Ships: Students Trace the Route of Pearl Escapees

Of Slaves and Ships: Students Trace the Route of Pearl Escapees By Buzz McClain “If you look over there, you can see the Capitol building,” Mason historian Spencer R. Crew said, pointing to the right windows of the van. “And over here, to the left, there were slave pens. It’s pretty amazing to think there […]


The Great Migration of African Americans: Making the ‘Color Line’ National

Professor Crew will discuss “The Great Migration of African Americans: Making the ‘Color Line’ National” tonight, February 20th, at 7:30 pm at New Mexico State University. Click here for more information about the discussion.


Professor Crew Discusses Underground Railroad with Clement Price

Professor Crew along with historian Clement Price discuss “Locating the Routes of the Underground Railroad in New Jersey.” Their discussion is part of a program called “7 Steps to Freedom.” Click here to read the full article about their discussion.


Songs of Freedom Earns Two New York Emmy Awards

Professor Crew was the historical consultant for “Songs of Freedom,” an educational film that uses storytelling and contemporary music to teach the history of the Underground Railroad. “Songs of Freedom” has been awarded two New York State Emmy Awards in the categories of Children’s Programming and Directory, Post Production on April 3, 2011. It was […]


Article on The Underground Railroad

In the September 19, 2010 issue of The Free-Lance Star, Robinson Professor Spencer Crew wrote an article titled “Striking a Blow for the Ideals of a Great Nation.” In this article he discussed the Underground Railroad and how it “became another illustration of the growing strains between the North and South, and another reason why […]


Professor Crew – The Process of Historical Research

On July 30, 2009, Robinson Professor Spencer Crew met with 25 rising junior students from Annandale High School, all participating in the International Baccalaureate program, to teach them about the process of historical research. The students’ specific research topic was the Civil Rights movement in Fairfax County. Professor Crew not only discussed the research process, […]