Becoming History: The Spatial Politics of the Black American Public Sphere 1895-1965

October 20, 2015 4:30 PM
Princeton School of Architecture / Room N107
October 20, 2015 4:30 PM
Princeton School of Architecture / Room N107
Mabel O. Wilson and Joshua Guild

In her talk Becoming History Mabel O. Wilson will present an overview of some of the central themes of her book Negro Building: Black Americans in the World of Fairs and Museums (U. California Press 2012). Negro Building examines the history of exhibitions about black Americans, from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, focusing on the increasing curatorial participation of African Americans themselves and the formative role of this participation in the development of models of national, racial, and class identity and of a black American public sphere. An urban, architectural, and cultural history her comprehensive archival project asks what can we learn from how black Americans built or claimed spaces to reimagine their national belonging and share a collective memory of their past? How did World’s Fairs, Emancipation Expositions, and early black grass-roots museums serve as counter-public spheres for black Americans during the era of Jim Crow Segregation?


is an associate professor of history and African American studies at Princeton. He specializes in 20th-century African American social and cultural history, urban history, and the making of the modern African diaspora. His teaching includes courses on post-emancipation African American history, the civil rights movement, history and memory, and the history of New Orleans. His first book, In the Shadows of the Metropolis: Cultural Politics and Black Communities in Postwar New York and London, will be published by Oxford University Press in 2016. His next book project, tentatively entitled The City Lives in You: The Black Freedom Struggle and the Futures of New Orleans, will focus on struggles for racial and economic justice in New Orleans from the mid-20th century black freedom movement through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil disaster.

MABEL O. WILSON teaches architectural design and history/theory courses at Columbia University’s GSAPP. She is also appointed as a Research Fellow at the Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS) and co-directs Global Africa Lab (GAL). She has authored Negro Building: Black Americans in the World of Fairs and Museums (University of California Press 2012), which was a runner-up for John Hope Franklin Prize for the best American Studies publication in 2012. She is currently the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Senior Fellow (2015-2016) at the National Gallery of Art’s Center for Advanced Study in Visual Art where she is developing the manuscript for Building Race and Nation: How Slavery Influenced the Civic Architecture of Antebellum America. She received her M.Arch from GSAPP and a PhD in American Studies from NYU.

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