2020-2021 Faculty-Graduate Seminar


“Writing the Impossible”: African American Studies and Critical Archival Praxis


This seminar explores approaches to archival research in the field of African American studies.

Archives, as Michel-Rolph Trouillot reminds us, are not passive repositories of historical materials. Rather, the archive as an institution authorizes particular narratives about the past, while simultaneously rendering other narratives as illegitimate or even “unthinkable”. Working at the intersection of African American studies and critical archival studies, we will interrogate the archive as a site of racialized knowledge production and consider how archival sources inform historical and contemporary understandings of Black life. We will wrestle with the limitations of the archive—the silences, excesses, and (mis)representations—while also engaging with recent scholarship that addresses the methodological, theoretical, and ethical challenges of archival research in innovative ways.

In doing so, we will reckon with what Saidiya Hartman characterizes as the “task of writing the impossible,” the effort to reconstruct the stories of Black people from fragmentary traces in the official record. Invited presenters for this yearlong seminar include scholars and archivists working in the fields of literary and cultural studies, anthropology, history, political science, African American studies, and digital humanities.


The Virtual Seminar Experience

This year's seminar sessions will take place via Zoom Conference. This new approach allows us to extend the Fac-Grad experiences to more students and faculty who would typically be unable to attend. This larger learning community created will foster new dialogs and maximize learning potentials. Transcripts of session records will be made available for all participants.

Event Recording Notice: All in-person, video, and audio-based events may be recorded. By engaging in AAS events, you consent to be photographed, filmed, and otherwise recorded for future department use. Participants waive all rights and any claims for payment or royalties connected with any exhibition, social media, or other publication of the materials. Please note you can hide your camera and/or mute your microphone at any time during a video and audio-based events.


Faculty Convener


Prof. Reena N. Goldthree specializes in the history of Latin America and the Caribbean. Her research and teaching focus on social movements; political theory; labor and migration; and Caribbean feminisms. She earned her B.A. in History-Sociology (magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) from Columbia University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in History from Duke University. Her current book project, Democracy Shall be no Empty Romance: War and the Politics of Empire in the Greater Caribbean, examines how the crisis of World War I transformed Afro-Caribbeans’ understanding of, and engagements with, the British Empire. 

Professor Goldthree is an Associated Faculty Member in the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies and in the Program in Latin American Studies (PLAS).


** Registration Is Required **

The seminars are only available to the Princeton University students, faculty, and staff. To register, please contact Shelby Sinclair at shelbys@princeton.edu.

Upcoming Sessions

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