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.
Annette Joseph-Gabriel is a scholar working at the intersection of French and Afro-diasporic culture, literature, and politics. She conducts research and teaches courses on race, gender, and citizenship in France, the Caribbean, and Africa. Her areas of expertise include Black women’s writings, anticolonial activism, and slavery in the French Atlantic. Her work centers the voices and lived experiences of Black women thinkers and activists and shows how their contributions can offer us new ways to think about contemporary cultural and political questions.
Dr. Joseph-Gabriel is an assistant professor of French and Francophone Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She holds a B.A. (cum laude) in Comparative Literature from Williams College and a Ph.D. in French with a graduate certificate in African American and Diaspora Studies from Vanderbilt University. Her research has been supported by awards from several organizations and institutions including the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, the Women’s Caucus for the Modern Languages, the American Philosophical Society, and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.
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