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.
Jessica Marie Johnson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the Johns Hopkins University.
Her work has appeared in Slavery & Abolition, The Black Scholar, Meridians: Feminism, Race and Transnationalism, American Quarterly, Social Text, The Journal of African American History, Debates in the Digital Humanities, Forum Journal, Bitch Magazine, Black Perspectives (AAIHS), Somatosphere and Post-Colonial Digital Humanities (DHPoco).
Johnson is a historian of Atlantic slavery and the Atlantic African diaspora. She is the author of Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy, and Freedom in the Atlantic World (University of Pennsylvania Press, August 2020). She is co-editor with Dr. Mark Anthony Neal (Duke University) of Black Code: A Special Issue of the Black Scholar (2017), a collection of work exploring the field of Black Code Studies and editor of Slavery in the Machine: sx:archipelagos (forthcoming). She is founding curatrix at African Diaspora, Ph.D. or #ADPhD (africandiasporaphd.com), co-organizer of the Queering Slavery Working Group with Dr. Vanessa Holden (University of Kentucky), a member of the LatiNegrxs Project (lati-negros.tumblr.com), and a Digital Alchemist at the Center for Solutions to Online Violence (http://femtechnet.org/csov/).
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