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.
Minkah Makalani is Director for the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, and Associate Professor in the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. His work and teaching focus on intellectual history, black political thought, radical social movements, Caribbean independence, Black Power, race and racial identity, and hip-hop. His first book, In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism from Harlem to London, 1917-1939 (University of North Carolina Press, 2011), examines the black radical encounter within organized Marxism among early twentieth century Caribbean radicals in Harlem and London, and considers how these activist-intellectuals drew on their experiences of racial oppression, colonial domination, and diasporic interactions prompted their independent political organizing and informed their engagement with western radical thought to articulate a black internationalist politics. He is also co-editor of Escape from New York: The New Negro Renaissance beyond Harlem (University Press of Minnesota, 2013), with Davarian Baldwin. His articles have appeared in Small Axe, Social Text, South Atlantic Quarterly, Souls, The Journal of African American History, and Women, Gender, and Families of Color.
“Black Women’s Intellectual Labor and the Social Spaces of Black Radical Thought in Harlem,” Race Capital? Harlem as Setting and Symbol. Eds. Andrew Fearnley and Daniel Matlin. Columbia University Press, 2018.
“‘West Indian Through and Through, and Very British’: C. L. R. James’s Beyond a Boundary, Coloniality, and Theorizing Caribbean Independence,” Marxism, Colonialism, and Cricket: C. L. R. James’s Beyond a Boundary. Eds. Dave Featherstone, Chris Gair, Christian Hogsbjerg, and Andrew Smith. Duke University Press, 2018.
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