2020-2021 Faculty-Graduate Seminar: “Writing the Impossible” ft. P. Gabrielle Foreman & Jim Casey

Thu, Nov 19, 2020, 4:30 pm
via ZOOM | To register, contact Shelby Sinclair at shelbys@princeton.edu.
Faculty & Staff
Graduate Students

“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.

Learn more about 2020-2021 Faculty-Graduate Seminar 


Featured Speakers

GABRIELLE FOREMANAs an award-winning teacher, scholar, advisor and activist, P. Gabrielle Foreman is committed to her students’ development and to the fields of African American studies and nineteenth-century literary history and culture.

Foreman is the author of Activist Sentiments: Reading Black Women Writers as well as a plethora of highly-regarded articles and book chapters that are considered central reading in her fields. She is known for her collaborative work including an edition of Harriet Wilson’s Our Nig (Penguin, 2009) lauded for picking up “one of the coldest trails in 19th century African American studies,” as one reviewer put it. Work featured in The Boston Globe also revealed that the young girl once called “our Nig” became a well-known antebellum hair care entrepreneur whose enterprise flourished fifty years before the advent of Madame C.J. Walker.

Community engagement is also one of Foreman’s central commitments. She was named a Kellogg National Leadership Fellow for her work with youth. With young activists and partners from the non-profit sector she co-founded Action for Social Change and Youth Empowerment. ASHAYE put young activists on boards of directors and provided training to help build cohesive groups of youth leaders of color working across issue areas, race, and the geographical divide of Southern California. Her work with community-based organizations on the issue of sustainable community/academic partnerships continues


jim caseyJim Casey is an assistant research professor of African American Studies and the founding managing director of the Center for Black Digital Research at Penn State. He earned his Ph.D. in English at the University of Delaware and held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton University.

His research interests begin with nineteenth-century African American studies, periodicals, and print culture, extending out into the public and digital humanities. He is currently completing a book project on The Invention of Editors. With P. Gabrielle Foreman, he is co-editor of the forthcoming collection, The Colored Convention Movement: Black Organizing in the Nineteenth Century (UNC Press). Among others, his digital scholarly projects include co-directing the Colored Conventions Project and Douglass Day. He serves as vice president of the Research Society for American Periodicals. For more, see jim-casey.com.



** 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.

Event Recording Notice: All in-person, video, and audio-based events may be recorded. By engaging in the above event, 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.


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