Wednesday, October 17, 2018

"The Book I Did Not Write: Other Approaches," Paper in Paris, 12 October 2018

Last Friday, 12 October 2018, I delivered one of the three keynote addresses at the Frederick Douglass Across and Against Times, Places, and Disciplines conference held in Paris (yes, THAT Paris -- the one in Europe, not the one in Texas). The whole event was a spectacular gathering of scholars working in philosophy, political science, literature, history, and all sorts of humanities from all types of schools and engaging with Douglass's world with about as many different sensibilities and sympathies as there were people in attendance. Helene Quanquin, one of the organizers, said that the conference was filled to capacity, and certainly all of the sessions that I attended had very few empty seats. (Like in our classrooms, those empty seats tended to be front and center -- indeed, people would rather sit on the floor than sit in the front row!)

I'm posting the video of my keynote here, but one of the papers that I heard and that I want to highlight is Rhae Lynn Barnes's digital history project, "Frederick Douglass in the City of Lights: Walking Tour," which is part of a large project, U.S. History Scene. She did this project with undergraduate students of all levels, and used Douglass's experience, among others, as a means of engaging with issues of race and class in Paris today. It's quite spectacular and similar to some of the work Amy Cools has been doing in her posts on her blog, Ordinary Philosophy. Next time I'm in Paris, this will be on my itinerary!

Now, on to my paper, "The Book I Did Not Write: Other Approaches to Women in the World of Frederick Douglass."

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

"Engendering Douglass: The Women Who Shaped a 'Self-Made Man'" by Our Earnest Struggle

Frederick Douglass is often described as a self-made man. Yet his life was profoundly shaped by the women around him--both those who helped and loved him, and those who used and opposed him. Our guests introduce us to some of them, and discuss the challenges of recovering their stories.

Professor Leigh Fought (LeMoyne College) is author of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass (2017). She paints an intimate portrait of Douglass’s wife, Anna; searches the record for his grandmother, Betsey; demystifies his relationship with “fr'enemy” Susan B. Anthony; and explains how Ida B. Wells rekindled his activist fire.
Annette Daniels Taylor, a Buffalo-based poet and performer with Young Audiences of Western New York, talks about the art of conjuring the past. She discusses her soundwalk through the Douglasses’ Rochester and brings Anna Douglass and neighbor Jenny Marsh Parker to life.

Image: "Anna Murray Douglass" mural by Shawn Dunwoody, School 12, Rochester, NY
This interview with poet Annette Daniels Taylor and me highlights Anna Douglass from two different directions and disciplines. Imagination plays a different but crucial role in both of our work, too, as we both try to reconstruct her world within our specific crafts and with our particular goals. Although our interviews were conducted separately, we seem to be in a conversation with one another, touching on similar ideas (partly through the skill of the interviewer).

Annette Daniels Taylor's work can be found here at the Frederick Douglass Experiment. It's a beautiful and fascinating combination of poetry, history, and tourism, revealing the veils that layer a place.

Monday, October 15, 2018

2018 Harriet Tubman Prize Finalists Announced

Many an unfortunate and amazing thing has happened since my last blog post. Some are worthy of posts of their own, such as the fascinating Douglass conference in Paris this past weekend and the Douglass in Paris walking tour website created by one of the speakers, Rhae Lynn Barnes and her students. Today, however, this appeared in my "In Box" wholly unexpectedly:

The Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery is pleased to announce the finalists of the annual Harriet Tubman Prize. In December, the prize of $7,500 will be awarded to the best nonfiction book published in the United States on the slave trade, slavery, and anti-slavery in the Atlantic World in 2017.

A Readers Committee of scholars and librarians selected the three finalists: Leigh Fought’s Women in the World of Frederick Douglass (Oxford UP); Tiya Miles’ The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits (The New Press); and Tamara J. Walker’s Exquisite Slaves: Race, Clothing, and Status in Colonial Lima (Cambridge UP).

In Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, Leigh Fought illuminates the life of the famed abolitionist off the public stage. She begins with the women he knew during his life as a slave as well as Douglass’s varied relationships with white women who were crucial to the success of his newspapers, were active in the antislavery and women’s movements, and promoted his work nationally and internationally. By examining the circle of women around Frederick Douglass, this work brings these figures into sharper focus and reveals a fuller and more complex image of the self-proclaimed “woman’s rights man.”

Tiya Miles’ The Dawn of Detroit pieces together the experience of the unfree—both native and African American—in the frontier outpost of Detroit, a place wildly remote yet at the center of national and international conflict. Miles introduces new historical figures and unearths struggles that remained hidden from view until now. The result is fascinating history, little explored and eloquently told, of the limits of freedom in early America, one that adds new layers of complexity to the story of a place that exerts a strong fascination in the media and among public intellectuals, artists, and activists.

In Exquisite Slaves, Tamara J. Walker examines how slaves used elegant clothing as a language for expressing attitudes about gender and status in the wealthy urban center of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Lima, Peru. Drawing on traditional historical research methods, visual studies, feminist theory, and material culture scholarship, Walker argues that clothing was an emblem of not only the reach but also the limits of slaveholders’ power and racial domination. Even as it acknowledges the significant limits imposed on slaves’ access to elegant clothing, Exquisite Slaves also showcases the insistence and ingenuity with which slaves dressed to convey their own sense of humanity and dignity.

Congratulations to the finalists! The winner will be chosen by a Selection Committee and announced in December.

What an honor to be in the company of such incredible historians who do work of such complexity. I confess to being a particular fan of Miles's Haunted South, so I'm kind of rooting for her; but then Exquisite Slaves also sounds like a fascinating study. Women has no chance here, but so what? Look at the company it keeps and look at the committee that honored it this way. Thank you!