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Symposium "African American Worldmaking in the Long Nineteenth Century"

University of Potsdam // Campus Neues Palais // October 11-12, 2019

Outline

Our symposium sets out to trace the many ways in which African Americans in the long nineteenth century conceptualized the world in imaginative and material modes, in theory and in practice. We understand worldmaking in various senses of constructing a world and one’s place in it. In the words of Nelson Goodman, “worldmaking as we know it always starts from worlds already on hand; the making is the remaking.” Scholars in postcolonial studies have differentiated between worlding as an act of colonization (the colonial mapping of the globe as a possessive and interpretive act) on the one hand, and conceptions of planetarity (an awareness of our planet as unknowable and vulnerable, as well as a sense of human connectedness) on the other (Said, Spivak, Gilroy). In world literature debates, there is an attempt to differentiate capitalist and neocolonial modes of controlling the globe from worldmaking as the literary conception of multiple alternative worlds in the process of becoming (Cheah).

Our symposium is interested in how worlds were made and remade in the historical contexts of diaspora, enslavement, and segregation in North America. How did people of African ancestry map their world in the long nineteenth century? Which networks and connections did they envision and create? Which genres and modes did they employ to conceive of their place in the cosmos? What kind of worldviews did they create, discuss, or dismiss? How did they relate to debates on cosmopolitanism? We invite papers from various perspectives (history and public history, literary and cultural studies, and other fields) that address some of these questions. We encourage papers that theorize possible approaches to African American worldmaking: Which factors (such as identity, character, race, cultural belonging, gender, religion, enslavement, economics, mobility, territory, community, nation, diaspora, pan-Africanism, cosmopolitanism, etc.) are useful for this analysis? Which new approaches and paradigms may we need to develop? The symposium seeks to bring together an international group of established and early career scholars from various institutions and disciplines in the hope of generating intense discussion and exchange.

The symposium will take place at the University of Potsdam on October 11 and 12, 2019. It comprises two formats: regular papers and work in progress. Regular papers are 40 minutes long (followed by 20 minutes of discussion). Presentations of work in progress are 20 minutes long (followed by 40 minutes of discussion).

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Speakers

Niya Bates  (International Center for Jefferson Studies)

The Art of Interpretation

 In the context of the Hemingses at Monticello, worldmaking was different than the worldmaking of many enslaved people who knew little beyond their local plantations. An entire generation of Hemings siblings traveled the east coast from Charlottesville to Philadelphia and abroad to Paris, providing them the opportunity to make worlds for themselves within and outside the confines of slavery. Through exhibits and interpretation at Monticello and in a poetry collection entitled Mistress, Bates and Sebree will explore what it means to make and interpret worlds for contemporary audiences out of the world nineteenth century African Americans made for themselves.

Website

Michael Drexler (Bucknell University)

Looking Forward/Looking Backward: African-American Futures at an Historically Black College in West Virginia

Storer College, one of the first Historically Black Colleges (HBCU), was founded in 1865 and incorporated as a public college of West Virginia in 1867 at Harpers Ferry in the hills overlooking the US arms depot that John Brown and his raiders attacked in 1859, initiating the Civil War. In 1955, Storer closed following the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) gave West Virginia legislators the excuse to cut funding for separate, but equal schools. During its remarkable history, Storer staged several important moments in the history of the Civil Rights Movement, including notable speeches by prominent African Americans. Among these were College Trustee Frederick Douglass, the Evangelical pan-Africanist Alexander Crummell, and W.E.B. DuBois, who led the Niagara Movement’s first public convention on US soil at the college in 1906. In 1909, the Niagara Movement reformed as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Taken together, these speeches trace the world-making creativity of African American leaders including some significant disagreement about how to position enslavement in visions of the future for the race. At times, these discussions were both vigorous and hotly contested. Frederick Douglass reportedly interrupted Crummell’s commencement speech in 1885, when the latter argued that looking backward at slavery ran counter to realizing black liberation moving forward. In this paper, I will review the history of historically black colleges with particular attention to Storer College and then will discuss speeches by Douglass, Crummell and DuBois, paying particular attention to two elements: 1) mentions of John Brown and the setting of the college in Harpers Ferry, and 2) claims about the importance of the past to the future of African American life in the US or beyond. The role of John Brown’s activism in these speeches is noteworthy beyond Brown’s connection to the college’s setting. Indeed, attitudes about slavery, reparations, and the future come into particular relief in the light of Brown’s raid, his inter-racial coalition, and his spectacular violent deeds and martyrdom. This historical and cultural context is especially valuable today when, in response to Ta-Nehisi Coates call, several Democratic candidates for the US Presidency have come out in support of federal reparations for slavery and the US Congress hosted its first hearing on the matter in June 2019.

Website

Judith Madera (Wake Forest University)

TOPIC

Website

Ifeoma Nwankwo (Vanderbilt University)

TOPIC

Website

Erik Redling (Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg)

TOPIC

Website

Nele Sawallisch (Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies)

Worldmaking, Disrupted. Black Community Building in the Early Nineteenth Century

Crossing the border into British North America would be, as Black refugees from slavery and oppression hoped, as though they would step into a different world: from enslaved to fugitive to freeman, they would be able to enjoy a life under the “Lion’s paw” and as the Queen’s loyal subjects. What we call Canada today was therefore a crucial destination for Black people’s imaginary and material worldmaking, both for its ideological leverage as the so-called Promised Land as well as for the concrete promises it seemed to hold for Black people, including equal protection before the law, the right to vote and hold property, and to become citizens. I have suggested elsewhere that we can understand such processes of worldmaking through the (life) writing of Black immigrants to Canada, and more particularly, through their reliance on different genealogies that anchor them in Black communities across borders and below the level of nation-states. This paper will be concerned with the ambiguous leader Josiah Henson, who once gained fame as the “real Uncle Tom” and was instrumental in the Dawn settlement/the British American Institute. His autobiographies and the documents on the Dawn controversy highlight both Canada’s fascinating role for Black refugees as well as the difficult processes of community building in the early nineteenth century.

 

Biographical note

Nele Sawallisch currently works as a post-doctoral lecturer at the Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies, where she received her PhD in 2017. Her first monograph Fugitive Borders: Black Canadian Cross-Border Literature at Mid-Nineteenth Century (transcript, 2019) discusses community-building processes and genealogies in autobiographical writing by formerly enslaved men from the 1850s in the North American borderland between the United States and Canada. She is co-editor of a special forum on “Transnational Black Politics and Resistance, from Enslavement to Obama” with the Journal of Transnational American Studies (10.1, 2019) and currently preparing another co-edited special issue on “Black Editorship in the Early Atlantic World” (Atlantic Studies).

Website

Chet'la Sebree (Bucknell University)

 The Art of Interpretation

In the context of the Hemingses at Monticello, worldmaking was different than the worldmaking of many enslaved people who knew little beyond their local plantations. An entire generation of Hemings siblings traveled the east coast from Charlottesville to Philadelphia and abroad to Paris, providing them the opportunity to make worlds for themselves within and outside the confines of slavery. Through exhibits and interpretation at Monticello and in a poetry collection entitled Mistress, Bates and Sebree will explore what it means to make and interpret worlds for contemporary audiences out of the world nineteenth century African Americans made for themselves.

 

Biographical note

Chet’la Sebree is the Director of the Stadler Center for Poetry & Literary Arts and an Assistant Professor of English at Bucknell University. She is the author of Mistress, a poetry collection which explores black female experiences and representation through the lenses of a contemporary speaker and Sally Hemings. In support of this work, she has received fellowships from the Richard H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies, The MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the Delaware Division of the Arts. Her work has been included in journals and anthologies including Early American Literature, Modern Language Studies, and Monticello in Mind: Fifty Contemporary Poets on Jefferson (University of Virginia Press, 2016), edited by Lisa Russ Spaar.

Website

Winfried Siemerling (University of Waterloo)

Around 1852: Emigrationism, Canada, and Black Diasporic Worldmaking

This paper will focus on the year 1852 to examine what conclusions some of the key North American black thinkers had arrived at two years after the infamous 1850 United States fugitive slave law had created what for them was a different world. Instead of offering merely “tactical” resistance in the face of overwhelming oppression, black intellectuals including Mary Ann Shadd, Martin Delany, and Samuel Ringgold Ward responded with often large-scale strategic worldmaking of their own. Canada, while of crucial importance to these black leaders, played varying roles in their visions. This paper, then, will look at a variety of perspectives that sought to react in positive and often daring ways to a new situation, and will seek to place these undertakings in a historical moment that in retrospect still appears as a crucial cross-road of possibilities. 

 

Biographical note

Winfried Siemerling is Professor of English at the University of Waterloo and an Associate of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University. He won the Gabrielle Roy Prize for The Black Atlantic Reconsidered (2015). Earlier books include Canada and Its Americas (co-edited, 2010), The New North American Studies (2005, French translation 2010), and Discoveries of the Other (1994). He has contributed chapters to The Oxford Handbook of the African American Slave Narrative (2014), The Cambridge History of Postcolonial Literature (2012), and African American Literature in Transition (Cambridge UP, forthcoming).

Website


Call for Papers

Four Presentation Slots for Early-Career Scholars: Work in Progress Presentations

Deadline: July 15, 2019

Download Call for Papers


Venue

The symposium will take place on October 11th and 12th 2019 at the University of Potsdam, Campus Neues Palais, Building 8, Room 1.15.

For more information, please check the campus map below.

Directions (general)

Campus Neues Palais is within walking distance of the train station "Potsdam Bahnhof Park Sanssouci" and the bus stop "Neues Palais".

 

Train connections from Berlin:

The train RE1 to >Brandenburg Bhf< passes through all major Berlin stations (Alexanderplatz, Friedrichstrasse, Hauptbahnhof, Zoologischer Garten, etc.) and stops directly at >Potsdam Bhf Park Sanssouci<.

Please note: The RE1 to >Magdeburg Bhf< does not stop at >Potsdam Bhf Park Sanssouci<.

 

Train connections from Potsdam Hbf (main station):

In addition to the RE1, both the trains RB20 (to >Oranienburg Bhf<) and RB21 (to either >Golm Bhf< or >Wustermark Bhf<) stop at >Potsdam Bhf Park Sanssouci<.

 

Bus lines to Campus Neues Palais

There are multiple bus lines coming in from Potsdam that have a stop on Campus Neues Palais. The bus station closest to the symposium venue is called >Neues Palais<.

Please consult the website of the joint public transportation system of Berlin and Potsdam (VBB) for an individual inquiry, and please consult the following individualized google map for detailed directions.

Google Map: General Directions to Campus Neues Palais.

Please consult this google map for detailed directions to Campus Neues Palais.

Website: Joint public transportation system of Berlin and Potsdam (VBB)

Please consult this website for individual inquiries.

Directions: Conference Hotel

Steigenberger Hotel Sanssouci

You can take buses 605 or 606 from the bus stop "Luisenplatz-Süd/Park Sanssouci" (605 direction: Potsdam, Wissenschaftspark Golm; 606 direction: Potsdam, Alt-Golm ) to Potsdam, Neues Palais (estimated time of arrival: 15 minutes).

Otherwise you can take the bus 695 from the bus stop "Potsdam, Luisenplatz-Nord/Park Sanssouci" (direction: Potsdam, Pirschheide Bhf) to Potsdam, Neues Palais (estimated time of arrival: 20 minutes).

Please consult the google maps below for details.

Google Map: Steigenberger Hotel Sanssouci Potsdam to Campus Neues Palais

Please consult this google map for bus connections between the Steigenberger Hotel and Campus Neues Palais

Google Map (Alternative Route): Steigenberger Hotel Sanssouci Potsdam to Campus Neues Palais

Please consult this google map for bus connections between the Steigenberger Hotel and Campus Neues Palais

Campus map "Neues Palais"


Registration & Contact

More info following soon

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