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Letter from the Director

Du Bois's Words Offer Perspective For Complicated Times

2016 Dr Whitney Battle Baptiste js MG 8914 1We live in complicated times. For each national victory, there is a sobering moment to temper our celebration. This has been a summer of mourning, crying, shouting, and marching, and one also questioning why? In moments like these, I find myself reaching for the words of Dr. Du Bois from so long ago, to help with context and perspective.

"Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, how does it feel to be a problem? They say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, how does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word."

Du Bois 1903

In the midst of today's real and unasked questions, I write this letter with a sense of inspiration and accomplishment. Through the collective work of countless students, staff, current faculty and elder scholars, the Du Bois Center has been awarded three years of funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This award brings to life our first Du Bois Center Faculty Seminar Series centering on curriculum development and scholarship in the Du Boisian tradition; it increases graduate and post-doc Du Bois Fellows, and the grant establishes a collaborative relationship with the Commonwealth Honors College and its Honors to Honors Program, specifically highlighting the work of W. E. B. Du Bois in the required course Ideas That Change the World.

There is always a reason to press forward, even in complicated times. I am looking forward to this coming year at the Du Bois Center. The occasion will require engaging with new people on and off of campus and bringing the legacy of Dr. Du Bois to a new generation of students who truly need his words right now.

Whitney Battle-Baptiste

Sitting Down with Our Du Bois Scholars: James M. Thomas

Du Bois and the Jewish Question

James M. Thomas, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Mississippi, came to the W. E. B. Du Bois Center with a fellowship and a question.

“It was a question left open in my last book…about the contributions of social sciences and racism as a disease and how Du Bois pushes back against that model,” he explained.

Thomas’s current project, Du Bois and the Jewish Question, proposes to address this query through a reexamination of Du Bois’s scholarship, “considering, whether, and to what degree, Du Bois’s concept of black double consciousness was inspired by 19th-century Western European scientific and medical discourse on Jewish pathology and difference.”

His search for answers led him to the Du Bois Center. “I was looking for ways to further my scholarship. I knew UMass had the Du Bois papers because they were digitized, and I was able to access them from my campus. It was serendipitous that I came across and applied for the fellowship… I was fortunate to be selected.”

As he worked more closely with the Special Collections and University Archives, however, Thomas found his project branching out in unexpected directions.

 “I came in thinking that my focus was going to be on Du Bois during his time in Germany and before and after he had written The Souls of Black Folk,” he said. “I found myself going through his papers and I kept reading… seeing what he changed. I call it ‘Lines of Flight,’ where you start with the thing you are studying – a round object – but then these lines of flight start taking you in different trajectories to interesting places. I’ve mapped out additional questions which have emerged in the process of answering the question I started with.”

One thing that has not changed for Thomas, however, is his confidence in the timelessness of Du Bois’s lengthy and multifaceted scholarship. “[Du Bois’s writing] is over one hundred years old and still so prescient…There are many Du Boises, and scholars working with, on, and through Du Bois and his legacy have to document his many iterations.” 

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Libraries Accepting Applications for Du Bois Library Fellowships

Du Bois Library Fellowships

Through a generous grant awarded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the W. E. B. Du Bois Center at UMass Amherst Libraries, in collaboration with the Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA), is offering post-doc fellowships to assist scholars in conduct research at SCUA in the W. E. B. Du Bois Library. Full-time faculty or independent scholars (with a PhD) are eligible to apply. Fellows will receive a stipend of $4,500 for an eight-week library residency with a housing allowance of $2,500 as well as a research allowance of $600. The deadline for applications is March 16, 2018.

Among the approximately 15,000 linear feet of manuscripts held by SCUA are many valuable collections for the study of social change in the United States, including the papers of the most important exponent of the politics and culture of the twentieth century, W. E. B. Du Bois. Since the arrival of the Du Bois Papers at UMass Amherst in 1973, SCUA has become the steward for a number of collections in which Du Bois is a central figure, including those of his associates James Aronson (acquired 1990), Katherine Bell Banks (2004), Lillian Hyman Katzman (2010), and Catherine A. Latimer (2015), as well as the papers of scholars who studied Du Bois, including William Strickland (2014) and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Levering Lewis (2014). Additionally, there are several collections in which Du Bois appears as a direct influence, including the papers of the educator Horace Mann Bond (1979) and the records of the African America Institute, an organization that for over 60 years has promoted educational and economic ties between African nations and the United States. Of these, Du Bois, Aronson, Banks, Katzman, and Bond are all fully digitized and available online free of charge. 

Fellows may come from any field and any perspective, and they may work on any topic, but their research should explore the major themes that characterize Du Bois’s scholarship and activism. This includes the history and meaning of racial, social, and economic justice; the problems of democracy and political inclusion; the role of capitalism in world affairs; and the global influence of African cultures. Comprehensive, searchable guides and finding aids to SCUA’s collections are available online.

Fellows will be selected on a competitive basis from applicants interested in conducting original research in the Du Bois Papers and other SCUA collections. In addition to the two-month residency, Du Bois Scholars will be invited back to campus to give a public talk to the “Five College Community,” involving UMass Faculty, graduate student fellows, and community college faculty in the humanities and social sciences. The criteria for selection will include the potential of the proposal to contribute to scholarship; the need for the use of SCUA’s collections; and a letter of support. The application will consist of a brief (up to three pages) description of the research project, curriculum vitae, and the letter of support.

For more information, contact the Special Collections and University Archives at, or (413) 545-2780.

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Sitting Down with Our Du Bois Scholars: Andrew Grim

Du Bois and Criminal Justice

Although he had read The Souls of Black Folk as an undergraduate, Andrew Grim ’14, G’22 gives credit for his renewed interest in the works of W. E. B. Du Bois to activist Angela Davis.

“She is an inspiring scholar to me,” Grim said. “In her writing on criminal justice and prison abolition, she points to Du Bois as a seminal figure for her who inspired her ideas about racial disparities in the criminal justice system and how prison abolition could be pursued.”

Once Grim began looking at Du Bois’s work for himself, he quickly realized why Davis cited his scholarship so fervently.

“I’m interested in the history of mass incarceration from the 60s onward…in what it looks like for activists as they try to counter the rapidly expanding prison system,” Grim explained. “Du Bois is one of the earliest and most incisive critics of the American criminal justice system…his critiques from the early 20th century still apply, not only in the ’70s and ’80s, but today as well.”

Through his advisor in the UMass Amherst Department of History, Grim learned about and applied for a fellowship from the Du Bois Center, where he has been working on a project entitled Prison Abolition and Criminal Justice Reform in the Era of Mass Incarceration.

In combing through the Du Bois collection, Grim was surprised to discover the multitude of personal connections Du Bois made with prisoners.

“He received a lot of mail from prisoners seeking out help of various kinds,” Grim said, “asking for advice on how to turn their lives around, for him to donate his books to the prison where they were, to write a letter to the prison officials to seek a transfer for a prisoner who could not see his family. The prisoners saw him as an ally; he almost always responded. It surprised me to look at how he was sought out in this way and how he acted in any small way he could to help out incarcerated folks reaching out to him.”

With the current social and political climate in the United States, Grim noted that Du Bois’s work with and on criminal justice couldn’t be timelier. “Du Bois’s critiques of the criminal justice system resonate so much today – and they are equally applied to the current system as the time he was writing.”

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Sitting Down with Our Du Bois Scholars: Brittany Frederick

Brittany Frederick

Du Bois, Education, and Social Justice

For Brittany Frederick G’22, knowledge and access to learning opportunities mean everything.

“I am a big champion of education,” she stated.

Frederick, a second-year PhD student in the History Department at UMass Amherst, has actually made education the subject of her own scholarship in a project entitled “Expanding the Talented Tenth”: Du Bois and the Educational Evolution of UMass Amherst.

“Since high school, I knew I wanted to study history and English,” Frederick recalled, noting with a smile that her passion for the former began in earnest after watching the 2004 blockbuster, National Treasure.

Now studying modern US, public, and African American history, Frederick is on a historical treasure hunt of her own, using her Du Bois Fellowship to comb through various papers in the Du Bois Center and provide a deeper understanding of the relationships between the UMass Amherst Libraries, the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, Special Collections and University Archives, and of course, W. E. B. Du Bois himself.

“I’m interested in student protests, civil rights, and the role of universities and protest in social and cultural change,” said Frederick. “There are a lot of things centered on Du Bois here [at UMass]; I’ve never heard of an educational space to tailor its mission to fit the philosophy of a person. I wanted to pursue that as a research topic.”

According to her findings, that philosophy promotes a surprisingly direct link between education and Frederick’s current fields of study.

“I never realized how much Du Bois championed the connection between education and social justice,” Frederick said. “Reading his correspondence and publications, I see an inherent connection between education as social and racial uplift for black people in America and the role universities play in that mission and in social justice.”

As far as disseminating her research to the public, Frederick said that she hopes people will realize that education in and of itself is a national treasure.

 “Knowledge is power,” she affirmed. “Period. End of sentence.”


Du Bois Fellowships are made possible by the Department of Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) of the W. E. B. Du Bois Library. They are awarded in two categories: 1.) Full-time faculty or independent scholars with a PhD and 2.) graduate students at UMass Amherst or in the Five college community. For application information, please follow this link.

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Sitting Down with Our Du Bois Scholars: E. Howard Ashford

E Howard Ashford

Du Bois and the Southern Experience

For E. Howard Ashford, research begins with one rule: “Study the condition of the people before you assume what the condition was.”

This tenet has guided him since he began studying history in earnest at age 11, when a school ancestry project piqued his curiosity about his family.

“I was intrigued as to how they lived under historical eras – slavery, Jim Crow – and it ballooned to me uncovering the history of the area of Mississippi in which I lived,” Ashford explained. “I researched and found that the records pertaining to black people did not fit with the narrative we were taught in school.”

What began as a self-professed hobby of historical scholarship ultimately led Ashford to three Master’s degrees and his current pursuit of a dual doctorate – part of which is in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“The Department of Afro-American Studies is heavily linked to the group here,” Ashford said of the Du Bois Center. “It is important for the department and students to be active supporters of what’s going on here.”

Ashford recalled some early visits to the Center with a class last spring, where his findings brought him full-circle.

“I was not aware that Du Bois had much contact with my state of Mississippi,” he recalled. “He was actively looking for statistics and data on black schools and voting in the early/late ’20s; it shows that he really did believe in learning what everyday people were experiencing… and it affirmed my own research that Du Bois didn’t assume about the South and black experience in the South; he wanted evidence to support what he wrote.”

Ashford is now analyzing this evidence – Du Bois’s documentation of both the historical and contemporary South – for a comparative study of the former Confederacy states in the 19th and 20th centuries, Understanding the Southern Experience: W.E.B. Du Bois’s Southern Investigation.

For Ashford, the discovery that he and Du Bois have adhered to the same research standards is both validating and motivational.

“Du Bois was trying to understand exactly the conditions before he wrote anything on the South,” said Ashford. “I found that inspiring as opposed to assumption research.”


Du Bois Fellowships are made possible by the Department of Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) of the W. E. B. Du Bois Library. They are awarded in two categories: 1.) Full-time faculty or independent scholars with a PhD and 2.) graduate students at UMass Amherst or in the Five college community. For application information, please follow this link.

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Monday - Friday
10 a.m. - 2 p.m.

The Center offers:

Quiet study spaces.

Space to meet with groups.

A place to learn about W. E. B. Du Bois and his relevance today.