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.”