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W.E.B. Du Bois Center News

Sitting Down with our Du Bois Scholars: Erika Williams

Literary Du Bois

Erika Williams’s fascination with W. E. B. Du Bois began with a program for gifted students she attended in high school, during which she was introduced to The Souls of Black Folk. As Williams came to find out, while that is perhaps Du Bois’s most well-known work, it is by no means his only literary endeavor.

“I knew about The Souls of Black Folk, that he was an early Civil Rights leader, that he co-founded the NAACP…I didn’t know that he wrote literature,” Williams said.

That was a discovery she made while completing doctoral work in comparative literature from the University of Pennsylvania, around the time when there was a renewed interest in publishing and studying Du Bois’s novels, short stories, poems, pageants, and other fiction. These works and how Du Bois used them “to come closer to the political questions he was wrestling with” became the topic of Williams’s dissertation.

“I realized there was so much to do here,” said Williams. “[My field] could still be comparative and I could draw on the different philosophies, but I could also focus and make my dissertation and scholarship dedicated to promoting African American literature and culture.”

As Assistant Professor of African American Literature and Culture at Emerson College, Williams has done just that, teaching various courses and working on a manuscript entitled Tales from Du Bois: The Poetics and Politics of Cross-Caste Romance: the project that led her back to the W. E. B. Du Bois Center.

Williams had initially learned about the Center, as well as the extensive compilation of Du Bois’s works housed in Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA), through her archival work at UPenn, when “it started to become an ambition of mine to get here.”

In the many visits Williams has made to the Center since then, she has found ample evidence to support the second wave of rethinking the literary legacy of Du Bois currently influencing her field and research topic. “I couldn’t believe how much was here… The variety of genres in which he wrote surprised me. He had an incredibly creative imagination, not just political. He was interested in what narratives could do: inform about the African American people, think through debates on race and gender, and provide a way to feel and live philosophy, history, and politics.”

As a recipient of the Du Bois Fellowship, Williams was able to spend “weeks at a time” poring over the Du Bois Papers and related materials.

 “The way the university and archives are run–I love that idea,” she smiled. “During my time as a Fellow, I appreciated both the immersion in the collections and the open access to the archives. Du Bois would like that too, in a way: things are open to people who want to know.”

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Sitting Down with Our Du Bois Scholars: Michael Saman

Du Bois and German Thought

National Endowment for the Humanities Research Fellow Michael Saman greatly enjoys studying alongside W. E. B. Du Bois – give or take a few centuries.

“Du Bois read the same stuff I do,” he explained with a smile. “He went to high school, university, undergraduate school studying the culture I’m studying from a distance of 200 years. He had it when it was still new… I have to excavate it.”

Like Du Bois, Saman has a background in German literature and intellectual history, with a special focus on the 18th and 19th centuries. After receiving his undergraduate degree, Saman spent time studying in Berlin.

“I came back to the US as a student of Germany,” he said, “but what does that mean? What do German ideas do? I was looking for answers to that – how the German culture comes across nations and continents.”

In Du Bois, Saman was surprised to find “the best answer that exists.” Although he had read Du Bois in college, Saman rediscovered him through his research on an unrelated project, and found that they were both involved in similar work regarding culture and the social sciences.

“It was not the idea I started with, but the material,” Saman said. “You pull a thread and it keeps getting bigger.”

Saman followed this thread to the Du Bois Center, where he has been researching his first book, The Voice of Time: Classical German Thought and the Ethics of Progress in W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk.

Looking at the collections of Du Bois’s personal papers, particularly his extensive international correspondence, has provided Saman with surprising revelations.

“There’s a perception that Du Bois was neglected in America in many ways during his lifetime,” Saman said, “and that’s true to some degree, but the number of very esteemed German social scientists that acknowledged him as an equal and were eagerly seeking his insights and publications took on bigger dimensions than I was aware of.”

Saman believes that this regard for Du Bois’s scholarship is both continuous and timely. “Reading The Souls of Black Folk would be something anyone would do well to do…Du Bois is starting to get on people’s radar again, and I think that will increase a lot with time.”

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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 scua@library.umass.edu, 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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Sitting Down with Our Du Bois Scholars: Charisse Burden-Stelly

Charisse Burden Stelly 2

Radical Du Bois

Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Associate Charisse Burden-Stelly knows that for many, familiarity with W. E. B. Du Bois begins and ends with The Souls of Black Folk.

“He wrote a letter in the 1930s where he said people seem to think that he stopped contributing to the intellectual ethos in 1915,” Burden-Stelly said. “People think that The Souls of Black Folk is his most important or his seminal text, but he was writing for sixty years after that.”

For Burden-Stelly, it is Du Bois’s later, more radical scholarship that provides the basis for her manuscript, The Radical Horizon of Black Betrayal: Toward a Theory of Antiradical/Antiblack Subjacency.

“I began studying the Cold War, McCarthyism, Marxism, structural critique, and Black Studies when it was institutionalized,” she explained. “I’m looking at anti-Marxism and anti-structuralism, and the connections between antiblack and antiradicalism and the way the two technologies use interacting forms of repression.”

Having taught “The Multidisciplinary Works of W. E. B. Du Bois,” a 2014 introductory writing course at Berkeley, Burden-Stelly was already familiar with Du Bois’s scholarship post-Black Reconstruction.

 “[The Cold War Period] is often erased from Du Bois’s life, or not mentioned as much,” Burden-Stelly said. She also noted that for Du Bois, “joining the Communist Party was not an aberration; it was the logical development of his ideology, which had been moving left since at least 1935, and it was a really important era of his life.”

As such, Burden-Stelly immediately recognized the value in working in the Du Bois Center. “I saw the fellowship as a great opportunity to get into the archives. They are digitized, but there is a lot that is not online, and I knew the materials here could help with primary research for my manuscript.”

Although she initially came specifically for the Du Bois papers, Burden-Stelly has found generative content in the Center’s related collections, including the papers of Bernard Jaffe, Du Bois’s lawyer after his indictment in 1951, and the leftist interviews done by the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Du Bois, David Levering Lewis.

“I didn’t know they were here,” Burden-Stelly said. “A colleague was using them and pointed them out to me. They’ve been very helpful.”

She hopes that this content and her manuscript will inspire people to look beyond Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk era and realize how strong his influences have been in shaping social activism. “He lived so long and did so much. You can learn about the black radical movements if you study him, his interactions, and his affiliations.”

 

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: Gaidi Faraj

Gaidi Faraj

“’The attempt of a stranger to sum up in a half hour the experience which another has spent 80 years in accumulating is invariably a mess which neither likes.’”

          To Benjamin A. Brown, December 2, 1949; microfilm reel no. 63, frame no. 1122;

                    W. E. B. Du Bois Papers, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

 

Although W. E. B. Du Bois made clear his opinion on interviews, we nevertheless could not miss the opportunity to sit down with some of the Visiting Scholars and Graduate Student Fellows as they delved into their research in the Du Bois Center at the UMass Amherst Libraries.

 

Gaidi Faraj: Du Bois and Black Power

“I first learned about Du Bois as an undergraduate sociology major,” said Gaidi Faraj, an independent Visiting Scholar with a PhD in African American Studies from the University of California Berkeley. “I have always been fascinated by his range of scholarship and how he was able to write about all different subjects, including history, politics, and economy.”

Faraj’s project, Unearthing the Underground: A Study of Radical Activism in the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, is a timely manuscript-length revision of his dissertation. “My work is on the underground and extralegal protest tactics of the Black Power Movement, and the contemporary rise of social activism that hearkens back to the same issues,” he explained. “I thought it was a good time to work on revising it into a manuscript, and I came here to do research for the revisions.”

In Unearthing the Underground, Faraj examines “the radical elements of the Black Power Movement,” as well as a continuum of social and political activism addressed in Du Bois’s works on the role of self-defense and armed resistance.

For Faraj, the Du Bois Fellowship has been instrumental in advancing his project. “When you do online research, you have easy access that makes people forget about the value of going through archives and how archives could lead you in directions you never thought about.”

With the support of the Special Collections and University Archives, he was able to access the trial transcripts and personal papers of United Freedom Front co-founder Raymond Luc Levasseur.

“The Levasseur trial transcripts and personal papers – letters and correspondence of his time in prison and other miscellaneous literature he collected – led me to the letters of several other activists and political prisoners I wouldn’t know about otherwise, such as Stanley Bond,” Faraj said. “My work is about understanding the political motivation for people to take up arms and participate in extralegal activities. Looking at their personal papers and seeing what they write to their wives, children, etc. is interesting to see how they justify their actions…it gives a personal look inside their minds.”

 

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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6 Black Archaeologists and Anthropologists You Should Know About

Du Bois Center opening2

 

Dr. Whitney Battle-Baptiste, Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Center, is named by Atlanta BlackStar b.l.e.r.d.s. as one of the "6 Black Archaeologists and Anthropologists You Should Know About."

For the full list, please visit: http://bit.ly/6ToKnow

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Pagination