Slavery, Political Culture, and the Archive
Vincent Brown, Stephen Best, and
March 25, 2011
9:30 am – 5:00 pm
Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center
The College of Arts and Science, The Department of English, African American and Diaspora Studies, Vanderbilt History Seminar, The Department of History, The Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center, and The Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities
Carolyn Dever, Welcome
Colin Dayan, Opening Remarks
Vincent Brown, Duke University, “History Attends to the Dead”
Tiffany Patterson, Vanderbilt University, Introduction
Catherine Molineux, Vanderbilt University, Response
Stephen Best, UC-Berkeley “The History of People Who Did Not Exist”
Samira Sheikh, Vanderbilt University, Introduction
Peter Hudson, Vanderbilt University, Response
Saidiya Hartman, Columbia University, “The Picture Not Taken”
Hortense Spillers, Vanderbilt University, Introduction
Ifeoma Nwankwo, Vanderbilt University, Response
Reception to follow
Vincent Brown, Professor of History and of African and African American Studies, is a multi-media historian with a keen interest in the political implications of cultural practice. He teaches courses in Atlantic history, African diaspora studies, and the history of slavery. Brown is the author of The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery (Harvard University Press, 2008) and producer of an audiovisual documentary about the anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits broadcast on the PBS series Independent Lens.
Stephen Best is an Associate Professor of English at UC-Berkeley. Professor Best is an alumni of Williams College (B.A., 1989) and the University of Pennsylvania (M.A., 1992; Ph.D., 1997). He is the author ofThe Fugitive’s Properties: Law and the Poetics of Possession (University of Chicago, 2004), a study of property, poetics, and legal hermeneutics in nineteenth-century American literary and legal culture. Currently, he is working on a new project on rumor, promiscuous speech, and slavery’s archive.
Professor Best is a member of the editorial board of the journal Representations. Recently, he co-convened a research group with Saidiya Hartman at the University of California’s Humanities Research Institute on “Redress in Law, Literature, and Social Thought” (funded through the Mellon Foundation). His work has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, the Humanities Research Institute (University of California), and the Ford Foundation.
Saidiya Hartman is a specialist in African American literature and history whose theoretical and literary contributions to our understanding of slavery are profound and original. Professor Hartman’s first book, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America is an erudite and subtle exploration of the intersections of enslavement, gender, desire, and the making of liberal reason in the United States. Worked through an engagement with a variety of cultural materials – slave narratives, song and dance, legal texts, journals, diaries, and narratives — Hartman explores the unstable institution of slave power. Her forthcoming book Lose Your Mother:A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route is, as she puts it, an exercise in literary fieldwork. It lyrically confronts the disturbing relationships among memory, representation, and narrative. She focuses on the “non-history” of the slave, the way in which the unnamable catastrophe of slavery erased any conventional modality for writing an intelligible past. Weaving her own biography into an imaginative historical construction, she explores and evokes the non-spaces of black experience—the experience through which the African captive became a slave, became a non-person, became alienated from personhood.