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Defining Democracy: How Black Print Culture Shaped America, Then and Now

Wednesday, December 1, 2021 at 5:30pm to 6:30pm

Virtual Event

The Society for the Humanities Annual Invitational Lecture delivered by Derrick R. Spires

Observers have described the launch of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013 as “America’s long-overdue awakening to systemic racism.” Yet Black Americans in this country have been raising their voices for over 200 years to confront disenfranchisement, articulating again and again what it means to be a democratic citizen. And they began to put those thoughts in writing well before the Revolutionary War.

Join Cornell University literary historian and author Derrick Spires in this webcast as he challenges the assumption that there was little or no Black print culture in 19th-century America before the Civil War. Using material from Cornell’s own Rare and Manuscript Collections, including the Samuel J. May collection, Dr. Spires will explore the oft-neglected written record of African American intellectual history, New York state activism, and Black material culture. By highlighting these rare print materials, Dr. Spires will demonstrate the vibrancy and centrality of Black print culture — and its importance to understanding citizenship and democracy in America’s 19th century as well as its 21st.

Derrick R. Spires is Associate Professor of Literatures in English and affiliate faculty in American Studies, Visual Studies, and Media Studies. He specializes in early African American and American print culture, citizenship studies, and African American intellectual history. His book, The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Print Culture in the Early United States (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019), traces the parallel development of early black print culture and legal and cultural understandings of U.S. citizenship. The book won the Modern Language Association Prize for First Book and the Bibliographical Society-St. Louis Mercantile Library Prize and was a finalist for the Library Company of Philadelphia’s First Book Award. His current book project, "Serial Blackness: Periodical Literature and Early African American Literary," takes up serial publication as both the core of early African American literary history and a heuristic for understanding blackness in the long nineteenth century.

This virtual lecture is hosted by eCornell.
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