African American History Reconsidered

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This groundbreaking volume establishes new perspectives on black history--its scholarship and pedagogy, scholars and interpreters, and evolution as a profession.


Pero Gaglo Dagbovie discusses a wide range of issues and themes for understanding and analyzing African American history, the twentieth century black historical enterprise, and the teaching of African American history for the twenty-first century. Additional topics include the hip-hop generation's relationship to and interpretations of African American history; past, present, and future approaches to the subject; and the social construct of knowledge in African American historiography. An exclamation of definitions of black history from W. E. B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk and a survey of early black women historians lend further dimension and authenticity to the volume. A bold contribution to the growing fields of African American historiography and the philosophy of black history, African American History Reconsidered offers numerous analytical frameworks for understanding and delving into a variety of dimensions of the African American historical experience.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780252077012
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press
  • Publication date: 3/15/2010
  • Series: New Black Studies Series
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 255
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Pero Gaglo Dagbovie is an associate professor of history at Michigan State University.

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Read an Excerpt

African American History Reconsidered

By Pero Gaglo Dagbovie

University of Illinois Press

Copyright © 2010 Pero Gaglo Dagbovie
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-252-07701-2


Afro-American historiography, with its own conceptual and methodological concerns, is now poised to illuminate the Afro-American past in a manner that will broaden and deepen our knowledge of black people in this country. The writing of Afro-American History is no longer undertaken principally to revise the work of wrongheaded white historians, to discern divine providence, to show black participation in the nation's growth and development, to prove the inevitability of black equality, or to demonstrate the inexorable progress made by Afro-Americans. It is conducted as a distinct area of inquiry, within the discipline of history, with black people as its primary focus to reveal their thought and activities over time and place. -Robert L. Harris Jr., "Coming of Age: The Transformation of Afro-American Historiography" Today Afro-American history is a respected and legitimate field of American history ... As we approach the twenty-first century, the time has come to assess and evaluate the historical outpouring of the last few decades. But beyond assessment and evaluation is the challenge of charting new directions, raising new issues and concerns about the future context and nature of black history ... Much of the new scholarship, the fresh interpretations and insights, have not been incorporated into the textbooks used in schools around the country. Thus, it would appear that we have only just begun our work. -Darlene Clark Hine, The State of Afro-American History: Past, Present, and Future The paradox of extolling the academic impact of a movement while ignoring the academic voices within that movement raises a fundamental intellectual concern, for, although African-American historiography has reached full adulthood, there remains an ambivalence about its place. That ambivalence, a consequence of an evolving, special relationship with what may be characterized as mainstream history, manifests itself in the psychological bedrock of many historians ... as well as in the categories of formal research and discourse. -David Levering Lewis, "Radical History: Toward Inclusiveness"

The above musings of Robert L. Harris Jr., Darlene Clark Hine, and David Levering Lewis testify to the unique stature of African American history during the 1980s, arguably one of its golden ages. Equally important, these thoughts also speak to and illuminate pertinent issues affecting the present nature and position of African American history in academic and popular culture in the United States. We are now undoubtedly witnessing the most advanced phase of the systematic study of the African American experience. Historians of black America can no longer ignore the relevant and numerous complex, interconnected, and influential factors-geography, varied strategies of resistance, religious orientations, intraracial dynamics, age, gender and sex, class, and legal and extra-legal forms of oppression, just to name a handful-when framing their analyses and interpretations of black life and culture over time and space. At the same time, as our predecessors of the 1980s and earlier decades acknowledged during their times, we still need to engage in revisionism and advance black historical knowledge while unpacking and addressing the multiple, historically rooted, contemporary challenges facing African American history's role and place within U.S. academic circles and discourse, popular culture, and educational institutions at its different levels; the function and meaning of African American history to the diversified African American community; and the construction and interpretation of black America's past throughout the ever-expanding African diaspora and the world.

This book is essentially about black history, its multiple meanings and social constructions, its scholarship and pedagogy, its scholars and interpreters, its evolution as a profession, and its overall intricately intertwined past, present, and future. The chapters in this study explore a wide range of issues, themes, and topics concerning paradigms for understanding and analyzing African American history, dimensions of the twentieth-century black historical enterprise, the teaching and learning of African American history for the twenty-first century, the millennial and hip-hop generation's unique relationship to and interpretations of the African American historical experience, historical paradigms for black studies, and the social construction of knowledge in African American historiography. Ultimately, African American History Reconsidered seeks to contribute to the further development and expansion of scholarship on black intellectual history and the philosophy of black history, subfields of African American historiography that are still in their formative years.

As the insightful observations that begin this introduction suggest, the decade of the 1980s was an exciting and optimistic period for the study of African American history. During this decade, the study of black history, the black historical profession, and African American historiography-the representation, and various processes involved therein, of African American history in verbal images and written discourse-had reached a noteworthy level of recognition and "legitimacy" in the U.S. academy. Black history as a concept, set of ideologies, philosophy, coherent documented record of African Americans' collective past, and as a field of scholarly inquiry has certainly represented an essential component of African American culture, identity, and intellectual thought since the antebellum era and concretely by the Progressive era, "the nadir" for African Americans. From Robert Benjamin Lewis's Light and Truth: Collected from the Bible and Ancient and Modern History; Containing the Universal History of the Colored and Indian Race (1836, 1844) and James W. C. Pennington's A Text Book of the Origins and History of the Colored People (1841) until the publication of W. E. B. Du Bois's The Negro in 1915, at least a dozen history books on black America's collective history were published in the United States. Spearheaded by Carter G. Woodson, his disciples, and countless of his co-workers at the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), the early black history movement of the first half of the twentieth century gave rise to the formative years of African Americans' collective historical consciousness and the scientific study of African American history. More than a few historians have acknowledged the seemingly sudden and unprecedented heightened interest in black history during the civil rights and Black Power movements and the 1970s. This serious academic intrigue and excitement in African American history among black and white historians was an expression of the monumental changes in blacks' enduring struggle for human rights and in U.S. race relations in the aftermath of the 1950s and 1960s. It was part of "a stream of modern American historiography" that blossomed in the mid-1970s and was "convinced that there can be no real sense of the whole without the parts."

As we proceed into the new millennium, the significance of the transformations in African American history in the 1980s becomes more discernable and contextually significant. Though inextricably bound to the important advancements in previous stages of development, 1980-1990 represents a pivotal decade in the maturation of African American historiography. Like their predecessors, black historians of the 1980s seem to have been keenly aware of their discipline's growth. Late in 1987, Robert L. Harris Jr. located a key juncture for the study of African American history in the early part of the decade. "The Conference on the Study and Teaching of Afro-American History," held at Purdue University, October 6-8, 1983, "represented the flowering of Afro-American history," Harris said. "This conference and the subsequent publication of its papers marked the arrival of Afro-American scholarship from the periphery to the core of historical scholarship in the United States." The sentiments of Harris, Hine, and Lewis that open this introduction embodied leading African American historians' optimism, hope, and pride in the advanced state of their field in the post-Black Power era. By the mid-1980s, African American history scholars were arguably "on the cutting edge of the profession." At the closing of the decade, David Levering Lewis surmised that African American historiography had "reached full adulthood." The period represents a sort of a golden age of African American history.

During the 1980s, scores of groundbreaking black historical studies were published. This maturation and innovation was epitomized by the development of African American women's history. For instance, building upon key historical studies of the 1970s, leading African American female scholars in the 1980s continued to theorize black women's history: the essential black women's studies reader, All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies (Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith), appeared in 1982; Paula Giddings published one of the first broad accounts of African American women's history (When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America, 1985); Deborah Gray White published the first comprehensive and widely acclaimed monograph on African American female slaves (Ar'n't I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South, 1985); Jacqueline Jones produced Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work and the Family, from Slavery to the Present (1985), a study of black women as laborers; Henry Louis Gates Jr. edited the writings of many important nineteenth-century black female authors; and Darlene Clark Hine published a 1989 study on black nurses (Black Women in White: Racial Conflict and Cooperation in the Nursing Profession, 1890-1950), edited significant black women's historical resource guides (for example, The Black Women in the Middle West Project: A Comprehensive Resource Guide, Illinois and Indiana; Historical Essays, Oral Histories, Biographical Profiles, and Document Collections, with Patrick Kay Bidelman, Shirley M. Herd, 1986), and called for an authentic black women's historical discourse. The foundations for the institutionalization of black women's history are thus rooted in the 1980s.

The period 1980-90 was also a fruitful decade for research on the study of black history. As John Hope Franklin has noted, two seminal studies on the black historical enterprise and the multi-tiered status of African American history in U.S. culture were published in 1986: the controversial Black History and the Historical Profession (August Meier and Elliott Rudwick) and The State of Afro-American History: Past, Present, and Future (Darlene Clark Hine, ed.). In Franklin's estimation, these studies pioneered the exploration of the lives, ideas, contributions, identities, and collective scholarship of numerous historians of the black experience. At the same time, the various contributors to The State of Afro-American History as well as other scholars concurred that during the 1980s, African American history still had much progress to make in terms of its breadth and scope and its inevitable, symbiotic relationship with so-called mainstream U.S. history and historiography.

Despite the prominence of leading black historians in the 1980s, blacks still faced considerable challenges and historically institutionalized racism-overt, covert, subtle, and hard to pinpoint-within the American historical profession. In a review of Meier and Rudwick's study, Earl E. Thorpe openly discussed the racialized politics of the publishing industry during the 1980s. "Book publishing, at the major commercial and university press levels in particular, has been white. Racism has been very much at work here also. Even the university press publications ... are suspect." Of the twenty-one volumes published in one of Meier's series, Thorpe noted, "only two were by black historians." Thorpe's observations may have been considered taboo for many during the 1980s, yet they raise many not-to-be-overlooked realities in the sanctioning processes of historical knowledge in the U.S. academy. As revealed earlier with regard to Woodson's often-tumultuous relationships with white academic institutions, during and following the modern civil rights movement the debates surrounding who would control black history were important matters of concern for more than a few black historians. Maintaining autonomy and espousing an authentically descriptive African American-centered approach while also gaining recognition within mainstream, white historical arenas has for at least a century constituted a major challenge for the black historical enterprise. In varying degrees and in different manners in different eras, black historians have grappled with balancing their roles as members of Du Bois's "Talented Tenth," committed to social change and black consciousness raising, and as rigorous academics recognized by white America. During the Black Power era, black studies advocates sought to solve this problem by forming their own independent institutions within white dominated educational infrastructures, such as several scholarly journals (namely The Journal of Black Studies, The Black Scholar, and The Western Journal of Black Studies), the Institute of the Black World, and the National Council for Black Studies. Countless black studies scholars have critically reflected on the challenges and limitations of this strategy.

An examination of the treatment of African American history and the representation of African American historians in the leading American historical journals during the 1980s sheds some light on the white historical profession's willingness to embrace African American history. During the 1980s, approximately ten articles were published in The American Historical Review that focused on African American subject matter, one of which was authored by a leading African American historian, John Hope Franklin. Franklin's article, "Mirror for America: A Century of Reconstruction History," appeared at the dawning of the decade. As Earl Lewis pointed out, Franklin's article represented only the second article by an African American historian to be published in The American Historical Review, the first being W. E. B. Du Bois's "Reconstruction and Its Benefits," published seventy years earlier. The fact that Du Bois and Franklin represented African American historians in the oldest American historical journal deserves to be scrutinized. Though separated by nearly five decades, Du Bois and Franklin were acknowledged (Franklin more so) by the white-dominated U.S. historical profession for similar reasons.

Both were exceptional scholars, earning doctorates from Harvard University (Du Bois in 1895, Franklin in 1941). Both men were prolific. When his article was published in The American Historical Review in 1910, Du Bois had already written numerous essays and four major books, and two of these studies, The Philadelphia Negro (1899) and The Souls of Black Folk (1903), were groundbreaking. By the time Franklin's essay appeared in the American Historical Review in 1980, he had published countless articles and book reviews, as well as nine books. While Du Bois was clearly an established scholar-activist by 1910, Franklin, despite his civil rights activism, adhered to a philosophy of hyper-objective black history writing. During the 1950s, he openly advocated a stance that would not pigeonhole him in any way as being a black historian. In fact, Franklin did not identify himself as being a black historian. "Very early," Franklin noted, "I decided that I was going to remove the tag of Negro from any consideration of my work, whether teaching or writing." Both Du Bois and Franklin were among the few black historians whose scholarship was considered worthy of consideration in white academic publishing institutions during the era of Jim Crow segregation. Beginning in the 1940s, Franklin was among the few black historians to gain acceptance within the white, mainstream historical profession.


Excerpted from African American History Reconsidered by Pero Gaglo Dagbovie Copyright © 2010 by Pero Gaglo Dagbovie. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


1. Conceptualizing Black History, 1903-2006....................17
2. Approaches to Teaching and Learning African American History....................48
3. Carter G. Woodson's Appeal, Black History, and Black Radical Thought....................77
4. "Ample Proof of This May Be Found": Early Black Women Historians....................99
5. "Shadow vs. Substance": Deconstructing Booker T. Washington....................127
6. Genocide and African American History....................158
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