U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women

I just found out yesterday that while I was in New York, the University of Michigan hosted a one day conference entitled “Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women.” The presenters are also working on a book together. Some of the broader issues my friend told me they discussed were how to access black women’s intellectual life given a history of dissembling and few records, as well as questioning the definition of intellectual so as to seriously consider black women.

Let me quote some of their self-definition.

In an effort to move the study of black thought, culture, and leadership beyond the “Great Men” paradigm that characterizes most accounts of black intellectual activity, we have initiated this three year research project. The goal of this project is to address the lack of attention given to the work of black women intellectuals historically and in the contemporary moment. In doing so we hope to challenge the perception and construction of black intellectual leadership as male and to explore African-American women’s contributions to black thought, political mobilization, creative work, gender theory and identity politics.

In the course of the three-year project, we aim to generate a body of innovative scholarship on black women intellectuals that maps the distinctive ways in which black women have engaged and challenged the ideas of both white American intellectual traditions and the racial and political ideas of black male thinkers. Designed to support the development of the next generation of scholars in this field, our project brings together scholars at different stages in their careers.

[The conference I reference was the penultimate act of the three year process (the edited volume being the final one)]. …

Working as a collective, we hope to piece together a history of black women’s thought and culture, that examines the distinctive concerns and historical forces that have shaped black women’s ideas and intellectual activities. To this end, we are interested in subjects such as the genealogy of black feminism, the patterns of women’s leadership and theological commitments in the black church, the politics of black women’s literature, and the history of black women’s racial thought.

Our project aims to define and promote black women’s intellectual history as a field, and in so doing to generate compelling scholarship that challenges the traditionally male dominated accounts of intellectual work. We also believe that in taking on this important and much neglected subject we will help to create and sustain a community of scholars, nurture and mentor junior professors and graduate students and help to develop the leadership skills of young women.

2 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Lauren,

    This is extremely interesting. Since the project started in 2006, and it was supposed to be a 3-year endeavor, they might like to join us in 2010 as part of their book promotion tour.

    …Notice the “collective” parallel?! 🙂

    – TL

  2. I heard from numerous sources that the Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women symposium in Ann Arbor was a huge success in terms of turn-out, creativity, and all around intellectual firepower. I think it would be fruitful to use this group’s intervention as a more general way to begin rethinking the scope of “intellectual history” at present (i.e., in terms of a broadening) and indeed the very definition of “intellectual history” as an enterprise with certain traditional methods. It’s another version of the “how wide the circle of we” querstion from some years back and would be great to consider since the traditional field “US intellectual history” (Puritanism to Postmodernism) is anything but a growth area in academia, while work that thinks like intellectual history is going on all around us. We’re going to make it after all!

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