Research

Working with an Archive

Now that I have finished transcribing the letters I photographed from the “Ballards Valley and Berry Hill Penn Plantation Records, 1766-1873” at Duke University (see this post), one of the challenges I am facing is figuring out what to do with the archival research I have gathered. In other words, how do I incorporate this material into my project in a way that is more critically engaging than a simple “show-and-tell”?

Before actually working with the Ballards Valley records, I had intended to use the photographs and information I collected to provide context for and enhance an analysis of Patricia Powell’s The Pagoda (1998), a novel that describes the tensions between Asian coolies and freed Blacks in mid-nineteenth century Jamaica. But during those long hours in the archive, struggling to decipher and make sense of the handwritten correspondence between plantation managers and absentee owners in London, I became acutely aware of how desperately I was searching for traces of coolies in letters, account book entries, and ledger pages.

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Mentoring

Mentoring Lessons

Last Friday, the Mentoring Future Faculty of Color project (MFFC) held its final lunch and lecture series so I wanted to use this opportunity to reflect on what has been an incredibly inspiring and generative spring program. First, I’d like to thank Nikhil Pal Singh (Associate Professor of Social & Culture Analysis and History, New York University), Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman (Associate Professor of African and Afro-American Studies and English, Brandeis University), and Tina Campt (Professor of Africana and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, Barnard College) for agreeing to share their research and engaging us in conversation. Thanks also to my amazing allies in MFFC whose energies and organizing skills helped make these events such a success.

All three lectures raised important questions that have pushed me to reflect more critically on my own scholarship. Professor Singh’s talk, “Race, Crime and Police Power in the Making of U.S. Empire” reminded me of the important histories of racialized criminality and policing in the United States that will inform my thinking as I explore contemporary forms of racialization and disciplining that manifest within the U.S. academy today. Professor Abdur-Rahman’s discussion of her book, Against the Closet: Black Political Longing and the Erotics of Race (2012), introduced a different genealogy for African American literature by tracing the development of tropes of sexual difference, which both excites and inspires me to find other ways of reading and conceiving Asian American literatures in my research. Finally, Professor Campt’s presentation on the serendipitous encounters that led her to her current work on convict photo albums (collected at the Archives of the Western Cape in South Africa) and the haptic dimensions of working in the archive are lessons I will take with me as I prepare for my own archival encounters in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University this summer.

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