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When I arrived there was a far greater sense of community. Faculties regarded departmental

boundaries as administrative conveniences rather than fiefdoms. Even the administration was

not regarded as an entirely separate world.


Books by Franklin Knight

Slave Society in Cuba during the Nineteenth Century  / The Caribbean: The Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism

The Modern Caribbean / Atlantic Port Cities: Economy, Culture, and Society in the Atlantic World, 1650–1850

 The Slave Societies of the Caribbean .

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Interview with Franklin Knight

By Jeremy Pope


Jeremy Pope, JHU PhD Candidate in Egyptology (Department of Near Eastern Studies)

During Professor Ben Vinson’s research sabbatical this semester and next, the Center for Africana Studies is under the stewardship of Acting Director Franklin Knight, the Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Professor in the Department of History. Professor Knight has been a faculty member at Johns Hopkins since 1973, with primary interests in Latin American and Caribbean social and economic history

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Jeremy: How did you first become interested in historical research and teaching—and in Caribbean history specifically?

Dr. Franklin Knight: I gravitated to historical research and to Caribbean history while a student at the University of the West Indies, Mona in Kingston, Jamaica largely under the influence of two extraordinarily gifted historians, the late Professor Elsa Goveia and Professor Sir Roy Augier. Together they taught me that the Caribbean was a very important location from which to examine the wider history of the world. Having graduated with honors with a degree in history I guess the die was cast. I then went on to graduate school and specialized in Latin American history with an emphasis on the Caribbean.

Jeremy: Whom would you identify as the principal influences upon you as a scholar?

Dr. Franklin Knight: I have a long list to whom I am profoundly grateful and they start with a series of excellent and demanding teachers at Calabar High School, a high school largely for boarding students, then on the outskirts of the city of Kingston. It was a school that genuinely endeavored to encourage all-round excellence and discipline. There under the influence of Walter Murray White, a mathematician; John Hearne, a novelist; Oswald Fisher, a geographer; and Walter Foster a historian, I slowly learned to think independently, to read enthusiastically, and to write clearly.

I also got a solid foundation in Latin and Spanish that would serve me well later. At the University of the West Indies I gravitated to history and the indelible influence of Goveia and Augier. Later at the University of Wisconsin I would benefit from the exacting tutorship of John Leddy Phelan in Latin American history, Jan Vansina in African history and Philip Curtin in World history. But beyond my teachers, I learned a lot from peers and colleagues along the way. Colin Palmer, Blanca Silvestrini, Bernard Semmel, Jack Greene, Orest Ranum, Louis Galambos, Manuel Moreno Fraginals, Fe Iglesias, Oscar Zanetti, Alejandro García, Anthony Maingot, Barry Higman, Nigel Bolland, and Teresita Martínez Vergne are some of the individuals to whom I owe special debts.

Jeremy: In what ways have Johns Hopkins and Baltimore changed since you first joined the faculty here in 1973?

Dr. Franklin Knight: Both have changed significantly—and not just in their external physical appearances. When I arrived at Johns Hopkins it was not only undergoing the recent change to a co-educational institution, but would also in the next years move from a predominantly graduate institution to a predominantly undergraduate institution on the Homewood campus. This had, and continues to have, profound significance for Johns Hopkins. The institutional culture has also been profoundly altered in various ways, although not all attributable to the expansion of the university. When I arrived there was a far greater sense of community. Faculties regarded departmental boundaries as administrative conveniences rather than fiefdoms. Even the administration was not regarded as an entirely separate world. The administrative sector was small relative to the size of the faculty and all the senior administrators were outstanding scholars in their respective fields. It was possible not only to know most of the administrators, but also to know what they did.

Jeremy: During this same period, what changes have you noticed in the way in which historians and other scholars conceptualize that group of subjects which are now called "Africana Studies”?

Dr. Franklin Knight: Africana Studies was not a designation that I think would be commonly found in the early 1970s. Programs or departments called themselves by their focus: African Studies; Black Studies; Afro-American History; African and African American Studies. Africana connotes a merging, melding and integration of all such studies. In the case of the Johns Hopkins example the field of Diaspora studies constitutes an integral component of these interdisciplinary endeavors, and the conventional Atlantic focus is broadened to include Indian Ocean, Pacific and continental European Diasporas. Africana Studies, like historical studies in general, are certainly more sophisticated conceptually and theoretically than anything offered in the 1960s and 1970s.

Jeremy: Within the fields of Africana Studies and of history, what recent works and approaches have struck you as particularly interesting and promising avenues for research?

Dr. Franklin Knight: History in general and Africana Studies in particular have been having a great season of innovation and creative expansion. While the great sweeping narratives are still alive in history, the trend is toward more focused multidisciplinary studies, recognizing that there is no single explanation for anything. Grand narratives are complemented, and maybe overtaken, by the careful analysis of events. More sources, archival and non-textual (in the sense of script) are included. The studies that impress me most have a globalizing interconnectedness as well as a revisionist posture.

Francisco Scarano and Alfred McCoy illustrate what I mean in Colonial Crucible: Empire in the Making of the Modern American State and Policing America’s Empire. In Africana studies I like the interesting studies of scholars such as Genaro Rodriguez, Teresita Martínez Vergne, Richard Turits, Ben Vinson, Jane Landers, David Eltis, Ruth Iyob, David Northrup, Barry Higman, Paul Lovejoy, William Darrity, Indrani Chatterjee, and Nigel Bolland. This is a highly selective and self-serving list, of course. They are not all, strictly speaking, Africana field historians, but historians whose work enormously enrich the general field of history, especially that of the African Diaspora. And at the moment the African Diaspora field remains one of the most exciting new fields of historical research.

Source:  Horizons: Newsletter of the Center for Africana Studies at JHU, Spring 2010

Links: Krieger JHU / History JHU

Franklin W. Knight is Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University and president of the Latin American Studies Association. Knight's research interests focus on the general history of Latin America and the Caribbean as well as on American slave systems. His major publications include Slave Society in Cuba during the Nineteenth Century (1970), The Caribbean: The Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism, 2d rev. edn. (1990), The Modern Caribbean, co-edited with Colin A. Palmer (1989), Atlantic Port Cities: Economy, Culture, and Society in the Atlantic World, 1650–1850, co-edited with Peggy K. Liss (1991), and The Slave Societies of the Caribbean (1997). He was also co-translator of Sugar and Railroads, A Cuban History, 1740–1840 by Oscar Zanetti and Alejandro Garc|f8a (1998). Knight is currently writing a monograph, Spanish American Creole Society in Cuba, 1740–1840, and the Rise of American Nationalism.

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The Haitian Revolution by Franklin W. Knight—The Haitian Revolution represents the most thorough case study of revolutionary change anywhere in the history of the modern world.1 In ten years of sustained internal and international warfare, a colony populated predominantly by plantation slaves overthrew both its colonial status and its economic system and established a new political state of entirely free individuals—with some ex-slaves constituting the new political authority. As only the second state to declare its independence in the Americas, Haiti had no viable administrative models to follow. The British North Americans who declared their independence in 1776 left slavery intact, and theirs was more a political revolution than a social and economic one. The success of Haiti against all odds made social revolutions a sensitive issue among the leaders of political revolt elsewhere in the Americas during the final years of the eighteenth century and the first decades of the nineteenth century.2

Yet the genesis of the Haitian Revolution cannot be separated from the wider concomitant events of the later eighteenth-century Atlantic world. Indeed, the period between 1750 and 1850 represented an age of spontaneous, interrelated revolutions, and events in Saint Domingue/Haiti constitute an integral—though often overlooked—part of the history of that larger sphere.3 These multi-faceted revolutions combined to alter the way individuals and groups saw themselves and their place in the world.4 But, even more, the intellectual changes of the period instilled in some political leaders a confidence (not new in the eighteenth century, but far more generalized than before) that creation and creativity were not exclusively divine or accidental attributes, and that both general societies and individual conditions could be rationally engineered.5  HistoryCooperative

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From Black Power to Black Studies

How a Radical Social Movement Became an Academic Discipline

By Fabio Rojas

The black power movement helped redefine African Americans' identity and establish a new racial consciousness in the 1960s. As an influential political force, this movement in turn spawned the academic discipline known as Black Studies. Today there are more than a hundred Black Studies degree programs in the United States, many of them located in America’s elite research institutions. In From Black Power to Black Studies, Fabio Rojas explores how this radical social movement evolved into a recognized academic discipline. Rojas traces the evolution of Black Studies over more than three decades, beginning with its origins in black nationalist politics. His account includes the 1968 Third World Strike at San Francisco State College, the Ford Foundation’s attempts to shape the field, and a description of Black Studies programs at various American universities. His statistical analyses of protest data illuminate how violent and nonviolent protests influenced the establishment of Black Studies programs. Integrating personal interviews and newly discovered archival material, Rojas documents how social activism can bring about organizational change.

The Trouble with Black Studies—Scott McLemee—9 May 2012—Black studies was undeniably a product of radical activism in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Administrators established courses only as a concession to student protesters who had a strongly politicized notion of the field’s purpose. “From 1969 to 1974,” Rojas writes, “approximately 120 degree programs were created,” along with “dozens of other black studies units, such as research centers and nondegree programs,” plus professional organizations and journals devoted to the field. But to regard black studies as a matter of academe becoming politicized (as though the earlier state of comprehensive neglect wasn’t politicized) misses the other side of the process: “The growth of black studies,” Rojas suggests, “can be fruitfully viewed as a bureaucratic response to a social movement.”

By the late 1970s, the African-American sociologist St. Clair Drake (co-author of Black Metropolis, a classic study of Chicago to which Richard Wright contributed an introduction) was writing that black studies had become institutionalized “in the sense that it had moved from the conflict phase into adjustment to the existing educational system, with some of its values accepted by that system…. A trade-off was involved. Black studies became depoliticized and deradicalized.” That, too, is something of an overstatement—but it is far closer to the truth than denunciations of black-studies programs, which treat them as politically volatile, yet also as well-entrenched bastions of power and privilege.

As of 2007, only about 9 percent of four-year colleges and universities had a black studies unit, few of them with a graduate program. Rojas estimates that “the average black studies program employs only seven professors, many of whom are courtesy or joint appointments with limited involvement in the program”while in some cases a program is run by “a single professor who organizes cross-listed courses taught by professors with appointments in other departments.” The field “has extremely porous boundaries,” with scholars who have been trained in fields “from history to religious studies to food science.”

Rojas found from a survey that 88 percent of black studies instructors had doctoral degrees. Those who didn’t “are often writers, artists, and musicians who have secured a position teaching their art within a department of black studies.” As for faculty working primarily or exclusively in black studies, Rojas writes that “the entire population of tenured and tenure-track black studies professors—855 individuals—is smaller than the full-time faculty of my own institution.” In short, black studies is both a small part of higher education in the United States and a field connected by countless threads to other forms of scholarship.

The impetus for its creation came from African-American social and political movements. But its continued existence and development has meant adaptation to, and hybridization with, modes of enquiry from long-established disciplines. Such interdisciplinary research and teaching is necessary and justified because (what I am about to say will be very bold and very controversial, and you may wish to sit down before reading further) it is impossible to understand American life, or modernity itself, without a deep engagement with African-American history, music, literature, institutions, folklore, political movements, etc.

In a nice bit of paradox, that is why C.L.R. James was so dubious about black studies when it began in the 1960s. As author of The Black Jacobins and The History of Negro Revolt, among other classic works, he was one of the figures students wanted to be made visiting professor when they demanded black studies courses. But when he accepted, it was only with ambivalence. "I do not believe that there is any such thing as black studies," he told an audience in 1969. ". . . I only know, the struggle of people against tyranny and oppression in a certain social setting, and, particularly, the last two hundred years. It's impossible for me to separate black studies and white studies in any theoretical point of view."insidehighered

 Left of Black: Race, Writing and the Attack on Black Studies

with Adam Mansbach & La TaSha Levy

Host and Duke University Professor Mark Anthony Neal is joined via Skype by writer Adam Mansbach, the author of several books including Angry Black White Boy (2005), The End of the Jews  (2008) and the New York Times Bestseller Go the F**K to Sleep..  Mansbach discusses the inspiration for Macon Detornay—the protagonist of Angry Black White Boy—the surprise success of his “adult children’s book” and his new graphic novel Nature of the Beast.  Finally Neal and Mansbach discuss race in the Obama era and the legacy of the Beastie Boys.

Later, Neal is joined, also via Skype, by LaTaSha B. Levy, doctoral candidate in the Department of African-American Studies at Northwestern University.  Levy and several of her colleagues including Keeanga Yamahtta Taylor and Ruth Hayes, the subjects of a celebratory profile in The Chronicle of Higher Education, were later attacked by a blogger at the same publication, raising questions about the continued hostility directed towards the field of Black Studies.  Neal and Levy discuss the responses to the attack, as well as her research on the rise of Black Republicans.newblackman

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#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
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#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

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A Wreath for Emmett Till

By Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy

This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color. There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets.—School Library Journal

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 21 June 2010




Home  Inside the Caribbean   Toussaint Table  The African World  Floyd W Hayes   Religion & Politics  

Related files: Africa or America: The Emphasis in Black Studies Programs   Askia Touré and Marvin X on Black Studies    Black Studies Forty Years Later

    No New Thinking on Africana Politics and Philosophy  Interview with Franklin Knight  Black Studies in the Age of Obama    Reading Africana

Stirrings in the Jug Adolph Reed