The Sawyer Seminar Series

“Black Reconstruction as a Portal” is a year-long seminar at UC Irvine during 2022-2023 that sets out to explore the global salience of visions of Black Reconstruction as a portal between the crisis that marks our current predicament and the freedom dreams of those who have taken to the streets insisting that another world is still possible. This seminar will explore W.E.B Du Bois’s historical study, Black Reconstruction, as a conduit to our present global crisis. If scholars and activists want to come to terms with the structural continuities in anti-Blackness today, perhaps there is no better place to start than to grapple with Du Bois’s study of the simultaneous possibilities—and ultimate foreclosure of—what he called abolition democracy at the very moment of slavery’s demise and the rise of Jim Crow. Situated within a historical record that positions the United States during a critical moment (buildup of the Civil War and the subsequent period of Reconstruction) within the context of competing and symbiotic global political, economic, and social systems, Black Reconstruction offers a model to understand complex structural and social issues.

In our conversations, we seek to challenge the temporal delimitation of the relevance of Du Bois’s work to a prior historical era and its geographical confinement to the borders of the United States of America. Given that Du Bois’s broader scholarly career maintained an analytical focus on a necessarily global color line, we ask: What alternative visions of liberation might be unveiled if Black Reconstruction—both the text and the historical event—is deployed as a portal into our present global predicament? How do Du Bois’s theorizations of abolition democracy, education, general strike, capital, crisis, “the Coming of the Lord”, counter-revolution, land and labor, race and class, and the propaganda of history “travel” and speak to contemporary iterations of spiritual strivings, the feminist strike in Latin America, land occupations in Africa, and the rise of neo-fascism in Europe and North America?

Damien Sojoyner, associate professor of anthropology, and Yousuf Al-Bulushi, assistant professor of global & international studies will co-direct the yearlong series, with support from postdoctoral fellow Marilyn Grell-Brisk, and PhD students Mariel Rowland and Temitope Famodu. The series is funded by the Sawyer Seminar grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. A Mellon Sawyer Seminar is akin to a temporary research center, in which faculty, postdoctoral, and graduate student participants from different disciplines engage in comparative research on the historical and cultural sources of contemporary developments.