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THE HISTORIOGRAPHY OF BLACK NATIONALISM: 1914-1974

IN THIS COURSE WE WILL EXAMINE HISTORICAL WRITING CONCERNING BLACK NATIONALISM FROM MARCUS GARVEY UNTIL THE DEVOLUTION OF THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY IN THE MID-SEVENTIES.  THIS STUDY WILL HELP STUDENTS TO UNDERSTAND THE EVOLUTION OF HISTORICAL PRACTICE CONCERNING A SPECIFIC SUBJECT.  WE ENGAGE IN THIS STUDY NOT TO DETERMINE HOW HISTORICAL PRACTICE OUGHT TO BE DONE (THAT IS THE PATRONIZING OF PAST HISTORIANS FOR HAVING GOT IT WRONG), BUT RATHER AS A WAY TO DEVELOP A REAL CURIOSITY ABOUT WHY THESE NARRATIVES OF THE PAST SOMETIMES LOOK SO STRANGE TO US AND WHY THEY SEEMED SO PERSUASIVE TO THE PARTICULAR AUDIENCE FOR WHOM THEY WERE INTENDED.

THE HISTORIOGRAPHY OF BLACK NATIONALISM POSES ITS OWN PARTICULAR PROBLEMS AS DOES THE HISTORIOGRAPHY OF THE “SIXTIES.”  HISTORIANS ON THE LEFT OFTEN OFFER DESPAIRING ACCOUNTS IF FAILURE AND DECLINE.  THIS STORY TENDS TO SEPARATE THE SO CALLED “GOOD LEFT” FROM THE “BAD LEFT.” THE STORY OF BLACK NATIONALISM IN THIS NARRATIVE FITS SQUARELY INSIDE OF THE “BAD LEFT.”

IN SOME WAYS HISTORIOGRAPHY CAN BE UNDERSTOOD AS THE STUDY OF ERRORS AND SUPERSEDED THEORIES. THE HISTORIOGRAPHY OF RACE ITSELF IS A MINEFIELD OF ERRORS – INCLUDING A VARIETY OF CONSCIOUSLY AND UNCONSCIOUSLY RACIST RUMINATIONS ON THE MEANING OF BLACKNESS.  CERTAINLY BLACK NATIONALISM HAS BEEN WRITTEN ABOUT BY RACISTS WHO CONDEMN IT OR NEO-LIBERALS WHO ARGUE THAT IT IS BAD STRATEGY.  THIS IS LOW HANGING FRUIT AND WE WILL NOT BE PICKING IT.  RATHER WE WILL CONFINE OUR STUDY TO CREDIBLE HISTORICAL THINKERS WHO HAVE OFFERED THOUGHTFUL CONSIDERATIONS OF OUR TOPIC. MANY OF THESE NARRATIVES ARE WRITTEN BY ACTIVISTS THEMSELVES WHICH PRESENTS IT OWN SET OF PROBLEMS.  THESE NARRATIVES NEED TO BE READ WITH AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE PITFALLS OF ORAL HISTORY AS WELL AS THE SUBJECTIVITY OF HISTORY RELATED BY THE HISTORICAL ACTORS THEMSELVES.

AS HISTORIANS WE MUST ALWAYS PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO WHAT IS NOT SAID — THE ELISIONS, OMISSIONS, SILENCES AND CHANGES OVER TIME IN THE WAY THE STORY OF BLACK NATIONALISM HAS BEEN TOLD IN THE UNITED STATES.

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