Faculty Books


Mapping Region is a collection of essays that study how early American writers assessed the spaces around them. The contributors reconsider the various roles regions played in the formation of American communities, both real and imagined. Hollis Robbins and Janet Neary’s “African American Literature of the Gold Rush”  looks at accounts of the California Gold Rush in the black press as well as letters from black immigrants to California and Western narratives centered on African American experiences.  The authors offer a reassessment of the American West in the landscape of nineteenth-century African American studies, moving away from the primarily southern notion of African Americans as property toward the more active role of African American seeking property rights in the West. Focusing on the writings of James Williams and William H. Newby, this essay considers Gold Rush California as representing new possibilities for black citizens as well as an important testing ground for African American rights.


A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida, argues that, between the early 1900s and the 1960s, property ownership helped set the terms of Jim Crow segregation. It shows how a shared stake in growing South Florida’s economy allowed competing property interests from opposite sides of the color line to forge consensus about the best way to manage urban development and police the black poor. As a work of both political economy and cultural studies, A World More Concrete focuses on American political culture and the nuts and bolts of how real estate interests claimed spaces, in legal terms, for the United States while selling them, in Miami’s case, as something more-than-American for tourists and potential investors. In particular, the book explores previously unknown dynamics between property management firms, landlords, tenants, government officials, and suburban homeowners in order to show how property owners of various stripes tied meanings of blackness and whiteness to the built environment.

Hickman_Jared_Abolitionist Places

From David Brion Davis’s The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution to Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic, some of the most influential conceptualizations of the Atlantic World have taken the movements of individuals and transnational organizations working to advocate the abolition of slavery as their material basis. This unique, interdisciplinary collection of essays provides diverse new approaches to examining the abolitionist Atlantic. With contributions from an international roster of historians, literary scholars, and specialists in the history of art, this book provides case studies in the connections between abolitionism and material spatial practice in literature, theory, history and memory.

This volume covers a wide range of topics and themes, including the circum-Atlantic itineraries of abolitionist artists and activists; precise locations such as Paris and Chatham, Ontario where abolitionists congregated to speculate over the future of, and hatch emigration plans to, sites in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean; and the reimagining of abolitionist places in twentieth and twenty-first century literature and public art.

This book was originally published as a special issue of Atlantic Studies.


We have all been swept up by the momentum of the Occupy movement. We have seen the results of years of organizing in different communities come together in ways that few could have imagined, bolstered by the scores of people who have left the comfort of their daily routine behind and taken to the streets. Yet as a movement so overflowing with new social and political actors, we lack the framework we need to help us all to understand what a social movement is, to understand how change has happened in the past, to understand what this moment means and what this movement makes possible.

We Are Many is a reflection on Occupy from within the heart of the movement itself. Examining key questions: What worked? What didn’t? Why? How? Is it reproducible? The authors and activists in this collection point toward a movement-based framework for future organizing. Heavily illustrated and annotated, We Are Many is a celebration of what worked, and a thoughtful analysis of what didn’t.


Rap’s critique of police brutality in the 1980s. The Hip Hop Political Convention. The rise (and fall) of Kwame Kilpatrick, the “hip-hop mayor” of Detroit. Barack Obama echoing the body language of Jay-Z on the campaign trail.

A growing number of black activists and artists claim that rap and hip-hop are the basis of an influential new urban social movement. Simultaneously, black citizens evince concern with the effect that rap and hip-hop culture exerts on African American communities. According to a recent Pew survey conducted on the opinions of Black Americans, 71 percent of blacks think that rap is a bad influence. To what extent are African American hopes and fears about hip-hop’s potential political power justified? InStare in the Darkness, Lester K. Spence answers this question using a blend of neoliberal analysis, survey data, experiments, and case studies.

Spence finds that rap does in fact influence black political attitudes. However, rap also reproduces rather than critiques neoliberal ideology. Furthermore, black activists seeking to create an innovative model of hip-hop politics are hamstrung by their reliance on outmoded forms of organizing. By considering the possibilities inherent in the most prolific and prominent activities of hip-hop politics, Stare in the Darkness reveals, in a clear and practical manner, the political consequences of rap culture for black publics.


First published in 1892, this stirring novel by writer and activist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper tells the story of the young daughter of a wealthy Mississippi planter who travels to the North to attend school, only to be sold into slavery in the South when it is discovered that she has Negro blood. After she is freed by the Union army, she works to reunify her family and embrace her heritage, committing herself to improving the conditions for blacks in America.

In her groundbreaking Introduction, Hollis Robbins examines Iola Leroy not solely as an example of the “tragic mulatta” genre but more importunely as a sociological novel that grapples with problems of community, society, and the social contract in post–Reconstruction America. African Americans had experienced centuries of enforced bondage and limited freedom of association; what voluntary bonds should they now form? Should they give precedence to ties of social class or profession or to bonds of kin? Are traditional relationships among family members similar to contracts between individuals or contracts between individuals and the government? Shifting forward and backward in time and following characters as they move from South to North and back again, Iola Leroy complicates the standard sociological category of Gemeinschaft in its depiction of emancipated slaves.


In this assessment of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous 1963 speech, Eric J. Sundquist explores its origins, its place in the long history of American debates about equality and race, and why it is now hailed as the most powerful American address of the 20th century.

Ocean of Letters

Ocean of Letters is a remarkable history of imperialism, language, and creolization in the largest African diaspora of the Indian Ocean in the early modern period. Ranging from Madagascar to the Mascarenes, the Comores, and South Africa, Pier M. Larson sheds new light on the roles of slavery, emancipation, oceanic travel, Christian missions, and colonial linguistics in the making of Malagasy-language literacy in the islands of the western Indian Ocean. He shows how enslaved and free Malagasy together with certain European colonists and missionaries promoted the Malagasy language, literacy projects and letter writing in the multilingual colonial societies of the region between the seventeenth and mid-nineteenth centuries.


In a culture deeply divided along ethnic lines, the idea that the relationship between blacks and Jews was once thought special—indeed, critical to the cause of civil rights—might seem strange. Yet the importance of blacks for Jews and Jews for blacks in conceiving of themselves as Americans, when both remained outsiders to the privileges of full citizenship, is a matter of voluminous but perplexing record. It is this record, written across the annals of American history and literature, culture and society, that Eric Sundquist investigates. A monumental work of literary criticism and cultural history, Strangers in the Land draws upon politics, sociology, law, religion, and popular culture to illuminate a vital, highly conflicted interethnic partnership over the course of a century.

Sundquist explores how reactions to several interlocking issues—the biblical Exodus, the Holocaust, Zionism, and the state of Israel–became critical to black-Jewish relations. He charts volatile debates over social justice and liberalism, anti-Semitism and racism, through extended analyses of fiction by Bernard Malamud, Paule Marshall, Harper Lee, and William Melvin Kelley, as well as the juxtaposition of authors such as Saul Bellow and John A. Williams, Lori Segal and Anna Deavere Smith, Julius Lester and Philip Roth. Engaging a wide range of thinkers and writers on race, civil rights, the Holocaust, slavery, and related topics, and cutting across disciplines to set works of literature in historical context, Strangers in the Land offers an encyclopedic account of questions central to modern American culture.

william wells brown

Widely considered the first African-American novelist, William Wells Brown’s 1853 novel, Clotel, or the President’s Daughter, chronicled the fate of the daughter of Thomas Jefferson and his black housekeeper. Yet, in his own day, Brown was perhaps more important as a rousing orator, scholar, and cultural critic. He escaped from slavery in 1834 and worked on Lake Erie steamboats in Buffalo, New York, helping slaves escape into Canada and lecturing for the New York Anti-Slavery Society. After moving to Boston in 1847, he began writing his autobiography, The Narrative of William W. Brown. By 1850, the book had appeared in four American and five British editions and rivaled the popularity of Frederick Douglass’s Narrative written two years earlier.

As Hollis Robbins and Paula Garret argue, William Wells Brown deliberately resists the tone of heroic resistance and eloquent outrage set by Frederick Douglass. Brown’s rhetorical strategy involved telling stories of individuals and individual encounters in which the art of simple understatement and guileless self-presentation prevailed over cant, bullying, and hypocrisy. Brown’s often humorous and deceptively artless tone appealed to politically active women who were claiming the moral high ground not only on questions of abolition but also on temperance and women’s rights. Unlike Douglass, whose literary output can be described as a long conversation with the founding fathers and literary lions about freedom, liberty, and what it means to be an American, Brown emphasized—with humor and a cosmopolitan gentility—the concerns of middle class family life: education, parenting, and the damage that slavery was doing to American society.

This collection will introduce readers to Brown’s lesser-known, but no less powerful works, placed in the context of the era’s debates on slavery, gender, morality, and the discursive limits put on anti-slavery advocacy. The collection presents Brown’s anti-slavery works and the contemporary response to them in light of Brown’s own attention to the role of women writers and political advocates in this period. Garrett’s and Robbins’s introduction to these texts emphasizes Brown’s awareness and even use of women’s voices in political discourse as a way of distinguishing himself from other black male voices of the time. The selection of texts also demonstrates Brown’s willingness to use and recycle any texts at hand—including his own—in order to appeal to his immediate audience or readership. While making Brown’s more obviously political work available to a wider audience, the book reclaims Brown as an important black influence in the American 19th century.