Woodson Fellows

Photo Credit: Keith Woodson

Tiffany Barber

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (Art and Art History)
University of Rochester

"Undesirability and the Value of Blackness in Contemporary Art"

My dissertation, Undesirability and the Value of Blackness in Contemporary Art, reconstitutes the terms by which we historicize artworks that take blackness and the black body as their subjects, particularly at a moment when “post-racial” aspirations collide with anti-black animus. Produced in the post-civil rights era by contemporary artists Kara Walker, Wangechi Mutu, Xaviera Simmons, and Narcissister, the works I examine in my dissertation center on what I call undesirability, aesthetic strategies of repulsion (dismemberment, crudeness, and self-objectification among them), strategies that neither work to repair nor redeem the traumatic past of blackness. Black artists have long been expected to redress the collective trauma of slavery and its afterlife, an impetus that has historically circumscribed black artistic expression. However, key twenty-first century artworks by Walker, Mutu, Simmons, and Narcissister depart from this trend.  In figurations of grotesque female bodies, they defy long-held aesthetic philosophies and social norms about what constitutes “beauty,” “pleasure,” and the political value of blackness.

Photo Credit: Keith Woodson

Lyndsey Beutin

Pre-Doctoral Fellow
University of Pennsylvania (Annenberg School for Communication)

"If Slavery’s Not Black: The stakes of the U.S. State Department’s campaign against human trafficking"

My dissertation analyzes how the phrase “human trafficking is modern day slavery” moves through the mediascape. I am interested in why this particular application of the word ‘slavery’ has gained legitimacy within U.S. policy, philanthropic, museological, and humanitarian spheres. I use a media ethnographic approach to track the discourse across sectors, focusing on how the imagery and memory of 19th-century slavery and abolition are used in presidential speech, news reporting, NGO promotional materials, and museum exhibitions to lend urgency to the issue of trafficking. My work is concerned with the politics of historical comparison and is motivated by the question: What is at stake in how, and by whom, the “afterlife of slavery” is articulated (Hartman 2007)? I argue that by naming a new slavery—human trafficking—amid the persistent material and symbolic effects of historic racial slavery, state and non-state actors appropriate the memory of slavery to circumvent historical responsibility and advance transnational governance agendas that are congruent with, rather than disruptive to, the underlying structures of racial liberalism and racial capitalism

Photo Credit: Keith Woodson

Julius Fleming Jr.

Post-Doctoral Fellow (Africana Studies)
University of Maryland, College Park

Julius is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park. He earned a doctorate in English, and a graduate certificate in Africana studies, from the University of Pennsylvania. Specializing in African Diasporic literatures and cultures, he has particular interests in performance studies, visual culture, sound studies, philosophy, medicine, and southern studies— especially where they intersect with race, gender, and sexuality. During his time at the Woodson, Julius will complete his first book manuscript, entitled “Technologies of Liberation: Performance and the Art of Black Political Thought.” This project uncovers the centrality of theatrical performance to the cultural and political landscapes of the modern Civil Rights Movement. It argues that black theatre, like photography and television, was a vital mode of aesthetic innovation and black political thought. Whether staging performances in the cotton fields of Mississippi, on Broadway, or in Amsterdam, Holland, black artists and activists crafted radical theatrical performances that inflected the political character of U.S. modernity, and revised normative ideologies of race, gender, sexuality, and modernity itself. Julius will also begin work on his second book project, which traces the historical role of black performance in producing and dismantling the medical industrial complex. Whereas mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex have dominated scholarly and activist discourse, this project makes a case for more evenly attending to the medical industrial complex—both as a critical object of study and a key social justice issue that informs possibilities for being black and human.

Photo Credit: Keith Woodson

Cory Hunter

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (Musicology)
Princeton University

"The Politics of Real Spirituality and its Embodiment in Gospel Music Discourse and Performance"

He holds a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School and a Bachelor of Music from the Eastman School of Music. In his dissertation, “The Politics of Real Spirituality in Gospel Music Discourse and Practice,” Mr. Hunter examines the use of music and musical discourse by contemporary black gospel artists as a means to authenticate their spirituality — to be “real” — and shows how gospel music functions as both a form of proselytizing and a way to maintain the church’s relevance within popular culture. This innovative project gives critical attention to the understudied field of contemporary black gospel music, as it interrogates the musical and theological politics of artists such as Fred Hammond, Kirk Franklin, and Donnie McClurkin, as well as gospel music reality shows from Mary Mary to Sunday Best. In addition, it also illuminates the theological movements and religious doctrines, such as the “prosperity gospel,” that have shaped and influenced contemporary gospel musical practices. He is currently working on an article on the ways that Alvin Ailey’s Revelations interrogates the stereotypes of nineteenth century blackface minstrelsy, and has taught courses on the relationship between black sacred music — spirituals, gospel hymns, civil rights songs and contemporary gospel music — and black oppression. A musician in his own right, Mr. Hunter has performed as a featured soloist in live practice, as well as on albums by jazz musician Kenny Burrell among others.

Phot Credit: Keith Woodson

Ebony Jones

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (History)
New York University

“Enslaved Convicts in Imperial Spaces:  Race and Penal Transportation during the Abolition Era”

She received her B.A. in History and Sociology (with honors) from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. Ms. Jones’ dissertation, “Enslaved Convicts: The Criminal Transportation of Convicted Slaves during British Amelioration, 1823-1834,” is an innovative study on the use of transportation as a form of discipline and punishment for unruly slaves in the British Caribbean. Previous scholars have only looked at English convicts taken to the colonies. Transportation was a common punishment used in response to slave rebellions and conspiracies to rebel. Maroons and rebels were forcibly removed from the Caribbean to places including Nova Scotia, Sierra Leone, and Australia.  A focus on these notorious cases results in historiographical assumptions that transportation was only used to punish those who participated in open rebellion and in large numbers.  The study chronicles the use of criminal transportation for enslaved men and women tried and sentenced by British Caribbean slave courts in the in the wake of Parliament's recommitment to improve the lives of slaves through various amelioration policies. It argues that court-allocated transportation was strategically used to conserve slavery at a time when the institution was under assault by Atlantic abolitionists.  Jones is interested in how this development consisted of increased intervention by the British state in ways that intersected with abolition and reform efforts.  Jones has received several fellowships from NYU, as well as from the Huntington Library and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Photo Credit: Keith Woodson

Lindsey Jones

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (Social Foundation of Education)
University of Virginia

‘Not a Place of Punishment’: the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls, 1915-1940.”

My dissertation argues that the concept of girlhood as a life stage was critical to black women’s educational philosophy and practice in juvenile reformatories.  I highlight the pedagogies black women employed to mitigate the effects of a society determined to sexualize, criminalize, and exploit black girls.

Photo Credit: Keith Woodson

Tony Perry

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (American Studies)
University of Maryland

"To Go to Nature’s Manufactory’: The Material Ecology of Slavery in Antebellum Maryland"

My dissertation examines the environmental history of slavery in antebellum Maryland and is particularly attentive to the ways enslaved people’s relationship to their environment manifested itself in their everyday lives. In this project I advance an ecological analysis that privileges various networks of relation between slaves, slaveholders, soils, plants, animals, and (cold) weather. Grounding my analysis in the everyday world of slavery, my dissertation establishes and employs a framework I call material ecology, which draws from material culture studies in that it utilizes object-oriented analysis as a means of thinking through, unpacking, and rendering the ecologies of slavery in which I am interested. 

Utilizing this approach, I organize each of my chapters around a class of objects that materialize various ecological relations. As the points at which such relations converge, cast-iron plows, enslaved people’s shoes, slave-made charms, as well as stews and similar one-pot meals disclose distinctive interactions between the enslaved and their environment. From my analysis of the relationships that cohere around these objects, I argue that in antebellum Maryland both slaves and slaveholders mobilized elements of their environment against one another in their multiform contests over power. Examining the ecological networks involved in these contests illustrates the extent to which enslaved people’s relationship to the environment was simultaneously antagonistic and empowering.

Photo Credit: Keith Woodson

Xavier Pickett

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (Religion & Society)
Princeton Theological Seminary

"Black (Ir)religious Fire: The Literary and Moral Imagination of James Baldwin and James Cone"

Black (Ir)religious Fire: The Literary and Moral Imagination of James Baldwin and James Cone shatters monochromatic understandings of religion in African American literature. Through analyses of Baldwin’s and Cone’s writings, the dissertation argues that there is an (ir)religious vision motivated and sustained by rage – an (ir)religious fire – at work in the literary and moral imagination of Baldwin that redresses Cone’s flattening of said (ir)religious vision in Black literature.

Photo Credit: Keith Woodson

Ashley Rockenbach

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (History)
University of Michigan

“Home Exile: Banyarwanda Settlers and the Making of the Ugandan State, 1911-Present”

She graduated with a B. A. in History from University of California, Riverside, magna cum laude with High Honors. Her dissertation, “Home in Exile: An Ethnographic History of The Banyarwanda Diaspora and The Making Of the Ugandan State, 1911-Present,” studies the displacement of Rwandan refugees to Uganda, who were thrust out in search of employment and to escape famine and violence. It examines how the British and the Belgians shaped emigration patterns, as well as how refugees recreated homes, claimed social identity, and mobilized strategies for coping with dislocation. Ms. Rockenbach not only conducted research in a variety of archives in Africa and Europe, she has also helped to catalogue records in Uganda in order to make them usable and accessible for herself and other researchers. Her project has potentially broad policy implications for how refugees are (or should be) treated by receiving governments and international organizations. She has received numerous grants from the University of Michigan and was selected as a visiting scholar at the Institute for Migration and Ethnicity Studies at the University of Amsterdam.


Photo Credit: Keith Woodson

Petal Samuel

Post-Doctoral Fellow (English)
Vanderbilt University

"Polluting the Soundscape: Noise Control, The Colonial Ear, and Afro-Caribbean Women’s Writing"

“Petal received her PhD in English from Vanderbilt University and specializes in Afro-Caribbean literature, history, and politics. Petal's book project examines the role of sound in tactics of colonial governance and strategies of anticolonial resistance in twentieth-century Jamaica, Trinidad, and Barbados. The manuscript analyzes the uses of noise abatement laws as furtive mechanisms for surveilling, disrupting, and criminalizing Afro-Caribbean working class peoples and venues of labor and leisure. Rooted in early colonial fears of black assembly and insurrection that occasioned measures such as drumming bans, twentieth century colonial authorities and local periodicals instead attached the racially coded language of “noise” to Afro-Caribbean peoples and cultural-production in order to cast them as acultural and inimical to the body politic. Conversely, her book examines Afro-Caribbean women’s writing that embraces such “noises”--conversation, laughter, sound systems, traffic, and even the voices of the dead--against the grain of these laws and public discourses, reclaiming them as subversive grammars that are integral to decolonization."