H-185. African American Print Cultures in the Nineteenth Century

Benjamin Fagan Derrick R. Spires

Course Length: 30 hours
Course Week: 16–21 July 2023
Format: in person, American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA
Fee: $1,395

This seminar will explore the relationship between African American print and activism during the long nineteenth century, focusing simultaneously on African American print practices and the ethics of studying African American print and life. How did African Americans use a variety of print forms to share and advance issues of import to Black life in the United States? How did the specific print forms they chose to work in and with influence such issues? We will concentrate on a small number of authors (e.g., Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Jarena Lee, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper) and collectives (e.g., colored conventions, committees, newspapers) to trace how they engaged with multiple forms of print. Drawing on the American Antiquarian Society’s extensive collection, we will focus our attention on four primary formats: the pamphlet, the serial, the records of the Colored Conventions, and the book. Throughout, the seminar will engage with how we define these formats for different purposes (e.g., book history, literary history, cataloguing, archiving).

In addition to offering an opportunity to work closely with primary materials, this seminar will provide participants with an introduction to Black Print Culture Studies. The study of African American print culture is also an inquiry into citational practices, the institutional forces that have tended to obscure African American print and elide African American scholarship, and the processes and ethics by which Black Studies compels us to change these structures. Our archival work will be supplemented by scholarship, some of which may be quite recent, but much of which is foundational to this well-established field. We will also learn from scholars in the field through guest lectures. All of the writer/activists we will learn from, be they working in the nineteenth century or the twenty-first, require readers to reckon with a series of ethical concerns that remain deeply relevant to our world and our work. Through our readings and discussions, we will not only explore fascinating materials produced by a community of powerful writers, but also cultivate the practices required for engaging with these communities with an eye towards archives, power, and our relation to them.

This seminar will be of interest to graduate students, librarians, archivists, curators, and college and university faculty. Topics include:

  • The Pamphlet Tradition
  • Black Periodicals
  • Book History
  • The Colored/Black Convention (of the Black People [of Color] Movement)
  • Scholarly Editing

Course History

Benjamin Fagan and Derrick R. Spires co-teach this course in person at the American Antiquarian Society as "African American Print Cultures in the Nineteenth Century."
Derrick R. Spires teaches this course online, as "African American Print Cultures in the Nineteenth-Century United States."

Course Resources

  • Advance Reading List
  • Evaluations for this course:

Related Courses


  • Benjamin Fagan
  • Derrick R. Spires

Benjamin Fagan

Benjamin Fagan is Associate Professor of English at Auburn University. He specializes in early African American literature and culture. He is the author of The Black Newspaper and the Chosen Nation (University of Georgia Press, 2016), co-editor of Visions of Glory: The Civil War in Word and Image (University of Georgia Press, 2019), and editor of African American Literature in Transition, 1830-1850 (Cambridge University Press, 2021). His work has also appeared in journals, such as American Literary History, African American Review, and American Periodicals, and in edited collections on the Colored Conventions Movement, African American literature in the 1850s, and Frederick Douglass.

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Derrick R. Spires

Derrick R. Spires is Associate Professor of English and affiliate faculty in American Studies, Visual Studies, and Media Studies at Cornell University. He specializes in early African American and American print culture, citizenship studies, and African American intellectual history. His first book, The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Print Culture in the Early United States (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019), won the 2020 Bibliographical Society/St. Louis Mercantile Library Prize and the 2019 M/MLA Book Prize. His work on early African American politics and print culture has appeared or is forthcoming in African American ReviewAmerican Literary History, and edited collections on early African American print culture, time and American literature, and the Colored Conventions movement.

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