Defining Black European History

This article is part of the TRAFO series “Emerging Topics. Insights from ‘Behind the Scenes’”. Today, we put the spotlight on the workshop “Defining Black European History”, which will take place on June 22-23, 2018 at the German Historical Institute Washington.

Please find more information on the event here.

Together with Jeff Bowersox, Atiba Pertilla, and Kira Thurman, you organized the workshop “Defining Black European History”: How did you come up with the idea for this event?

The idea for the conference, “Defining Black European History,” emerged from conversations and projects that Kira, Jeff, and I have fostered and been committed to for many years. For instance, in 2014 and 2015, I co-organized and co-facilitated with a colleague two seminars on topics related to the Black Diaspora in Europe at the German Studies Association conferences. Both Kira and Jeff participated in these seminars and discussions emerged about promoting and producing more work on Black German Studies and Black European Studies more broadly. As a result of these exchanges, Jeff, Kira, and I as well as other colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic worked together to create the website Black Central Europe in 2014, which is a repository of documents related to the lives of Black people in Central Europe. In addition to this, Kira and I co-founded the H-Net group H-Black-Europe, as a way of creating a digital network of scholars, activists, and other individuals, who study Black European culture and history. This forum is meant to serve as a form of intellectual community and exchange. Since its launch in 2016, the group has grown to include over 450 members. After working together in a number of capacities, Jeff, Kira, and I wanted to further interrogate the concept of Black Europe. So we applied to the German Historical Institute Washington to host a conference, and our proposal was accepted. After this, we began to work closely with Atiba. The conference pushes us to critically re-evaluate the field from a historical perspective by examining its contours, nuances, and entanglements over different geographies and chronologies. Indeed, we see our scholarly efforts as building from interdisciplinary scholars such as Tina Campt, Tyler Stovall, Stephen A. Small, Fatima El-Tayeb, as well as others who have focused on this topic throughout the years.

In the workshop’s abstract, you stress the importance of studying Black Europe across both temporal and geographical borders: Why do you think this is particularly important and what will be the potential advantage for the participants – given that the event will not focus on a specific century or country?

In defining, mapping, and assessing the contours of Black European History, we believe it is important to bring scholars who study the medieval, early modern, modern periods together with scholars who study the histories of imperialism, decolonization, nationalism, and black internationalism because oftentimes these historians are not in direct dialogue with one another. Unfortunately, the nature of the work on the Black Diaspora in Europe is rather fragmented and isolated. Therefore, our conference contributes to a more holistic approach to Black European Studies and fosters more transatlantic discussions. Moreover, scholarly discussions on the Black Diaspora in Europe often focus the 1920s and 1930s with regards to the Négritude movement in Paris or West Indian postwar immigration (The Windrush Generation) to London. Given these dynamics, we sought to recover and foreground other narratives of the Black Diaspora. We also thought it necessary to have multiple historians sit in the same room to critically engage Black Europe as a concept and to share useful methodologies, tools, and theories that will help us excavate the narratives of the Black Diaspora in Europe.  Bringing scholars that study Italy, Germany, and Russia together with scholars of France, Britain, and the Iberian Peninsula over different historical moments will enable to us tease out the specific discourses on race, identity, citizenship, migration, belonging, agency, and nation that emerged across different spacetimes. These discussions are particularly pertinent given the presence of new diasporas, the new refugee crisis, as well as the re-emergence of populist movements across Europe (and the US) that have demarcated difference and fostered contested debates about the inclusion and exclusion of Black people and other people of color within diverse national polities. It is our hope the conference will help enrich and push the field in new and exciting directions. We also want the conference to facilitate the pursuit of more collaborative projects with a variety of scholars who study Black Europe.

 The upcoming workshop will also include a digital session: Can you tell us a little more about what you have planned there?

Our digital session with occur with two digital humanists from the University of Michigan and John Hopkins. It will offer scholars the opportunity to explore new digital technologies while thinking deeply about the advantages and disadvantages that these tools create for historians of Black European History. The session will introduce us to digital tools that can complement our research, inform our pedagogy, and engage the public at large. It will also help us recognize what geo-spatial technologies we can use to bring together the disparate narratives of fourteenth-century religious figure Saint Maurice, eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinker Anton Willem Amo, nineteenth-century nurse Mary Seacole, and twentieth-century activist Claudia Jones. Finally, our digital session will inform our work and help us engage more explicitly with the public memory of the Black Diaspora in Europe.

 

Tiffany N. Florvil is an Assistant Professor of 20th-Century European Women’s and Gender History at the University of New Mexico. She received her PhD from the University of South Carolina in Modern European History and her MA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in European Women’s and Gender History. She is the Co-Chair of the Black Diaspora Studies Network at the German Studies Association; the Network Editor for H-Emotions; and an Advisory Board Member and a Network Editor for H-Black Europe. She has co-edited a volume, entitled Rethinking Black German Studies: Approaches, Interventions, and Histories, that will be published this fall and published her work in other venues. Her manuscript, Both Black and German: Women and the Making of a Movement, is currently under review.


Citation: Tiffany N. Florvil, Defining Black European History, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 21.06.2018, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/10495.


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