By Dr Saima Nasar, Senior Lecturer in the History of Africa and its Diasporas, School of Humanities
With the advent of a new academic year fast approaching, we caught up with some of our Faculty Research Centres and Groups to see what they got up to last term. Here, Dr Saima Nasar tells us about the Centre for Black Humanities’s highly successful April conference.
The aim of this conference was to bring together researchers to reflect on ‘New Directions in the Black Humanities’. It sought to showcase the exciting research that is being carried out by a dynamic, interdisciplinary group of early career researchers. In doing so, one of the key ambitions of the conference was to support community building.
This was an in-person conference, hosted at the University of Bristol by the Centre for Black Humanities. Thanks to generous funding from The Social History Society’s BME Small Grants Scheme and the University of Bristol’s Faculty of Arts Fund, we were able to offer travel bursaries for our conference delegates who joined us from Royal Holloway, the University of Oxford, the University of West London, the University of Bristol, QMUL, the University of Birmingham, SOAS, and the University of Leicester.
We began the conference with an introductory talk by Dr Amber Lascelles (RHUL), who reflected on how it might be possible to create a critical mass of Black Humanities scholars in Britain. Lascelles posed the questions: how do we work with and expand the often US-centric scholarship in Black Studies? And how do we network and build, both as practice and method? In so doing, Lascelles stressed the need for community building and mentorship.
Our first panel on ‘Literatures’ started with University of Bristol MA Black Humanities student, Kennedy Marie Crowder. Crowder’s paper (‘Fabulation, Physics and Racial Horror: The Non-local Unreality of Black Literature’) probed what ‘reality’ to a Black person is. She explored how speculative fiction by Black authors represents racialised geographies. Her paper was followed by Andrea Bullard (doctoral researcher, University of Bristol) who presented on romance representation in media and Black historical fiction. The panel concluded with Tony Jackson’s (MA Black Humanities, University of Bristol) paper on ‘The Thin Line Between Love and Obsession’.
Our second panel was on the theme ‘Black Lives and Activism’. Sascha-DaCosta Hinds (doctoral researcher, University of Oxford) chaired the session. Wasuk Godwin Sule-Pearce (doctoral researcher, University of West London) started the panel with a comparative study of ‘quadruple consciousness’. Sule-Pearce examined the transatlantic experiences of Black LGBTQ+ students in Higher Education institutes in the UK, US and South Africa. Caine Tayo-Lewin Turner (doctoral researcher, University of Oxford) followed with an illuminating paper on Black anarchism and the ‘anarcho turn’ of Black British protest and thought. He argued that the Black rebellions of the 1980s was the logical conclusion of over a decade of dissident norms established by Black radicals. Dr Melsia Tomlin-Kräftner (Lecturer in Qualitative Research, University of Bristol) then presented her research on migrations of British colonial Caribbean people.
The first afternoon session focused on ‘African Studies’. We had four brilliant papers by Celine Henry (doctoral researcher, University of Birmingham), Henry Brefo (doctoral researcher, University of Birmingham), Danny Thompson (doctoral researcher, University of Chichester) and Helina Shebeshe (doctoral researcher, SOAS). The papers covered histories of Asantehene Prempeh I, educational scholarships and development bureaucracy in Ghana, and Ethiopian migrants in the United Kingdom and their understanding and experiences of belonging. The panel was chaired by Dr Saima Nasar (Senior Lecturer in the History of Africa and its Diasporas, University of Bristol).
Our final panel on ‘Fashioning Selves’ was chaired by Ross Goodman-Brown (doctoral researcher, University of Bristol). The panellists included: Natasha Henry (doctoral researcher, University of Leicester), Claudia Jones (MA Black Humanities student, University of Bristol) and Olivia Wyatt (doctoral researcher, QMUL). Each paper examined race and racialisation. Wyatt, for instance, interrogated the ambivalent attitudes towards Black mixed-heritage children between the 1920s and the early 1950s.
We were hugely honoured to then be joined by our keynote speaker: author, feminist and academic researcher, Lola Olufemi. Olufemi’s paper ‘Only the Promise of Liberation’ examined the purpose, utility and function of the imagination in the work of anti-racist and feminist grassroots political mobilisations in the UK.
Feedback from the day was overwhelmingly positive:
‘New Directions brought together some of the most talented emerging scholars working in Black Humanities in Britain. I thought the quality of the research on offer and the generosity of the questions and discussion made for a very warm and supportive environment. For some it was their first time giving a paper in person, and many shared with me that the collegiality in the room made this a much less daunting experience. The event made me excited and hopeful for the future of Black Humanities.’ Dr Amber Lascelles (RHUL).
‘The conference was a fantastic opportunity to bring together different voices — from around the world — working within the field of Black humanities. Not only did it provide us with refreshingly alternative concepts and methodologies, the conference also functioned as a safe space for upcoming researchers from ethnically-marginalised backgrounds navigating workplaces that are overwhelmingly White. The love, care and support that emerged within these sessions fill me with hope and excitement for the future of Black humanities in Britain.’ Olivia Wyatt (QMUL).
‘New Directions provided an encouraging and welcoming space, bringing together a diverse set of researchers united by the concern for the future of black studies. The range of focus and disciplinary methods (without the pretence of uniform expertise) made participation both rewarding and generative. Distinct ideological undercurrents did not serve to divide but rather inform a dialogue on the political dimensions of black humanities as a discourse; I gained clarity on my position as well as the field in general. I look forward to the Centre’s future events and conferences.’ Caine Tayo Lewin-Turner (University of Oxford).
‘I thoroughly enjoyed New Directions in Black Humanities at Bristol. As an Africanist it is often difficult to see how my work falls into conversations on black humanities, however the breadth of research made me feel at ease while at the programme. I heard many amazing discussions as well as questions and contributions which I will be exploring in my methodology for my own research. The key thing I am taking away from the programme is the rich network of researchers that I met and hope to keep in touch with throughout my research career. I hope this programme is organised again next year.’ Celine Henry (University of Birmingham).
Many thanks to everyone who participated in and supported the conference!
The Centre for Black Humanities is an international interdisciplinary hub for Black Humanities research in the heart of Bristol. To find out more about the Centre’s activities, research and to join the mailing list, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also stay up to date through the Centre’s Twitter account.