HomeBlack Historians and the Writing of History in the 19th and early 20th centuries: What Legacy?

HomeBlack Historians and the Writing of History in the 19th and early 20th centuries: What Legacy?

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Published on Tuesday, September 17, 2013


As part of the project EHDLM (Writing History from the Margins) funded by the PRES Sorbonne Paris Cité, a conference will be held in Paris, University Paris Diderot, June 12-14 2014, on “Black Historians and the Writing of History in the 19th and early 20th centuries: What Legacy?”


“History has thrown the colored man out.”

William Wells Brown 1860, in Benjamin Quarles Black Mosaic 1988, 111


Almost 100 years after The Journal of Negro History was founded by Carter G. Woodson, we would like to reassess the legacy of those black historians who wrote the history of their community between the 1830s and World War II. Through slavery and segregation, self-educated and formally educated black Americans wrote works of history in order to inscribe, or re-inscribe, African Americans in American history. This served a two-fold objective: to make African-Americans proud of their past and to enable them to fight against white prejudice.

Over the past decades, historians have turned to the study of these pioneers, but a number of issues remain to be addressed. At first, before African Americans received doctorates in history or taught history at all-black colleges, activists wrote the first histories of their community (and beyond). We propose to address the following questions: who published these books; how were they distributed, read and received? How can we assess the work of these “amateurs” from a historian’s point of view, at a time when the writing of history was becoming professional in Europe as well as in the United States? What do these publications reveal about the construction of professional history in the nineteenth century when we examine them in relation with other works by Euro-Americans whether working in an academic setting or as independent researchers?

Regarding the more “professional” generation that slowly emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century (Du Bois, Woodson, Logan, and others), a number of questions also remain unanswered. These historians wrote history “from the margins” of the profession, launching journals, organizing conferences and developing institutional tools for their segregated scientific activity. The process of integration was slow and mostly started after the Second World War. Yet one can wonder whether the marginal position of these historians was a hindrance or whether it might also have been an asset. Could it be argued that their use of alternative sources made them pioneers in developing a type of social and cultural history which would later be exemplified by the Annales school in France? If so, the intellectual contribution of the black historians who wrote professional history in the first half of the twentieth century must be re-assessed globally as well as nationally: what does it mean to write history from the margins?

Finally, the work of these early historians must be placed squarely within the longer term historiographical development of African American and American history: African American history emerged as a major field of investigation in American history in the 1970s and 1980s, and, with the rise of Atlantic history in the 1990s and 2000s, it has now become one of the principal preoccupations of American historians. The groundwork had, however, been laid long before in a climate of segregation: the slave trade, US-Haitian relationships, and other key issues were the objects of major studies before the Second World War. How were these books circulated, read and received beyond an educated black public? Are these historians fully recognized for their pioneering work outside of their community, or have they been relegated to the margins of professional historical memory?

Plenary speakers: Pero Dagbovie, Michigan State University, and Claire Parfait, Université Paris 13

This conference is sponsored by www.sorbonne-paris-cite.fr

And the following research teams : CIRESC/CNRS, LARCA, CREW, CRIDAF/Pléiade.

It will be held at University Paris Diderot www.univ-paris-diderot.fr

Submission guidelines

Abstracts: 300 words + one-page CV

to be sent to  blackhistoriansparis2014@gmail.com

by November 1, 2013


  • Marie-Jeanne Rossignol,
  • Claire Bourhis-Mariotti,
  • Hélène Le Dantec-Lowry,
  • Claire Parfait,
  • Mathieu Renault.

Scientific committee

  • Ira Berlin (University of Maryland, College Park),
  • Myriam Cottias (CNRS, CIRESC),
  • Elisabeth Cunin (IRD, CNRS),
  • Pap N’Diaye (Sciences Po),
  • Martha Jones (Michigan),
  • Jean-Paul Lallemand (EHESS, CENA).


  • Paris, France (75)


  • Friday, November 01, 2013

Attached files


  • histoire, Black Americans, Africains-Américains, États-Unis, intellectuals, historiens


  • Matthieu Renault
    courriel : matthieu [dot] renault [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • Matthieu Renault
    courriel : matthieu [dot] renault [at] gmail [dot] com


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Black Historians and the Writing of History in the 19th and early 20th centuries: What Legacy? », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, September 17, 2013, https://doi.org/10.58079/o97

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