Program in the History of the Book  in American Culture


The Practice of Citizenship with Derrick Spires

Presented on Thursday, May 28, 2020 at 2:00 pm EDT

Approx. 45 minutes

 

In The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Print Culture in the Early United States, Derrick R. Spires examines the parallel development of early black print culture and legal and cultural understandings of U.S. citizenship, beginning in 1787, with the framing of the federal Constitution and the founding of the Free African Society by Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, and ending in 1861, with the onset of the Civil War. Between these two points he recovers understudied figures such as William J. Wilson, whose 1859 "Afric-American Picture Gallery" appeared in seven installments in The Anglo-African Magazine, and the physician, abolitionist, and essayist James McCune Smith. He places texts such as the proceedings of black state conventions alongside considerations of canonical figures such as Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and Frederick Douglass.

Reading black print culture as a space where citizenship was both theorized and practiced, Spires reveals the degree to which concepts of black citizenship emerged through a highly creative and diverse community of letters, not easily reducible to representative figures or genres. From petitions to Congress to Frances Harper's parlor fiction, black writers framed citizenship both explicitly and implicitly, the book demonstrates, not simply as a response to white supremacy but as a matter of course in the shaping of their own communities and in meeting their own political, social, and cultural needs.

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. He is a General Editor for the Broadview Anthology of American Literature and serves on the editorial boards of American Literature and Early American Literature. Spires’s work on early African American politics and print culture has appeared or is forthcoming in African American Review, American Literary History, and edited collections on early African American print culture, time and American literature, and the Colored Conventions movement.

Order this book directly from the publisher at www.upenn.edu/pennpress.

Derrick Spires

The Practice of citizenship


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