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In Wayward Lives, Saidiya Hartman argues that through “restiveness … longing and … a larger ensemble of intimate acts … [ordinary Black women] were transforming social life and inaugurating the modern, which was characterised by the entrenchment and transformation of racism, emergent forms of dispossession, and the design of new enclosures, and by a fierce and expanded sense of what might be possible” (p. 59). In this book, Hartman uses a methodology (first developed in her ground-breaking article, “Venus in Two Acts”) called “critical fabulation”, in which she combines archival research with speculative and fictional narratives.

Core Reading:
  • Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval (2019)

Recommended Reading:

Seminar Questions:

  • How does Hartman approach the archive?
  • How useful is Hartman’s methodology of “critical fabulation” to a historian?
  • In what ways Wayward Lives a modernist text?
  • How does our understanding of modern history change if Black women are placed at the centre of the story?
  • “What can we learn from the poor, marginalised Black women of history?” (Taylor)
  • “The chorus propels transformation” (Hartman p. 348). Discuss.

Further reading:

Mia Bay, To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells (New York: 2009)

Elsa Barkley Brown, ‘Negotiating and Transforming the Public Sphere: African American Political Life in the Transition from Slavery to Freedom,’ Public Culture 7:1 (1994), pp: 107–146.

Ira Berlin, The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations (New York: 2011)

Paula Giddings, ‘Missing in Action: Ida B. Wells, the NAACP and the Historical Record’, Meridians (1:2), pp. 1-17.

Thavolia Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household (Cambridge: 2008)

James Grossman, Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration (Chicago: 1989)

Steven Hahn, The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom (Harvard: 2009)

Darlene Clark Hine, ‘Black Professionals and Race Consciousness: Origins of the Civil Rights Movement, 1890-1950’, Journal of American History 89:4 (2003), pp. 1279-1294.

Desmond King and Stephen Tuck, ‘De-Centring the South: America’s Nationwide White Supremacist Order after Reconstruction’, Past & Present 194 (2007), pp. 213-253

Nell Irvin Painter, Southern History Across the Colour Line (Chapel Hill: 2002)

Brian Purnell and Jeanne Theoharis, The Strange Careers of the Jim Crow North: Segregation and Struggle outside of the South (New York: 2019)

Christopher Waldrep, African Americans Confront Lynching: Strategies of Resistance from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Era (2009)

Barbara Y. Welke, ‘When All the Women Were White, and All the Blacks Were Men: Gender, Class, Race, and the Road to Plessy, 1855-1914’, Law and History Review 13:2 (1995), pp. 261-316.

Kidada Williams, They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I (New York: 2012)