The Need for Expanding Black Archives

In her presentation today, Professor Johnson tells us of a slave-economics paper that was written in 1974 which ends up concluding that slavery was an efficient, economic system. This conclusion arises out of a straight, economically-based analysis of slavery. But when discussing the forced bondage of human beings, is it sufficient to employ such a methodology? Can a history paint a full picture absent of the emotion present at the time?


Dwight Conquergood, in building a case against the dominance of text, offers two important points worth mentioning here. For one, because forced bondage came with forced illiteracy, he cites Frederick Douglass who speaks about how, “the deeply felt insights and revelatory power that come through the embodied experience of listening to song performance” were essential towards developing a fuller understanding of slavery (27). The art of subversive performance which slaves adopted represents one of the only ways to understand the history of slavery from the side of the subjugated.


He also cites Zora Neale Hurston who states, “The theory behind our tactics: The white man is always trying to know into somebody else’s business. All right, I’ll set something outside the door of my mind for him to play with and handle. He can read my writing but he sho’ can’t read my mind” (30). This, I am assuming, is in reference to the Jim Crow era violence where black people still had to hide the true content of their minds.

With these in mind, I agree with Johnson that archiving everything from slavery, especially the songs and performance art, is essential towards developing a more complete understanding of the worst crime against humanity the world as ever seen. In this country, black people have been employing many methods to fight against the systems-that-be, and therefore, expanding an archive of digital-blackness is essential towards future studies.

Citations: Conquergood, Dwight. Beyond the Text: Toward a Performative Cultural Politics. (1998)


One thought on “The Need for Expanding Black Archives”

  1. Interesting point, @kylej16. I think that the economists writing the paper that concluded that slavery was efficient did not think they were doing the history of slavery justice; they did not claim that only an economic analysis of slavery was necessary. But they did think that one part of understanding slavery and its eventual demise is understanding the economics that played a part in sustaining such a system. Do you take issue with the paper itself? Do you think that the (supposedly) objective field of economics can ever study such a sensitive, nuanced issue? Or do you just mean to say that we need to develop other ways of understanding slavery in addition to the economic perspective?


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