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november, 2017

29nov4:00 pm6:00 pmOf the Meaning of Progress: Figuring the Black Woman and Futurity across W.E.B. Du Bois’s Early Sociological and Literary Work with Erica RichardsonIRWGS Grad Colloquium


Event Details

Throughout his lifetime, W.E.B. Du Bois produced a prolific corpus of texts grappling with the vexed race relations America faced from Emancipation to the mid 20th century. Producing work as a sociologist, race leader, essayist, and novelist, Du Bois necessarily considers the challenges and possibilities for the black race across a number of fields.  Although Du Bois traverses these fields across his lifetime, there are significant distinctions and contradistinctions between his sociological and literary work between the late 19th and early 20thcentury, especially in regards to the figure of the black woman. In this chapter, I argue that in Du Bois’s early career, although sociology predicates a patriarchal vision of black futurity, as Du Bois envisions racial uplift in more literary genres, he starts to figure black women as leaders and the feminine as a necessary resource for black futurity. In colloquium, I hope to further discuss my reading of the character of Josie featured in the chapter entitled “Of the Meaning of Progress” in The Souls of Black Folk (1903). Scholars typically approach Josie as a figure of black fatality or as a means of feminizing and subordinating the folk or black masses.  I alternatively suggest that Josie’s striving and failure express the limitations of gender norms established within Du Bois’s early sociological work that are then questioned through the more literary aspects of his writing.  In this colloquium members of the Columbia University community are invited to consider definitions of black futurity outside (and within) the terms of life and death, formulations of non-reproductive black maternity, and the relationship between sociological representation and literary expression of social life through close reading of Du Bois’s work.   The reading for this colloquium includes a sample of the chapter (approx. 37 pages double-spaced) as well as a copy of “Of the Meaning of Progress” (approx. 10 pages single spaced) from The Souls of Black Folk.

To RSVP and receive readings, please email Erica at

About the Speaker

Erica Richardson is a PhD Candidate in the department of English and Comparative Literature. Her larger dissertation project focuses on how black intellectuals and authors between the 1880s and 1930s incorporate aspects of sociology into their literary production. She argues that these authors engage sociology and literature in their writing in order to configure gendered possibilities for black life in a time period of racial violence and constraint. She is currently a Literature Humanities instructor in Columbia University’s Core Curriculum and a Graduate Student Fellow at the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality.


(Wednesday) 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm


CSSD Seminar Room, 752 Schermerhorn Ext

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The Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality is the locus of interdisciplinary feminist and queer scholarship and teaching at Columbia University.

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