Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Studying Partial Chronologies

This summer, I devised a small activity that allowed the Fellows to study "partial chronologies" of scholars who concentrate on literature and African American Studies. The chronologies provide a brief glimpse at scholars' engagements with ideas, particular writers, and colleagues in the field over several years.

For the multiple chronologies I needed, I decided to contact some friends and colleagues, including Professors Bryan Carter (University of Central Missouri), Erica Edwards (University of California Riverside), John Ernest (West Virginia University), Sherita Johnson (The University of Southern Mississippi), Alondra Nelson (Columbia University), Jerry W. Ward, Jr. (Dillard University), and our program director Joycelyn Moody (University of Texas at San Antonio).

Each of the professors provided points along their journeys following various educational, professional, and scholarly paths over a span of at least 10 years. They also inserted, at a few places along their time-lines, moments where they had to make critical decisions and choices.

The chronologies have been tremendously important educational maps for us. The arrangement of the various materials based on a chronological setup makes the ideas and movements of the scholars visually accessible and interesting, and open enough for us to imagine and discuss what it was like for the professors to make decisions at different points in their careers.

Carter noted making the tough decision to follow his interests in technology despite receiving little support early on. (Clearly, we've benefited from his decisions). Nelson highlighted aspects of her graduate school days when she was collaborating with fellow classmates on large projects and organizing these wonderful discussions and activities associated with afrofuturism. 

After reading Sherita Johnson's chronology, one of our Fellows, Laquasha Logan, explained that she was "intrigued by the fact that a particular class, Early African American Literature, prompted Professor Johnson to concentrate on black southern writers." Logan also noted that Johnson's chronology "gave me an idea about the significance of mentors."

Our Fellow, Alexander Sterling, observed that Professor Ernest's chronology "helped inform my understanding of the persistence required to succeed in the academy. In particular, the chronology made me aware of the importance of having multiple projects just in case various obstacles emerge that impedes the progress of one." Another Fellow, Barry Cleckley, pointed out that Ernest's chronology "provided a model of the type of persistence and self-directed motivation necessary to be successful in the academy."

Professor Ward's chronology, which he entitled "Selecting the Wright Path," concentrates on his experiences studying and producing scholarship on the novelist Richard Wright, whom Ward began reading as an undergraduate at Tougaloo College in Mississippi in 1963-1964.

"Ward's chronology comprises 48 years of pursuing work on a notable African American writer, from an introduction to his works in undergrad to his receipt of the Richard Wright Literary Excellence Award this past February," wrote Kacee Aldridge. "Thinking about those years of dedication on a subject provided me with a sense that striving toward scholarship in the areas that are most meaningful can be a fulfilling lifelong journey."

Simone Parris explained that reading about "the myriad of diverse topics and concepts" that Professor Edwards highlighted in her chronology "encouraged me to look at my education in a very different light." The Edwards chronology "inspired me to study the various topics and concepts of interest across disciplines to discover what I am most passionate about researching and writing my dissertation on."

The partial chronologies have become integral, recurring topics in our conversations during the last two weeks. At every turn, we are looking back and mentioning how a key question we are considering or subject relates to to issues mentioned in the chronologies.

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