'Walking the Tightrope': John Hope Franklin and the Dilemmas of African American History in Action
My project explores race, memory, and nationhood in the twentieth-century United States through the life, scholarship, and activism of the African American historian John Hope Franklin (1915-2009), perhaps the pre-eminent American historian of the twentieth century. By examining Franklin’s c.150 publications and extensive public activism, it will offer insights into the impacts of racialisation and segregation within the historical profession and the historian-activist’s role in challenging such constraints, particularly through reaching audiences beyond the academy.
I first advance an epistemology of racialised knowledge to name the conjunction of knowledge canonization, selective patronage, and material deprivation that disfigured Black knowledge within historical materials in the early twentieth-century. Deprovincializing historiography by then historicizing it alongside broader intellectual traditions in post-war America, I hope to situate history as a critical technology for both producing, transmitting, and contesting racial knowledge and empowering wider Black cultural repertoires and educational strivings. I also suggest how the intensification of normative power in post-war historiography, particularly via prevailing conceptions about objectivity and detachment, dictated the window of enunciation available to Black thinkers under racial liberalism, disbarring, deradicalizing, or censoring those at the nether edges of white educational spaces. My research mission thus joins larger pedagogical efforts to unpick the professed neutrality of higher education and instil a concrete ethos of self-scrutiny, both critical strivings in a period of existential crisis for the Arts and Humanities that has further naturalised the alienation, overwork, and endemic mental health crises of current graduate workers.