Rethinking the Black Intellectual Tradition is an annual symposium hosted at Amherst College dedicated to critical engagement with historical and contemporary black Atlantic thought. The ideas and aims behind the symposium are simple: gather together a small group of scholars for a day of discussion oriented toward pressing issues in Black Studies. Each year is organized around a theme, which brings a thread of unity to the gathering and allows scholars to retrieve forgotten figures, deploy the given theme to draw out hitherto under-theorized aspects of a familiar figure, text, or motif, and any and all mixtures of all that.

The inaugural symposium (April 7th, 2018) was organized around the theme “The Question of Medium,” held in coordination with Mark Anthony Neal’s time at Amherst College as the Charles Hamilton Houston Visiting Scholar. “Medium” was parsed into space, screen, sound, and the digital. Participants were: Christina Knight, John E. Drabinski, Michael Gillespie, Stephanie Sparling Williams, Ashon Crawley, Anthony Reed, Marisa Parham, and Mark Anthony Neal. Presentations covered a range of figures and thematic concerns in performance art, experimental film, theater, sacred music, the intersection of jazz and poetry, and the meaning of digitality for articulating black life in a diasporic context.

The second symposium, held on March 30th, 2019, was organized around the theme “Pessimism as an Interpretative Frame.” With this theme, we shifted the question of pessimism away from sole concern with particular thinkers identified with the afropessimism movement and, drawing on those figures and many others, instead asked what sorts of limitations and possibilities are opened up when reading the tradition in the frame of pessimism. Talks by Axelle Karera, M. Shadee Malaklou, Calvin Warren, Melvin L. Rogers, David Marriott, Rizvana Bradley, Bhakti Shringarpure, and Neil Roberts engaged the theme in the context of pedagogy, eco-catastrophe, the African-American tradition, questions of formalism and anti-formalism, Fanon and after, cinema, the Caribbean tradition of marronage, and the unfolding disaster of migrant deaths crossing the Mediterranean.



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