Black Female Intellectuals in Historical and Contemporary Context

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Art, Media and American Studies


From the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States to the local and national activism over the scandal of the Windrush generation's citizenship in the United Kingdom, the black presence in the transatlantic dialogue is slowly beginning to gain increased visibility. Several black intellectuals have gained increasing prominence in the public arena and have consequently developed a platform for talking, writing, and thinking about black activism and what it means to be a black intellectual in the 21st century. Yet, the concept of the black intellectual - when it has been recognised at all - has historically been gendered as male. Black male intellectuals have often talked for and about black women, subsequently marginalising the significance of the black female intellectual both historically and in the contemporary arena.
This network therefore brings together scholars, both early career (including PhD students) and more established academics, working on black female intellectuals in the black Atlantic including Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The key point of the network is to share interdisciplinary understandings of black female intellectuals from both historical and contemporary perspectives thinking through different questions which will be used to frame the workshops.
The first workshop will ask, as the central research question and the introductory session, how do we define "black intellectuals" as a concept? Does gender impact on this definition? What is it that the black female intellectual brings to the public debate and what forms are considered credible?
The second workshop will consider how geographic and temporal parameters alter the form that understandings of the black female intellectuals take and the ways these differences are articulated. Biracial journalist and author Afua Hirsch has been invited to contribute to this workshop.
A third workshop will question how issues of gender and class impact on understandings of black female intellectuals both as a form of activism (doing) and thinking (intellectualism). In particular, it will interrogate the differences between black male and black female intellectuals and explore the ways in which intersectionality functions more broadly within black intellectualism. Black activist and educator, Chardine taylor-Stone will contribute to this workshop.
Leading on from this, a fourth workshop will consider the role of social media in shaping the experience of black female intellectuals in the contemporary world owing to the varied and multiple media resources available. Female activists from the Black Lives Matter movement based in the UK and Europe will be invited to share their experiences in addition to contributions from Gal-Dem, an online and print magazine written by women of colour.
The workshops will also have a series of public lectures running alongside them located in public venues and pertaining to the individual theme of each workshop with invited speakers from across the interdisciplinary spectrum of the network.
The network will apply for follow-on funding to host an international conference on black female intellectuals hosted by the University of East Anglia, bringing together practitioners, academics, and public policy groups namely the Runnymede Trust & the partnership project, History and Policy. The application for follow-on funding will also include a separate seminar event hosted by History and Policy using the project's Runnymede report as its focus and inviting interested policy makers including the Institute of Race Relations and the Black Training and Enterprise group, practitioners such as Chardine Taylor-Stone, journalists from both national and local media including Liv Little (Gal-Dem), Afua Hirsch (Guardian), and members of the network.

Planned Impact

During the UN International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024) it is significant that Black women remain the most socially-disadvantaged and socially excluded groups across the Atlantic world. The project therefore will further explore their collective responses to this via the network. It will be the first step in a longer collaboration between the University of East Anglia and the London School of Economics and Political Science and with other non-academic groups across the diaspora including international activist movements, policy groups, the heritage sector, educators, and the general public.
The series of public lectures given by a number of scholars from across the disciplines in different locations across the UK will be a space for knowledge exchange to interested members of the black diaspora. The network will also connect with national groups, including the Windrush Foundation and the UK's Anti-Apartheid movement. It will also work at a more local level with Norfolk's Black History Month committee, which the P-I has already collaborated with in the past and the Oxford-based African and African Caribbean Kultural Heritage Initiative (Ackhi). The public lectures will also be of significance to the general populace interested in the histories of the impact of the black presence, culturally and intellectually, on the UK, US, Caribbean, and Europe.
The project also acts as a platform for recognised activist movements such as Black Lives Matter and the British Black Power Movement. The project will provide them with increased visibility and enhanced public understanding of black activism, black female intellectuals, and intersectionality. It also offers the possibility of extending connections and future collaboration between these groups and the academic community through research and teaching course design.
Through a working report co-authored by the PI and Co-I, and in collaboration with the Runnymede Trust, UK policy groups concerned with race equality will benefit from the insight of the network and ideas for future projects. Guided by the network's discussions over the course of the project and the input of the partnership project, History and Policy, the report will concern how the work of black female intellectuals in the UK can be used to further policy agendas.
The website will be an essential space for communicating events with those involved with the network and the general public. Members of the network will be consulted at the beginning of the project about the design of the website as it is being developed to ensure that it suits the network's remit and will host details of the aims of the network, the key participants, call for papers, information on public lectures and workshops, a blog, as well as a mailing list.
The museum and heritage industries, specifically those catering to black history in the UK, will be able to engage a wider audience through using material from the project's outputs, particularly the website, applying the interpretative analysis for use in future exhibits and presentations. The creative arts industry might use the focus of the project and its findings to deliver a number of diverse productions (drama, interpretative dance, film making) on certain individuals or ideas.
Educators in the UK - at primary, secondary, and sixth form levels - who are interested in expanding the curriculum beyond slavery and civil rights leaders of the 1960s, would be able to engage with material on the website, with accessible materials (including images, presentations and lesson plans) in addition to a wide bibliography of resources pertaining to black intellectualism. The PI and Co-I will consult with teachers and schools via our respective Widening Participating teams in order that the material connects with key learning objectives as established in the National Curriculum's framework.


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