What the eff?
Co-host of #TWiBRadio and Managing Editor of This Week in Blackness dot com.
Doctoral student in American Studies at NYU.
Lover of iced coffee, historical minutiae, mind-bending theory, Twilight Zone marathons, gadgets, and talking loud.
If you Google me, you’ll find this:
Q. What’s your dissertation about?
A. Many graduate students hate this question because, depending on where they are in their process, they don’t have a clear answer. The following is about as succinct as I can get without causing a nosebleed.
In this dissertation, Written All Over Their Faces: Caricaturing the Failed White Body in the Eighteenth Century Atlantic (1711–1833), I will examine the reproduction of “failed whiteness” in caricature from 1711–1833. Atlantic historians and Critical Race theorists have identified whiteness as a critical element for understanding eighteenth-century life. At the same time, caricature is understood as a rich cultural field for understanding the politics and culture of eighteenth century society. My dissertation looks at how these two practices, “whiteness” and “caricature,” informed each other. I explore the way Britons promoted problematic white bodies and used caricature as a practical index for identifying how white bodies fail. Particularly, I examine four case studies of whiteness in caricature over a one hundred year period. First, I will examine the graphical satire response to the South Sea Scheme and collapse (1711–1764), the Macaroni series published by Mary and Matthew Darly (1768–1780), and the problematic white radical in the Revolutionary Era (1787–1804). Then I turn to an underexplored set of prints by William Heath, who took advantage of the popularity of the Hottentot Venus performances to reframe coalitional politics in Parliament as a form of dangerous miscegenation and a threat to the white body politic (1810–1833).
UPDATE: Here’s the thing with dissertations, they change as you work on them. And for us “humanists,” they can change A LOT. So below is what I thought I was working on. I considered that abstract clear as day when I wrote it, and now, I have little idea of what the hell I was talking about. But I’m happy to leave it here, to show just how much thinking, writing, reading, and time clarifies ideas. And it’s reassuring to see where I’ve been, I know I’m going in the right direction.
My dissertation, “Is a Laugh Treason?” Caricature, Slavery, and Citizenship in the Age of Revolution, considers print culture, specifically caricature, in the Atlantic World from 1760 to 1848. My work situates the history of eighteenth century caricature and capitalism as a history of bodies in transit, both literally and figuratively. The movement of literal bodies in the slave trade created an increased meaning — as they circulated as laborers, consumers, and commodities, they signified and translated their social and political status in print. In this context, representations of the body become vital to our understanding of the nascent modern socio-political landscape. An analysis of what I call “information capital” requires discussion not only of the circulation of eighteenth century printed materials — such as Atlantic print pamphlets, periodicals, correspondences, and broadsides — but also the process of meaning-making in personhood and citizenship. As yet, a critical race theory that examines caricature and print culture of the eighteenth century Atlantic remains underdeveloped. My project is designed to fill that void and will explain how artistic production and commercial circulation of the printed word and image were central to discourses of racial hierarchy and modes of resistance in the revolutionary Atlantic World.
Q. Oh, so you’re an eighteenth century historian?
A. Not really — I’m a visual studies scholar working on a specialized eighteenth century project.
Q. What is visual studies?
A. I often draw a blank when trying to explain visual studies, so here’s a succinct explanation from the University of California, Irvine:
Visual Studies draws from a number of disciplines to explore the meanings, practices, and processes of looking and imaging across historical periods and diverse cultures. Visual Studies is inclusive and broad-ranging both in its methods and approaches and in its objects of inquiry, which include digital technologies, photography, film, painting, exhibition histories, television, performance, sculpture, video, sound, the built environment, and popular culture.
Q. So why blog?
A. Writing, even good writing, can only hold my attention for up to 2,000 words before my mind begins to wander or life demands my attention. This coincides with the number of words I can type in one sitting without a break. My previous attempts at blogging degenerated into single serving entries of links and quotes without much, if any, narrative or author-generated content. The few times I did venture into long form essays, I enjoyed the feedback from my readers and members from the blogging community at large. So why did those blogs fail? Because they were anonymous, plain and simple. Not to say that anonymous blogging doesn’t work for many authors and that a pseudonym can grant an element of freedom, but it simply did not work for me. I want to participate in the collaborative potential of the web and I couldn’t do that without coming out of the shadows. I work best when I collaborate and I sincerely hope that you’ll leave feedback in the comments, it is in dialogue where we all thrive best.
Q. I’m interested in reading on, where do I go from here?