Imagining America to Receive Phi Beta Kappa Key of Excellence

Prize Recognizes Exemplary Efforts to Engage Communities with Arts and Sciences

585_PBK-insigniaBaltimore, Md. September 29, 2015 – The Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s oldest and most-widely known academic honor society, will present Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life with the capstone Key of Excellence Award and its $10,000 prize at a reception on Thursday, October 1 during the 15th annual national Imagining America conference.

Phi Beta Kappa will present the award at the Baltimore Museum of Art during a ceremony with featured remarks from Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Imagining America’s Faculty Co-Directors Drs. Timothy Eatman and Scott Peters will accept the award in support of its work.

The Phi Beta Kappa Society created the Key of Excellence Awards to energize support for the arts and sciences because of their value to the nation. “The Key of Excellence showcases innovative programs that demonstrate the excellence, range, and relevance of the arts and sciences to their communities,” said Phi Beta Kappa President Katherine Soule. “We aim to show decision makers that the arts and sciences develop both inventive employees and thoughtful citizens. They are vital to a vibrant culture and democracy.”

Currently based at Syracuse University, Imagining America is a consortium of over 100 universities and community-based organizations dedicated to animating the civic purposes of the humanities, arts, and design through mutually beneficial community-campus partnerships. The selection committee chose Imagining America for this recognition because of its outstanding efforts to advance the civic purposes of American higher education. Major initiatives —such as Undergraduate Civic Professionalism, Engaged Scholars, Performing Our Future, Civic Science, the Tenure Team Initiative on Public Scholarship, and Public: A Journal of Imagining America —promote positive social change in communities while developing rigorous research that encourages and facilitates the role of civic engagement in liberal arts and sciences education.

“Imagining America brings artists, scholars, designers, community partners, and students together to link stories, fulfill the democratic purposes of higher education, and to address collectively the challenges and opportunities facing the nation,” said Phi Beta Kappa Secretary John Churchill. “We applaud Imagining America for its efforts to ensure that the teaching and research that takes place in classrooms and studios are relevant to, beneficial for, and reflective of its broader communities.”

“We are humbled and inspired by this esteemed award, and grateful for the opportunity it provides to recognize and honor the many bold leaders in our consortium–including our founder, Julie Ellison–who exemplify the power of publicly engaged scholarship in humanities, arts, and design fields.  While this award is a capstone for Phi Beta Kappa’s Key of Excellence event series, we view it as a sign of things yet to come as our still young and growing consortium prepares to open a new chapter in its history,” said Eatman and Peters. Members of IA’s national board led by Bruce Burgett and Lisa Lee will also attend the ceremony.

Every fall, Imagining America’s national conference is a site of collaboration, active dialogue, and problem solving around major issues facing public scholarship and creative practice. This year’s Baltimore-based conference, hosted by UMBC, and co-hosted by MICA, and Morgan State University, centers on the theme “Let America Be! The Art and Power of ‘Weaving Our We,’” and takes place October 1-3.

Previous recipients of the Key of Excellence Award are Arizona State University’s Project Humanities, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Wisconsin Science Festival, the Washington Consortium for the Liberal Arts, and the University of Miami’s Office of Civic and Community Engagement.

About The Phi Beta Kappa Society
Founded on December 5, 1776, The Phi Beta Kappa Society is the nation’s oldest and most-widely known academic honor society. It has chapters at 283 colleges and universities in the United States and more than half a million members around the world. Its mission is to champion education in the liberal arts and sciences, to recognize academic excellence, and to foster freedom of thought and expression. For more information, visit

About The National Arts & Sciences Initiative
Higher education is at a crossroads, with many of our country’s leaders questioning the need for a broad-based arts and sciences curriculum. Phi Beta Kappa launched a multi-year National Arts & Sciences Initiative to strengthen support for the value of the arts and sciences today. The initiative demonstrates that a broad-based arts and sciences education expands opportunity, drives ingenuity and innovation, and makes a strong investment in America.

About Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life
Launched at a 1999 White House Conference, Imagining America is a thriving consortium of over 100 colleges, universities, and cultural organizations working toward the democratic transformation of higher education and civic life. Imagining America members strengthen the public roles of arts, humanities, and design fields through research and action initiatives, coalition building, and leadership development. Learn more at

About the National Museum of African Art
The National Museum of African Art is America’s first museum dedicated to the collection, conservation, study and exhibition of traditional and contemporary African art. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. The museum is located at 950 Independence Avenue S.W. For more information, call (202) 633-4600 or visit the National Museum of African Art’s website at


Webinar: Creating Spaces for Dialogue Across Disciplines & Cultures

Please join Imagining America’s webinar, hosted by Jonathan DamianiCreating Spaces for Dialogue Across Disciplines & Cultures: Toward a Theory of Internationally Engaged Scholarship, on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015 at 4PM EST.

During this webinar participants will analyze the civic engagement pathways of researchers from inside and outside America in an effort to see how the principles of what American scholars consider publicly engaged research and creative practice, are being enacted in research sites across the globe. The purpose of this ongoing project is to focus on finding ways of connecting Imagining America (IA) with a network of higher education and research institutions that hold a commitment and passion for social responsibility and civic engagement as it impacts education, research and service for community development overseas. This webinar, and its emerging narrative, will be focused on understanding the value of developing partnerships with scholars from different cultures and disciplines and logically increasing the amount of exchange that takes place between scholars inside and outside of the United States. These conversations will serve as a critical reflection on the mechanics of doing public scholarship overseas, and will continue to frame a new model of internationally engaged scholarship that took root during IA’s national event in 2014.

Discussion Questions (Included but not limited to):

  1. Participants at IA 2014 repeatedly pointed to the value of acknowledging international scholars and emerging experts already in place at American institutions, and finding more meaningful ways to tap into their marginalized voices. How can American institutions and IA work to create ways of marrying the academic homes and lives of their international scholars around the theme of publicly engaged work?
  2. What are some ways we can help scholars from different backgrounds draw closer ideologically and develop new shared theories and local language that can be tested through collective action?
  3. Using some networks already in place as examples, how can IA help engaged scholars home and abroad create spaces for these exciting and unusual conversations to occur across disciplines and cultures?

Join from PC, Mac, iOS or Android
Or join by phone (US Toll): (646) 568 7788 or (415) 762 9988
Meeting ID: 439 547 728.
 International numbers available:

Please contact Jonathan Damiani,, to sign-up for the webinar.

Meet the 2015 JGS Photo & Digital Media Fellows

"Untitled Study On History And Aesthetics." Photo by: Elliott Brown Jr., New York University. 2015-16 JGS Fellow.

“Untitled Study On History And Aesthetics.” Photo by: Elliott Brown Jr., New York University. 2015-16 JGS Fellow.

Imagining America announces recipients of the 2015-16 fellowship award for publicly engaged students of photography and media who are using their artistic practice to transform their communities. Thanks to a generous grant from the Joy of Giving Something Foundation (JGS), Imagining America annually selects a cohort of student artists from our member institutions to receive a tuition award of $2,000 and to join a national working group of engaged media makers. These undergraduate and graduate students demonstrated leadership in facilitating community-based photo or media arts experiences with people unlikely to otherwise have access to art-making.

Criteria for the student awardees included financial need, artistic merit, and quality of community-engaged practice.

The awardees will convene at the 2015 national conference, October 1-3, in Baltimore, Maryland.

  • Elliot Brown Jr., New York University
  • Harrison Hill, Western Kentucky University
  • Meadow Jones, University of Illinois Champagne-Urbana
  • Hyunju Kim, The Ohio State University
  • Olivia Pea, Wagner College
  • Jaclin Paul, UMBC: University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  • Kimberly Powell, Syracuse University
  • Hilary Rosensteel, MICA: Maryland Institute College of Art

Click here to learn more about the 2015 JGS Fellows.

The Dialectics of Feminist Counternarratives and Direct Public Engagement: Towards an Everyday Praxis

Kush PatelBy Kush Patel, a Doctoral student in Architecture at the University of Michigan and a 2015–2016 Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) Fellow. This PAGE Blog Salon explores themes of engaged scholarship, an important topic of the upcoming Imagining America national conference, Oct. 1-3, 2015, in Baltimore.

The fight against sexual violence and prejudice is gaining momentum in India. Attacks and threats against women, as well as queer and trans people are being reported at an unprecedented rate. More and more individuals—across class and caste lines—are coming out publicly to counter the ideals of gender and sexuality entrenched in, and sustained by, patriarchy. In this essay, I will discuss one initiative that seeks to combat street harassment and public abuse not through spectacular protests, but through interlinked tactics of everyday performance and sustained public discourse. The example illustrates the kinds of change that are possible when direct participatory engagements are centered on feminist politics. The essay is my response to the question: How can we achieve a productive synthesis between our practices of cultural critique and counternarratives, and other, directly participatory and hopeful ways of engaging?

In 2012, a Bangalore-­based public arts collective Blank Noise[1] launched the “Talk to Me” project to address the relationship of fear that most Indian women experience in their cities. The premise of the project, conceptualized at the Srishti School of Art, Design, and Technology, was deceptively simple: to engage total strangers, seen as potentially threatening, in an hour­long conversation over tea and a snack.[2] Within this space, they could talk about anything except sexual violence.[3] The experiment involved five tables—two chairs at each—tea, and samosas. It was conducted over a month on a stretch of road feared for sexual harassment after dark.[4] In the end, participants offered their reflections and discussed changes in perceptions about safety and space, if any.

Since its inception in 2003, Blank Noise had led a number of public projects to combat misogyny and sexist abuse, including the “Safe City Pledge” in which volunteers affirmed attitudinal shifts towards making their cities more safe.[5] With the “Talk to Me” initiative, the instigators sought to go a step further—in the direction of what might be interpreted as the “right to chosen risk,”[6] that is, the right to confront sexual dangers publicly by building connections with individuals across class-­, gender-­, and language­-based distinctions. Over time, “Talk to Me” changed participants’ relationship to the street from avoidance to co­occupancy. More significantly, the project enabled volunteers to challenge biases, and to cultivate empathy by turning their gaze both inward and outward. With each of these, and furthermore, “Talk to Me” advanced—to borrow from philosopher Nancy Fraser’s seminal work—the concept of “subaltern counterpublics.”[7]

Against Jurgen Habermas’ conception of a common public sphere, exclusive of social difference, Fraser frames counterpublics as “parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counter discourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs.”[8] Some examples of such counterpublics might include women, people of color, and gays and lesbians. Fraser stresses that the transformative promise of these counterpublics resides in their “dual character,” functioning as “spaces of withdrawal and regroupment” on the one hand, whilst acting as “training grounds for agitational activities directed towards wider publics” on the other hand.[9] By asserting their right to visibility, the creators of “Talk to Me” opposed the language of danger and safety, traditionally used to limit women’s access to public space. By enacting this oppositional strategy through the medium of talk, they reclaimed their right to political participation. And, by aligning the project with issues of sexual violence in India, as well as the mission of Blank Noise, the participants maintained congruity between enduring structural concerns, critical academic studies, and specific public­-participatory engagements.

To have political impact, counternarratives cannot function at the level of individual critiques alone. They need to be debated and co-­produced along a public spectrum. This implies developing tactics to help challenge experiences of prejudice in spaces, both intimate and public. It also means engaging different groups on a sustained and strategic basis to bring about structural changes in policy with accompanying shifts in public opinion. “Talk to Me” is an example of an everyday praxis that grows with, and through, the dialectics of feminist counternarratives and direct public engagement. The potential for emancipation is built in their overlapping and mutually constitutive roles. Without the publicness of such dialectics, our efforts towards a more just and inclusive world may remain only partially realized.

[1] Blank Noise is a public participatory arts collective located at the intersection of gender and space, and affiliated with the Srishti School of Art, Design, and Technology in Bangalore, India. The collective seeks to confront sexual harassment in public spaces through performance, blogging, opinion polls, and street interventions. Among its several projects, “Talk to Me” involved working directly with students. To read more about the group’s mission, see:­and­labs/blank­noise
[2] Blank Noise Blog, July 1, 2013,­to­me.html
[3] Ibid. In the words of Blank Noise director Jasmeen Patheja: “Being defensive … to ‘making safe’ doesn’t ever lead to actually ‘feeling safe’. We tend to make ourselves feel safe by building defense. We need to make ourselves safe by making familiar instead. It requires a purposeful unclenching of the fist.”
[4] Ibid. Also see: Goodyear, Sarah. “Can a Couple of Tables Make Bangalore’s ‘Rapist Lane’ Safe Again?” in CityLab, July 3, 2013,­couple­tables­make- bangalores­rapist­lane­safe­again/6094/
[5] Safe City Pledge, Blank Noise:­bank­from­various­action- heroes.html For my project review and supporting pledge, see: “Making Cities Safe” in Who Speaks and Acts? August 22, 2013:
[6] Shilpa Phadke with Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade, Why Loiter?: Women And Risk On Mumbai Streets (Penguin Books, 2011). The essence of Phadke, Khan, and Ranade’s argument is that patriarchal institutions have long employed the notion of safety to monitor women’s behavior in public spaces. “Safety,” they say, “is connected not as much to women’s own sense of bodily integrity or to their consent, but rather to ideas of izzat (honor) of the family and community” (p.53). In such settings, women are guarded against assumed sexual dangers from less desirable groups, including lower­class men. Due to such a deceptive opposition between class and gender, women are consistently marginalized in larger urban contexts. “Instead of safety,” they add, “what women should seek is the right to take risks …” for it is only by claiming the “right to chosen risk” that they can claim full access to public space (p. 60).
[7] Fraser, Nancy. “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy” in Craig J. Calhoun, Habermas and the Public Sphere, Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992), 109–142.
[8] Ibid., 123.
[9] Ibid., 124.

Graduate Students as Agents of Change in Public Life

Kaia DeMatteo, PhotoBy Kaia DeMatteo, a Doctoral student in Global Inclusion and Social Development at UMASS Boston and a 2015–2016 Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) Fellow. This PAGE Blog Salon explores themes of engaged scholarship, an important topic of the upcoming Imagining America national conference, Oct. 1-3, 2015, in Baltimore.

Public engagement has been central to my academic and professional experiences as a former AmeriCorps VISTA in the Office for Service-Learning at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, as an EFL instructor for university students in South Korea and the United States, and throughout my volunteer work in Zambia and Swahili study in Tanzania. However, it wasn’t until I began incorporating service-­learning pedagogy while teaching English to international university students and African immigrant populations that I decided to unite my passion with my profession to pursue doctoral studies grounded in social justice, public engagement and higher education. There is therefore a nexus between my current program of study and the PAGE Fellowship, especially the opportunity for collaborative learning and innovation across multiple arenas through a shared vision of public engagement with like­minded graduate students and other scholars.

I have specifically chosen to pursue my graduate studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston because of its commitment to public service and community engagement. As the only public research institution in Boston —and celebrating its 50th anniversary—the University of Massachusetts, Boston, is currently undergoing a massive development process which positions it as a focal point for public engagement within the surrounding neighborhoods of the university community. What kind of legacy can graduate students establish, and how can we engage the community in this transformation? This area offers a wealth of local culture, narratives, and wisdom, providing students a unique opportunity to engage in diverse socio­-economic, cultural, and historical contexts within a dynamic environment. I do believe the PAGE Fellowship provides avenues to grow one’s’ passion for public engagement and to help create value for both urban and rural areas in the short and long term.

The cohort of PAGE Fellows provides a sacred space for graduate students to engage meaningfully in unique themes in the arts and other public humanities topics to encourage the inclusion of all populations, by linking spaces and narratives to empower a shared community at the local level. Undoubtedly, this collaborative network will enable each of us to draw on our strengths with colleagues and public engagement scholars in order to effectively contribute to collective knowledge and practice. For example, I am part of the first cohort of graduate students in the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development at my university. The program focuses on addressing the needs of marginalized populations through community inclusion, and the concepts of public engagement and service-­learning are directly related. As a PAGE Fellow, I hope to actively explore ways that graduate students and faculty members can contribute by cultivating and sustaining publicly engaged relationships.

The PAGE Fellowship offers an ongoing conversation about graduate students as agents of change in public engagement across various departments, institutions and local communities. This year’s PAGE conference theme America Will Be! The Art and Power of “Weaving Our We” will provide insights into how to strengthen community partnerships with urban campuses such as UMASS Boston, which is a key component of the university’s mission. The opportunity to contribute to this network and gain valuable insights will be instrumental in my education, dissertation work and future career endeavors in higher education to inspire others to commit to public engagement both inside and outside the classroom for the common good.

Culture, Community and ‘Making visible’

Supriya Manandhar is a Master’s student in Art Education at Virginia Commonwealth University, and a 2015–2016 Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) Fellow. This PAGE Blog Salon features visual content, an important topic of the upcoming Imagining America national conference, Oct. 1-3, 2015, in Baltimore, MD.


(Left: Macchindranath Chariot festival in Lalitpur, Nepal, 2014; Right: Visitors in front of Van Gogh’s Starry Night at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2014; Photo credit: Supriya Manandhar)

For me, the most powerful thing about art is the idea of making visible. Making visible for observation and not merely seeing. We notice. Then we acknowledge, engage and exchange. The challenge lies in having the self­awareness to analyze our perceptions and explore a more nuanced view of the world. In many ways it is just as much viewer who makes the art as the artist.
The juxtaposition of these images interests me. It holds many threads and layers of looking and making visible.
We are looking at these pictures.
People in the picture are looking at elements of culture.
At things.
At things that are not visible.
At you.

When Place Matters

Floridalma BojLopezBy Floridalma Boj Lopez is a Doctoral student in American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California and a 2015–2016 Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) Fellow. This PAGE Blog Salon post features a response to the question, What are the possibilities for engaged scholars to participate in local environments and around current events at the upcoming Imagining America national conference in Baltimore?

The ideal answer to the possibilities of site­-specific convening’s would be that somehow the convening would allow for new connections among what are usually organizations, collectives and communities that have long histories. We would come together to somehow better understand local struggles, strengthen the efforts that are already taking place in the area and be better equipped to be allies to the struggles that being from other places and perhaps other histories we do not engage in an everyday matter. That would be ideal.

The fact that this year’s convening would be held in Baltimore immediately made me think that somehow the mass mobilizations after the murder of Freddie Gray while in police custody would mean that there would be a special focus on #BlackLivesMatter movement. However, I’m not completely sure how true this will be in part because you can attend an academic conference and literally never leave the ritzy hotel where it is most likely being held. So possibilities can only become realities if there is an institutionalized commitment on behalf of the convening organizers to try and engage local communities in spaces and manners that are meaningful to all parties.

I would argue that this is possible when local organizers take an active role in creating the possibilities for these deeper engagements. For example, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association usually includes some form of locally based interactive activity and usually asks local indigenous communities to participate in the conference. At the 2016 conference held in Hawai’i, an additional day has been added to the conference so that smack in the middle of the entire thing is a service day. I have no doubt that this type of thoughtful work takes a tremendous amount of organizing and effort, it requires ingenuity and generous organizations that are willing to direct people to work that will support them. But it is also a creative process that asks how we as visitors can better understand the spaces we occupy, even if we only occupy them temporarily.

From the Charleston Syllabus to the Charleston Curriculum

A002_C015_0417KKBy Brittany Farr is a Doctoral student in Communication at the University of Southern California and a 2015–2016 Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) Fellow. This PAGE Blog Salon features a response to the article “Not Just Another Hashtag: Reflections on the #Charlestonsyllabus”, an important topic of the upcoming Imagining America national conference, Oct. 1-3, 2015, in Baltimore, MD.

The #CharlestonSyllabus is not actually a syllabus. Neither is the #FergusonSyllabus, or the #blackwomansyllabus. They are reading lists. They are bibliographies. And they are incredibly places to start in the quest to better understand the United States’ history of anti­-blackness and white supremacy. But they are not syllabi, and this is an important distinction to make.

As Prof. Keisha Blain describes it, #CharlestonSyllabus seeks to respond to the outpouring of ignorance, racism, and grief in the wake of these events, with knowledge, particularly knowledge of history. It is a way to help us begin to have an informed national conversation about race, one where “those who chose to dominate the discussion have some knowledge of the history” (Blain). To that end, reading any of the texts on these lists help the reader should better understand how we’ve arrived where we are today in terms of racial violence and inequality.

With thousands of readings, the Charleston Syllabus both is and is not a reading list that directly addresses the Charleston shooting. In addition to being a reading list about the Charleston shooting it is also a Black Studies syllabus. It is an African­-American History syllabus. It is an American History syllabus. The readings on the list provide a history of American capitalism, racism, resistance, and inequality.

But the Charleston Syllabus is not the kind of syllabus that educators across the country labor over every year before the school year starts.[1] For those of us who have created syllabi, we know that they can be time intensive labors of love. They have a perspective and a politics. They are created to simultaneously meet students where they’re at, and expand their perspective.

What perspective does the Charleston syllabus have? How or why is the Charleston Syllabus different from the Ferguson Syllabus? How can a syllabus, collectively created, offer the kind of focus and perspective found in the best­-crafted syllabi?

I ask these questions in earnest because I believe that the answers to these questions are the next steps we need to take in order to collectively teach ourselves the history of US racism that many of us live but have not been taught.

We don’t need one definitive syllabus but many syllabi, each with a point of view and each created for people with different educational backgrounds, reading levels, and familiarity with the material. Because while the circumstances that led to the Charleston shooting, the death of Michael Brown, and the nationwide protests against police brutality are all different, each of these events are a response to the United States’ history of anti­-blackness, white supremacy, and institutionalized racism.

The Charleston Syllabus has already demonstrated that people want to come together and have these conversations. Let’s keep that momentum going and provide more tools and more structure for those who want to engage with these readings, who want to broaden their understanding, and want to create community around a commitment to racial justice.

How can we teach each other our denied and suppressed racial history? How can we collectively create syllabi organized around the rhythms and demands of our daily life rather than around the artifice of an academic calendar?

I don’t have any answers to these questions, but I do have some initial, provisional thoughts of what this might look like:

  • Instead of organizing syllabi by topic we organize them by questions.
    • A syllabus titled “The history of race and punishment in the US” becomes a syllabus titled “How has the history of slavery impacted the development of the US justice system?
  • Syllabi are organized into four-­week units rather than the twelve or fourteen common to an academic calendar. A smaller time commitment is less intimidating and more manageable.
  • The syllabi could include definitions of key terms, reading guidelines and discussion questions.
    • I imagine these will evolve based on people’s engagement with the texts on the syllabi.

We don’t just need syllabi, we need curriculum, and collectively we have all the skills and knowledge we need to create one.


[1] The Charleston Syllabus does include a link to a collection of publicly available, college level syllabi on topics related to race, racism, and social justice.

Alchemizing a Body From Ash: The #CharlestonSyllabus & Why History Matters

Paul TranBy Paul Tran studies Archives & Public History and is the Graduate Scholar in the Archives at the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University. Paul is a 2015–2016 Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) Fellow. This PAGE Blog Salon features a response to the article “Not Just Another Hashtag: Reflections on the #Charlestonsyllabus”, an important topic of the upcoming Imagining America national conference, Oct. 1-3, 2015, in Baltimore, MD.

Junie Cox stands by the body at University Hospital morgue. She studies a face that isn’t a face anymore. The body on the table isn’t a body. It’s an erasure—a statue carved away until only its scent remains. It smells like something burning, she thinks. Like the church roof collapsing to reveal a sky redrawn with ash blacker than the angels she knows will live there. Then Junie sees the little brown shoe, the only article flames couldn’t claim, and she immediately recognizes it: the loafer, the angel’s body, the face where Addie Mae Collins used to be.


I learned about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing on 15 September 1963 in my first history class at Brown University. Professor Francoise Hamlin read the dead’s names aloud for us to hear: Addie Mae Collins, 14; Cynthia Wesley, 14; Carole Robertson, 14; and Carol Denise McNair, 11 years old. At 10:22 a.m., as 200 church members arrived for 11 a.m. service, a bomb detonated on the church’s east side. The interior walls crumbled. Smoke choked the corridors. Just moments before, Sarah Collins Cox, Junie’s little sister, watched Addie Mae help Denise tie her belt in the basement bathroom. Then Addie adjusted her own sash in the mirror. Then nineteen dynamite sticks exploded under the stairwell. Then Sarah woke with twenty-­three pieces of glass in her eyes. She couldn’t remember or see anything.


Mother, dear, may I go downtown
Instead of out to play,
And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom March today?

No, baby, no, you may not go,
For the dogs are fierce and wild,
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails,
Aren’t good for a little child.

—Dudley Randell, “Ballad of Birmingham,” Cities Burning (Broadside Press, 1968)


In 1990, Brown added a 15,000 square foot building to the east side of the John Carter Brown Library. The Hartman-­Cox Architects from Washington D.C. framed an ornamented Indiana limestone panel on the south exterior. It reads, “Speak to the past and it shall teach thee.”

I faced the slab on my first day of school and imagined the black and brown bodies retrieving and cutting the stone. I imagined them transferring its heft to the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations the way some people in this country have no choice but to carry their past like limestone blocks. I imagined them installing it onto a building built by previous black and brown bodies at a university infamously constructed by black and brown bodies and renamed in recognition of a $5000 gift from Nicholas Brown, a Providence businessman and alumnus, whose family’s wealth derived from the exploitation of black and brown bodies.

Of course I imagined and heard deep in my soul the implements used to emboss each letter of each word as I passed the John Carter Brown Library to Professor Hamlin’s class every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11 a.m. during my sophomore year.


Demands to investigate the Birmingham Church Bombing went unanswered for over a decade. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had identities of each bomber. It blocked prosecution against four suspects. After J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, died in 1972, Alabama Attorney General Bob Baxley successfully reopened investigations in 1977. He tried Ku Klux Klan leader Robert E. Chambliss, who denied the charges and died in prison in 1985. Investigators later reopened the case and brought in Klan members Thomas Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry, who wouldn’t be convicted until 2001 and 2002 respectively. The fourth suspect, Herman Frank Cash, died before his trial.


Addie Mae Collins and her sisters went door to door after school. They sold their mother’s cotton aprons.

Before her death, Cynthia Wesley’s father patrolled their Smithfield neighborhood for bombers. They lived on Dynamite Hill. He found his daughter in the University Hospital morgue by a ring her playmate gave her.

Carole Robertson sang in the choir. She had black patent leather tap shoes and loved dancing the cha­cha.

Denise McNair had a white doll. She orchestrated tea parties and skits for it.


White is the color of Denise’s doll.
White is the color of the sash Addie Mae adjusted.
White is the color of Cynthia’s slip,
which her mother told her to fix before she stood in front of God.
White is the color of the hands that planted dynamite inside the church.
White is the color of dynamite exploding.
White is the color of clouds before ash.
White is the color of an eye before shot through with glass.
White is the color of the men who weren’t indicted.
White is the color of the men who prevented these men from being indicted.
White is the color of a blank page before History invades it with ink.
White is the color of a page when History’s redacted.
White is the color of libraries where History that survives—
or, rather, History that’s deliberately preserved—is kept.
White is the color of limestone.
White is the color of words carved into limestone.
White is the color of Speak to the past and it shall teach thee.
White is the color of the past when it’s forgotten.
White is the color of forgetting.
White is the color of what happens we continue to forget.


On 17 June 2015, Dylann Roof, 21 years old, shot nine black people during prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Roof owned a website called The Last Rhodesian, where he posted an anti-­black manifesto. The manifesto has 2,444 words. It seeks forgiveness for “any typos” because Dylann was “in a great hurry” and “didn’t have time to check it.”


The Sunday school lesson on 15 September 1963 at the 16th Street Baptist Church was forgiveness.


Say their names.

Cynthia Hurd—

Clementa Pinckney—

Sharonda Coleman-­Singleton—

Daniel Simmons—

Depayne Middleton-­Doctor—

Tywanza Sanders—

Myra Thompson—

Susie Jackson—

Ethel Lance.


Professor Hamlin taught me that history matters. Critically examining our multiple pasts compels complicated and often contradictory understandings of our multiple presents and futures. Most importantly, it compels compassion for our human condition, our shared contexts, and our courage in the face of every force that threatens to obliterate us from this world.


Historians Chad Williams, Kidada Williams, and Keisha N. Blain, and librarians Cecily Walker, Ryan P. Randall, and Melissa Merrone created the #CharlestonSyllabus to help us understand the context and consequence of the Charleston shooting.


I read each title on the #CharlestonSyllabus and found text I studied in Professor Hamlin’s class.

I found text I used to teach high school students about race and U.S. Empire at a free arts studio called New Urban Arts on Westminster Street in Providence.

I found material I consulted to coach the Barnard College and Columbia University poetry slam team, whose members—Gabrielle Smith, Chloe “Kidd” Matthews, Ficara McDoom, and Max Binder—wrote a 3-­minute persona poem on the Birmingham Church Bombing.


God sends angels
to Earth with purpose.
When your job’s done,
you burst

into the cluster of stars
God made you from—
become light for us.
These girls became

the North Star
for the Civil Rights Movement
taken away by terrorism.
Black women

and children
have always been angels
praying the fire away.
This was no accident.

The enemies of our country’s
are never far away.
They live next door.

They’re a shadow
moving in the dark.
You may not see
or want to see.

But they’re always there.

—Smith, et al., “Birmingham” (2015).


Professor Hamlin’s first book is Crossroads at Clarksdale: The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta after World War II (University of North Carolina Press: 2012).

It opens with a quotation from Eudora Welty.

It is by knowing where you stand that you grow able
to judge where you are. Place absorbs our earliest notice
and attention, it bestows upon us our original awareness; and our
critical powers spring up from the study of it and the growth
experiences inside it…One place comprehended can make us
understand other places better. Sense of place gives us
equilibrium; extended, it is sense of direction too.


Understanding what happened in Charleston helps us understand the worlds we inhabit. Charleston’s local histories, its triumphs and tragedies, help us vanquish distorted visions of the past that engender misinformed and intentionally inaccurate knowledge about the United States and its imperial legacies. By holding the matrix of events that combined to precipitate unforgivable violence, we recognize the act of white terrorism as not exceptional, but a result of our world historical formation and its requisite social order. Though far from effectual pedagogy, the #CharlestonSyllabus contributes to ongoing national conversations about race and empire in the United States from contact to present. It’s not another hashtag. It’s an archive. It’s taking back the page where History was first written and then redacted. It’s excavating the brown shoe or the playmate’s ring and reassembling the children’s bodies. It’s alchemizing a body from ash and memory. It’s rebuilding an eye full of shattered glass.

Creating expansive learning experiences

image_normalBy Lily Hodges a Doctoral student in History at University of California, Davis and a 2015–2016 Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) Fellow. This PAGE Blog Salon explores themes of engaged scholarship, an important topic of the upcoming Imagining America national conference, Oct. 1-3, 2015, in Baltimore, MD.

Let students share more of their lives with each other in class.

My experience teaching in a state university and a state correctional facility has consisted of racially and socioeconomically diverse classrooms. For many students, this can be one of the few times they encounter such a space, before dissipating to their respective homogenous social groups. At the university level, my students divide themselves up through organizations of likeminded people. In prison, under the guise of stopping violence, my students are divided by race. In each situation the classroom becomes, what they call in New Orleans, a neutral ground, historically a dividing strip of line where Spanish & French, American & German and multicultural neighbors would meet. I think educators could spend more time cultivating the enriching experiences this space affords.

In 1990, John Taylor Gatto gave a speech entitled “The Psychopathic School” upon receiving the award of New York City Teacher of the Year. Gatto argued how “it is absurd and anti­-life to be part of a system that compels you to sit in confinement with people of exactly the same age and social class.” With this in mind, I believe it is absurd and anti-life to restrict students’ opportunities to befriend and engage one another in class. This is also a rejection of the mechanized, lecture based, survey classes characteristic to large, public universities. This set-up privileges academic, ivory knowledge over human knowledge, conditioning students into note-­taking, rote memory robots who hang on the words of one man or woman, who went through whatever process of qualifying exams.

Creating expansive learning experiences means freeing ourselves from the constraints of two dimensional contact, to supplement dictator and dictated­-to relationships by returning to the range of human experience. It means allowing space for students to learn from each other’s experiences and expressions. Create time for them to learn from each other. Let them speak about their responsibilities outside of school and of their life before it. Let them share their story.