Book explores intellectual history of black women

“Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women,” a new book co-edited by Barbara D. Savage, the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought at Penn, grew out of her shared scholarly interests and friendships with other black women academics.

Intellectual History of black women

“We moved from being frustrated about the omission or neglect of attention to black women’s intellectual work to dedicating ourselves to a project that could help start to change that,” says Savage, who is also chair of the Department of Africana Studies in the School of Arts & Sciences.

The book is an outgrowth of her work with the Black Women’s Intellectual History Collective, a collaborative project she founded with her co-editors, Mia Bay, a professor of history at Rutgers University; Farah J. Griffin, a professor of English, comparative literature, and African-American studies at Columbia University; and Martha S. Jones, a professor of history and Afro-American studies at the University of Michigan.

“Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women” is a collection of essays written by scholars of history and literature that highlights the works of a diverse group of black women thinkers who lived in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, and the United States from the 17th century to the present. Topics vary from religion and slavery to the politicized and gendered reappraisal of the black female body in contemporary culture.

Savage says the book has been a labor of love for her and the contributors. The four co-editors were scattered across the country, and equally divided the work of coordinating, editing the essays, and taking the project to production.

With support from their respective home institutions, including Penn’s Center for Africana Studies, the co-editors hosted four meetings to present each essay for discussion and criticism by their colleagues and graduate students.

“Our intention always was to create a new field of study, and not merely to expose neglect or omission,” Savage says. “The book is a blueprint for many younger scholars who are now engaging with many of the questions it raises.”

Savage contributed an essay to the book titled, “Professor Merze Tate: Diplomatic Historian, Cosmopolitan Woman,” which explores Tate’s life and pioneering work on disarmament and imperialism in the Pacific and in Africa.

One of the few black women to earn a Ph.D. in the early 20th century, Tate received her graduate degrees at Oxford and Harvard, and joined the history department at Howard University in 1942 where she remained until her retirement in 1977.

Savage’s essay is one of two in the book written by a Penn scholar. An essay titled, “The Polarities of Space: Segregation and Alice Walker’s Intervention in Southern Studies” was written by Thadious Davis, the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and a professor in the Department of English.

Originally published on April 23, 2015

Leave a Comment