Spring 2024 Black Archival Imagination Seminar Series

Professor Chris Ouma, who joined the Duke English faculty this academic year, and Professor Khwezi Mkhize, Duke African & African American Studies, collaborated in Spring ’24 to co-teach English 590S, cross-listed as AAAS 590S, “Black Archival Imagination.” The central theme of this course addressed two questions: What do we mean when we invoke the idea of a Black Archive? What are the conditions, genres, and modes of expression through which Black life, imagination, and desire become legible? 

Professors Ouma and Mkhize also launched the Black Archival Imagination Seminar Series based on their vision for the course. This series had the backing of the Franklin Humanities Institute, Duke English, African and African American Studies at Duke, the Africa Initiative at Duke, and the Concilium on Southern Africa

“This seminar series examines how Black experiences have posed problems with regards to how they have been represented as they have encountered enslavement, imperialism and apartheid. In response, Black engagements have complicated what the archive is and what its material and generic manifestations are. The seminar series brings together scholars from Africa and its diaspora whose work expands, in the twenty first century, what Black Archival Imagination is and what its possibilities are for creating alternative futures. These scholars, archivists, writers, filmmakers and activists work across genres and media in ways that present bodies of work with multifarious implications for thinking about the work of Black Archival Imagination.”  Professor Chris Ouma

Jewell Humphrey’s visit with BAI
Jewell Humphrey, a distinguished PhD student at UCLA
Ramadan Suleman and Jocelyn Luckett's conversation
Ramadan Suleman and Jocelyn Luckett’s Conversation
Photo of Louis Chude-Sokei
Professor Louis Chude-Sokei Reading and Q&A
Photographer Lebohang Kganye and curator Serubiri Moses in Conversation
Photographer Lebohang Kganye and curator Serubiri Moses in Conversation

Throughout the semester, Ouma and Mkhize hosted interactive events and welcomed esteemed guests to the Duke community. These events, a transformative component of the Black Archival Imagination Seminar Series, provided a unique platform for engagement and inspiration.

Jewell Humphrey, a distinguished PhD student at UCLA's Department of Anthropology, led a guest seminar that delved into her work on UNIA and the Robert Hill Papers at Duke University Library Collections. Her visit, a standout moment for the “Black Archival Imagination” class, ignited thought-provoking discussions and fostered a deeper understanding of these significant archival materials.

Screenwriter and director Ramadan Suleman visited Duke's campus for a screening of his film Zulu Love Letter. Following the screening, NYU Professor Josslyn Luckett moderated a Q&A session during which Suleman and Luckett discussed the film's content and filming techniques, like interludes, which he used to deal with people's traumas.

The seminar series also featured Professor Louis Chude-Sokei of Boston University who read from his memoir Floating in A Most Peculiar Way and answered questions from audience members.

Professor Chude-Sokei spoke of his mother's influence on his decision to write Floating in A Most Peculiar Way. When asked how he determined what content to include and what not to share, he replied:

 "As a scholar, you want to tell everything, but as an artist, you can't."

Lebohange Kganye and Serubiri Moses visit group photo

The final installment of the Spring '24 Black Archival Imagination Seminar Series consisted of visits by visual artist and photographer Lebohang Kganye and curator Serubiri Moses. The two visited the "Black Archival Imagination" class, Moses via Zoom, and Kganye in person, to discuss Moses' work. The following day, they joined Professors Ouma and Mkhize, along with a dozen members of the Duke community, at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, to discuss Kganye’s photography and the importance of the Black Archive. They discussed how she got into the field and the role photography can play in helping track one's family history and telling a family's story. Slides of Kganye's work served as a backdrop throughout the conversation, and the participants were amazed by the method Kganye used in her "Her-story" collection to illustrate a connection between herself and her deceased mother.

We look forward to more engaging events when the Black Archival Imagination Seminar Series continues in the Fall '24 semester.

  • Symposium on Death & Black Archives with: Hugo Ka Canham, author of Riotous Deathscapes (Duke University Press, 2023) and professor at the Institute for Social and Health Sciences, University of South Africa
  • Seminar with Billy Kahora, former editor of Kwani? Caine Prize nominated Writer and lecturer in Creative and Professional Writing