Date of Degree

5-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Liberal Studies

Advisor

Duncan Faherty

Subject Categories

American Literature | Literature in English, North America | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority | Other American Studies

Keywords

archive, archival reconstruction, american studies, speculation, speculative history, african american studies, gender, methodology, literature theory

Abstract

This thesis examines a speculative methodological approach towards restoring silenced Black voices in the archive. First, I will discuss the reasons why this work is necessary, exploring the various patterns of muting, distortion, erasure, and disenfranchisement that Black communities experience within the United States in both physical and written forms. The use of speculation specifically addresses the dehumanization that has followed the Black experience in the United States from the earliest violent incarnation of slavery, and creating the foundation of this kind of silencing allows us to understand why speculation, as opposed to other methodological models for archive restoration, is best suited to recovering Black voices.

Building upon this foundation, this thesis then moves to a close examination of two examples of speculative restoration. The first, Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century, written by Nazera Wright, works alongside literature and publications from the United States in the nineteenth century that used Black girls as the subjects of stories of morality. Wright challenges her audience to take these stories about Black girls and imagine the perspectives not of the often male or White authors, but of the girls themselves. The second piece I examine, The Anarchy of Colored Girls Assembled in a Riotous Matter, is a speculative history of Esther Brown, a black woman arrested in the early twentieth century, whose life was recorded mainly through mentions in police and hospital reports. Wright brings Esther to life, creating the life she might have had and giving her back the agency of having her life's story focus on her. Both of these authors demonstrate ways in which speculation, even if employed to differing degrees, can restore the emotional truth of Black lives throughout history, when their voices have been silenced in the archive.

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