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For immediate release: Feb. 6, 2003
Contact: Lauren Robinson-Brown, (609) 258-3601,

The State of Black Studies:
National scholars to chart new course at historic conference

PRINCETON, N.J. -- For only the second time in history, academicians at all stages of their careers will join together this week to examine critically the history, the current state and the future of Black Studies. More than 100 speakers and panelists will participate in "The State of Black Studies: Methodology, Pedagogy and Research" Feb. 6-8. The conference kicks off this evening at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.

Facing a juncture that represents the third wave of Black Studies in America, practitioners plan to examine dilemmas, share best practices and emerge with renewed commitments to their work and their legacy.

"A cross fertilization of ideas will occur," said Colin Palmer, Princeton University Dodge Professor of History and conference coordinator. "It's an attempt to examine where we started, where we are in terms of pedagogy and research -- what type of new teaching methodologies have emerged -- and where we will go from here."

An all-star line up includes: field founders such as Howard Dodson, Henry Louis Gates, Maulana Karenga, William Strickland and James Turner; noted figures such as Robin Kelley and Valerie Smith; and rising stars such as Kim Butler, Dwight McBride and Jane Rhodes.

"This is very much the moment to renew the transformative mission of Black Studies," said James de Jongh, director of the City University of New York (CUNY) Institute for Research on the African Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean. "It is not only an intellectual enterprise. Black Studies sees itself directed at social change and social justice."

Black Studies programs were first created in the 1960s after the civil rights movement. Generally, its founders were trained in traditional academic disciplines, but the field has developed an identity of its own. The first assessment conference on the field was held in Atlanta in the early 1980s, in part to set standards and guide the second generation of Black Studies professors as it emerged.

"Now there is a third, younger generation," de Jongh said. "The timing of this conference is important."

Dodson, chief of the Schomburg Center -- widely known as the most significant repository of documents on the black experience -- sees the conference as a place where different generations and perspectives will converge. "I hope the interface between the generations will result in some sense of a shared perspective on what the challenges are facing the field and the direction we collectively should move in," he said.

Dodson said he and Palmer started planning the conference about 10 months ago after an Internet search revealed that many Black Studies programs across the nation had vacant directors or course offerings that did not match stated syllabi. He noted that he spent two years on assessment issues after organizing the first conference 22 years ago.

"My hope is that some of the individuals who have been in the field for some sustained period of time will discuss the origins of the field and the kinds of concerns that brought Black Studies into existence in the first place," Dodson said. "Also, I hope those gathered have the opportunity to receive substantive criticism and commentary on their work. People have taken the responsibility to prepare for this conference very seriously."

Submitted papers cover topics ranging from race relations, social change and black leadership to comedy and tragedy in the black narrative, social bonds, health and spirituality, and organizing the African Diaspora.

"This is an occasion for people to engage in serious debate and discussion," Palmer said. "Participants will include many of those who were there at the outset of Black Studies, associate professors, full professors and graduate students. The intention is to bring these practitioners together to talk and reflect on the past and present and chart a new direction for the future."

Opening remarks and the conference's plenary session will begin at 6:45 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6, at the Schomburg Center, 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York. A reception will follow from 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. A series of 90-minute panel discussions will be held from 9 a.m. through 5:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, and Saturday, Feb. 8, at the CUNY Graduate School, 365 5th Avenue, New York.

The conference is sponsored by the Program in African-American Studies at Princeton University, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the CUNY Institute for Research on the African Diaspora in the Americas. It is free and open to the public, and teachers are encouraged to attend.

"I am grateful to Colin Palmer and Howard Dodson for conceiving of such an exciting and wide-ranging program," said Valerie Smith, Princeton's Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature, professor of English and director of the African-American studies program. "This is just the start of a productive, collaborative relationship between the Program in African-American Studies at Princeton and the Schomburg."

The full agenda is available at