On Heroic Reading: Frederick Douglass and the Atlantic World after 1845

The FEU is delighted to host the plenary session entitled On Heroic Reading. Frederick Douglass and the Atlantic World after 1845, which is part of the international conference Frederick Douglass – Across and Against Times, Places and Disciplines taking place in four venues from October 11-13.

Speaker: Lloyd Pratt, Drue Heinz Professor of American Literature, St. John’s College, University of Oxford

“How does the transatlantic context of the United States and France change our understanding of the history of nineteenth-century African American readers, reading education, and Frederick Douglass’s enduring interest in the politics of reading? How might Emerson’s account of ‘creative reading’ and Thoreau’s discussion of ‘heroic reading’ signify differently if considered against Douglass’s well-known account of learning to read? How does the political passion that attaches to certain types of reading in France and the United States from the 1780s through Reconstruction inform the shifting meaning of reading in the Atlantic world? I consider these and related questions in order to understand how the expansion of literacy in the nineteenth-century North Atlantic world led to the invention of new, hierarchical, and racialized practices of reading and of reading education, as well as how African American intellectuals and educators responded to the invention of this sorting process. By the start of the twentieth century, American readers, in particular, would find themselves facing a tiered educational system in which only university-educated white readers would be promised access to the tools necessary for what the English critic John Ruskin called ‘serious reading’. It is in this context that we should understand DuBois’s commitment to a wide-ranging humanistic education for African Americans. DuBois was loyal to a certain manner of reading, as much as he was to any particular content. This is why, I will suggest, a number of important nineteenth- and twentieth-century African American educators resisted the overtures of the Progressive Education movement. Like Douglass, African American intellectuals and educators understood that there was more to reading than literacy and the search for self-affirmation.”

If you would like to attend this conference only, please note that you must register by sending an email to feesdouglass2018@gmail.com (limited number of places available). Registrations for the three-day conference close on September 15 and must be made via the conference website.

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