Friday, July 12, 2019

Books at the Frederick Douglass Institute

Listen. Frederick Douglass Studies always end up being about literacy studies and Book History. So it was only right that we gifted participants in our Douglass institute with a variety of books.

In addition to getting everyone a common edition of Douglass's Narrative, we handed out Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century's Most Photographed American (2015) and hybrid book that included Douglass's Narrative, My Bondage and My Freedom, and The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.

Oh yeah, and beyond that we made a wide selection of books available to participants, if they were interested. Some comic books, some contemporary psychology and society works, some volumes of poetry, and so forth.

Scenes from the NEH Frederick Douglass Institute (Days 3, 4, 5)

 Some photos from the Frederick Douglass Institute

Scenes from the NEH Frederick Douglass Institute (Days 1 & 2)

Some photos from the Frederick Douglass Institute

Douglass Institute: Day 5

Day 5, July 12, of our NEH Frederick Douglass institute was dedicated to presentations by the 25 participants. They discussed their new or improved plans for  covering Douglass at their respective schools.

The mini-symposium, as we called it, was quite enjoyable. It gave all of us opportunities to listen in on what participants had learned during the week. We also had a chance to see what folks are planning to now take to their classrooms this fall and in coming years.

During the course of the presentations, the participants shared and exchanged a range of resources. They discussed how they covered Douglass in their classes, and they mentioned the works they taught or will teach alongside the Narrative. 

Like the entire week, the mini-symposium was tremendously informative. Beyond the materials on Douglass, we learned about a variety of educational contexts where people are working with students. 

A notebook on Frederick Douglass and Literary Crossroads NEH Institute

Douglass Institute: Day 4

Courtney Thorsson gives presentation at Frederick Douglass institute 

On Day 4, July 11, we had a keynote lecture and two breakout sessions at our NEH institute on Frederick Douglass.

Professor Courtney Thorsson, from the University of Oregon, transported us from the 19th century to discussions of contemporary works. Her presentation offered an overview of select, prominent writings by modern and contemporary African American writers. She discussed how Douglass’s work aligns with a range of novelists, including Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, Colson Whitehead, and others.

Thorsson led a break out session later in the day. She led the group in thinking about black feminist appraisals of Douglass’s work and constructions of masculinity in representations of black men in literature and culture in general.

Donavan Ramon leads discussion 

Donavan Ramon, from Kentucky State University, led discussions on teaching Douglass with students. He's covered Douglass in a variety of contexts, so he was well-positioned to assist our teachers.

He discussed the kinds of challenges students face when they encounter the Narrative. He led participants in thinking about approaches that would benefit them as they covered Douglass, American, and African American literature.

A notebook on Frederick Douglass and Literary Crossroads NEH Institute

Douglass Institute: Day 3

Barbara McCaskill 

Day 3, July 10, of our institute included two keynote lectures and continued discussions about Douglass, literary studies, and historical studies.

First in the morning, Professor Barbara McCaskill discussed Douglass, slave narratives, graphic novels, and approaches to teaching. She wowed us with her fantastic energy and vibrant delivery style. She also had us taking notes, based on her extensive knowledge.

McCaskill merged multiple ideas throughout her presentation, as she discussed Douglass in relation to other authors of slave narratives and also drew connections to a contemporary graphic novel trilogy, March focusing on the autobiographical experiences of John Lewis during the Civil Rights Era.

Elizabeth Cali and Tisha Brooks

Later in the day, Tisha Brooks and Liz Cali, our resident faculty members, gave another lecture, this one on Frederick Douglass and photography. They focused on the shifting self-presentation of Douglass in portraits. They based their discussion on Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American and Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity.

Brooks and Cali also discussed different ways that they incorporate ideas about Douglass's images into their classrooms. Their presentation was really useful for moving beyond Douglass the author and thinking about him as a photograph subject and kind of curator of his public image.

A notebook on Frederick Douglass and Literary Crossroads NEH Institute

Douglass Institute: Day 2

Tisha Brooks and Elizabeth Cali

Day 2, July 9, of our institute included a keynote lecture, sharing and learning activities, and breakout sessions for more concentrated discussion.

We began the day with a recap and exploration of key topics. That session of was led by Tisha Brooks and Elizabeth Cali. They had given the participants a chance to jot down their thoughts at the end of the previous day, so that we could begin the day recalling various unanswered questions.

Joycelyn Moody

Next up, Joycelyn Moody  led the day's keynote presentation. She began the session by having the participants break into small groups and identify the books that they first read by African Americans and the grade level at which they did so. She then asked the groups to identify autobiographies that they read.

Moody then covered a wide range of issues pertaining to African American autobiography and literary history. She gave participants extensive information, and took some time to discuss select passages from Douglass's Narrative.

During the afternoon, Moody led a breakout session, where participants discussed different texts, including Evie Shockley's poem “The Lost Letters of Frederick Douglass."

Kristine Hilderbrandt led another of our breakout sessions. She introduced participants to various map-making tools such as Google Maps, Google Earth, and StoryMapJs to explore geographic elements of Douglass’s Narrative.

Kristine Hilderbrandt
She discussed how mapping software assists readers in understanding spatial and temporal connections in Douglass's book.

Later in the afternoon, I curated an exhibit of different Douglass editions. To conclude, Jessica DeSpain and I led a short discussion about Book History and Douglass's Narrative.

A notebook on Frederick Douglass and Literary Crossroads NEH Institute

Douglass Institute: Day 1

Day 1, July 8, of our Frederick Douglass Institute was filled with a variety of readings, presentations, and discussions. Professors Tisha Brooks, Elizabeth Cali, Jessica DeSpain, and Jill Anderson led sessions. 

We began the day with introductions. Each of the participants noted where they are from and the years they've been teaching. What an experienced group of teachers. The majority of them have been teaching over 15 years. Several have been teaching over 25 years.

Brooks and Cali coordinated activities in the morning. They opened discussions of the Narrative with an important question: When teaching Douglass or other works for that matter, how do we converse about the violence of slavery without reproducing that violence?

The question led to various other questions and a useful discussion about the challenges we face covering the brutalities present in works about slavery where so many black people are beaten, killed, sexually assaulted, and tortured.

For our afternoon sessions, DeSpain and Anderson led workshops with smaller groups, or breakout sessions. In her session, DeSpain covered what is known as "distant reading." She discussed using Voyant, a text mining tool, for analyzing Douglass’s Narrative and other works. As an example, she talked about findings she made based on a corpus of 290 slave narratives.

The session raised the possibility of using digital tools to consider patterns associated with word usage and content. More generally, the session was about encouraging teachers to think about ways of utilizing technology to engage Douglass's Narrative.

Jill Anderson focused part of her session on Common Core standards and the place of Douglass's text. She expanded and also presented various materials she has developed and shared with teachers in training over the years related to Douglass.

Anderson provided a trove of resources for approaching Douglass. Those resources were really beneficial since teachers have been asking materials that they can share and re-purpose for their students.

A notebook on Frederick Douglass and Literary Crossroads NEH Institute