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Month: February 2020

Some quotes for our discussion of Toomer’s “Cane”

Hello Fellows,

I want to post a handful of quotes that I think will be useful for the continuation of our discussion of Toomer’s Cane on Tuesday. I take both from J. Martin Favor’s book, Authentic Blackness: The Folk in the New Negro Renaissance (Duke UP, 1999). The first is from a letter that Toomer sent to Claude McKay in 1922:

“from my own point of view I am naturally and inevitably an American. I have strived for a spiritual fusion analogous to the fact of racial intermingling” (56)

The second is Favor’s own analysis of how geography, the movement of peoples, and The Great Migration shape and guide Toomer’s representation of African American culture and identity. Referring to Toomer’s time spent teaching in Georgia, Favor writes:

“Far from being an utterly organic, inevitable occurrence, Toomer’s connection to ‘black’ geography was noticeably planned. His adoption of a folk geography is as much a type of consumption as a reconnection; Toomer goes south to gain access to a part of the matrix of discourses he is creating both in Cane and in his developing theory of “American.” In consciously seeking out a southern geography, he is engaged in the performative act of ‘widening’ and ‘deepening’ his own notion of identity. Concurrently, he is also acting out a reverse migration that mirrors the historical Great Migration of the period.” (61)

The final quote I will provide is taken from literary scholar and critic Walter Benn Michaels’s book on American modernism titled Our America: Nativism, Modernism, and Pluralism (Duke UP 1995).  This quote is a little complicated, but I think it will help to bring out some of the questions that we’ll be working over in our discussion. For our purposes, we can think of culture as being the beliefs and practices of a particular group:

“The fact, in other words, that something belongs to our culture cannot count as a motive for our doing it since, if it does belong to our culture, we already do it and if we don’t do it (if we stopped, or haven’t yet started doing it) it doesn’t belong to our culture…. It is only if we think that our culture is not whatever beliefs and practices we actually happen to have but is instead the beliefs and practices that should properly go with the sort of people we happen to be that the fact of something belonging to our culture can count as a reason for doing it. But to think this is to appeal to something that must be beyond culture and that cannot be derived from culture precisely because our sense of what culture is properly ours must be derived from it. This has been the function of race…. Our sense of culture is characteristically meant to displace race, but … culture has turned out to be a way of continuing rather than repudiating racial thought” (page to come).

Have a great weekend and I look forward to a thoughtful discussion on Tuesday!

ponder denzel washington GIF by Entertainment Tonight


Dr. Cheever

Sustainable Solutions Challenge!


Reilly Geritz informs me about the Sustainable Solutions Challenge happening at UR:

The 1st annual Sustainable Solutions Challenge is an opportunity for students to brainstorm ideas of how to address single-use plastic bottle (SPB) consumption on campus. If you are interested in participating, please make a 2-4 person team and sign up at by Wednesday, February 12th. The full-length “case” of information related to SPB consumption on campus, including stakeholder interviews, can also be found at the link above. If your team’s idea is selected, each participant will win $500 and a chance to be part of the implementation next fall. Reach out to Reilly Geritz ( if you have any questions!
This sounds like a great chance to put your minds towards a worthy and exciting cause. Contact Reilly if you have any quesitons!

Dr. Cheever

Sample Research Application Paragraphs

Hello Fellows!

Below please find some sample research application paragraphs for you to take a look at and on which to model your paragraphs. Your next draft of your paragraphs is due on Thursday, Feb. 6th, at 5pm. 

Please note a few things

  • These paragraphs are longer than that which you are expected to produce. Because there are 10 Fellows this year, you will need to write paragraphs that are approximately 50 words shorter than these. Aim for 200 total words.
  • Notice the form and structure of these paragraphs. They include 1) an introductory few sentences that explain what you are looking at; 2)  questions that will guide your research; and 3) the types of sources and methodologies that you will use in your analysis.
  • Please include with your next draft a list of 5 sources that will help you with your research.
  • IMPORTANT: these paragraphs are not locking you into anything. All of these projects changed significantly from the time of the application to the final proposals written in April, and then AGAIN during the research period over the summer. You are writing about the project as you currently conceive of it. It will change!

Here are the examples.

Chris Barry’s project on slavery and migration:

I propose to research African American communities in the North prior to the Civil War, looking specifically at communities with significant abolitionist presence to explore how these communities developed in antebellum America. My project questions how the movement between Africa and North America, the south and the north, affected an individual’s identity. I would like to examine how African Americans claimed citizenship, what role the abolitionist movement played in those claims, and how those claims formed and changed over time with regard to migration and identity.

Questions that will guide my research include: How did the experience of former enslaved people, free blacks, and abolitionists relate to and challenge the period’s conception of race? What did the abolition movement represent to these communities? How did former enslaved persons, free blacks, and abolitionists imagine African American citizenship and membership in the nation? Did the intersectionality of race and gender affect understandings of citizenship and migration in antebellum America?

I plan to use online archives such as the American Abolitionism Project (Indiana U./Purdue U.), and the Black Abolitionist Archives (U. of Detroit) to gather primary sources and perform close primary analysis. I will draw from American Slavery as It Is: a critical text in abolitionist literature that utilizes slave narratives to push for abolition. Additionally, contemporaneous abolitionist literature such as Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin will be read. In addition, to gain a more complete understanding of the African American experiences at the time I plan on examining the work of other scholars to develop a framework for my analysis and understand broader historiographical trends regarding African Americans and the abolitionist movement.

Raven Baugh’s oral history mapping project on gentrification:

The Church Hill district of Richmond has a rich history of race-related migration stemming from economic fluctuations. My research project will focus on the effects of gentrification in this neighborhood to answer questions about migration, location, and identity. I will ask: Who is moving into the community and where do displaced residents end up? Has this type of movement occurred in the past? How are areas like Church Hill selected for gentrification and who benefits from that gentrification? How does gentrification affect the community’s identity and how do long-term residents respond? At the end of my research, I hope to answer these questions and learn more about the Church Hill community’s reaction to gentrification.

To conduct this research, I will analyze historic newspapers, housing projects, and oral testimonies, visit museums and local archives, and interview residents in the community. In particular, the Valentine has oral testimonies and exhibitions that discuss community reactions to gentrification. Urban planners such as John Moeser will help me understand the complexities of city development. These primary and secondary sources will then be combined to produce a comprehensive reaction to gentrification in Church Hill, culminating in a digital mapping project and a paper explaining the project’s findings.

My previous course work has prepared me this research. In my SSIR Human Rights and Modern Day Slavery I learned how to analyze primary documents as well as study the effects of racial migration on community. Additionally, the Introduction to Digital Humanities taught me tools for the creation and implementation of digital mapping and Documenting 1960s America course taught me skills in the visual analysis of photographs and films.

Karen Fleming’s paragraphs on migration, movement, and literature:

A double major in English and dance, I am interested in exploring the experience of migration through texts and movement. In the summer, I plan to engage in a comparative study of literary works that span the 20th century and address significant human migrations: from the Harlem Renaissance, during and after World War II in Europe, and from the Cold War in communist Cuba. Comparing the experiences of migrants from different contexts, I will explore how the act of migrating affects the individual’s sense of self. I will ask: how do these literary works represent the movement of individuals and its impact on identity? How are those impacts understood in different cultures and historical moments? To explore these questions, I will close read and analyze both fiction and nonfiction, building off of my coursework in English and the Fellows Seminar. I also intend to read scholarly literature about those texts to gain a better understanding of the academic conversations regarding literature and migration.

The second component of this project, to be completed during the 2019 – 2020 academic year, will take these commonalities and communicate them through dance. I intend to choreograph a work which explores the emotions that come with arriving in an unfamiliar place as well as the obstacles faced when one’s identity is challenged. Ultimately, I want to explore migration through literature and dance because both are powerful forms through which one can express meaningful stories. I hope to be able to translate the words and emotions of these texts into movement as a result of my summer research.

And finally, Emmie Poth-Nebel’s project on the Nazar:

The Evil Eye talisman, also known as a nazar, originates from the curse of the evil eye, which causes harm of varying degrees. In one of its simplest forms, a circular eye with a blue iris, the talisman is said to ward off this curse. The image has traveled across the globe but neither its cultural resonance nor its migration is extensively researched. Focusing on ancient Near East/Mesopotamia migration patterns, I will explore the birth, creation, and expansion of the eye’s image and meaning. I will explore how its origin exerted influences over different regions, how geography and climate (coastal, desert, mountainous, etc.) altered its meaning and value, and how it permeated various cultures and thrived within them . Lastly, looking into the evil eye’s value and what meaning could illuminate universal values and beliefs in Mesopotamia from 3,300 BC in Syria (the origin of eye imagery), 1,500 BC in classical Greece (when the blue eye emerged), across the Ottoman empire, and the present. As a History and Archaeology major/minor, I particularly hope to consider this topic not only through a Western lens—in which civilization is “passed over” to Europe—but rather as a migration from a “mother culture” to descendant cultures in the middle east.

My methodologies include the interpretation of both primary and secondary written sources as well as visual analysis of archaeological evidence of evil eye amulets and representations. Ultimately, I seek to explore how the image changed as it was integrated into Western practices. In particular, I am intrigued by its adaptation to the cultural environment in Turkey. I hope to answer questions such as: what was the evil eye’s original intended meaning? How was the image transferred and how did it migrate (through trade, looting, intermarriage, etc…)? How has its interpretation changed as it migrated through space and time, and do the renditions of the image share any commonalities? Ultimately, what can be determined about the transmission of cultural beliefs and practices through the Eye’s migration?

Take a look at these and bring any questions with you to class tomorrow!


Dr. Cheever


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