Patterns in literary scholarship suggest that serious considerations of a literary period do not fully begin until at least a generation after its emergence. Accordingly, meaningful scholarship on African American literature since 1970 is only now beginning to slowly emerge. Scholars interested in this period face two significant challenges. First, the sheer volume of literature published after 1970 can be overwhelming, so identifying a specialty area around which to acquire deep expertise is at once critical and limiting. Second, since literary periods are themselves often nebulously constructed, developing literary histories for a contemporary period can quickly dissolve into competing contrivances, particularly if/when primary source material to document many of its ideals and common threads prove elusive.
Arguably, the clash of too much written material to claim mastery of and too little awareness of primary resources related to the desired specialty area has resulted in an unnecessary muting of key discourses that shaped this highly influential period. Digital Humanities practices, however, can help manage this challenge, thereby giving voice to these key discourses. Ultimately, Williams and Rambsy contend that data management (technology) can be an essential tool for constructing a substantive literary history with a texture reflective of the period’s ripe content and contexts. As a case in point, the presentation focuses specifically on those texts Toni Morrison brought into print as Senior Editor at Random House Publishing Company as the specialty area around which the presenters have significant expertise and for which a singularly unique literary history can be constructed.
See below for a Storify recap of this Digital Dialogue, including live tweets and select resources referenced by Williams and Rambsy during their talk.
A specialist in contemporary African American Literature, Dana A. Williams earned her B.A. in English from Grambling State University in Grambling, LA in 1993, her M.A. in 1995 from Howard University, and her Ph.D. in African American Literature from Howard University in 1998. Before returning to Howard University as a faculty member in 2003, Dr. Williams held a Ford Foundation Post-doc at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, and taught at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge for four years. In 2008-09, she was a faculty fellow at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University, and she assumed the chairmanship of the Department in 2009.
Along with Sandra Shannon, she co-edited August Wilson and Black Aesthetics, edited African American Humor, Irony, and Satire: Ishmael Reed, Satirically Speaking, Conversations with Leon Forrest, and Contemporary African American Fiction: New Critical Essays. She is also the author of Leon Forrest, In the Light of Likeness—Transformed: The Literary Art of Leon Forrest (Ohio State UP, 2005).
She is the past president of the Association of the Departments of English Executive Committee, Chair of the Black American Literature and Culture Forum for the Modern Languages Association, and Immediate President of the College Language Association–the oldest and largest professional organization for faculty of color who teach languages and literatures.
Kenton Rambsy received his PhD (May 2015) and Masters in English (May 2012) from the University of Kansas. He is a 2010 Magna Cum-Laude, Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Morehouse College. He finished Morehouse as the top ranking scholar in the English department and received the distinction of being named the 2010 William Pickens Scholar. In 2008, he received a UNCF/Mellon-Mays Fellowship, and in 2009, he received Schomburg-Mellon Humanities Fellowship. Having served as a research assistant at both Vanderbilt University’s Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center in Nashville, Tennessee and Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History in Atlanta, Georgia. From 2012- 2014, Kenton served as the Program Academic Committee chair for the Association for the Study of Life and African American History (ASALH). Kenton specializes in African American short stories, social geographies, and digital humanities) text-mining, topic modeling, and mapping softwares).