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The Women of Négritude

by guest contributor Sarah Dunstan

With the publication of his famous Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (English trans.) in 1937, Aimé Césaire introduced the word Négritude into the French lexicon. In so doing, he named the black literary and cultural movement that he, along with the Senegalese politician and poet Léopold Senghor and Guinian poet Léon Damas would employ to critique colonial practice and construct a powerful new black identity. As T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting argues, the origins of the neologism Négritude may be easily traced to Césaire but its role in the history of black intellectual thought remains controversial, not least because it straddles the boundaries of a linguistic divide and rests upon a decidedly masculine etymology.

Study of the so-called trois pères of Négritude—Senghor, Césaire and Damas—has long framed histories of the movement, with their personal relationships and political trajectories offering insight into the content of their thinking. Particular emphasis has been placed upon their use of the French language and their French education. More recently, scholars have pushed back the temporal and linguistic boundaries of the movement’s periodization, rooting its origins in the early 1920s and recognising the Anglophone influence of the work of African American writers. This is due partly to acknowledgements by Césaire and Senghor of their engagement with the work of the Harlem Renaissance. Writers such as Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen were introduced to francophone audiences as early as 1924 in the short-lived journal Les Continents. Post-World War 1 dialogue between African American and Francophone black thinkers, however, went back to the 1919 Pan-African Congress organised by Du Bois wherein men such as the Senegalese politician Blaise Diagne and Guadeloupian politician Gratien Candace conceptualised black political and cultural identity upon firmly national lines.

The issue of Négritude’s intellectual debts and legacy is not purely linguistic and national, however, but entangled with questions of gender. As scholars such as Sharpley-Whiting, Brent Hayes Edwards and Jennifer Anne Boittin have noted (and gone far to rectify), the role played by black women in crafting and catalysing the movement has long been under-studied. Antillean sisters Paulette and Jane Nardal, for example, exercised a strong influence both in intellectual and practical terms, holding salon-style meetings in Paris in the late 1920s and early 1930s. These meetings brought together luminaries from both the Anglophone and Francophone black diaspora to discuss the questions of identity that underpinned many of the works associated with Négritude. The Nardal’s salons are famed for producing La Revue du monde noir, a bilingual journal that ran for six editions and had a distinctly internationalist bent. Most scholars of the black francophonie would now acknowledge the Nardals and the Revue as crucial influences upon the intellectual development of les trois pères. The initial elision of the women from narratives about the movement is one, however, that also bears true of intellectual histories of African diasporan exchange during this period.

The availability of sources is part of the problem as scant archival material exists outside their published work. Correspondence like that so crucial to tracing the exchange between African American thinkers such as Alain Locke and René Maran is largely missing from the historical archive where these black women are concerned. A 1956 fire destroyed Paulette Nardal’s papers, for example, making her role in the origins of the Négritude movement and as a generator of diasporan intellectual exchange even more difficult to map. What is left are the articles she published in La Dépêche africaine and La Revue du Monde Noir and a patchwork of police surveillance records in the ‘Service de liaison avec les originaires des territoires français ďoutre-mer’ series held in the overseas archives in Aix-en-Provence.

Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882–1961)
Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882–1961)

On the American side, women such as Jessie Fauset and Ida Gibbs Hunt have no archives to their name. Nevertheless, their correspondence shows up in the papers of their friends and acquaintances – men such as Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, Gratien Candace and Rayford Logan. This affords tantalising glimpses of the crucial, if mostly unacknowledged, parts they played in facilitating intellectual exchange across the language divide. Ida Gibbs Hunt, for example, was part of the first Pan-African Association executive committee formed in 1919 at the Pan-African Congress in Paris. Du Bois never mentioned her in his write-up of the Congress in the Crisis, nor does she appear in any media reports. Yet a personal letter that Du Bois sent to Hunt and her husband (the American consul to Saint-Étienne at the time) suggests that she was, in fact, heavily involved in its organisation. In addition, correspondence appearing in the Du Bois Papers held at the University of Massachussets-Amherst suggests that Hunt, alongside Rayford W. Logan, played a mediating role in maintaining fragile diasporan relations when Du Bois consistently infuriated and circumvented the francophone portion of the organising committee.

Historian Glenda Sluga, in a roundtable at the History Workshop, noted similar archival silences in regard to the presence of female actors in internationalist movements. It prompted her to ask if their inclusion should be “a matter of choice, or a matter of fact?” I think the answer lies in innovation, in being open to intellectual genealogies that go beyond the traditional or, in the case of les trois pères, the acknowledged narrative. In a brilliant article, on the Nardal sisters in interwar Paris, Jennifer Anne Boittin illustrated one way in which such miscellaneous sources can be patched together to form a broader picture. Amongst other findings, Boittin’s work illustrated the ways that women like the Nardals often formed intellectual coalitions upon gendered lines, sharing space in journals such as La Dépêche africaine with white feminist thinkers such as Marguerite Martin. Choosing to interrogate the gaps and silences often left in intellectual genealogies by female actors can allow us to see these connections and thus view cultural and political movements like Négritude and Du Bois’ Pan-Africanism in a new light, fleshing out their spheres of influence beyond the expected.

Sarah Dunstan is a PhD Candidate on an Australian Postgraduate Award at the University of Sydney. For the 2014-2015 academic year, she is based at Columbia University, New York, on a Fulbright Postgraduate Fellowship. Her research focuses on francophone and African American intellectual collaborations over ideas of rights and citizenship.

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Annotations and Generations (II)

by guest contributor Frederic Clark

Adam Winthrop died in 1623—seven years before his son John would board the Arbella and sail to Massachusetts. John Winthrop’s son, John Jr., was studying abroad at Trinity College Dublin at the time. His father wrote to inform him of his grandfather’s passing, explaining that Adam had enjoyed a peaceful death: “He hathe finished his course and is gathered to his people in peace, as the ripe corne into the barne. He thought longe for the daye of his dissolution, and wellcomed it most gladlye.” John Sr. also consoled his absent son, reminding him that “no distance of place, or lengthe of absence, can abate the affection of a lovinge father towardes a dutyfull well deservinge childe.”

Yet shortly in the same letter, John Sr. followed this poignant, affective language with a quick reflection on a different form of distance—namely, that between his son and his books. John Jr. had written earlier to ask his father for a Latin dictionary, Thomas Cooper’s Thesaurus linguae Romanae et Britannicae. John Sr. explained that travel conditions between England and Ireland were not ideal: “for Coopers dictionary I will sende it you so soon as I can but it is so difficult and hazardable.” Even as they mourned the loss of the family patriarch (who had built their familial book collection), the Winthrops continued to exchange books—even across bodies of water if necessary.

Adam Winthrop’s books made a far more “difficult and hazardable” journey less than a decade later, this time across the Atlantic. Once in the New World, John Jr. continued to annotate items from his grandfather’s library. At some point, he also began to acquire books from the libraries of far more famous scholars. John Jr. developed a special fascination for the books of John Dee (1527-1608/9). An advisor to Queen Elizabeth, Dee had also been an enthusiastic student of alchemy, esotericism, and the occult—subjects for which the young Winthrop developed a lifelong devotion (documented most recently in Walter Woodward’s rich study). And Dee’s library—one of the largest book collections in sixteenth-century England—constituted a treasure trove of information on such topics.

Like his grandfather Adam, John Winthrop Jr. was an avid annotator. However, he was not just a producer, but also a consumer of marginalia. He was interested not only in the books in Dee’s library, but also in how Dee himself had written in them. As Bill Sherman and others have shown, Dee was one of the early modern world’s most prodigious and creative of annotators. Perhaps nowhere is John Jr.’s obsession with the mechanics of marginalia clearer than in his copies of two books by the German physician and occultist Paracelsus (1493-1541). Both had formerly belonged to John Dee, who filled them with extensive notes. Again like his grandfather, John Jr. used annotation as a means of contextualization. But instead of jotting down details on Paracelsus’ composition of the texts, he produced meticulous (and rather repetitious) descriptions of Dee’s own notes.

Below one of these notes in Paracelsus’ Baderbuchlin—whose title page bore the inscription “Joannes Dee 1562”—John Jr. exhaustively catalogued every way that Dee had written in the book: “the above written and the name on the top of the frontispice of this booke and the writing in the middle of the frontispice and the severall notes in the margent through the whole booke, was written by that famous philosopher and chimist John Dee.” He then proclaimed, “I have divers bookes that were his wherein he hath written his name and many notes…”

(By permission of the New York Society Library. Click for the full-size image.)
(By permission of the New York Society Library. Click for the full-size image.)

In another of Dee’s Paracelsus books, Das Buch meteorum, John Jr. said nearly the exact same thing. As he explained, “the writing on the next leafe and the name on the top of the frontispice and the marginall notes in the booke were written by that famous and learned philosopher John Dee.” Just in case there were any doubts, he reiterated that everything was in Dee’s “owne handwriting,” and that “this book was his while he lived.” Again he asserted that “I have divers other bookes…that came out of his study,” while adding that Dee’s notes made then “farre the more precious.”

(By permission of the New York Society Library. Click for the full-size image.)
(By permission of the New York Society Library. Click for the full-size image.)

While John Jr. perfected the art of effusive meta-marginalia, he also used annotation to fix his own acts of reading in time and space. We close with one of the more curious items in the vast Winthrop library, namely a 1589 bibliography of Florentine writers or Catalogus scriptorum Florentinorum omnis generis. This Florentine bibliography belonged to the same genre as John Bale’s Catalogus of British writers—an aid that had proven essential to Adam Winthrop’s reading. John Jr.’s otherwise clean copy contains but a single note found beside the entry for the Renaissance Neoplatonist philosopher Marsilio Ficino. When the bibliography enumerated the contents of the first volume of Ficino’s collected works, it triggered John Jr.’s memory. He recorded in Latin that “I saw this volume when I read from the book De sole and De lumine in the library of the college of Edinburgh, when I was in Scotland in the year 1634.”

(By permission of the New York Society Library. Click for the full-size image.)
(By permission of the New York Society Library. Click for the full-size image.)

Although we cannot say with certainty whether John Jr. explicitly followed Dee’s practice here, this note was classic Dee. Dee was himself an enthusiastic annotator of bibliographies, which he filled with numerous references to the many books he possessed or had seen. In addition, John Jr.’s casual reference to reading Ficino in Edinburgh allows us to track the precise itinerary of his first trip back to the Old World after his 1631 arrival in New England—the first of several such journeys. On both sides of the Atlantic, John Winthrop Jr. continued a family tradition of annotation begun by his grandfather Adam. This tradition enabled him to record acts of reading performed by an eminent scholar almost a century before and an ocean away. And along the way, it facilitated remembrance of his own travels, both readerly and literal.

Frederic Clark received his PhD from Princeton in 2014 and is currently a Mellon postdoctoral fellow at Stanford. His research focuses on the cultural and intellectual history of early modern Europe, especially book history, classical reception, and the history of historical thought. He, Erin McGuirl, and JHI Blog editor Madeline McMahon are the curators of Readers Make Their Mark: Annotated Books at the New York Society Library (through to August 15, 2015).

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Annotations and Generations

by guest contributor Frederic Clark

The history of reading has recently witnessed an explosion of interest, doing much to transform and reinvigorate the practice of intellectual history. Although recent histories of reading range across every conceivable genre and period, early modern Europe has played a starring role in the rise of this field of study. This is due above all to the fact that many early modern readers were prodigious annotators.

But we, with our taste for self-reflexive inquiries, are hardly the first to contextualize the acts of readers. Early modern annotators often obsessively detailed the circumstances of their reading—recording where and when they read their books, what other books they owned, and in turn what other books the authors themselves had read. Such annotations wove together an elaborate web, linking multiple books and readers to one another, while fixing each respectively in space and time. These meditations on reading facilitated the movement of books across continents and oceans, or through the generations of a single family.

One of the most famous of these annotating families transported their books from the Old World to the New. We remember this family—the Winthrops—for the outsized role they played in the politics of colonial New England. They were perhaps the first American political dynasty. But they were also a family of readers—obsessive annotators in precisely the fashion described above. And as they were so often in motion, so too were their books.

When we hear the name Winthrop, John Winthrop Sr. (1587/8-1649) likely first springs to mind along with his famous declaration upon approaching the shores of Massachusetts—namely, that he and his fellow Puritans had come to found a “city on a hill.” But long before there was a city, let alone a nation, there was a library. The Winthrops possessed many books: John’s father, Adam Winthrop (1548-1623), was a Cambridge-educated lawyer. Not a scholar by profession, he nevertheless moved in scholarly circles; for instance, every year he rode up to Trinity College to audit its finances. When he was not managing his lands or working in court, Adam reserved his hours of otium for books. He collected hundreds of them and wrote in many with a painstakingly clear and careful hand.

Adam died in 1623, seven years before his son set sail for Massachusetts. While he did not make it to New England, his books did. His already sizable library formed the nucleus of what would become a still larger collection. Although John Winthrop Sr. did not annotate the family books, his son, John Winthrop Jr. (1606-76) produced a quantity of marginalia that rivaled his grandfather’s output. In addition, John Jr.—who joined the family business and became governor of the new Connecticut Colony in 1657—acquired still more books. There is evidence that Adam provided his young grandson with direct personal instruction in the marking up of books. For Adam Winthrop did dictation for John Jr.—filling in the pages of an almanac in his voice—when the latter was just fourteen years old.

How did Adam, the family patriarch, annotate? He often began by fixing both a book and its author in context. He was aided in this task by the massive encyclopedic bibliographies of the sixteenth century, especially John Bale’s Catalogus of British writers. For instance, in his copy of the Tudor-era polemic The Complaint of Roderyck Mors, Adam discovered that Bale had identified the true author of this pseudonymous work as one Henry Brinklow. Accordingly, he wrote this out front and center on the title page, remarking “Mr. Bale maketh mention of the author of this booke in the end of his Centuries”:

(By permission of the New York Society Library)
(By permission of the New York Society Library. Click for the full-size image.)

Here, in a neat little text-box he drew out at the end of table of contents in Thomas Elyot’s Image of Governance, Adam again turned to the trusty “Mr. Bale” for biographical details on Elyot. As he explained, “Sir Thomas Eliott Knight was the sonne of Sir Rich: Eliott Knight one of the Justices of the common plees anno 12 H.8 [i.e. in the twelfth year of Henry’s reign] and was borne in Suffolke as Mr. Bale reporteth”:

JHI IMAGE 2
(By permission of the New York Society Library)

In other cases, Adam relied upon his own memory of England’s tumultuous religious politics when setting a text in context. When reading a collection of sermons prefaced by the English cleric John Walker, Adam wrote that Walker was involved in the events leading up to the 1581 execution of the Jesuit Edmund Campion: “Dr Walker was Archdeacon of Essex in the reigne of Q. Eliz. and was one of them that disputed with Campion the Jesuite, in the Tower of London.”

(By permission of the New York Society Library)
(By permission of the New York Society Library)

Reading for Adam was clearly a family affair. Consider the physician John Cotta’s Triall of Witch-Craft. John Cotta was Adam’s nephew, the product of his sister Susanna’s marriage to one Peter Cotta. Adam meticulously marked up his copy with cross-references to the many sources alluded to in the text. Here he prepared to add an exact page reference to William Camden’s Britannia, but then apparently forgot to do so:

(By permission of the New York Society Library)
(By permission of the New York Society Library)

Here, where Cotta signed his preface “John Cotta,” Adam added that he was “the sonne of Peter Cotta an Italian”:

(by permission of the New York Society Library)
(By permission of the New York Society Library)

And in the back of the book, Adam constructed a remarkably detailed index of “authors cited” in the treatise. He listed diverse sources ranging from ancients like Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine to moderns like Scaliger, and Melanchthon, and supplied the page numbers where his nephew had mentioned them:

(by permission of the New York Society Library)
(By permission of the New York Society Library)

Adam’s meticulous annotating not only identified and recorded the conversations his books had had with one another, but also fixed their authors in time, space, and circumstance. Annotation was a tool that rendered a motley assortment of books into a single unified library. As I’ll discuss in the next installment, it was also a tool that made a library mobile and expandable—as Adam’s grandson John Jr. used the very same methods of annotation when transporting this library across the Atlantic, and expanding its contents still further.

Frederic Clark received his PhD from Princeton in 2014 and is currently a Mellon postdoctoral fellow at Stanford. His research focuses on the cultural and intellectual history of early modern Europe, especially book history, classical reception, and the history of historical thought. He, Erin McGuirl, and JHI Blog editor Madeline McMahon are the curators of Readers Make Their Mark: Annotated Books at the New York Society Library (through to August 15, 2015).

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The Politics of Unearthing New Amsterdam in 19th-Century New York

by Madeline McMahon

John Romeyn Brodhead was fascinated by a city beneath his feet that he felt could only be dug up and discovered in the archives of the Old World. New Amsterdam, and its fraught transformation into New York, captivated Brodhead, so that even when he undertook diplomatic work at The Hague, he “divid[ed] his time between study and society.” He returned to New York in 1839 and was appointed by the state’s governor to transcribe documents relevant to New York’s colonial history in the archives of the Netherlands, England, and France.

After a slow start (he at first missed his boat, which turned out to be a good thing since that particular steamship never arrived at its destination), Brodhead seems to have worked furiously for the next few years. He was officially an Agent of the State of New York—an act of the state’s legislature had created his post. He leveraged this position and his former diplomatic ties in order to gain access to the archives. As he later wrote, reflecting back on his journey: “The inspection of the state papers of foreign governments, it is well known, is not a mere matter of course, but is considered a privilege of a high order; and is granted in most cases, only upon applications backed by high personal or official influence.” Brodhead’s quest for support in high places was riddled with failures—even after an interview, the US Secretary of State declined to give him letters of introduction, and he had to appeal instead to American ambassadors in Europe. He also sought audiences with and wrote letters to a vivid cast of European characters, from the king of the Netherlands to the archbishop of Canterbury, all to gain further access to documents. To anyone who has worked with manuscripts and rare books in the 21st century, Brodhead’s archival adventures sound strange indeed.

Nonetheless, when he returned, in 1844, one contemporary wrote that “[t]he ship in which he came back was more richly freighted with new material for American history than any that ever crossed the Atlantic.” Armed with eighty volumes of transcripts, he did what any researcher would do next: he tried to procure further funding. His Final Report (1845) was an overview of the documents he had found. Strictly speaking, it was the culmination of what he had set out to do, but it was also part of his case that he should be the one to translate and publish his findings. But politics were not in Brodhead’s favor as a Democrat, and in 1849, a Whig-controlled legislature assigned the task to two other men.

Although Brodhead wrote that an “antiquarian spirit” motivated his work, he identified with the past. He proudly claimed descent from “a colonial Hollander who stood up manfully for his Republican Fatherland” as well as “an English officer who helped his king to conquer Dutch New Netherland” as indicative of his lack of “partiality.”

Yet the battleground of the past extended beyond English and Dutch tensions in seventeenth-century New York. Brodhead’s expedition to European archives was driven in part by a national debate on American colonial origins. As the New Englander Puritan became ascendant in early nineteenth-century American mythology, New Yorkers fought back, creating the New York Historical Society (of which Brodhead was an active member) to counter that story (Joyce Goodfriend, “Present at the Creation: Making the Case for the Dutch Founders of America,” 261). The volumes of documents that Brodhead hoped to publish had New England counterparts (Goodfriend, 262). Ultimately, it was Brodhead’s identity as a New Yorker, excavating the sources for a local history—a genealogy of sorts—that compromised his impartiality. Yet it also led him to present early America as more than a monolithic English colony, and to search seriously for its sources in international archives.