Blackness and Publicness Working Group

Robert E. Lee Monument (installed 1890), photograph taken during summer 2020, Richmond, VA. cc-by-sa-2.0.

What is public and who decides? How is racial identity formed, communicated, and negotiated through material, visual, and virtual formats? Public performances of blackness and the politics of racial identity are key issues in creative production and destruction, from Kehinde Wiley’s equestrian sculpture in Times Square to Black Lives Matter protestors tagging confederate monuments. The digital dimensions of our everyday existence and the increase in virtual interactions in the wake of COVID-19 beg further consideration regarding how technology and crisis reconfigure the boundaries of public life and identity performance. Under the theme of “Blackness and Publicness,” this 2020-2021 Center for Material Culture Studies working group, led by Professors Tiffany Barber and Jennifer Van Horn, will investigate these topics and more.

Participants will workshop writings-in-progress and discuss readings that interrogate blackness and publicness form the early modern period to the present. Join us to probe the limits and possibilities of our new virtual realities while considering historic artworks, visual and material artifacts, digital media, and literary works along with historic preservation and museological interpretation. Critical discussion will center around race and representation in the African Diaspora, the Atlantic world, and the hemispheric Americas.

Please contact Professor Tiffany Barber ( for more information or to join the first meeting on Friday, October 9th from 12-2pm. Reading for first meeting provided upon RSVP.