Tag Archives: African American History

Graduate Student Publications

Christine Kelly, a PhD candidate in History, recently published an article titled “Folk as the Sound of Self-Liberation: The Career and Performance Identity of Odetta,” based on her dissertation research. Christine shared with us the abstract for the article:


Odetta Felious Gordon Holmes – commonly known by her stage name, “Odetta” – played an instrumental role in the rise of American folk music as a mouthpiece for dissent during the social movements of the post-war era. She abandoned a life she planned in opera and oratorio for a career as an interpreter of African American slave songs and spirituals, material originally recorded by song collectors John and Alan Lomax in travels through the Mississippi Delta region. Odetta has claimed that while a life in oratorio would have enriched her vocally, its musical lineage had “nothing to do” with her experience. In contrast, a new repertoire of songs she gathered – songs derived from slave laborers, prison chain gangs, longshoremen, and church congregations – allowed her to shape her identity as a performing artist in crucial ways throughout her fifty year career. As a folk singer, Odetta co-constructed a cultural movement which drew inspiration from song writers of the past – composers of “freedom hymns” – to seek liberation in the present. For Odetta, such liberation was, at first, primarily for herself. As an African American woman who suffered the indignities of segregation, she felt she carried a “dragon” inside, one that hated herself and others. With a broad, black body of which she was ashamed, on stage Odetta tried to conceal and neutralize herself as a racial and gendered subject as she donned long, dark clothing, and threw herself fully into the material she performed. Through an act of self-abnegation, she performed the music, often of black men, who insisted on affirming their existence, the validity of their subjectivity, despite the oppressions that came with circumstances they faced involving humiliation and forced confinement. As an arbiter of the folk tradition, Odetta offered her body as bridge to connect a new generation of listeners with marginalized experiences of the past. As such, Odetta became a cultural broker of a folk tradition of dissent. She relied on a common method among performing artists – benefit concerts – to raise substantial funds for civil rights causes. Odetta’s life in music became a site of self-emancipation as she transformed from a suffering artist who often behaved subserviently to one who invented an identity which insisted on her own personal dignity. Furthermore, the exposure she gave her listeners to a nearly forgotten black cultural heritage enabled them to empathize with the experience of past singer-songwriters, seeing injustice in the present as more pressing than before. Odetta’s appeal to the idiom of folk and the benefit concerts she held directly supported the civil rights movement and related social mobilizations through the 1960s and 1970s as she helped to inspire not only political and legal change, but freedom in the arena of culture and emotion.




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Congrats to Alumnus Dr. Noël Wolfe

Dr. Noël Wolfe (PhD, Fordham, 2015)  recently accepted a tenure-track position at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York as an Assistant Professor of History and the Program Director for the Legal Studies Program. Dr. Wolfe completed her dissertation, “A Community at War: the Bronx and Crack Cocaine” in 2015.

For the past two years, Dr. Wolfe has been the Helen and Agnes Ainsworth Visiting Assistant Professor of American Culture at Randolph College. In this position, she designed a 12-credit semester-long experiential program that examines the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class and law through the lens of drug cultures in America. Through course work, discussion, travel and guest lectures, students explored the racialization and ethnicization of narcotics in the U.S. and investigated how racial and ethnic bias influenced popular opinion and drug-related public policy and law. You can find more information about Dr. Wolfe’s program at https://rcamericancultureprogram.wordpress.com. Dr. Wolfe also taught courses on incarceration, African-American history, and law while at Randolph.

Dr. Wolfe is very excited to begin her new position at Nazareth College, which will allow her to explore her research and teaching interests in history and law, as well as put to use her practical experience as a trial attorney. At Nazareth, Dr. Wolfe will teach courses in U.S. and African-American history, as well as courses on law, drugs, and incarceration.

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Race and Public Education in NYC – A Town Hall Meeting

The Bronx African American History Project will be hosting a town hall meeting on Race and Public Education in NYC, Tuesday, February 21st at Walsh Library, Fordham University. The event will begin at 7pm in the Flom Auditorium with a food and drink reception to follow.

This event will be co-sponsored by the Bronx African American History Project and the Department of African and African American Studies at Fordham University, Bronx Educators United for Justice, ASILI – The Black Student Alliance at Fordham, and The Fordham Club’s Bronx Collaboration Committee.
Please RSVP to the event here.
For additional event information please contact:

Lisa Betty: lbetty1@fordham.edu
Mark Naison: naison@fordham.edu

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10/11/16: “Ralph Bunche and the Radical Thirties”

Next Tuesday, Fordham Professor and Malkiel Fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Institute Christopher Dietrich will deliver a talk on American diplomat and political scientist Ralph Bunche. See flyer for event details.



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Postcard: An Afternoon with Creighton Berry

Creighton Berry and Damien Strecker

Creighton Berry (left) and History PhD student Damien Strecker

Continuing our Summer Postcards series, PhD student Damien Strecker tells us about an interview he conducted as part of his research on the history of St. Augustine Church in the South Bronx with Creighton Berry, a former member of its congregation. Read Damien’s account of his illuminating trip below. Continue reading

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Postcard from the Archives: Stephanie De Paola


History PhD student Stephanie De Paola at work in the Biblioteca Comunale Labronica Francesco Domenico Guerrazzi

Every year, Fordham graduate students head to the archives to pursue their research projects. We wrote to Stephanie De Paola, holder of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Research Fellowship, for an update on her work in both Italian and American archives for her dissertation, An Intimate Occupation: Race, Gender, and Sexual Violence in Occupied Italy and Post 1945 Memory.  Read on for Stephanie’s postcard from the archives.

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New Course: HIST 5410 Race and Gender in Modern America

Right now, all over the country, college campuses are the sites of debate and protest over questions of history, identity, privilege, and inclusion. The timing could not be better for a graduate course in the History department which addresses these questions head-on. That is why we are particularly excited to announce that this coming Spring semester Professor Kirsten Swinth will be teaching a new course entitled “Race and Gender in Modern America,” Professor Swinth sat down with us and talked about her ideas for the course, including the book that will be the starting point for the conversation, and her “student-led” approach to the development of the course themes and readings. You can watch her comments below. We found it incredibly inspiring to hear someone speak so passionately and eloquently about the role that history can play in confronting some of the greatest challenges to our society. We bet you will too.



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Building A Digital History Archive: A Year With The Bronx African American History Project

BAAHP celebrating uploading of interviews to Digital Commons with professors, students, and members of the community (l-r Morgan Mungerson, Eddie Mikus, Andrea Benintendi, Danielle Rowe, Dr. Jane Edward, Dr. Mark Naison, Robert Gumbs, and Damien Strecker)

BAAHP celebrating uploading of interviews to Digital Commons with professors, students, and members of the community (l-r Morgan Mungerson, Eddie Mikus, Andrea Benintendi, Danielle Rowe, Dr. Jane Edward, Dr. Mark Naison, Robert Gumbs, and Damien Strecker)

As a follow up to the launch of the Bronx African American History Project’s archive of digital recordings, we asked Damien Strecker, a PhD student in History at Fordham, to tell us more about the project. He writes:

Last fall, I began my journey towards a PhD in History under the helpful guidance of Professor Mark Naison. Dr. Naison’s Communists in Harlem During the Great Depression greatly influenced my Master’s research on the nationalist activity of Harry Haywood, an active member of the Communist Party USA during the interwar period. My initial meeting with Dr. Naison to discuss my research assistantship with the Bronx African American History Project (BAAHP) provided a window into my new work environment. He passionately described to me the history of the project and the goals for the academic year—and then proceeded to crank up the bass on a Redman hip hop track he told me I had to hear. Entering my second year working on the project, the music is still playing and the important historical work continues to march forward.

Last year, I worked to accomplish a number of goals: 1) organize, label, and safely store the hard copies of all BAAHP files 2) digitize and safely store electronically as many files as possible 3) finish transcribing and summarizing old interviews. With the help of five undergraduate workers, we succeeded in transferring the physical materials of the project to Fordham’s Rare Books and Special Collection, digitizing the interview audio, and finishing nearly all of the transcriptions and summaries.

While the tasks seem straightforward, each week provided new and unforeseen challenges, especially in regards to file formatting. Where on campus can I find a mini-DV player? What audio and video formats are the most common and universal now? Do we format our files for Apples or PCs? The BAAHP began over a decade ago and the archive reflects the monumental changes in technology over that time period. The BAAHP collection includes VHS, DVD, analog audio cassettes, Mini-DVs, and CDs as well as a number of different antiquated electronic file formats. The general trend within history to digitize primary sources is a fantastic development that will bring the tools of history to anyone with internet access. However, the rapidly changing pace of file formats may complicate things as technology changes over time. One can envision a future historian in 20 years trying to unearth Windows Media Player software or QuickTime to read an important file. Despite possible technical difficulties, the digitization of historical archives is an exciting development that will make materials much more accessible to everyone. Don’t throw away your white gloves and microfilm reader just yet, but digitization is happening rapidly and the BAAHP is proud to be a part of this movement.

With the task of general organization and file format uniformity secured last year, we quickly accomplished the long held goal of making the interviews accessible electronically via Fordham’s Digital Commons. Now that the public can access the interview files via the internet, we can concentrate efforts on publicizing the archive’s content. People from 5 different continents accessed the files within the first week of going public. People from all over the world will get to access files covering topics ranging from early jazz, church activism, hip hop, education, and African immigration. Dr. Jane Edward of the African American Studies Department initiated the important work of chronicling the story of recent African immigrants in the Bronx.

The global reach of the BAAHP is promising, but ultimately, it is about the Bronx. In an effort to engage the community, the BAAHP will be creating curriculum materials that local educators can use in their classrooms. As a former middle school and high school social studies teacher, I know the actual process of interpreting and writing history can be intimidating for students and teachers alike. Starting next semester, we will begin giving presentations in local schools about Bronx history, oral history, and the BAAHP collection. Also, we will be disseminating a 3 day model mini unit for teachers. They can use it to get students excited about writing histories of local relevance and familiarity.

In the world of graduate school and academia, it is easy to get lost in our own worlds, reading, teaching, and researching.   In the end, we all should desire to share what we have learned with the world—not just those privileged enough to scan their ID onto campus. I’m proud to work with BAAHP in their efforts to preserve and share the rich cultural history of the borough Fordham calls home. The cultural contours of the Bronx continue to change and the BAAHP will be there to make sure the people’s stories will not be forgotten.

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Bronx African American Oral History Collection Now Online!


This week, the Bronx African American History Project of Fordham celebrates a major milestone with the uploading of more than 200 of its oral history interviews to the BAAHP’s Digital Research Site at Fordham libraries, making them available to scholars around the nation and around the world. More than twelve years in the making, this collection represents an unparalleled resources for scholars in African American and Urban History. Keep reading for further details of the project provided by Professor Mark Naison.

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“Tula, the Revolt” Film Screening and Discussion with Danny Glover

Tula PosterTuesday, September 9, the History department will co-sponsor a special screening of Tula, the Revolta 2013 film about the leader of the 1795 slave uprising on the island of Curacao. The screening is presented by the United Nations Remembrance Programme of he Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and will be followed by a discussion with one of the film’s stars, Danny Glover. For more details, see the flyer below.  Continue reading

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