Professor Cornell to discuss early African-American writings in webinar

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Teacher. Derrick Spiers, literatures in English, will give a webcast Wednesday on the past and present of black culture in written work in the United States, including a discussion of African American intellectual history and activism in New York State. Spiers will use materials from the Cornell Rare and Manuscript collections for their lecture.

Spiers, who is an affiliate faculty member in Media Studies, Visual Studies, and American Studies, is an author and literature historian. He researches American and African American print culture, which includes studying a range of materials including poems, brochures, and letters. Spiers’ earlier work has also analyzed African-American intellectual history and the meaning of American citizenship for blacks prior to the passage of the 14th Amendment.

“If you start to think of citizenship as what people do, rather than [who they are], you start to see citizenship happening everywhere ”, Spiers said in 2020. “People who see someone in need, and they go to meet that need, is someone who behaves like a citizen.”

Spiers has taught courses including Literature in English 2650: Introduction to African American Literature and Literatures in English 6655: Contemporary Issues in African American Studies and Literary Criticism.

In 2019, Spiers published The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Print Culture in the Early United States, a book about how ideas of black citizenship in the early United States were shaped by the culture of black print. The book won the Bibliographical Society-St. Louis Mercantile Library Prize and the Modern Language Association Prize for First Book.Spires is currently working on a new book project on serials, including journals and novels that have been published in several installments, as part of African-American literary history. His research has been supported by organizations such as the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Social Science Research Council, and the Library Company of Philadelphia.


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