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Anna Julia Cooper's Trans-Atlantic Analysis of Citizenship, Revolution, and Democracy

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Why do many of us know about Aimé Césaire's or C.L.R. James' analyses of the Haitian and French Revolutions as dialectical events signaling a transatlantic revolutionary consciousness, but not the work of African American feminist educator and intellectual, Anna Julia Cooper? Though Black modernism is a transnational phenomenon in which Cooper participated, she is rarely mentioned in histories of this movement. However, the solution to this oversight is not to simply add Cooper into pre-existing models of the Black Atlantic or of Négritude: our transatlantic genealogies must be transformed so that a different epistemology of these philosophical, political, and cultural movements can emerge. Thus although most Cooper scholarship focuses primarily on her 1892 collection of essays, _A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South_, her 1925 Sorbonne dissertation, _L'Attitude de la France à l'égard de l'esclavage pendant la Révolution_ (France's Attitudes toward Slavery during the Revolution), merits closer attention for its content and methodology, and not simply as an historical curiosity or "first" (she was the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne).

Anticipating future critiques of colonized and enslaved peoples in the Americas as passive recipients of reason and virtue from Europe, Cooper challenges prevailing historical accounts of the Age of Revolution. By reading France's own archival materials against the grain, she focuses on the Haitian revolution as central, not anomalous. For instance, Cooper examines the dialectical interplay of Haitian and French politics, highlights slavery's role in the rise of capitalism, excoriates the rationalization of human exploitation, both in France and in Saint-Domingue, and reveals the "burning spirit" or subjectivity of nonwhites in Saint-Domingue. Cooper not only demonstrates that resistance from Haitian gens de couleur and slaves impacted France's nascent democracy, she also asserts that an economic dependence on slavery and inability to confront its own colonial expansion undermined France's revolutionary potential and egalitarian ideals. Moreover, Cooper homes in on the pivotal role of difference in politics and suggests that how a society contends with conflict distinguishes democratic from despotic polities.

Cooper's overlooked dissertation is deeply relevant to American Studies, for in this study she re-reads history from its underside, offering new ways to think about race, citizenship, diaspora, and the 'origin' stories of democracy (all themes taken up in her earlier work as well). Accounting for Cooper's later transnational historical work helps us to better understand how issues of diaspora, race, and citizenship have long been foundational to the work of African American feminist activists, educators, and intellectuals.
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May, Vivian. "Anna Julia Cooper's Trans-Atlantic Analysis of Citizenship, Revolution, and Democracy" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA, Oct 11, 2007 <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186313_index.html>

APA Citation:

May, V. M. , 2007-10-11 "Anna Julia Cooper's Trans-Atlantic Analysis of Citizenship, Revolution, and Democracy" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186313_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: Why do many of us know about Aimé Césaire's or C.L.R. James' analyses of the Haitian and French Revolutions as dialectical events signaling a transatlantic revolutionary consciousness, but not the work of African American feminist educator and intellectual, Anna Julia Cooper? Though Black modernism is a transnational phenomenon in which Cooper participated, she is rarely mentioned in histories of this movement. However, the solution to this oversight is not to simply add Cooper into pre-existing models of the Black Atlantic or of Négritude: our transatlantic genealogies must be transformed so that a different epistemology of these philosophical, political, and cultural movements can emerge. Thus although most Cooper scholarship focuses primarily on her 1892 collection of essays, _A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South_, her 1925 Sorbonne dissertation, _L'Attitude de la France à l'égard de l'esclavage pendant la Révolution_ (France's Attitudes toward Slavery during the Revolution), merits closer attention for its content and methodology, and not simply as an historical curiosity or "first" (she was the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne).

Anticipating future critiques of colonized and enslaved peoples in the Americas as passive recipients of reason and virtue from Europe, Cooper challenges prevailing historical accounts of the Age of Revolution. By reading France's own archival materials against the grain, she focuses on the Haitian revolution as central, not anomalous. For instance, Cooper examines the dialectical interplay of Haitian and French politics, highlights slavery's role in the rise of capitalism, excoriates the rationalization of human exploitation, both in France and in Saint-Domingue, and reveals the "burning spirit" or subjectivity of nonwhites in Saint-Domingue. Cooper not only demonstrates that resistance from Haitian gens de couleur and slaves impacted France's nascent democracy, she also asserts that an economic dependence on slavery and inability to confront its own colonial expansion undermined France's revolutionary potential and egalitarian ideals. Moreover, Cooper homes in on the pivotal role of difference in politics and suggests that how a society contends with conflict distinguishes democratic from despotic polities.

Cooper's overlooked dissertation is deeply relevant to American Studies, for in this study she re-reads history from its underside, offering new ways to think about race, citizenship, diaspora, and the 'origin' stories of democracy (all themes taken up in her earlier work as well). Accounting for Cooper's later transnational historical work helps us to better understand how issues of diaspora, race, and citizenship have long been foundational to the work of African American feminist activists, educators, and intellectuals.

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Similar Titles:
Anna Julia Cooper as a Present Futurist: Opening Rhetorical Space, Reorganizing Theoretical Concepts, and Re/visioning Participatory Democracy

Questions of Race, Revolution and Citizenship in Anna Julia Cooper’s 1925 Sorbonne Thesis

Anna Julia Cooper, the Age of Revolution, and History's Opacities: Re-assessing Cooper's Sorbonne Thesis.


 
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