The transformative role Black Americans played in reconstructing American society following the Civil War will serve as the framework for a yearlong UCI series examining complex structural and social issues. Funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with a $225,000 grant, “Black Reconstruction as a Portal” will draw on cross-disciplinary expertise from humanities, law, social ecology and social sciences to critically assess how education, crisis and land – themes that guided Black Reconstruction efforts more than 150 years ago – remain relevant lenses through which to view ongoing global racial, economic and social issues.

"This project will build upon the collective efforts of faculty, postdoctoral fellows and students from across UCI who have sought to develop nuanced analyses and incisive inquiries pertaining to issues of dispossession, crisis, violence, organizing efforts and communal strategies levied against and developed by Black people around the globe," says Damien Sojoyner, anthropology associate professor and co-director of the project.

He’s joined by Yousuf Al-Bulushi, global and international studies assistant professor, in leading the work that will include public seminars, educational discussions and courses, a podcast series and an updated version of the documentary “Visions of Abolition” in consultation with original director Setsu Shigematsu, media and cultural studies associate professor at UC Riverside. The UCI Humanities Center and newly launched UCI Center for Global Black Studies will facilitate the development and deployment of the project.

“We are thrilled that the Mellon Foundation has awarded the UCI Humanities Center with its third Sawyer Seminar grant for this important project,” says center director Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, UCI Chancellor’s Fellow and Asian American studies professor. “‘Black Reconstruction as a Portal’ is an integral part of our ongoing effort to bridge disciplines across campus around vital research questions like race.”

A Mellon Sawyer Seminar is akin to a temporary research center, in which faculty participants from different disciplines engage in comparative research on the historical and cultural sources of contemporary developments. Awarded in October, the grant runs through September 2023.

This Sawyer Seminar brings new attention and perspectives to themes originally presented in W.E.B. Du Bois’s groundbreaking book, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880. Building on this seminal work of history and social analysis, UCI researchers will collaborate on ideas that help us envision a society based on love of community and shared human experience.

“Building off of Arundhati Roy’s insistence that the global pandemic offers us a portal to another world, we believe a close engagement with the history and theory in Du Bois’s monumental Black Reconstruction might also offer us a window into understanding the persistence of global racial regimes and the everyday people’s movements resisting them today,” says Al-Bulushi.

The series will launch during the 2022-23 academic year. Event information and multimedia materials will be made available via the UCI Humanities Center website.

Gifts & Grants
Humanities Center