Prof. Derrick Spires, literatures in english, will give a webcast on Wednesday about the past and present of Black culture in written work in the United States, including discussion of African American intellectual history and activism in New York State. Spires will use materials from the Cornell Rare and Manuscript Collections as part of his lecture.
Spires, who is an affiliate faculty member in Media Studies, Visual Studies and American Studies, is an author and literary historian. He researches early American and African American print culture, which includes the study of a range of documents including poems, pamphlets and letters. Spires’s past work has also analyzed African American intellectual history and the meaning of U.S. citizenship for Black people before the 14th amendment was passed.
“If you start thinking about citizenship as what people do, rather than [who they are], you start seeing citizenship happening all over the place,” Spires said in 2020. “People who see someone in need, and they go to meet that need, that is someone behaving as a citizen.”
Spires 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, Spires 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 Black print culture. 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 about serial publication, including newspapers and novels that were published in installments, as a part of African American literary history. His research has been supported by organizations including the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Social Science Research Council and the Library Company of Philadelphia.