Digital Humanities Approaches to Visualizing America in Africa during the Age of Empire

Endorsed by the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (SHGAPE)

Thursday, April 2, 2020, 2:30 PM - 4:00 PM

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: African American; Digital History; International Relations


This roundtable will feature the co-collaborators on the National Endowment for the Humanities-funded digital project “To Enter Africa from America: The United States, Africa, and the New Imperialism, 1862-1919." Jeannette Eileen Jones, Nadia Nurhussein, Nemata Blyden, and John Gruesser have been working on a collaborative research project that seeks to explore the history of US engagement with Africa during the so-called age of empire (ca. 1870–1919). In discussing the project, the participants will explain the digital humanities methods and tools used in the project. They will also talk about the strengths and limitations of using such tools.

Session Participants

Chair: Kalenda Eaton, University of Oklahoma
Kalenda Eaton is an Associate Professor of English and Pan African Studies at Arcadia University. At Arcadia, she currently holds the Steinbrucker ’42 Endowed Chair and is the Director of the Graduate Program in English. Her research interests center on methodological studies of how black literary and cultural production complement predominant forms of political activism. Her most recent work focuses on mobility, resistance, and place consciousness throughout the African Diaspora. She has forthcoming publications on cosmopolitanism and social progress in contemporary Africa, and racial healing in literature of the Black West. Throughout her career, Dr. Eaton has served as director and/or coordinator of Africana and African American Studies programs at both private and public universities.

Panelist: Nemata Amelia Ibitayo Blyden, George Washington University
Nemata Blyden is Associate Professor of History and International Affairs at George Washington University. She has a BA in History and International Relations from Mount Holyoke College, and an MPhil and PhD from Yale University. She specializes in African/African Diaspora history, with particular interest in the history of Sierra Leone Liberia. Her book African Americans and Africa: A New History will be published by Yale University Press in May. This work provides an introduction to the relationship between African Americans and the African Continent from the era of slavery to the present. It examines the diversity of African American identities through relationships with region, ethnicity, immigration, and slavery to investigate a fundamental area of Africana studies. Dr Blyden has served as a consultant for “In Motion: the African-American Migration Experience”, a digital archive project for the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library(

Dr. Blyden has served as the Director of Africana Studies and as Director of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Programs at her institution. She has served on various committees at her institution including the Faculty Recruitment and Retention Committee on the Council on Diversity and Inclusion. Dr Blyden is also on the Advisory Committee for the African American Collections at University of California at Riverside Library and was an NEH panelist in 2013.

Selected publications
“This na true story of our history”: South Carolina in Sierra Leone's historical memory” in Atlantic Studies: Global Currents, Volume 12, Issue 3, 2015, pp.

(Re) envisioning the African Diaspora: Historical Memory and Cross-fertilization in Post-Colonial Sierra Leone in Paradoxes of History and Memory in Post-Colonial Sierra Leone, Sylvia Ojukutu-Macauley and Ismail Rashid (eds), Lexington Books, 2013

Relationships among Blacks in the Diaspora: African and Caribbean Immigrants and American-Born Blacks in Africans in Global Migration: Searching for Promised Lands, editors John A. Arthur, Joseph Takougang, and Thomas Owusu, 2012

N. Blyden and F. Akiwumi, A Perspective of the African Diaspora in the United States in John W. Frazier, Joe T. Darden, Norah F. Henry (eds), The African Diaspora in the United States and Canada at the Dawn of the 21st Century (Global Academic Publishing, 2009)

“The search for Anna Erskine: African American Women in Nineteenth-Century Liberia” in Catherine Higgs, Barbara Moss & Earline Rae Ferguson, Stepping Forward: Black Women in Africa and the Americas (Ohio University Press, 2002)

West Indians in West Africa, 1808-1880: A diaspora in reverse, (University of Rochester Press, 2000)

"Edward Jones: An African American in Sierra Leone" in Moving On: Black Loyalists in the Afro-Atlantic World, John W. Pulis (ed.) (Garland Publishing, Inc.1999).

Panelist: John Gruesser, Sam Houston State University
In September 2018, I began a multiyear position as Senior Research Scholar at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. Prior to this I taught for nearly three decades in the Department of English at Kean University in Union, New Jersey, where for 12 years I coordinated the M. A. in Liberal Studies program, directing approximately one hundred theses on a wide variety of subjects.

I have devoted my career to the pursuit of excellence in the humanities generally and literature specifically. My eleven books (with three more in progress) and fifty essays have engaged African American literature and culture, particularly in international and transnational contexts, as well as American literature, US popular culture, and postcolonial literature and theory. I have been the president of the Poe Studies Association, the Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins Society, and the New Jersey College English Association, have frequently delivered talks on literary topics at schools and libraries, have received research grants and fellowships, and have appeared on radio shows and been featured in magazines and newspapers in connection with my work.

January 2019 saw the publication of my sixth monograph: Edgar Allan Poe and His Nineteenth-Century American Counterparts. Race, Gender and Empire in American Detective Fiction appeared in 2013, and The Empire Abroad and the Empire at Home: African American Literature and the Era of Overseas Expansion was published in 2012. Confluences: Postcolonialism, African American Literary Studies, and the Black Atlantic appeared in 2005, Black on Black: Twentieth-Century African American Writing about Africa was published in 2000, and the title of my first book was White on Black: Contemporary Writing about Africa (1992).

I have also edited five books: a scholarly edition (with Hanna Wallinger) of Sutton Griggs's 1905 novel The Hindered Hand (2017); the anthology A Century of Detection: Twenty Great Mystery Stories, 1841-1940 (2010); the essay collection (with Hanna Wallinger) Loopholes and Retreats: African American Writers and the Nineteenth-Century (2009); a scholarly edition of John Bruce's 1907-09 novel The Black Sleuth (2002), and the essay collection The Unruly Voice: Rediscovering Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins (1996). I am currently at work, with Alisha Knight, on a critical edition of Pauline Hopkins's 1901-02 novel Hagar's Daughter and editing the essay collection Animals in the Classics: How Natural History Inspired Great American Fiction.

My major project as Senior Research Scholar is Man on the Firing Line: A Literary Life of Sutton E. Griggs 1872-1933. In connection with it, I received a 2018-19 American Council of Learned Societies Project Development Grant and serve as a visiting fellow at Texas A & M University's Glasscock Center for Humanities Research. I am also a Collaborator for the digital humanities project To Enter Africa from America: The United States, Africa, and the New Imperialism, 1862-1919, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) 2019-21. Previously I received an eighteen-month NEH Scholarly Editions and Translations Grant (2015-16), a Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives Lynn E. May Study Grant (2014), and a yearlong NEH fellowship (1992-93).

Panelist: Jeannette Eileen Jones, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
I am a historian of the United States, with particular emphasis in American cultural and intellectual history and African American Studies. More broadly, my research expertise and interests include Gilded Age and Progressive Era history, digital humanities and digital history, transnational history, pre-Colonial Africa, history of science, science studies, Black European Studies, and the Black American West. My research reflects my desire to contribute to the larger critical conversations taking place in these fields, specifically around the role of race in shaping American cultural and intellectual discourse and production. More precisely, my research examines the ways in which “race” as a popular and scientific category operated as a potent signifier of difference—cultural, biological, social, and political—in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America. However, recognizing the rising global significance of race as an organizing principle, as well as the transnational migration of ideas about race during this period, my research extends across the Atlantic. It seeks to uncover the discursive relationship between America, other Western, and “subaltern” perspectives on imperialism, citizenship, and social belonging, as mediated primarily through the lens of race, but also through those of gender (ideas about femininity and masculinity), and sexuality.

I am the author of In Search of Brightest Africa: Reimagining the Dark Continent in American Culture, 1884-1936 (Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 2010) and co-editor with Patrick B. Sharp of Darwin in Atlantic Cultures: Evolutionary Visions of Race, Gender, and Sexuality, Routledge Research in Atlantic Studies (New York and London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2010). I have published several peer-reviewed scholarly articles and book chapters. I am currently working on her next book project, America in Africa: U.S. Empire, Race, and the African Question, 1847-1919, which is under advanced contract with Yale University Press. I am also working on a collaborative digital project “To Enter Africa from America:” The United States, Africa, and the New Imperialism, 1862-1919 with Nadia Nurhussein, Nemata Blyden, and John Cullen Gruesser. The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded our team $216K to complete the project from 2019 to 2021. I have a forthcoming article in Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International and a forthcoming chapter in the Cambridge University Press’ Cambridge History of America and the World, Volume 2 (which covers the long nineteenth century). Lastly, I am co-editor with Kalenda Eaton and Michael Johnson of “New Directions in Black Western Studies,” a special issue of American Studies.

Outside of my print and digital scholarship, I am a co-PI of New Storytellers, New Stories: The Research Development Institute in Digital Ethnic Studies, an initiative that aims to broaden the participation and inclusion of underrepresented groups in digital humanities into the growing field of digital ethnic studies. I am a member of several scholarly associations. Currently, I serve on the Advisory Board of the Digital Humanities Caucus of the American Studies Association and on the Council of SHGAPE (Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era).

Panelist: Nadia Nurhussein, Johns Hopkins University
Nadia Nurhussein is Associate Professor in English and Africana Studies at the Johns Hopkins University, where she specializes in African American literature and culture. She is the author of Rhetorics of Literacy: The Cultivation of American Dialect Poetry (The Ohio State University Press, 2013) and has completed work on a monograph (forthcoming from Princeton University Press) that explores African America's literary and cultural views of Ethiopia. Chapters from this book have been published as essays in Callaloo and the Blackwell Companion to the Harlem Renaissance​.

Prior to arriving at Johns Hopkins, Prof. Nurhussein taught in the English departments at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, from 2005 to 2016 and at Mount Holyoke College from 2004 to 2005. In 2004, she earned her PhD in English at the University of California, Berkeley. She has received fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the Beinecke Library at Yale University, and the American Council of Learned Societies.