A Pivotal Work: Honoring Earl Lewis's "To Turn as on a Pivot: Writing African Americans into a History of Overlapping Diasporas," 25 Years Later

Endorsed by the Committee on the Status of African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American (ALANA) Historians and ALANA Histories and  the Immigration and the Ethnic History Society (IEHS)

Type: Panel Discussion

Tags: African American; Immigration and Internal Migration; Social and Cultural


In 1995 Earl Lewis published “To Turn as on a Pivot: Writing African-Americans into a History of Overlapping Diasporas.” The article was a turning point in Afro-diasporic historical studies, providing a theoretical and methodological language for scholars interested in a complicated and capacious reading of diaspora, culture, migration, race, and mobility. The panel will honor the twenty-fifth anniversary of the article’s publication and reflect on Lewis’s notion of overlapping diasporas and its role in researching, writing, and positioning transnational Afro-diasporic studies in the United States.

Session Participants

Chair and Panelist: Nancy Raquel Mirabal, University of Maryland, College Park
Nancy Raquel Mirabal is Associate Professor of American Studies and Director of the Latina/o Studies Program at the University of Maryland, College Park. She has published widely in the fields of Afro-diasporic and Latinx Studies. Her most recent publications include the critically acclaimed, "Suspect Freedoms: The Racial and Sexual Politics of Cubanidad in New York, 1823-1957" (NYU Press, 2017) and co-editor of "Keywords in Latina/o Studies," (NYU Press, 2018). She is currently working on a project that examines archival dilemmas and displacements.

Panelist: Thomas A. Guglielmo, George Washington University
Thomas A. Guglielmo is Associate Professor of American Studies at George Washington University.
His first book, "White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945" (Oxford University Press, 2003), received the Frederick Jackson Turner Award from the Organization of American Historians and the Allan Nevins Prize from the Society of American Historians. Guglielmo is finishing up a second book entitled "Divisions: World War II, the U.S. Military, and the Making of Race in America" (under contract with Oxford University Press). Drawing on the interdisciplinay fields of race-making and boundary-making and on a decade of painstaking archival research, Professor Guglielmo argues, most broadly, that America's military did more than segregate races. It also helped to produce them – and, unwittingly, a series of powerful civil rights struggles in the process.

Panelist: Robin D. G. Kelley, University of California, Los Angeles
Robin D.G. Kelley is professor of History and African American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of numerous award winning books including, "Hammer and Hoe," "Race Rebels," "Yo’ Mama’s DisFunktional: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America," "Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination," "Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original," and "Africa Speaks, America Answers!: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times." His latest book project is a biography of the late Grace Halsell, tentatively titled "The Education of Ms. Grace Halsell: An Intimate History of the American Century." In addition, he is currently collaborating with Tera Hunter and Earl Lewis, on a general survey of African American history.

Panelist: Earl Lewis, University of Michigan
Earl Lewis is a noted social historian, award-winning author, director of the new University of Michigan Center for Social Solutions and is the current president of the 2019 OAH. A professor of history and Afroamerican and African Studies, Lewis is president emeritus of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (2013-18). Prior to returning to Michigan and before leading the Mellon Foundation, he served as the Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost at Emory University as well as the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of history and African American Studies (2004-2012). Lewis was previously on the faculty at the University of Michigan (1989-2004) and the University of California at Berkeley (1984-1989). In addition to professorial roles and titles (Robin D.G. Kelley and Elsa Barkley Brown Collegiate Professor), he served Michigan as Vice Provost and Dean of the Rackham School of Graduate Studies (1998-2004). Lewis has authored or edited nine books, scores of essays, articles and comments, and along with Robin Kelley served as general editor of the eleven-volume Young Oxford History of African Americans. He currently partners with Nancy Cantor in editing the Our Compelling Interests book series.

Panelist: Merida Rua, Northwestern University
Mérida Rúa is Professor of American and Latina/o Studies at Williams College. She is the author of several critically acclaimed books: "A Grounded Identidad: Making New Lives in Chicago’s Puerto Rican Neighborhoods" (Oxford University Press, 2012) and "Latino Urban Ethnography and the Work of Elena Padilla" (editor, University of Illinois Press, 2011). She is currently completing two book projects: "Shouldering Age in the Big City: Crónicas of Puerto Rican Migrations to Elderhood (in progress)" and Critical Diálogos in Latina and Latino Studies (co-editor with Ana Yolanda Ramos Zayas, in progress).