Jarvis McInnis, "Tuskegee & the Plantationocene: Toward a Theory of Eco-Ontology in Black Studies"
Friday, February 19, 2021 - 9:30am to 11:00am
Please join the Franklin Humanities Institute for its Friday morning series, tgiFHI! tgiFHI gives Duke faculty in the humanities, interpretative social sciences and arts the opportunity to present their current research to their departmental (and interdepartmental) colleagues, students, and other interlocutors in their fields.
This paper examines the emerging discourse on the “plantationocene” in relation to Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, which was transformed from an abandoned cotton plantation on depleted lands to one of the most prominent black educational institutions in the early 20th century. What does it mean that Washington established a future-oriented ontological project—the southern New Negro—on the site of racial and environmental violence? Or that George Washington Carver, an agricultural scientist employed at Tuskegee, sought to regenerate the institute’s “waste places” by studying its mineral composition and encouraging black farmers to develop more environmentally sustainable cultivation practices? This paper establishes Washington’s and Carver’s work as an eco-ontological project that aimed to regenerate both degraded land and subjugated people alike, and Tuskegee as an important site for interrogating the inextricability of race and ecology, black life and plant life, within Black Studies.
Jarvis C. McInnis is the Cordelia & William Laverack Family Assistant Professor of English at Duke. An interdisciplinary scholar of African American & African Diaspora literature and culture, he is currently completing his first book manuscript, tentatively titled, “Afterlives of the Plantation: Tuskegee and Black Agricultural Modernity in the Global Black South.” This study aims to reorient the geographic contours of black transnationalism and diaspora by interrogating the hemispheric linkages between southern African American and Caribbean writers, intellectuals, and cultures in the early 20th century.