Blum Interviews on DuBois, continued

Baldblogger has posted part 2 and part 3 of his interviews with Ed Blum on his book W. E. B. DuBois: American Prophet. He also includes his own chapter-by-chapter summaries and analyses (scroll down for all four parts).

The interviews provide some interesting reflections on how we come to the topics we come to in our work, and how much chance and serendipity play into scholarly endeavors-- a little excerpt:

Baldblogger (BB): Your previous book
Reforging the White Republic, chronicled the reasons for sectional reunion following the Civil War and the central role Christianity played in the process. In many ways W.E.B. Du Bois, American Prophet is in very deep conversation with this work, as you recount the multiple and inventive, creative ways Du Bois responded to the history you traced in Reforging. Can you discuss how, in your own mind, these books relate?

Ed Blum (EB): I first decided to write about Du Bois and religion when I was finishing my dissertation and had an interview at the Harvard Divinity School. The position was in African American religion and so I thought – who better to talk about at Harvard than Du Bois (since Du Bois was a student there in the late nineteenth century and was the first black man to receive a PhD from Harvard). And wouldn’t you know, I was looking through a box of “used” books at the local bookstore and they had a copy of Phil Zuckerman’s edited Du Bois on Religion. Talk about serendipitous or providence or dumb luck. The documents that Zuckerman edited, along with my dissertation research, were the core of my Harvard job talk. I didn’t get the job, but that’s another story.

One fascinating outcome of not getting the Harvard job is that half of my Du Bois book was written in the basement of house (when I was a fellow) and I reveled in writing a subversive book from underground. It made me think a little of the beginning of Ellison’s Invisible Man.

It seemed to me that Du Bois understood what few other scholars had: that religion sat at the base of American notions of its nationhood, which tended to privilege being white and being Protestant. And this was the story I wrote about in my first book. In it, I looked at how religious ideas and leaders reconciled northern and southern whites after the Civil War. The tragedy of this was not their reunion, but rather its white supremacist form. By 1900, northern and southern whites seemed to agree on one thing – they were equally invested in subordinating African Americans. And both sections did it in the name of Christianity. After writing a book about how Protestant Christianity played a role in reconciling whites and legitimating Jim Crow, lynchings, and racial imperialism, I thought it would be neat to write on those who challenged that world. And Du Bois was the man. So the Du Bois book is kind of a sequel to my first book, or perhaps its an anti-sequel.


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