Visiting Public Humanities Faculty Fellow, 2020-2021

Robyn Autry

Robyn Autry (Ph.D. Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2008) is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology at Wesleyan University. She is an interpretive sociologist with broad interests in cultural practices associated with black identity, memory and violence, and representation. Her work on the politics of museum development in the US and South Africa has been published in edited volumes and several journals, including Theory & Society and Museum & Society. Her book Desegregating the Past: The Public Life of Memory in the US and South Africa compares post-apartheid and post-civil rights museum politics (Columbia University Press, 2017). Her current book project Selfishly Black, considers how we personally experience and make sense of collective phenomena like racism and colorism. In addition to her public writing, she has given several public talks and is experimenting with others forms of public engagement such as storytelling events.

Selfishly Black: Personalizing the Collective

During the coming year at the JHI, Professor Autry will complete a book manuscript that explores ways that the collective experience of blackness may be creative, unique and free: outside the expected re-enactments of someone else’s vision or fantasy. She does so by locating herself within a series of cases that undo race as culturally fixed and immutable. Her writing combines personal, accessible auto-theoretical and deeply analytical ethnographic approaches, bringing personal narrative into contact with critical social analysis. As Selfishly Black approaches publication, Autry will also be developing a collection that grows out of this work: Abject Beauty, which develops ideas around the aesthetics and politics of black womens’ bodies, specifically hair, skin, and nails, and which is targeted to a general audience. She will publish a series of shorter feature and opinion pieces for newspapers, blogs, and online literary and popular magazines as a fellow.

About this fellowship

The Visiting Public Humanities Faculty Fellowship is intended to foster knowledge exchange between the academy and the public. It is a component of the Jackman Humanities Institute’s research commitment to public scholarship, Humanities at Large, which has received support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the Humanities for 2019-2022. Humanities at Large brings humanities research out of the classroom and university press, and into the broader public realm for discussion, debate, and examination across multiple media platforms, and makes space in the academy for the knowledge of communities.