Burdened as I am by Obama's terrible decision regarding Afghanistan, the resignation of Greg Craig as White House Counsel, the defeat of same sex marriage in the New York State Senate, and other large matters, I turned this morning to a task much more limited in its world-historical importance, but deeply gratifying nonetheless. One of my former graduate students in Afro-American Studiers at UMass, Dr. Tanya Mears, is engaged in transforming her fine doctoral dissertation into a monograph suitable for publication by a university press. Tanya wrote a ground-breaking thesis on a group of texts collectively known as "execution literature." These are New England Colonial era texts produced on the occasion of the public execution of a criminal. She focused on a group of texts that concern condemned criminals of African descent -- a subject all but ignored by scholars, who have by and large concerned themselves with the much better known, and later, Slave Narratives. Tanya actually discovered several new texts during her archival research, and, despite being a strong, intelligent Black woman with a deep commitment to the improvement of African-Americans, demonstrates convincingly that the Puritans, as evidenced by these texts, were not racists stigmatizing the criminals because of their blackness. Indeed, as she shows, pastors who preached sermons about these criminals [with the criminals themselves, in chains, in front of the pulpit!], insisted that anyone in the congregation could as easily find himself or herself in that terrible position.
So I am working with Tanya on her proposal [I actually directed her doctoral dissertation, one of only two whose committees I chaired during my years in the department], and hope that even in these economically disastrous times, her scholarship will find a publisher.
This is much more satisfying than writing yet another blog post about all the things going wrong in the world. As Bobby Kennedy liked to say, back in the day, better to light a candle than curse the darkness.