This review essay takes Kenneth Warren’s What Was African American Literature? as an opportunity to reflect on the theory of history operative in literary studies. I suggest that Warren employs the idea that history is defined by shifting epochal units determined by legal structures. Building on the recent work of critical theorist Gabriel Rockhill, I propose that we should instead understand all histories as partial histories of the various strata that make up the present. Such a conception of history can more adequately handle the complexity of the relations between literature, race, and class today. The essay thus proposes that we can resituate Warren’s book alongside the strong responses it has elicited as a series of partial histories that can profitably speak to each other. In this way I hope to show the valuable insights that both Warren and his critics provide, while reframing the debate around the background question of the concept of history in literary studies.