Introduction: Black Periodical Studies
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Introduction:
Black Periodical Studies

This introduction summarizes the contents of this special issue and situates it among a host of exciting developments in black print culture studies. We offer the original articles that follow as exemplary models of the range of topics and methodologies representative of this growing field, and specifically of the nexus of African Americanist inquiry and periodical studies embodied in the phrase “black periodical studies.” We call for the expansion of scholarship on black print cultures, as, despite the prevalence of this scholarship now, we all have so much more to seek, gain, and know.

We thus see this special issue as very much in dialogue with broader interventions in the study of black print cultures. Joycelyn Moody, to cite one example, is co-editing with Howard Rambsy II a special issue on black print culture for MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States. The essays in that issue alert us to some of the new research emphasizing such understudied print forms as antebellum black women’s friendship books, slave narratives circulating in transatlantic newspapers and “little books,” and ephemera surrounding the institutionalization of African American Studies in the academy, among other forms. With respect to black periodical studies, the MELUS special issue includes essays devoted to serials ranging from the Christian Recorder before the Civil War, and the Cleveland Gazette after the war, to the Crisis of the twentieth century.1 We thus see an organic, informal synergy between the special MELUS issue and this issue of American Periodicals, and we invite editors, organizations, and scholars to explore ways to formalize and make even richer such collaborative efforts.

Our work on this issue certainly builds from other collaborative efforts, too, including panels at a number of major conferences as well as other print and online publications. The Research Society for American Periodicals (RSAP) has offered deep engagement that has fostered our efforts. Initial [End Page 105] discussion of the special issue came out of an RSAP roundtable on “New Directions in African American Periodical Research” at the 2013 American Literature Association Conference in Boston, which featured work by Koritha Mitchell, Hollis Robbins, Andreá N. Williams, Nazera Wright, Arika Easley-Houser, and Ellen Gruber Garvey. RSAP offerings since have included a panel on the intersection of visual culture and African American periodicals, held at the 2015 ALA convention, and a panel on ethnic American women and illustrated periodicals at the 2015 meeting of the Society for the Study of American Women Writers. A 2014 session at the Modern Language Association convention, “Early African American Print Cultures: Reflections and Directions,” organized by Ben Fagan and including talks by Rian Bowie, John Ernest, Barbara McCaskill, Fagan, Gardner, and Moody—planned for late 2016 publication as a forum in Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers—similarly featured lively discussion of the intersections between African American literary studies and print culture studies, with concentrated attention to black periodicals. All of these efforts have shaped our thinking. Diverse contributors, submitters, and readers also drew both inspiration and knowledge from the University of Wisconsin’s September 2014 Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture’s conference on “African American Expression in Print and Digital Culture” organized by Brigitte Fielder, Anne Palmer, Jonathan Senchyne, Cherene Sherrard-Johnson, and Ethelene Whitmire. The two-issue Legacy feature in 2013 and 2014, beginning with P. Gabrielle Foreman’s important essay, “A Riff, A Call, and A Response: Reframing the Problem That Led to Our Being Tokens in Ethnic and Gender Studies,” and concluding with a curated collection of responses, offered even more exigent and engaged consideration.2

Select online initiatives have also highlighted black print cultures and especially black periodical presences. The “Just Teach One: Early African American Print” site, co-sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society and Commonplace, for example, chose “Theresa,” a short story serialized in the first known African American newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, for its initial text.3 In addition, the Colored Conventions Project promises to change approaches to black print cultures, and both its website and its 2015 symposium at the...