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Lectures and Presentations
  by Robert W. Williams

Over the years I have prepared and delivered various presentations on W.E.B. Du Bois. Not all of the lectures have been created to be online-accessible. On this page I provide links to my public talks on various topics relevant to Du Bois's thought and activism.

My biography and C.V. (with a list of my other presenta­tions and publi­ca­tions) also are located on this website.

A Note on Presentation Formats: Several of the talks are formatted as hyper­text presentations. I created the hypertext format as a browser-based application using Javascript and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) for its features and functionality. Because I continuously update and upgrade the hypertext application, talks presented earlier may not have the same features as those that I presented later. The Navigation Help page lists the available functions of each hyper­text presentation; this information is found on the second page after the start page.

"Embracing Philosophy: On Du Bois's 'The Individual and Social Conscience'" — Presentation at the Du Bois 50th Anni­ver­sary Com­mem­o­ra­tive Con­ference, 2013
In February 2013 Clark Atlanta University, under the leadership of Dr. Stephanie Y. Evans, convened the W.E.B. Du Bois 50th Anniversary Commemorative Conference. I presented a paper entitled "Embracing Philosophy: On Du Bois's 'The Individual and Social Conscience'". This talk is my first discussion of the IASC in a public forum. Before speak­ing I provided an outline to the audience. I subsequently elaborated upon that lecture, which was published in Phylon. The amplified OUTLINE version is housed on this site. I provide more details on the outline page.
"W.E.B. Du Bois and the Paradox of Democracy" — Presen­ta­tion at Bennett College, Greensboro, NC, 2015
My presentation was part of the Bennett College Faculty Lec­ture Series, which I delivered on 22 January 2015. I ad­dressed the topic of "W.E.B. Du Bois and the Paradox of Democracy", focusing on "Of the Ruling of Men" (Chap­ter VI in his Dark­water). I outlined Du Bois's sup­port of ex­tend­ing the fran­chise and of widen­ing the scope of cit­izen par­tici­pa­tion over large-scale industries. In my hypertext PRESENTATION I dis­cussed the importance of "Ruling" with regard to Du Bois's con­tributions to demo­crat­ic theorizing, including his con­cept of unknowability. Note that this presen­tation uses an earlier version of the hyper­text format and thus con­tains some­what less func­tion­al­ity than later versions.
"W.E.B. Du Bois on Scientific Knowledge and Its Limits" — Presen­ta­tion at the 120th Anniversary of the Atlanta Socio­log­i­cal Laboratory, 2016
The Department of the Sociology and Criminal Justice at Clark Atlanta University hosted the "Symposium Celebrating the 120th Anniversary of the Atlanta Sociological Laboratory and the Work of W.E.B. Du Bois" on 25 February 2016. I titled my talk "W.E.B. Du Bois on Scientific Knowl­edge and Its Limits". I developed a typology of knowl­edge claims found in Du Bois's texts, including current and future knowl­edge, uncertain knowl­edge, and that which is fundamentally unknowable. My PRESENTATION is available herein as a web-based hypertext.
"The Intertextuality of Du Bois's Idea of Humanity: A Collation Analysis" — Presen­ta­tion at the 30th Symposium on African American Culture and Philosophy, 2016
The African American Studies and Research Center at Purdue Uni­versity hosted this symposium on 1-3 December 2016. The theme of the symposium was "Exploring the 'Humanity' in the Digital Humanities". This hypertext PRESENTATION used collation software to highlight the inter­con­nec­tions between two sets of Du Bois's works. I argued that his concept of humanity was not exhausted by any one text: indeed, the concept expanded its analytical and geo-historical scope in the context of world events, such as World War One. I include this lecture as part of my continuing projects on Du Bois from the perspectives of the digital humanities.
"W.E.B. Du Bois at the Horizon of History and Sociology" — Presen­ta­tion at the Second Annual Conference of the African American Intellectual History Society, 2017
Organized by the African American Intellectual History Society, this con­ference was held at Vanderbilt Uni­ver­sity on 24-25 March 2017. In my hypertext PRESENTATION I argued that, for Du Bois, what we cannot know (nescience) is as important as what we can know about now or in the future. I recon­structed Du Bois's under­standing of the rela­tion­ship of science with nesc­ience in terms of what we can know about and what we can know directly. I also examined the impli­ca­tions of DuBoisian ne/science for scholarly research, politics, and activism.
"King's Abiding Tribute to Du Bois: Research, Activism, and the Unknowable"Presen­ta­tion at the Symposium on Race and Economic Inequality on the Anniversaries of the Birth of W.E.B. Du Bois and the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., 2018
This symposium was convened at Clark Atlanta University, on 22-23 February 2018. In my abstract I state:
Martin Luther King, Jr. in his 1968 tribute, "Honoring Dr. Du Bois", praises the civil rights leader and Pan-Africanist as a champion for oppressed peoples around the world, one whose scholarship informs his pursuit of justice and peace. I wish to supplement King's cogent summary of Du Bois's research and activism by analyzing another dimension of the quest for truth.
According to Du Bois, social research faces limits on what its methods can know-about. In particular, some areas of human behav­ior yield uncertain knowledge or else remain unknowable in principle. For example, he indicates that some details of history are unrecov­er­a­ble, and thereby unknow­able. ​Also, we cannot know directly another's personal expe­ri­ences. The types of uncertainty and unknow­a­bil­ity deline­ated by him I label as nescience. For Du Bois, nescience does not prelude activism; indeed, he responds in various activist ways. Historical unknow­a­bil­ity prompts him to write socially conscious fiction, while unknowable individuals justify his advocacy to incor­po­rate, via suffrage, their "excluded wisdom" into governance. Thus, in addition to (social) science informing activism, Du Bois argues that what we do not know—​our nescience—​also must inform and motivate our struggles.
In this presentation I outline King's "Honoring Dr. Du Bois", em­pha­sizing his discussion of the research/activism nexus. Then, I detail several of Du Bois's forms of nescience and their conse­quences for activism. Lastly, I illustrate the role of unknowability in recent exam­ples of social activism, such as Black Lives Matter, Afrofuturism, and the Dakota Access Pipe­line protests. I seek to highlight, ultimately, the rele­vance of Du Boisian nescience for 21st Century struggles against racial and economic inequalities.
"Du Bois's Jamesian Pragmatism: Chance, Science, and Social Critique" — Presen­ta­tion at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston, on 31 August 2018.
My presentation is part of the session "The Problem of Democratic Culture in the American Pragmatist Tradition". I examine how Du Bois in the early 1900s frames chance, human agency, and Darwinian thought in terms of his understanding of Jamesian Pragmatism​—​a formulation by which he criticizes White supremacism and racial barriers to opportunity.  [I added this entry for the 1 September 2018 update.]
"Algorithmic Displacement and the Black Atlantic: Retextualizing the 'Souls' Essay by W.E.B. Du Bois" — Presen­ta­tion at the 2018 African American Digital Humanities Conference held at the University of Maryland, College Park, 1820 October 2018.
Paul Gilroy's concept of the Black Atlantic emphasizes Africana agency and subjectivity in the creation of modernity. The concept highlights the varied sources and routes involved in the genera­tion of culture and meaning. I argue that there is a method­ological analog to the geograph­ical displace­ment expressed in the Black Atlantic concept. I coded a browser-based application, Retextualizer, to perform textual displace­ment on Du Bois's 'Souls' essay (1904) [along with a small set of other essays]. Retextualizer will reconfigure the sentences of the essay as a way to emulate the multiple routes that are integral to the creation of meaning. The conference session was entitled "(Re)Envisioning Data" and I presented on 20 October 2018.
[I added this entry for the 1 November 2018 update.]
"Du Bois's Pragmatism: William James and Beyond" — Presentation for the "Scholarship Above the Veil: A Sesqui­cen­tennial Symposium Honoring W.E.B. Du Bois, 1868-2018", 25-27 October 2018, at Harvard University.
The symposium is sponsored by the Departments of Sociology and of African & African American Studies at Harvard University [website]. I discuss the pragmatic aspects of Du Bois's thought (especially in terms of Du Bois mediating the pragmatism of William James with his own racial experiences), as well as the philosophical situations in which his pragmatic dimensions are textually evident (specifically, under situations of unknowability). I briefly end the talk with the relevance of a Du Boisian pragmatism for today, including the valuation of the "excluded wisdom" embodied in marginalized communities. The panel was entitled "Du Bois and Pragmatism". Due to time constraints I created the presentation as a short, one-page document; it is not in my usual hypertext format. I presented on 27 October 2018.
[I added this entry for the 1 November 2018 update.]