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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 listed below consist of a single web page whose content is presented as one long document (Items 1, 2, and 10). The others 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 hypertext 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.
"Politics, Rights, and Spatiality in W.E.B. Du Bois's 'Address to the Country' (1906)" — Presentation at the Symposium on "The Niagara Movement and the Dawning of 20th Century Civil Rights, 1906-2006", August 2006.
The symposium commemorated the centennial of the 1906 meeting of the Niagara Movement at Harpers Ferry, WV. My focus was on Du Bois's "Address to the Country" which he wrote to express the political demands of the Movement. I interpreted the document in terms of the spatiality of politics, specifically space, place, and scale. The Harpers Ferry National Historical Park Service and the Harpers Ferry Historical Association sponsored this event. I presented on 18 August 2006.
 [I posted this pre­sen­ta­tion for the 1 November 2020 update.]
"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.
I subsequently revised and published a version of this talk as an article, "M.L. King's Abiding Tribute to W.E.B. Du Bois: Research, Activism, and the Unknowable." It was published in Phylon, 56:1 (Summer 2019): 134-155. 
"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. 
"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.
"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 coded the presentation as a short, one-page document; it is not in my usual hypertext format. I presented on 27 October 2018.
"W.E.B. Du Bois on Democracy and Its Companion Ideas: Concordancing Their Intricacies" — Project presented at the 2021 NCPSA/​NCPAA Annual Conference (Virtual), 26 February 2021.

This project puts forth two goals. First, how did Du Bois conceive of the relationship between democracy and the sciences? (The latter for him include the social sciences, the natural sciences, and often history). Second, how can we approach such an interconnection of ideas within Du Bois's numerous writings?

I outline an approach called interpretive concordancing, which allows us to explore a corpus via a concordancer using specific search protocols (i.e., regexes: regular expressions). For this project I created a partial corpus of about 200 texts. Interpretive concordancing involves an analytical phase in which the texts are studied in terms of their component parts: namely, the words and their synonyms that express Du Bois's ideas. During this phase I list n-grams of 2- and 3-word phrases, as well as seek single words or phrases (called node words) within their textual contexts. Also, I conduct proximity searching for word pairs that occur a certain number of characters apart. Lastly, in the synthesizing phase of interpretive concordancing I assemble the ideas of the texts, as evidenced in the search results, into an argument that conveys Du Bois's understanding of the democracy/​science relationship.

Interpretive concordancing leads me to this argument. For Du Bois, democracy and science each supports the other and each limits the other. Within a specified domain of action and policy (my phrase) one predominates due to the other's limited scope of knowledge. The sciences, by grasping the natural laws of economic production, could tell us "how" to produce and distribute goods and services, but not the "whats", the "whys", and the "how-muchs". That was the realm of citizens and democratic participation. Each generates only a portion of the overall knowledge that Du Bois considered vital for governance. [I created the document as a longish, one-page HTML file; it is not a hypertext presentation.]

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I added this entry for the 1 March 2021 update.
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