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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.] [I added this entry for the 1 March 2021 update.]

"One Challenge, Not Two Problems: Regular Expressions for Researching a Single-Author Corpus" — Presentation at the 2021 Japanese Association for Digital Humanities Virtual Conference, 7-8 September 2021. (Hosted by the Historiographical Institute, The University of Tokyo).

In this presentation I discuss how Digital Humanities tools and techniques​—​here, a concordancer employing regular expression (regex) searching protocols​—​can be used to analyze a collection of W.E.B. Du Bois's texts, This corpus is not comprehensive and not representative of his 2000 published writings. My particular research goal focuses on exploring the corpus for the ways by which Du Bois expresses the idea of the "unknowable", whether by specific word or related synonyms and phrases.

I sketch the research work flow which involves ways to locate words in the corpus via regex-oriented concordancing, and then requires reading the co-text closely in order to disambiguate the same word or phrase into its different conceptual meanings.

I also outline several findings that point to two forms of the "unknowable" in Du Bois's thinking: the lack of direct knowledge of others' experiences and the impossibility of ever knowing some things.

I presented on 7 September 2021.
[This document is a one-page HTML file, not a hypertext presentation.]
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I added this entry for the 1 September 2021 update.
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"Reading at a Distance, But Much Closer: A Study in Humanities Concordancing" — Presentation at the 2021 Making of the Humanities–​IX Virtual Conference, 20-22 September 2021. (Sponsored by the Society for the History of the Humanities.)

What did Du Bois consider to be important to a "science of human action" especially in terms of what the phrase tells us about his conceptions of science, about the knowledge produced, and about the nature of the actions created by humans?

I approach this topic from a humanities perspective that explores Du Bois's understanding of social research and the humans being studied. I build on the techniques studied in my NCPSA 2021 and JADH 2021 projects (listed above) by using a concordancer with regular expressions (regexes). I apply them on a corpus of texts by Du Bois in order to study the nuances of Du Bois's "science of human action". Using such techniques allows us to locate any potentially synonymous phrasing​—​which is necessary given that Du Bois used the specific phrase in only a few, mostly later, texts. This project addresses four research questions and presents the results.

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I presented this on 20 September 2021. This document is a one-page HTML file, not a hypertext presentation.
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I added this entry for the 1 October 2021 update.
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"Conceptual_analysis​(concordancer​(regex(corpus))) // A case study" — Poster presentation at the online Conference and Colloquium of the Digital Humanities Summer Institute 2022 on 10 June 2022. (Organized by the University of Victoria, Canada).

The project delineates concordancer-mediated techniques that I formulated to study W.E.B. Du Bois's concept of "democratic despotism". As a distinct phrase he only included it in two writings (in 1915 and 1930). But via computationally based conceptual analysis we can locate the synonymous ways in different works by which Du Bois expressed the idea that democracy could be promoted within colonizing countries which nonetheless oppressed and exploited peoples of color around the world.

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I discussed the poster on 10 June 2022. This document is a 4'x3' one-page poster that can be viewed as either a PDF file or a PNG graphics file. It is not a hypertext presentation.
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I added this entry for the 1 June 2022 update.
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"Tracing Concepts & Their Varied Expressions Will Interweave Authors, Texts & Scholars" — Presentation at the Interpretivist Methods Research Conference 2022 on 26 August 2022. Organized by the Interpretivist Methods for Political Science Virtual Community (which is a group within the Western Political Science Association).

Abstract: As a scholar of W.E.B. Du Bois I seek to understand better the concepts and ideals by which he made sense of his world, and by which he justified his activism. Here, I address his concept of the unknowable, a condition arising when evidence was unrecoverable or even impossible to know. Du Bois used the specific word "unknowable" in a few texts, but in other works he synonymously conveyed the idea without employing the word itself. Did more writings contain such onomasiological indicators? To locate any relevant passages, I utilized my non-representative corpus of his texts, which I searched with different types of regular expressions via a concordancer. In the presentation I will reflect critically on my corpus and methods. My research connects me—interweaves my efforts—with Du Bois's concepts and texts because my choices and experiences guide me on what to explore, how to explore it, and ultimately mediate my interpretations. The techniques are valuable: they preserve his meaningful utterances about the unknowable (also to be presented), while allowing us to study his texts as one unit. Nonetheless, corpus creation and regexing are not neutral procedures; each influences what we (can) understand about Du Bois's ideas.

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I added this entry for the 1 September 2022 update.
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"W.E.B. Du Bois's Critical-Theoretic Uses of Assumptions in Research and Activism" — Virtual presentation at the Canadian Sociological Association 2023 conference delivered on 30 May 2023, on a Panel, "Theories of the Background: Responding to the Everyday".

Abstract: The presentation examines two of Du Bois's assumptions that he used to justify research that challenged White supremacist ideas and practices, specifically, what I called the equal humanity assumption and the capability assumption. I named them based on Du Bois's own descriptions. Du Bois argued that such assumptions were needed to keep open research on African Americans, when many mainstream White scholars had already reached their conclusions, and to justify actions to ameliorate segregated social conditions.

Du Bois did elaborate on how he formulated such hypotheses. In the presentation I also explore one possible basis for their formulation. Assumptions in general can be based on simplifications of reality, or at the very least on those aspects of reality deemed salient by the researchers. Accordingly, I looked to a manuscript by Du Bois: his correspondence in 1904 with a White scholar, Walter Willcox. Du Bois mentioned in the correspondence that his long experiences with African Americans​—his "intimate soul contact"—​provided him with details about the possibilities of future progress. Such possibilities spoke to the agency and humanity of African Americans, and thereby, based on those assumptions (as I interpret him), Du Bois argued that future scientific studies could and must be conducted.

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I added this entry for the 1 June 2023 update.
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"The Taney Theme in Du Bois's Political Rhetoric: Researching Textual Patterns as a Digital Political Theorist"
Project Paper: ~5.1 MB PDF
Project Summary: ~2.5 MB PDF
Virtual presentation at the Southern Political Science Association 2023 Summer Virtual Conference to be delivered on 16 June 2023, on a panel, "New Perspectives on Political Philosophers".

Abstract: The project's title expresses my presentation's two purposes. First, I analyze an under-studied rhetorical tool that W.E.B. Du Bois wielded in his civil rights activism, namely his transgressive modification and application of Chief Justice Roger Taney's infamous statement in the 1857 (Dred) Scott v. Sandford Supreme Court decision (i.e., Blacks had "no rights which the white man was bound to respect"). Second, I delineate how to locate Du Bois's various uses of the Taney statement through techniques that I adapted from corpus linguistics and computer science: namely, regular expression (regex) search methods applied via concordancer software to a non-representative corpus of Du Bois's writings.

The second purpose actually is methodologically first. It is also unique among Du Bois scholarship. Indeed, the component words​—​the textual patterns​—​of Taney(-variant) statements provide a versatile way to document themes across his numerous texts.

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These documents are PDF files, not hypertext presentations.
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I added this entry for the 1 July 2023 update.
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