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Backwater Blues: Environmental Disaster and African American Experiences. March 31, 2015

Backwater Blues: Environmental Disaster and African American Experiences

Tuesday, March 31, at 4:00pm
1210 Heller Hall

Panel with Saje Mathieu, History; David Pellow, Sociology; Elliott Powell, American Studies; and Richard Mizelle, History, University of Houston (via Skype).


Download: audio, small video, or original.

What can studies of environment tell us about African American experiences? In his recent book, Backwater Blues, Richard Mizelle argues that blues music, Richard Wright’s stories, NAACP documents, and black newspapers open a window onto a more thorough understanding of the Mississippi River flood of 1927, revealing the nature of race relations and definitions of citizenship at the time. Join this panel for a discussion about the challenges and possibilities of working at the intersection of race and the environment from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.

mizelle backwater blues
Saje Mathieu is Professor of History at the University of Minnesota. Her specialties include African American history since Reconstruction, 20th century American history, migration, social movements and political resistance. Recent publications include North of the Color Line: Migration and Black Resistance in Canada, 1870-1955 (University of North Carolina Press, 2010) and The Black Experience in Canada Revisited (Duke University Press, 2011).

David Pellow is Professor and Don Martindale Endowed Chair of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. He is mainly interested in the intersections between social inequality and environmental conflict. He continues to work on local, national, and transnational environmental justice movements and global policy frameworks concerning sustainability. He is working on 1) a study of how alliances between environmentalists and indigenous peoples form to protect spaces deemed sacred and ecologically significant and 2) a project that seeks to radically expand the theoretical boundaries of the field of environmental justice studies. Selected publications include Total Liberation: The Power and Promise and Aminal Rights and the Radical Earth Movement. (Forthcoming, U of M Press) and “An Environmental Sociology for the 21st Century” (Forthcoming in Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 39).

Elliott Powell is Professor of American Studies at the University of Minnesota. His specialties include American popular music and culture, critical race theory and comparative ethnic studies, feminist and queer studies, African American and Asian American studies, music and politics, music and globalization, jazz, hip hop, and sound studies. He has recieved the Frederick Douglass Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship (2013 – 2014) and the Social Science Research Council Dissertation Grant (2013).

Richard Mizelle is Professor of History at the University of Houston. His research explores the historical borders and overlap between questions of race, environment, technology, and health in modern America. His book Backwater Blues: The 1927 Mississippi River Flood and the African American Imagination (University of Minnesota Press, 2014), offers a critique of long-standing ideas of black environmental complacency by showing the ways in which black commentators from W.E.B. Du Bois to Bessie Smith provided an ecological intellectual criticism of the disaster. He is also co-editor of Resilience and Opportunity: Lessons from the U.S. Gulf Coast after Katrina and Rita (Brookings Institution Press, 2011) and is currently at work on a new project that will examine the long and complex history of race and diabetes from the turn of the 19th century through Hurricane Katrina.

Mizelle visited the University of Minnesota in April 2015 for the John E. Sawyer Spring Symposium, and was also interviewed by the Bat of Minerva. This event was cosponsored by the Department of History.

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2 Comments

  1. abuka54ckMarch 26, 2015 at 4:27 pmReply

    Blues scale is one of the most significant contribution in world’s culture African American made.

  2. Panel to Explore Connections between Mississippi River, African-American History and Culture | River LifeMarch 10, 2015 at 7:35 amReply

    […] University of Minnesota is beginning to address this gap, starting with a panel discussion “Backwater Blues: Environmental Disaster and African American Experiences.” The discussion will be held on March 31, at 4:00.  The location is Room 1210 Heller Hall, […]

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