New Directions in Black Western Studies

deadline for submissions: 
June 30, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
Michael K Johnson / Western History Association and American Studies

New Directions in Black Western Studies

Western History Association Conference

Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa, San Diego, California

01-04 November 2017

We are seeking proposals for the 57th Western History Association Conference workshop and American Studies Special Issue: “New Directions in Black Western Studies.”

Though several scholarly historical treatments of Blacks in the North American West exist, few engage with what Black Western Studies means in a contemporary context. Over the past decade there has been a return to the west in intellectual and artistic production at a rate not seen since the 1970s. Several critically acclaimed television series, films, music albums, and literary texts are rooted firmly in western historical legacies. Likewise, the relationship between Blackness and western geographical and cultural identity has been explored in various disciplinary genres. From film, music, literature, and art to theatre, architecture, and museum studies, These possibilities drive several questions undergirding this workshop at the 2017 Western History Association Conference.

How do we make sense of conventional westerns and science fiction westerns such as HBO’s Westworld and AMC’s Hell on Wheels that  feature black characters in lead roles, but render the mythic west primarily a “white” space? How do we hear songs that claim the West as a site of a distinct “authentic” black culture? Here, N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton” (1988), 2Pac and Dr. Dre’s “California Love” (1996), and Kendrick Lamar’s “Compton” (2012) come to mind. How do musicians conjure up images of the Black West in their lyrics and chords? How do we make sense of memorials and commemorations of Blacks in the West that position their presence as part of frontier exceptionalism? How do we document riots and revolutions in a black western context? How do murals of Black subjects in Western cities serve as correctives to cowboy and pioneer histories of the West?  How have fiction and creative non-fiction writers imagined the Black West in their texts? Is the Black West gendered? What are the boundaries of the Black West? For example, when we include the American Pacific states and western Canadian territories in our understanding of the Black West, how does that open up new avenues for understanding black Western subjectivities?

Papers accepted for the WHA workshop will be vetted for a subsequent special issue of American Studies (AMSJ) on Black Western Studies. For both the workshop and the journal we are interested in what it means to read the North American West as a Black space with varied and deep possibilities.. By this we mean, how the concept of presenting/representing the West is informed by black identities and identity-making, rival geographies tied to black mobility, black culture, black knowledge production, black arts, and black literatures. The WHA workshop and AMSJ special issue  will fill a gap in American Studies by bringing Black Western Studies into current dialogue with other fields of American Studies that focus on the intersections between race, ethnicity, and place/geography. Borderland studies, Canadian Studies, Midwestern Studies, Southern Studies, and Asian/Pacific/American Studies are just a few examples of such fields.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • 21st century Television and Film
  • Reconsidering Public Memorials, Museums, and Historic Preservation
  • Photography
  • Visual Arts (painting, murals, and sculptures)
  • Literatures 
  • New Media
  • Music and Song
  • Theatre and Performance
  • Architecture and Built Environment
  • Graphic Novels and Comic Books
  • Gender and/or Sexuality
  • Urban and/or Rural Spaces

Abstracts of no more than 500 words should be emailed to Jeannette Eileen Jones, Kalenda Eaton, and Michael Johnson at by 30 June 2017.

All submissions should include the name of the author, title/position, institution, email address, a short profile, the title of the proposed paper, and the abstract. Once accepted, drafts of complete papers will be due from contributors by 15 September 2017.

Note: Accepted contributors must register for and attend the 2017 Western History Association, which will meet 01-04 November 2017 at the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa, San Diego, CA.

During the conference the accepted contributors and guest editors (Jones, Eaton, and Johnson) will workshop pre-circulated drafts of papers in a closed session for two days (Thursday and Friday). The contributors will present their work in an open session on the last morning (Saturday) of the conference. Please note that all papers MUST go through a blind peer-review process with American Studies (AMSJ) prior to final publication. We expect the special issue to be published in 2018.