Anna Julia Cooper, Archival Absences, and Black Women’s “muffled” Knowledge

Vivian M. May, Syracuse University
Vol. 40, No. 1 (Fall 2021), 241-272

Calling for scholars of the archive’s raced-gendered politics to attend to Anna Julia Cooper’s work, this article examines how Cooper, as a Black feminist scholar, reads archival contents (and gaps) against the grain, pivots toward evidence excluded from prevailing frameworks, and lays the ground for counternarratives in her two major texts: A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South (1892) and her 1925 Sorbonne dissertation on the French and Haitian revolutions. The legacies of exclusion Cooper underscored and the interpretive tactics she devised to combat erasure and violation, especially the “unwritten history” of Black women’s lives, are significant and should be engaged with by contemporary scholars of the archive. The article concludes by exploring the limits of recovery work and confronts a painful paradox we must wrestle with: many of the mindsets Cooper fought against live on and continue to stifle her voice. The act of Cooper’s work being backgrounded in her own time and the ways in which her work is (and is not) taken up today call to mind the “muffling” of Black women’s ideas that Cooper challenged in 1892.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]