Must Read Book

Gilroy, Paul, The Black Atlantic (1993).

Almost 10 years after its publication, Gilroy's concept of the "black Atlantic," like Benedict Anderson's argument for "imagined communities," is frequently a victim of its own deceptive simplicity. Thus Americanist scholars have paid homage to the the insights and approaches of Gilroy's post-nationalist model more than they have fully incorporated them. Gilroy's commitment is to analyze black cultural life while avoiding the "overintegrated concepts of culture" that have marred not only African American studies, but the study of "culture" in general. This is a far cry from any simple postmodernist celebration of hybridity; it's a rigorously historical analysis of the circulation of cultural productions and cultural meanings, and their role in the making of modern concepts like race and nation. Gilroys' analytical range extends from readings of Martin Delany to modern rap, and his argument is so valuable precisely because it shows how to think about the construction of national identities without assuming that ideas, cultural products, or people are constrained by national borders. This can be a difficult book to teach, even to graduate students, because Gilroy presumes that his readers are already familiar with and invested in a range of academic debates, but it is well worth struggling through, since the rewards are those of engaging with a world-class cultural history.

Recommended by Melani McAlister, George Washington University

Melani McAlister teaches American Studies at George Washington University. She is the author of Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East, 1945-2000 (Univ. of California Press, 2001).