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Speculative Pasts, Revisionist Futures: Pauline E. Hopkins, W.E.B. Du Bois, and the Propaganda of History


This dissertation explores the textual, contextual, and conceptual convergences of two pioneers of the Black radical tradition: Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins and William Edward Burghardt Du Bois. Their generic experimentation in biography, autobiography, and speculative fiction reveals their near-simultaneous development of an analysis of race as a social category rooted in ideology, not biology. Although they never directly collaborated in their work as historians, fiction-writers, or public intellectuals, I make my own speculative leap, situating Hopkins and Du Bois as partners in a shared revisionist project aimed at countering racial ideology and white supremacist propaganda. During Hopkins’s tenure as literary editor for the Colored American Magazine from 1900-1904, she drew on her early experiences as an actress and playwright to appeal to a popular readership. Under her own name and various pseudonyms, Hopkins contributed biographies, polemical essays, and magazine novels aimed at radicalizing her multi-racial audience and promoting a materialist analysis of racial ideologies. Despite her profound impact within the Black radical milieux, especially through her writings on John Brown, she remained a relatively marginal figure for much of the twentieth century. This same period coincided with a radicalization of Du Bois, a shift away from his academic project as a social scientist and toward a public intellectual role. In tandem with Hopkins, Du Bois developed his own materialist approach to questions of race and political economy, first proposed in his 1905 essay, “Sociology Hesitant,” and worked through in his biography of John Brown (1909). Both writers later mine the vein of materialist historiography via their own speculative and revisionist fiction. This is a study best characterized as the biography of two race leaders, a race man and race woman, working toward parallel race concepts.

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