October 27, 2020

Exploratory Proposals




Recipient: Prof. Katherine Hite


This is an exploratory proposal for a community engaged Intensive around what I would term memorial activism. It would interweave my ongoing scholarship with involvement in a community organization, Celebrating the African Spirit (CAS), that models, mirrors, and pushes greater knowledge and representation of historic truths, legacies, and stories, toward a less racist America. This summer a CEL student will work with me and with CAS, a Black-led, interracial and inter-generational community organization I co-chair that seeks to commemorate enslaved Africans and their descendants of Poughkeepsie through historical markers, memorials, and educational initiatives with the city’s young people. CAS is also involved in collaborative work with other community organizations that involve pressing issues of the city, including police reform, health and wellness, and more. This summer, a Vassar student will work with me to: 1) co design a future Intensive syllabus that thinks through a semester timeline, a set of both conceptual and empirical readings, and appropriate kinds of student projects; and 2) help coordinate and facilitate CAS sponsored initiatives and activities, from the City of Poughkeepsie-wide collaborative celebration of Juneteenth, to an August 1st re-enactment of Frederick Douglass’s 1858 speech in College Hill Park, to ongoing youth-centered learning and design of both temporary and permanent markers. 

For several years I have taught a Poli Sci seminar, “The Politics of Memory,” a sort of broad overview of how states, societies, and collectivities “come to terms” with violent pasts (or don’t). The seminar is designed fairly traditionally, with readings, written reflections, and a major research paper. I am excited to explore an Intensive that would be hands-on, project-based, and largely centered on a rich, dynamic set of conversations and initiatives through CAS, here in the City of Poughkeepsie. I can also easily imagine how Vassar students can bring creative ideas and energy, toward things like efforts to involve City of Poughkeepsie youth as CAS members; to research “hidden histories,” and global and national models for best practices; to mark and commemorate; and to connect the dots between past and present. A Vassar student over the summer would prove a valuable interlocutor to help me think through what would appeal to Vassar students, and perhaps to do a project of their own as an exercise and a potential model. The student and I might also visit nearby memorials, including NYC’s African Burial Ground National Monument, whose circular and symbolic design appeals very much to CAS as a potential major City of Poughkeepsie memorial in the future. ”  (K. Hite)

Funding received for:

Stipend for a “Community Fellow” who worked with Celebrating the African Spirit


“This past summer, I had the opportunity to take advantage of the Mellon CEIH Exploratory grant to work with a Vassar student quite intensely in relation to Celebrating the African Spirit, a group that marries my academic work on coming to terms with violent pasts through memorials, commemoration, with my activism.  Rising Vassar junior Asho Ashittey, an International Studies major, and I learned a great deal from local historians, designers, community educators, and others, and we worked intensively with a small group of high schoolers from Poughkeepsie, with whom we explored the city and walked the city. Together with many folks and organizations and Vassar and the City of Poughkeepsie, we also held a major event commemorating Frederick Douglass’s 1858 speech atop College Hill Park in Poughkeepsie, and it was a wonderful moment in the city (both in 1858 and in 2021) …

From this experience, and with the vital ongoing conversations of Lisa Kaul, I am imagining an intensive next Fall, “Walking Poughkeepsie: Uncovering the Silences of Poughkeepsie’s Symbolic Landscape and Imagining Otherwise.” It will involve local folks, Vassar students, and Poughkeepsie High School students creating historical walks in the City of Poughkeepsie.  They could be showcased during first-year orientation the following year.  It will also potentially include field trips to NYC’s African Burial Ground, Pine Street Burial Ground (Kingston) and Montgomery Place (Tivoli/Bard College).


2021 Youth Hidden Histories Summer Program

Prof. Hite and Community Fellow, Asho Ashittey, at Juneteenth celebrations in Poughkeepsie.

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