Peniel E. Joseph

Peniel E. Joseph is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the leading young scholars of African American history.  Although Joseph’s formal expertise includes the Black Radial Tradition, Pan-Africanism, Black Social Movements, and African American feminism, he is currently embarking on a re-evaluation of the Black Power Movement. Professor Joseph teaches in the Department of Africana Studies at SUNY. Joseph is one of the leading innovators behind a growing subfield known as “Black Power Studies.”  This new scholarship, which connects grassroots activism to national struggles for black self-determination and international African independence movements, is actively rewriting postwar African American history. On this score, Joseph has published over a dozen articles and book chapters related to Black Power (and black radicalism in general) since earning his doctorate in American history at Temple University in 2000 and has been a prolific book reviewer, essayist, and commentator on issues related to African American social, political, intellectual, and cultural history.

In addition Joseph served as guest editor for two special issues on the Black Power Movement in The Black Scholar. Both issues, which critically analyzed the Black Power Movement in an appropriately international and historic context of the civil rights struggle, global decolonization, and the Cold War, have been very well-received by scholars in the field. Having organized standing room only panels on Black Power at the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History and the Organization of American Historians Conference, Joseph’s work straddles both mainstream historical inquiry and the intellectual innovation routinely found in Africana Studies.

Joseph’s dynamic presentation style and innovative scholarship place him on the cutting edge of a new generation of public intellectuals. Black Power, he says, is a great teaching tool to introduce 21st century young people to the wonders of African American history, noting that, “there aren’t many more important, or controversial, figures as Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, Angela Davis, Kathleen Cleaver and Stokely Carmichael.” But for Joseph, Black Power is more than just cinema verite; it provides an entrée into complex discussions of civil rights, feminism, the Cold War and postwar American history at the local, national, and international level.

Joseph’s first two books have been published in 2006. Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America examines the decade before and after Stokely Carmcihael’s historic call for Black Power. In the process, the narrative introduces many political, artistic, and intellectual figures that, while not immediately identified with the Black Power years, provided much of the movement’s themes, ideas, focus, and at times, even its slogan. Through an imaginative use of historical sources, including private papers, oral interviews, tens of thousands of FBI files, and previously unreleased archives, Joseph has managed to provide fresh detail to an era that remains murky.  Dr. Joseph’s comprehensive, edited volume, The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights-Black Power Era, places this new scholarship within the larger context of rewriting postwar African American history and has been published by Routledge.

Joseph is currently working on his next two major research projects.  A World of Our Own: Black Intellectuals and the Pan-African Dream is an ambitious intellectual history of the impact of Pan-Africanism on black activism during the twentieth century, while Any Day Now: African American Historical Criticism analyzes postwar African American history through a series of essays that focuses on the interaction between iconic and unglamorous figures within postwar black freedom struggles. Both projects attest to the wide scope of Joseph’s historical research; a range that he attributes to the depth of African American history. “The discipline,” he says, “is as vast as your imagination allows it to be.”