Rusert Earns Honorable Mention in MLA First Book Competition

Britt Rusert
Britt Rusert

Britt Rusert, associate professor of Afro-American studies, has earned an honorable mention from the Modern Language Association in the annual MLA Prize for a First Book competition. Rusert was honored for her book “Fugitive Science: Empiricism and Freedom in Early African American Culture,” published by the New York University Press.

The MLA Prize for a First Book was established in 1993. It is awarded annually for the first book-length publication of a member of the association that is a literary or linguistic study, a critical edition of an important work, or a critical biography.

In its citation, the award selection committee said, “‘Fugitive Science: Empiricism and Freedom in Early African American Culture’ constructs a new archive, expanding what constitutes science in the antebellum United States to include fugitive projects ranging from a black gravedigger’s authoritative knowledge of human skulls to Sarah Mapps Douglass’s health activism among African American women in Philadelphia. It shows not only how such projects refuted dominant, white supremacist racial science that made black bodies into objects of exhibition and experimentation but also how they mobilized empiricism to advocate for the equal personhood and emancipation of black subjects. Exploring with subtlety and tact the outer limits of this archive where, because of slavery’s ban on literacy, further acts of scientific inquiry remain unrecorded, Britt Rusert makes readers newly aware of the courage and innovative thinking present in early African American culture.”

Rusert is the co-editor of W.E.B. Du Bois’ “Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America.” She received her Ph.D. from Duke University. Her research and teaching focus on African American literature and visual culture, Afrofuturism, speculative fiction, science and technology studies, gender and sexuality, and critical theory, especially Marxism, psychoanalysis, and black radical thought. She is currently working on a monograph about William J. Wilson’s “Afric-American Picture Gallery,” a text that imagines the first museum of black art in the United States. With Adrienne Brown, she is also editing W.E.B. Du Bois’s short genre fiction. Their edition of Du Bois’s fantasy story “The Princess Steel” was published in PMLA.

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