Jason Young is a 2020-21 Richard and Lillian Ives Faculty Fellow at the Institute for the Humanities. He is the author of Rituals of Resistance: African Atlantic Religion in Kongo and the Lowcountry Region of Georgia and South Carolina in the Era of Slavery, an exploration into the religious and ritual practices that linked West-Central Africa with the Lowcountry region of Georgia and South Carolina during the era of slavery. He is also the co-editor, with Edward J. Blum, of The Souls of W.E.B. Du Bois: New Essays and Reflections, a collection of articles that examines Du Bois’s personal religious convictions along with his scholarly examinations of religion. This collection addresses the much neglected soulful side of the man whose most famous work was about the souls of black folk. Young has published articles in The Journal of African American History, The Journal of Africana Religions, and The Journal of Southern Religion, among others. He is currently conducting research toward his next book project, ‘To Make the Slave Anew’: Art, History and the Politics of Authenticity.
Jason Young was interviewed by Nathan Liebetreu, a marketing and media intern at the Institute for the Humanities.
N.L.: Hello Jason, thank you for doing this interview. To start us off, what have you been reading recently? And how is this relevant to your project if it's project related?
J.Y.: Thanks so much for reaching out to me on this. I have been reading two books recently, one that is informing my approach to teaching and another that is related to my research.
In light of the changed and changing landscape of teaching, I have been reading Mary Cappello's book, Lecture, which reads both as a defense of the traditional academic lecture as well as an urgent call for change. Although the book was written before the pandemic, it was released shortly after COVID-19 necessitated a major overhaul in how we think about pedagogy. In this way, the book feels eerily timely and prescient.
My time at the Humanities Institute will be devoted to completing my book manuscript, To Make the Slave Anew, a study of the varied and often controversial ways that powerful myth makers in the South memorialized the slave past some fifty years after the end of the Civil War. I have recently been drawn to Reiko Hillyer's Designing Dixie, a fascinating study of how city managers, mayors, and urban boosters crafted an imagined antebellum past as part of a larger effort to attract wealthy northern investors and tourists to the South.
N.L.: Historically the lecture can be traced back to the 5th century BC when it was popular with the Greeks. It was widely adopted in the early Christian and Muslim universities in medieval times when books were scarce, and even today, it is the most common teaching method in higher education. It’s definitely a fascinating topic to be reading about. Can you touch on the defense of the traditional academic lecture and or why there is an urgent call for change in the method of instruction in higher education? Is Mary Cappello's book Lecture a good place to start for someone interested in matters of instructions in schools? Please feel free to add in your personal take on it.
J.Y.: I see this from both sides. On the one hand, virtual learning does have certain benefits. I have noticed, for example, that students who tend not to speak up in class have more opportunities to participate in class via the chat or Q&A functions in Zoom. At the same time, the creative use of screen sharing, breakout rooms, etc. can provide new and exciting models for instruction. On the other hand, I have missed the direct connection that is only possible in face to face instruction. I take many of my pedagogical clues from the reactions, postures and gestures of students. These context clues are much harder to decipher in a virtual environment. Many students have shared similar concerns with me, noting that a crucial part of their learning is rooted in direct human interaction.
N.L.: Designing Dixie significantly revises our understandings of both southern historical memory and post–Civil War sectional reconciliation. Reiko Hillyer shows how distinctive local pasts were designed to promote the economic futures of the south to attract northern tourists and investors. I can see how this book can contribute to your manuscript. Based on your choices of books I assume matters of race, history and education are of great interest to you, is that fair to say? If so why? Please feel free to correct me if my assumptions are inaccurate.
J.Y.: Yes, I think you are right. I am especially interested in historical memory--the ways that people remember and memorialize the past. My research suggests that much of what we 'know' about the past reflects a series of ongoing contests over knowledge.
N.L.: What author or book has impacted you personally or professionally that you would love to share or recommend? Why?
J.Y.: I've been returning to the work of James Baldwin. I recently re-read his classic The Fire Next Time, a book that was initially published in 1963. It still rings hauntingly, devastatingly true.
N.L.: Can you touch a bit on the project you are working on and why it is a matter of interest to you? Or is there a theme in your professional or personal life that compels you to seek out certain kinds of books, authors, entertainment, or passion?
J.Y.: I first began the research and writing for this project long before the violence of Charlottesville in 2017, before the rise of Black Lives Matter as a social movement, and certainly before insurrectionists attacked the capital in a failed coup attempt. But these themes of history, memory, forgetting, and social justice are long-standing in the history of this country. Even when the words on the pages of my book remain the same, their meaning changes as the events of the present unfold. As a result, I am making every effort to write a history that is both faithful to the past and rooted in the present.
N.L.: As my departing and last question to end this interview, I wanted to ask a question we end our fellow interviews by. If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would be the one book you would want to have with you and why?
J.Y.: I always overthink questions like this. Where is this island, anyway--the South Pacific, the Caribbean, the Arctic Circle? And why is it deserted? On the one hand, I think I'll need a book called "How to Survive on a Deserted Island." But that's not really what you're asking me. Another way to approach the problem would be to force me to reduce my entire library down to a single volume. Then it would have to be Frederick Douglass' Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. I've read that book more times than I can count and somehow the story changes every time.