#CharlestonSyllabus raises the conversation on shootings

Created by Prof. Chad Williams, the hashtag hasn't taken long to catch on

As Brandeis Professor Chad Williams watched the media commentary in the immediate aftermath of the shootings in Charleston, South Carolina unfold, he grew increasingly frustrated.

"I was struck by calls to have a renewed conversation about race, and a lack of informed knowledge surrounding those calls," he said.

He decided to do something about it. Williams, associate professor and chair of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, reached out to Wayne State Professor Kidada E. Williams and University of Iowa Professor Keisha N. Blain and started the twitter hashtag #CharlestonSyllabus to crowdsource books, films and educational materials to serve as a basis for an informed conversation on the shootings. Selections from the crowdsourced suggestions have been compiled in a list on the website for the African American Intellectual History Society.

The syllabus was inspired by #FergusonSyllabus, created by Georgetown Professor Marcia Chatelein following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last year to facilitate a crowdsourced reading list to offer context for Brown's death and the subsequent protests and riots.

Two days after the shootings, Williams expected a similar resource to have been created for the shootings in Charleston. When he didn't find one, he decided to make one himself. It didn't take long for the hashtag to catch on.

"We just started tweeting, and within an hour it took off like wildfire," Williams said.

The hashtag has received tens of thousands of responses. The crowdsourced list on the AAIHS website continues to grow, with librarians and other historians helping to curate suggestions. The list is extensive and its items could be used not only in studying history, but literature, sociology, and even the sciences, Williams said.

"It really speaks to the power of social media, and how quickly it can mobilize communities to do some pretty amazing work," Williams said. "Some of the most informed coverage of racial atrocities has been rooted in social media."

Williams said he hopes the hashtag continues to facilitate discussion of the shootings. The next challenge will be to bring that discussion into classrooms and onto campuses, including here at Brandeis, he said.

"We have the benefit of having the summer months of figuring out how to incorporate this into our teaching," Williams said. "This is a historical event that's going to shape African-American history, how we think about the South and how we think about the history of violence. We need to think imaginatively and creatively about how to bring this issue into the classroom. Hopefully, it can serve as a way for the community to reflect on what happened in Charleston and to grapple with issues of race not only nationally, but on our campus."

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences, Research

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