Seminar A19 – Friday, Oct. 6th, 2023, 2pm: Prof. Nicholas Bromell (UMass): “Another Frederick Douglass: Tracing the “Strange, Mysterious, and Indescribable” in Douglass’s Political Philosophy.” (OdG, Room 830/Zoom)–Respondent: Marie-Jeanne Rossignol (LARCA)

Posted on October 5, 2023

Nick Bromell works at the intersection of literary and cultural studies and philosophy, with a consistent interest in historical and cultural constructions of what counts as “knowledge” and “knowing.”  His first book, By the Sweat of the Brow: Literature and Labor in Antebellum America (Chicago: 1992), uncovers and analyzes an antebellum struggle over the meaning of manual and mental work and the relative values of bodily “know-how” and mental “knowledge.” In Tomorrow Never Knows: Rock and Psychedelics in the 1960s (Chicago: 2000), he explores the ways music and psychedelics were felt by many youth to be forms of knowing that constituted a counter-public sphere with which to resist “the system.” In The Time Is Always Now: Black Thought and the Transformation of US Democracy (Oxford: 2013), he starts from W.E.B.  Du Bois’s well-known claim that “there are … no truer exponents of the pure human spirit of the Declaration of Independence than …American Negroes” and approaches Black cultural production as an indispensable resource for U.S. democracy and its self-understanding.  `

In his most recent book, The Powers of Dignity: The Black Political Philosophy of Frederick Douglass (Duke: 2021) (, he tries to fully unpack what Douglass might have meant when he claimed that “from this little bit of experience, slave experience, I have elaborated quite a lengthy chapter of political philosophy applicable to the American people.”  As well, Bromell is the editor of A Political Companion to W.E.B. Du Bois (Kentucky, 2018) and co-editor of The Norton Critical Edition of Frederick Douglass’s “My Bondage and My Freedom” (Norton: 2020).  His research has appeared in numerous academic journals, including American Quarterly, American Literary History, American Literature, Critical Philosophy of Race, and Political Theory.  His essays have been published in The Boston Globe, Harper’s, Raritan, Sewanee Review, The Georgia Review, The American Scholar, and on-line at Alternet and Salon. The founding editor of The Boston Review and a former president of the New England American Studies Association, he has received fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Charles Warren Center at Harvard.

His paper proposes that Frederick Douglass developed a theory of the relation between aesthetics and politics that has powerful implications for our understandings of resistance, Black subjectivity, and democracy. In giving expression to these ideas, he often found the conventional political lexicon of his time inadequate and turned instead to a distinctive mode of rhetoric,   his “soul language.”  

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