For our lab today, we will continue our look at myth as one way people have historically signified “religion.” Our study will provide us an opportunity to consider the complexities of myth with a few examples from the African Diaspora.
I’d like you to begin by looking at your notes related to signification. If you have not already watched the video on signification theory, you need to go ahead and do so, taking notes as you consider (and memorize) how the world is full of potential signs to be signified by a signifier.
In our reading of Gomez’s “Introduction” and “Antiquity” chapters, we learn that the past is an important sign in the history of the African Diaspora. The colonized and the colonizers alike said a lot about the what “Africa” was and they have done so as a way of defining what Africans are and can be. And to put an even finer point on it, the stories people have told about Black pasts have also been used to also say what Black aren’t and can’t be.
Today I’d like you to use tools from our class to explore this further. In your notes, please do the following activity. I will check these in class on Thursday. Do your best!
Dataset 1: PBS: Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates
Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates is a popular television program from the early 21st century where celebrities learn about their genealogy. The host is the award-winning historian of African American letters, Dr. Henry Louis Gates. Gates brings together census records, archival findings, and DNA testing to reveal the forogtten ancestry of celebrities before their eyes.
I want you to think about this whole genealogical enterprise as mythmaking using an anthropological approach. What is being signfied in this particular case study? I’ll walk you through how to conduct this analysis using the signifying chart that we’ve been working with in class..
First, in your critical signifier sqaure, I want you to write down the following:
a) a working defintion of myth–using your notes/books/etc.
b) a working definition of the anthropological approach to the academic study of religion.
This will help guide our observation.
Second, in your conessional signifier square, I want you to do the following:
a) write down the name “Henry Louis Gates”
b) read his wikipedia page and jot down some notes about him–think “who, what, where, when, how.” This does not need to be complete sentences. But you want to historicize him in time (e.g. timeline) and space (e.g. map).
Third, in your confessional signs square, I want you to do the following:
a) write down “Finding Your Roots”
b) watch the following clip and jot down what symbols and indicators of “culture,” “knowledge,” “story,” and “the past” you see.
Fourth, in your confessional signs square, I want you to do the following:
a) look back over what you’ve written.
b) write down what you think Henry Louis Gates things is significant about this Finding Your Project (paying particular attention to him as a mythmaker).
Fifth, in your critical significanc square, I want you to do the following:
a) Write down in three-five sentences what you’ve learned about how myth works anthropologically speaking? What can you say or teach as an anthropologist of myth given the work you’ve done above? What can you teach us about human beings? You even use these three questions as prompts.
Dataset 2: 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro by Joel Augustus Rogers.
Joel Augustus Rogers was an early 20th century writer and armchair historian who immigrated from Jamaica. He is most famous for his impressive study of the African diaspora as a rebuttal to the racism he saw in the US.
Please read a bit about what Henry Louis Gates thought about his project here.
Take a look at some of the examples of Rogers project (written in another time and with cultural sensitivies different than our own).
Gomez,as a historian, would read Rogers as data about the African Diaspora. I’d like you to write in your notebook about what you think Gomez might say about Rogers’ work given what you’ve read of both? Perhaps find a quote from Gomez that speaks to what you observe in Facts about the Negro (three to five sentences should suffice).