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Huiskamp ’21 Examines Philosophical and Literary Movement Negritude


Student summer research is underway, with students and faculty collaborating on projects remotely via Zoom. Here, Gus Huiskamp ’21, describes his Emerson Foundation research project on Negritude.

Tell us about your Emerson project.

It’s about the philosophical and literary movement called Negritude. This was a movement started by colonized intellectuals from Africa and the Caribbean, especially. It’s a literary movement that’s aimed at unseating the white epistemological center. Where my project comes in specifically is looking at the interaction between these Negritude writers and European writers.

Last semester, when I was in Senegal, I did research on the interactions between Jean-Paul Sartre and Léopold Senghor. Senghor was the first president of the Republic of Senegal, but he was also one of the three main founders of Negritude. He had this anthology of poetry that was introduced by an essay of Sartre called Black Orpheus. This summer, I’m continuing that research looking at the main work of Aimé Césaire [titled] Notebook of a Return to the Native Land. It was introduced by a similar essay of André Breton, who was a surrealist poet from France.

About Gus Huiskamp ’21

Majors: History, French

Hometown: Mansfield, Mass.

High School: Mansfield High School
 

read about other research projects

Between both of these, I’m looking at the dual nature of these introductions … the introductions of these renowned, white, French writers exposed Negritude literature to a wider francophone audience, which has its own problematics. … I argue that their contribution was too heavy. They appropriated the philosophy and the literature too much, and they used it to support their own philosophical and literary movements.

How did you originally get interested in this project?

Professor [Joseph] Mwantuali was the person who really introduced me to Negritude because I’ve taken several French classes with him, and we do a lot of readings of Césaire, in particular. This is what led me to my interest in Negritude and why I studied in Senegal last semester. While there, I also became more interested in Senghor, and everything added up very neatly.

How has the experience been working on it so far?

It’s been certainly more challenging than I expected. The original plan was to travel to Martinique this summer and do archival research there. … Other than that, it has been remarkably similar to the research I had to do at the end of my semester, a lot of online secondary research and supplementing it with primary documents that I’m able to locate here and there.

How has it been working with your advisor?

Very positive. Especially in the planning process, Professor Mwantuali was indispensable. Even more so when I was planning to go to Martinique, he was like, “Oh, I can set you up an interview with Aimé Césaire’s daughter,” just out of nowhere, so that was cool. His wealth of knowledge on the subject is invaluable, and he knows about these interactions that I’m dealing with, so he’s been a very good resource to turn to when I have questions.

What are your post-Hamilton plans?

I feel a little doomed to be a professor at this point, which could be fun. Anything that revolves around research would be good. That’s my main passion.

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