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Historian Mizelle to Give Keynote for Delta Symposium XXIII


JONESBORO – Historian and author Dr. Richard M. Mizelle Jr. will deliver the keynote address for this year’s Delta Symposium at Arkansas State University on Thursday, April 6, at 1:15 p.m. in the Mockingbird Room of the Reng Student Union.

His work on social history and blues culture coincides with the theme of this spring's Delta Symposium XXIII, "Caring for Community."  His presentation will include discussion of a range of his scholarship, and the talk is titled “Reimagining the Limited Archive.”

As with all symposium events, Mizelle’s presentation is free and open to the public.

Mizelle is an associate professor of history at the University of Houston.  His teaching and research interests focus on the history of race and medicine, medicine and society, environmental history and technology, and the civil rights movement in modern America. He provides particular attention to the overlap between older historical borders and contemporary concerns that center on questions of race, environment, technology and health in modern America.

Along with his wide range of academic publications, Mizelle co-edited "Resilience and Opportunity: Lessons from the U.S. Gulf Coast after Katrina and Rita."  This 2012 work was published by the Brookings Institution Press. 

His most recent book is "Backwater Blues: The Mississippi Flood of 1927 in the African American Imagination."  The book provides an in-depth social history of this monumental disaster by focusing on reactions to the flood within a range of Delta communities.  In this book, he critiques the long-standing idea that African Americans have been complacent about environmental issues.  Mizelle demonstrates how black commentators from W.E.B. Du Bois to Bessie Smith provided an ecological intellectual criticism of the disaster.

The book is remarkable in its integration of literary criticism within social history. Mizelle provides insightful analysis of a wide range of blues lyrics to provide trenchant critiques of the social conditions of early 20th century life. The book includes interpretation of the music of well-known musicians, but he also explores the music and context within the cultural scene of the Harlem Renaissance artists, fraternal organizations and migrant communities.

Mizelle is working on a new project that will examine the long and complex history of race and diabetes from the turn of the 19th century through Hurricane Katrina. His work has been supported by the Chemical Heritage Foundation, National Institutes of Health, McKnight Foundation, and the National Humanities Center.  

Mizelle’s books as well as those by other featured guests participating in the Delta Symposium will be available.  The symposium dates are Wednesday through Saturday, April 5-8.  A complete schedule is available on the symposium website.

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Richard Mizelle