Speculative Historical Radicalism: Black and Indigenous Practices of Refusal


ACLS Fellowship Program


Black Studies


“Speculative Historical Radicalism” argues that non-realist tropes transform American historical fiction into a toolbox of political strategies. Across chapters on Colson Whitehead, Blake Hausman, Octavia Butler, and Louise Erdrich, this project charts how such fiction challenges the notions of race naturalized in the historical novel and in the modes of historical thought that permeate US culture—from museums to prestige television to legal cases about reparations. Deploying the literalizing conventions of science fiction, the writers examined insist that the past is not primarily a set of narratives or a ghostly trace but an infrastructure for the present. Their fiction models how to engage with history through concrete practices like direct action, self-defense, covert movement, tangible care, and calculated use of the law. Overall, “Speculative Historical Radicalism” reorients debates about historical fiction and the broader role of the past in the legal, cultural, and political realms.