This biographical essay tells the story of Dr. Ellen Irene Diggs (1906–1998), a Black woman anthropologist who specialized in African diasporic cultural and historical studies. Best known for her work with the heralded scholar W. E. B. Du Bois, Dr. Diggs was a writer, traveler, and educator who imagined an inclusive, expansive, and representative historical canon that captured the breadth and depth of Black politics and cultures. This essay argues that in so doing, Dr. Diggs charted a “rival geography” that challenged the dominant narratives of the academy. Building on the work of Stephanie Camp in her examination of rival geographies as a theoretical framing for understanding enslaved women’s mobility in the plantation south, this essay applies this concept to the ways in which Irene Diggs researched the African Diaspora across the world. In particular, I argue that her 1946 travels to Uruguay reflected a collision between Dr. Diggs’s visions for Black futures and the lived experiences of African-descended Uruguayans. In her analyses of Black political progress in Uruguay, Diggs revealed the tensions between class, race, and nationality that have informed perceptions and assessments of social realities. This essay invites us to examine the intellectual formations of Dr. Diggs and to question the intimate processes, emotional stakes, and pedagogical outcomes of Black knowledge production. Through the experiences, writings, and relationships of Dr. Diggs, we see the enduring complexities and challenges of researching Black histories that inform the opportunities and limits of academia for Black women educators.

Constance Holden is a doctoral student in History at the University of Connecticut. She studies race, representation, and national identity formation in the African diaspora in the Americas. As a Spanish major at Amherst College, Constance explored constructions of national identity in 19th century Dominican literature. Constance studied abroad in Mendoza, Argentina,her experience there intensifying her interest in studying the meanings of racial nationalism, whiteness, and Black community formation and embodiment in Latin America. Motivated by these questions of race, place, and belonging, Constance pursued a career in international education, working as a study abroad advisor before pivoting to graduate study. Committed to ensuring that students see themselves reflected across the intersticies of academia, Constance believes that historical storytelling is a foundational aspect of liberatory pedagogy. Her dissertation project will examine racial myths and visual culture in Argentina, with a focus on how Argentine women of African descent designed their own destinies in the face of material and symbolic realities that “disappeared” them to the margins of history.


To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.