New director of W.E.B. Du Bois Center determined to study, share legacy of Du Bois

By Anthony Rentsch

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)
(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

The W.E.B. Du Bois Center at the University of Massachusetts Libraries has appointed Whitney Battle-Baptiste as its first director since its founding in 2009.

Jay Schafer, director of the UMass Libraries, said there have been a couple of people who served as the head of the center in its first six years, including Robert Cox, who was the interim director since 2011.

According to Schafer, Battle-Baptiste could help the center become a fixture on campus.

“Ever since the center was founded, I don’t think that we have lived up to our potential,” Schafer said. “Under (Battle-Baptiste’s) leadership, I think we will come to realize our true potential and contribute to campus conversations as well as national and international ones.”

“The center functions as a research center, promoting scholarship, but I want it to be more than that,” Battle-Baptiste said. “I want faculty to see the center as more than it has been. I would like to bring the center to the consciousness of UMass.”

An associate professor of anthropology, Battle-Baptiste has been at the University since the center was founded and sat on its executive board. She sees this as a unique chance to expand her research.

Battle-Baptiste said she is a historical archaeologist who “specializes in African American domestic spaces.” She has excavated a plantation in Tennessee, the Andrew Jackson home site in Virginia and a plantation in the Bahamas, as well as the Du Bois home site in Great Barrington. She does this with an eye toward “social change and justice,” according to Schafer.

In the short term, Battle-Baptiste hopes to open up the home site so that more people can see the more than 10,000 artifacts that are currently in Machmer Hall and the Du Bois papers, a collection of more than 100,000 pieces of correspondence, according to the library’s website.

Over time she hopes that the center can enter into meaningful conversations on campus and on a national scale, especially by bringing in scholars with fellowships, keeping up the annual Friends of Du Bois campaign, hosting lectures and otherwise collaborating in student affairs issues.

“I want to bring people together to talk,” Battle-Baptiste said.

Talking about the Du Boisian way of thinking is especially important for Battle-Baptiste and Schafer.

“Du Bois was a significant intellectual figure of the 20th century,” Schafer said. “We are dedicated to explore and promote all concepts of Du Boisian philosophy.”

“There is so much Du Bois can teach us,” Battle-Baptiste said. “I want students to know that Du Bois is more than the name of the on-campus library.”

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Anthony_Rentsch.