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SJI Director and historian Barbara Ransby elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Dr. Barbara Ransby wearing a grey knit top and gold necklace stands before a red background

Article courtesy of  UIC TODAY

Written by Rob Mitchum

Distinguished UIC historian and activist Barbara Ransby has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The honor recognizes her outstanding contributions to the field of history and her dedication to advancing academics and social justice.

Ransby is the sixth UIC faculty member to be elected to the academy. She’ll be formally inducted at a ceremony in September.

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“Professor Ransby’s scholarship has expanded our understanding of historical narratives by examining and centering Black historical figures and social movements and has inspired a generation of people to engage critically with the past and envision a more inclusive future,” said Lisa Freeman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Ransby graduated from Columbia University and the University of Michigan as a Mellon Fellow. In addition to being the John D. MacArthur Chair and Distinguished Professor in the departments of Black studies, gender and women’s studies and history at UIC, Ransby also directs the campuswide Social Justice Initiative. The project promotes connections between faculty and community organizers working on social justice.

UIC today spoke with Ransby about her election to the academy, her work highlighting the histories of Black women and what she’s writing now.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is a very prestigious group. What was your reaction to your election?

I was surprised and honored to be elected. For colleagues across the spectrum to acknowledge the value and the contributions I have tried to make to the humanities and the public good is heartening and affirming.

What has been the most fulfilling achievement of your career so far?

I have tried to lift up the stories of Black women freedom fighters in my scholarship. It has been a recuperative process of rescuing lesser-known historical figures from the margins of history. It has also been a labor of love. I am proud that all my books have been well received and widely read.

What was the most challenging aspect of your career, and how did it influence your scholarship?

I am also very proud of my role as founding director of the Social Justice Initiative. We have collaborated with dozens of units across campus and dozens of community partners throughout Chicago to advance the university’s mission of serving a greater public good. Finally, my work with Scholars for Social Justice, the National Women’s Studies Association and the Freedom Scholars cohort makes me feel a part of a much larger intellectual community. That has been very fulfilling, too.

In order to facilitate difficult and complicated conversations about social justice and human-rights issues, we have to confront controversy and grapple with deeply held, often divergent views. Given war, genocide and gross income inequality around the world, creating and maintaining space to think together, debate and explore creative solutions to injustice are major challenges. I am humbled by this and reminded of the fact that none of us have “the answers” on our own. We are smarter together. There really are no isolated geniuses.

While this election honors your career so far, you are still a very active scholar and leader. What do you look forward to doing in the future?

I am working on a book about the crises of technology, climate chaos and financialization that plague 21st-century capitalist society. The second part of the book looks at new social movements that are forging just, humane and sustainable alternatives to existing systems and paradigms.

How has UIC been a good home for your work?

I have an amazing community of colleagues in Black studies, gender and women’s studies and history that are such beacons of light and examples of integrity. They have made UIC feel like home for me. I also love my students from all parts of the world, and I love Chicago. UIC’s stated mission of working toward social justice has made my Social Justice Initiative work possible. In this moment, we see around the country a curtailment of academic freedom and scurrilous attacks on the freedom to dissent and the right to protest. UIC’s mission points us toward a more principled path. I hope we stay on it.