Department ofAfrican American Studies

W. Oliver Baker

Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies
Area(s) of Specialization: Critical Race Theory, Education, Language and Literature

Professional Bio

Baker's areas of research include critical ethnic studies, nineteenth-century American literature and culture, critiques of racial capitalism and settler colonialism, and histories of African, Native, Chicanx, and working-class liberation movements. At the University of New Mexico where he received his PhD in American literary studies, Baker was the recipient of the Andrew W. Mellon Dissertation Fellowship and the Center for Regional Studies Hector Torres Fellowship. His research has emerged out of national seminars such as Cornell University's School of Criticism and Theory, the Newberry Library's National Consortium in American Indian Studies, Canada's Banff Research in Culture Program, and from community organizing work focused on building mutual aid and solidarity networks among poor and marginalized peoples. Baker's published work can be found in Mediations, Public: Art, Culture, Ideas, Reviews in Cultural Theory, and Pyriscence.

Baker's current book project, "Dissonances of Dispossession: Narrating Colonialism and Slavery in the Expansion of Capitalism" examines how the early novels of African, Native, and Mexican American writers represent the role of dispossession in rise of US capitalism from the age of manifest destiny to the New Deal era. The project contributes to an understanding of the relationship between race and capitalism by demonstrating how the uneven forms of these early novels embody the way the consent and stability required for liberal democracy and the wage labor system are produced through and depend on the violence of Indigenous dispossession and anti-Black subjugation. European settlers forge cross-class unity through this shared support of conquest and slavery. It is this settler unity, Baker contends, that enables US capitalism's internal contradictions to be managed in ways allowing for its meteoric expansion during the long nineteenth century in which the United States transforms from a settler colony to a settler empire. In this way, the project shows how the early ethnic American novel serves as an archive of literary forms that lays bare how US capitalism does not overcome but very much depends on maintaining colonial and racial hierarchies.

W. Oliver Baker