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Keith Griffler
Associate Professor and Chair
Department of African American Studies
Keith Griffler

Keith Griffler
Research interests: African American history, Underground Railroad
Institutional affiliation: University at Buffalo
Departmental affiliation: African American Studies
Office location: 732 Clemens Hall
URI: Profile
Membership status: Charter member
Digital projects: [URI NAME OF PROJECT]


Keith Griffler


Dr. Keith Griffler is Associate Professor of African American History. His most recent book is Front Line of Freedom: African Americans and the Forging of the Underground Railroad in the Ohio Valley, which recenters the history of the Underground Railroad onto the African American frontline communities in the port cities and towns along the Ohio which gave the impetus for the formation and growth of the region’s underground freedom movement. His first book, What Price Alliance? Black Radicals Confront White Labor, 1918-1938, traces the formation of the historic African American-labor alliance that took shape during the Great Depression. He is currently working on a comparative social and economic history of African American and southern African workers. Dr. Griffler is also completing a documentary on the Underground Railroad, co-produced with Kevin Burke of the University of Cincinnati, supported by major grants from the Ohio Historical Society and the Charles Phelps Taft Memorial Fund. Their documentary short film on the topic, Wade in the Water, won four national awards, including first place from the National Broadcasting Society in 2002. Dr. Griffler has been involved in other public history projects on the Underground Railroad, including close collaboration with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, which opened in August 2004.

Digital interests

In addition to the DHIB supported project (“1968: I odezwą się z góry/Voices from the Mountaintop”) I’m working on with Marta Cieslak, my work is currently focused on the transnational history of race and class in the modern world economy. I’m finishing a book entitled The Common Bonds of the Black Atlantic: The Political Economy of Race and Class that resuscitates and builds on the thinking of an early to mid-twentieth century Black World school of class analysis in writing an alternative Black World history. Though a continuation of the themes I pursued in my first book, it is remote from the subject of my second book that was a spinoff of a documentary project on the Underground Railroad which I co-produced with Kevin Burke of the Electronic Media Department of the University of Cincinnati. Besides the opportunity to pursue the set of skills acquired in that endeavor, “1968” gives me the chance to advance my lifelong interest in Polish history and language dating from my days as an undergraduate study abroad student in Poland.
“1968: I odezwą się z góry/Voices from the Mountaintop” is a multimedia bilingual project including research on the transnational history of the social and political ferment and the literature of 1968 in Poland and the US.

In summer 2008, with the financial support of DHIB, we conducted interviews with the participants of the 1968 student protests in Warsaw, Poland. Additionally, we had an opportunity to spend two months in numerous Polish archives, including the National Polish Archive, the National Library Archive and the Archive of the KARTA Center - an independent non-governmental organization documenting and popularizing the recent history of Poland and Eastern Europe. Currently we are doing research examining the US component of the project that examines nationalism under two seemingly distinct political systems.

Summary of work completed with previously awarded DHIB funds

In Spring of 2008 Digital Humanities Initiative at Buffalo provided initial funding for “1968: I odezwą się z góry/Voices from the Mountaintop.” The award enabled the project’s PI, Keith Griffler, Department of African American Studies, to supervise a Ph.D. student, Marta Cieslak, American Studies, in gathering data for the Polish component of this transnational multimedia project. The objectives of this research were to gather documentary evidence of the seminal events of 1968 as well as to conduct video interviews with key participants on issues of motivation and lasting meaning. Ms. Cieslak, a graduate of the University of Warsaw with graduate degrees in both Polish Studies and American Studies, was particularly well qualified to carry out both lines of investigation. With the help of the KARTA Center – an independent non-governmental organization documenting and popularizing the recent history of Poland and Eastern Europe – she was able to contact participants of the 1968 student protests who within the two first weeks of June replied to her letter distributed by the KARTA Center. During the last two weeks of June, Ms. Cieslak met all her potential interviewees, presented the idea of the project they were asked to be part of, and conducted pre-interviews. She eventually identified nine key participants of the 1968 student protests in Warsaw, Poland. Eight of them agreed to be video recorded and one agreed to have a voice recorded interview only. In July, the sessions were filmed on location throughout the city by a professional videographer in a format suitable for use in a documentary film. In the total of thirteen hours of material, the wide-ranging interviews covered such topics as the political and social situation in Poland in the second half of the 1960s, personal reminiscences of the events preceding and following the students’ protests, the interviewees’ role in the events as well as their general connection with the developing democratic opposition, the interviewees’ understanding of the events and the influence of their involvement on their subsequent professional and personal life as well as their choices in the context of their general political activism. Additionally, one of the interviewees shared her private materials and Ms. Cieslak received her consent to digitize and use the interviewee’s original images in the public domain. During her time in Poland, Ms. Cieslak also spent six weeks in numerous Polish archives conducting research on the events of 1968 in Poland. These included the Polish National Library Archive, the Archive of The KARTA Center and the National Digital Archives, where she received access to original Communist secret police images from the events at the University of Warsaw and the Warsaw Technical University, the main hubs of the events. She spent the second half of July doing archival research in The National Polish Archive of Contemporary History. There she was able to access documents of the Polish Communist governmental institutions that were connected with all the events preceding and following the 1968 student protests and the anti-Semitic campaign designed by the authorities as a reaction to the 1967 Six Day War and the students’ political involvement in Poland. Currently the materials need to be transcribed, edited, translated into English, and subtitled to be used on the website that is going to be a final product of the project at the present stage. The historical analysis of the collected archival documents, images, and interviews has proven that the events of 1968 serve as the beginning point of a much broader transnational analysis of such central concepts as nationalism, nation- and state-building, and the global connections between seemingly different political and social contexts developing under different political systems. Thanks to the research conducted in the summer of 2008 the project is developing far beyond an analysis of local historical events and is evolving into an extensive investigation of historical phenomena that can be used to understand important changes taking place in the contemporary world, such as the more and more prominent use of nationalist rhetoric and instrumental policies dictated by governments in dealing with particular social groups.

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