Bridget Harris Tsemo is an Assistant Professor in Rhetoric and African American Studies. She has been in the Rhetoric department since 2004 and in the African American Studies program since 2006.
Her research reflects an intense scrutiny of the rhetoric that African American writers use in their literature to respond to an American construction of “citizenship” that marginalizes people based on their racial, class, gender, and/or sexual identity. Her book-in-progress, Our "Unwashed Democracy”: African American Literature at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, is the first book to argue that middle-class African-American writers Paul Laurence Dunbar, Pauline Hopkins, and Charles Chesnutt challenge the pervasive “racial uplift” ideology, a theory that African Americans’ material and moral progress would diminish white racism, by suggesting in their novels that no matter what attainments, character or standing an African-American has, his racial identity emerges as the central feature by which white America judges him.
Bridget has also co-edited a collection with her colleague Vershawn Ashanti Young titled From Bourgeois to Boo-jie: Black Middle-Class Performances, which is scheduled for publication in the spring of 2010. This project began in 2005 as a panel presentation at the Modern Language Association. The panel led to a symposium that Bridget and Vershawn co-chaired, which was funded by the competitive Obermann grant at The University of Iowa; the rewarding culmination of the project is the edited collection. This project does a good job of combining Bridget’s interests in class, rhetoric, and citizenship.
In addition to teaching first-year Rhetoric courses, Bridget has developed classes that reflect her research interests in both the Rhetoric Department and the African American Studies Program. One such class, “Midwest African American Culture and Literature,” allows her to explore the literary and cultural contributions that African Americans have made to the field of African American Studies. The class mainly focuses on Chicago because the developments that have occurred in this major metropolitan city, particularly after the “Great Migration,” nicely represents the occurrences and events that have happened in other major Midwest cities such as Detroit and St. Louis.
Bridget enjoys working in a department that encourages creativity in her scholarship and her teaching. She is looking forward to producing and teaching within the academy for many years to come.