Research Recognized for Highlighting Black Women’s Contributions to History and Culture

For Women’s History Month, Leonora Souza Paula‘s work is being featured by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) in their Women’s History Resource List as a scholarly resource that celebrates and highlights the diverse histories and historical roles of women.

An Assistant Professor in MSU’s Department of English and affiliated faculty in the Global Studies in the Arts and Humanities Program, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and Center for Gender in Global Context, Paula specializes in Latin American Studies, with a focus on intersections of race, gender, urban culture, and memory in contemporary Afro-Brazilian and Afro-Diasporic culture.

Headshot of a woman with short dark curly hair.
Dr. Leonora Souza Paula

Her article, “Afro-ancestralidade and the construction of urban memory in Conceição Evaristo’s ‘Becos da memória’,” which is part of the Women’s History Resource List, discusses the role of Black feminist spatial imagination in centering histories, epistemologies, and practices with a critical look towards the meanings and uses of Black space, using Conceição Evaristo’s novel ‘Becos da Memória.’

Evaristo’s work is an incredible example of how spatial agency is woven into a narrative detailing the process of removal of a Black majority urban settlement in contemporary Brazil. Narrated from the perspective of a young Black woman, the novel demonstrates how Afro-Brazilian ancestral knowledge is used as a place-making strategy to challenge anti-Black urban memory discourses.

In her research, Paula explores the many ways stories, both oral and written, like museums, historical sites, archives, and monuments, directly participate in collective memory-building projects. Her upcoming publication, “Black Feminist Spatial Imagination and Geographies of Liberation,”furthers this investigation in the context of epistemic reparations. 

“I am honored that the ACLS has showcased my work twice in recognition of International Women’s Month. I share space with exceptional scholars producing groundbreaking research as well as changemakers doing transformative work beyond traditional scholarship,” Paula said.

“Supporting women’s history, in my view, also means creating room for diverse ways to produce and share knowledge, and the ACLS is leading the way when it comes to supporting publicly engaged work, which is essential to my practice.”

“I am honored that the ACLS has showcased my work twice in recognition of International Women’s Month. I share space with exceptional scholars producing groundbreaking research as well as changemakers doing transformative work beyond traditional scholarship.”

Paula’s work sheds light on the rich legacy creative, cultural, and linguistic work of Black women storytellers, encouraging readers to delve deeper into their contributions to women’s history. With over 134 million Afro-descendants in Latin America, the majority being women, understanding and amplifying their voices is a significant task.

“I hope that by reading my work, readers will get a glimpse of that production and feel inspired to seek more knowledge about their contributions to women’s history,” Paula said.

Paula situates her research within a burgeoning movement that approaches Black feminist diaspora from a Brazilian perspective. She cites recent works such as The Dialectic is in the Sea, which explores the life and contributions of poet and historian Beatriz Nascimento, as indicative of this growing scholarly discourse aimed at repairing social imaginaries regarding Afro-descendants in Latin America.

“Being acknowledged for my scholarly work emphasizes how important it is to examine women’s historical leadership roles in cultural and social transformation from the perspective of the global majority,” Paula said. “Considering literature and culture as a critical area where radical imagination has been cultivated helps illuminate the possibilities of liberation for people of color worldwide. As the Combahee River Collective reminds us, ‘If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.’”

Drawing inspiration from pioneering figures such as Lélia Gonzalez, Angela Davis, and Luiza Bairros, who did her doctoral work at MSU and later served as Minister of Brazil’s Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality (2011-2014), Paula emphasizes the transformative potential of literature and culture in cultivating radical imagination and envisioning liberation for marginalized communities worldwide.

“My work is at the intersection of traditional research and publicly engaged humanities. I am deliberate about engaging in advocacy work as a direct way to achieve the impact I theorize in my scholarship,” Paula said. “My work with the Kilomba Collective of Black Brazilian Women in the U.S. illustrates exactly that. As a co-creator of spaces of intervention with this immigrant community, I am intentional about uplifting voices and experiences that have been delegitimized in traditional academic culture. Co-creating solutions with communities seeking change demonstrates the value of the humanities in action in ways that are collaborative and impactful.”