Spotlight on Rafael Torrubia

RTRafael Torrubia returned to St. Andrews as a Teaching Fellow in September 2013, having completed his PhD at the University in 2010. As the recipient of an Eccles Centre Postgraduate Award and a departmental scholarship from the University, Rafael spent most of his research time examining the papers of the Black Panther Minister for Culture Larry Neal, held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, and his off-the-clock hours at Sylvia’s Soul Food Restaurant and the Lenox Lounge, sharing space with the ghosts of Billie Holiday, Dizzie Gillespie and James Baldwin.

Rafael’s broad research interests lie in the sphere of African-American history and its interaction with the broader American past, with a view to providing a contribution to the growing discourse on race and cross-border identities.He is particularly interested in the use of ideology, history and cultural forms as a means of identity construction. His first book, Black Power and the American People explores the long history of the Black Power movement, shown in a series of connected cultural expressions across time, from the myths and superheroes of plantation folklore, through the urban legends and genderqueer counterculture of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s, to the African‐American art of the late 1960s; utilising sources from community murals to science‐fiction fables and post‐apocalyptic predictions.

Panther Girls, Oakland, 1969.

Panther Girls, Oakland, 1969.

In the process of tracing the cultural legacy of the black power movement, Rafael has managed to meet and enthusiastically embarrass himself in front of most of his heroes, such as Black Panther founder David Hilliard, British director John Akomfrah and funk legend George Clinton.

Much of Rafael’s recent research looks at parallel and contemporary outgrowths of Black Power. Previously, Rafael has written a number of articles for the Literary Encyclopedia and has spoken at St. Andrews about the attempts by Asian-Americans to emulate the style of the Black Panthers. His next paper ‘Hacking the Narrative: Techno, Funk and Afrofuturist Subversion’ will be presented at the Radical Americas conference in June this year. The paper will explore the eclectic, anarchic manifestations of the cyberpunk ethos in the music and elaborate mythology of the Detroit techno collective Underground Resistance. By exploring the work of Underground Resistance, Parliament Funkadelic, Janelle Monae and other artists steeped in the transatlantic influences of Paul Gilroy’s ‘Black Atlantic’, it will show how the limitless promise of black science-fiction, sharpened by an Afrofuturist musical aesthetic, helped to carve out new spaces of identity construction for oppressed African-American communities.

Diverse members of the Black Panthers at the opening of the Huey Newton trial, Oakland, 1969.

Diverse members of the Black Panthers at the opening of the Huey Newton trial, Oakland, 1969.

Future projects include a reassessment of the transatlantic influence of the oft-forgotten Free Southern Theatre and a biographical study of African-Americans in the space race.

Rafael has taught on a number of sub-honours modules including ‘History as a Discipline’ (HI2001), ‘Themes in Late Modern History’ (MO1008) and ‘Scotland, Britain and Empire, c.1500-2000’ (MO2008), and is currently inculcating Honours students in his favoured time period via ‘Heavenly Decade: The 1960s’ (MO3513).

Outside of academia, Rafael is an award-winning poet and fiction author, a member of the National Gallery of Scotland’s creative writing group, and, as a reformed Oddbins employee, an enthusiastic appreciator of wines, whiskies and most terrible TV shows with monsters in them.

About standrewshistory
With over forty fulltime members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from Scotland to Byzantium and the Americas to South Asia. Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching, allowing for in-depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

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