Dissertation Title and Summary

Black Women’s Scrapbooks: A Look from Within

With lives and communities excluded from and misrepresented in dominant narratives, the work of self-articulation takes on powerful resonances for Black women. I turn to scrapbooks to examine how Black women use every day, often informal, resources to document their personal and political lives. My dissertation considers how U.S.-based, twentieth and twenty-first-century Black women have used the domestic craft and information management practice of scrapbooking as sites of knowledge production and self and community representation. Moving beyond examining Black women’s public-facing works, which carry the weight of satisfying a public gaze and its prescriptive narration of Black womanhood, my project posits scrapbooks as an important entry point for accessing Black women’s expressions of interiority. Exploring Black women’s relationship to an intimate genre designed to preserve mementos of the pleasurable and leisurely life experiences they deemed worth remembering, I join calls within Black feminist pleasure politics to identify narratives of Black pasts that move beyond narratives of Black women’s suffering and pain.

Bound volumes of newspaper clippings, photographs, captions, and ephemera, scrapbooks document significant experiences of the personal in society. I examine the archived scrapbooks of Pauli Murray (1910- 1985), attorney, writer, and priest; Louise Alexander Gunn (1900-1995), beauty queen, actress, clothing designer, and activist; and Irene Bishop Goggans (1926-2017), a community historian who collected 300 scrapbooks on Black life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I employ visual culture analysis, rhetorical analysis, and close comparative readings between these scrapbookers’ public-facing works and their scrapbooks. I contextualize the scrapbooks with relevant biographical materials, such as oral histories, video recordings, and correspondence. Seeking to understand how the scrapbooking tradition shifts over time, a final chapter of my work interviews contemporary Black women scrapbookers. My dissertation investigates how Black women scrapbookers utilize the form’s characteristic tendencies- such as assemblage, juxtaposition, grandeur, and play- to modify, reassert, or reinvent their political ideologies and self-expression.


Sarah Scriven is a doctoral student in the University of Maryland’s Harriet Tubman Department for Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She has a Master of Arts with distinction in Women’s and Gender Studies from DePaul University and a Bachelor of Arts from Duke University in Women’s Studies with a minor in African and African American Studies. Sarah studies Black feminist intellectual histories and articulations of pleasure, visual culture, and Pauli Murray historiography. She is a Graduate Assistant in the University of Maryland Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Sarah has served on several initiatives to promote gender and racial equity, such as the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, and Take Back the Halls, a dating violence intervention program. She earned a Master of Arts with distinction in Women’s and Gender Studies from DePaul University and BA from Duke University in Women’s Studies, with a minor in African and African American Studies.