William Henry Pruitt III

William Henry Pruitt III

Doctoral Candidate in the Department of African and African American Studies, Harvard University
2020-2021: Dorothy Porter & Charles Harris Wesley Fellow
William Pruit III

William Henry Pruitt III is a PhD Candidate in African and African American Studies at Harvard University. His primary field is English, and his secondary field is Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. His research explores the dynamics between the informal politics of culture, especially art, and the formal politics of state governance. While in residence at the Hutchins Center as a Porter Fellow, Pruitt will work on his dissertation, which he has tentatively titled, Theorizing the Black U.S. Presidency: A Comparative Analysis of Barack Obama’s Presidency and the Hypothetical Black U.S. Presidencies that Preceded It.

Theorizing the Black U.S. Presidency: A Comparative Analysis of Barack Obama’s Presidency and the Hypothetical Black U.S. Presidencies that Preceded It

As early as 1829, when David Walker published the first edition of his Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but most likely even earlier, residents of the United States have hypothesized about the significance of a U.S. President who has Black ancestry. This thought-experiment appears in many forms, including novels, short stories, plays, poems, autobiographies, academic books, essays, comics, songs, published transcripts of interviews, filmed interviews, stand-up comedy routines, fictional films, documentaries, and television shows. It has also constituted the campaigns of Black candidates for U.S. President. And it is built on and advances a wide range of political ideologies. Pruitt’s dissertation will narrate major developments in the history of this thought-experiment, documenting its causes and effects as well as its repetitions, revisions, silences, and innovations. The concluding chapter of Will’s dissertation will compare Barack Obama’s Presidential campaigns and Presidency to previous hypothetical Black U.S. Presidencies. During the first semester of his Porter fellowship, Pruitt will write the third chapter of his dissertation, which narrates a history of hypothetical Black U.S. Presidencies imagined after the demise of Reconstruction and before the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. During the second semester of his Porter Fellowship, he will write the fourth chapter of his dissertation, which narrates a history of hypothetical Black U.S. Presidents imagined after the 1965 Voting Rights Act and before Barack Obama announced his first Presidential campaign in 2007.