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click to enlarge PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
  • Photo by Rob Bartlett

Julian Chambliss

Historian

Talking to Rollins College professor, History Department chair and coordinator of the African American Studies program Dr. Julian Chambliss can be a dizzying experience. And yet, Chambliss' eagerness to share and discuss ideas and information is indicative of his commitment to community engagement and resource-sharing. "A professor's job is to profess," he states simply.

Chambliss came to Rollins in 2003, with research interests in urban planning, popular culture and African-American history. While at Rollins, Chambliss has taught extensively on comic books as historical texts. That Chambliss can so effortlessly synthesize such far-flung areas of interdisciplinary study into a coherent and exciting body of research makes him somewhat superhuman himself.

All of these intellectual pursuits came into sharp visual focus with the opening of AfroFantastic: Black Imagination and Agency in the American Experience, an art exhibit curated by Chambliss that opened in January at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum. The stunning visual survey was an attempt by Chambliss to "explore the idea of the black imaginary as a space of counter-narrative and resistance. Because the imaginary cannot be policed, you cannot police the black imagination. ... When black people imagine the public sphere it's a political act."

Chambliss engages with the community at large outside the environs of Rollins as well. He takes a keen interest in local and regional history in his teachings and research, with a particular focus on Winter Park's Hannibal Square area and Eatonville. "I have this idea that there's a black social world in Central Florida that intersects with larger national questions around the evolution of urban environments, social and political development," he says. "I want to create throughlines for people to see this local context as part of a bigger picture."

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
  • Photo by Rob Bartlett

Chambliss credits Rollins as being key in the development of his research, citing the school's historical commitment to experimentation as the reason he was able to develop his comic-book curriculum. The community engagement work he does is particularly important to Chambliss. "For me as a historian, the goal is always to bring that theory-versus-practice dialogue into play. History has a place in a public debate."

When asked about what he has planned for the year post-AfroFantastic, he reels off an incredible list of multidisciplinary projects, from a talk on Luke Cage for the Orlando Public Library to the podcast "Every Tongue Got to Confess," from a book project titled Imagined Urban Landscapes to various digital recovery projects.

"I'm typically overcommitted," Chambliss deadpans. "Idle hands, devil's workshop."

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