Winter 2020

Monday, March 9 , 4-6pm, 6275 Bunche Hall:

Pablo Mukherjee,  University of Warwick

Re-Charge: Postcolonial Studies and Energy Humanities

What do Postcolonial Studies and Energy Humanities have to stay to one another? Given that the former is by now a well-established academic field and the latter a recently emergent one, we might expect the relationship between the two to be marked by wars of position and anxieties of influence. In this essay, however, I suggest that there is much to gain from cross-fertilisation and cross-hatching between the two. if Postcolonial Studies have often, with some justice, been accused of evacuating the matter of history from its purview, Energy Humanities has sometimes suffered from insufficient attention to the dynamics of empire. By comparing two classic colonial texts from 19th-century South Asia by Rudyard Kipling and Dinabandhu Mitra, I suggest that we can go beyond this impasse by looking at how the intersections between energy and empire had already been examined thoroughly by writers long before the formation of the academic disciplines that today take them as their area of study. As ever, it is to literature and culture we must turn in order to appreciate the limits and possibilities of theory.


Monday, March 2,, 4-6pm, 6275 Bunche Hall

New Directions in Postcolonial Studies: Literary Genealogies and Material Culture

Peter Hulme, University of Essex

The Spanish-American Number: Travel, Translation, and the Literary History of Modernism

Eager to preserve precedence, Anglo-American criticism has erected a firewall between Spanish-American modernismo and Anglo-American modernism.  Despite their names, the two forms of writing are in conventional accounts supposedly so different that the Anglo-American version sprang into being entirely uninfluenced by its Spanish-American predecessor.  This talk will aim to question that claim by investigating one moment when the two might be seen as coming into contact, a moment that brings onto stage the rather obscure figure of William George Williams, English by birth, raised in the Caribbean – both Anglo and Hispanic, and father of William Carlos Williams.  Williams padre’s translations of Spanish-American modernist poems in 1916 can be seen as inaugurating, if unwittingly, a postcolonial American poetry that would revolutionise twentieth-century writing.  This paper tentatively offers a new kind of sociology of literary history that puts Anglo-Hispanic relationships at the centre of postcolonial literary studies.

Rajani Sudan, Southern Methodist University

Mines, Minerals, Mimesis, and Memory

I will address the relationship between transnational electronic technology and its contemporary mining practices to an early modern moment when mining and technology coincided with such force that it altered the landscape of global economy. Much of the language generated by transnational corporations celebrates electronic technology as a “greener” system for exchanging knowledge. I claim that this language duplicates the language of earlier colonial and imperial resource extractions and knowledge exchanges. I examine four themes in this linguistic nexus: extraction, inflation, ecology, and work. Eighteenth-century Britain fantasized about inexhaustible troves of bullion in the Americas in spite of the fact that scarcity, not abundance, creates value. Ideologies of scarcity and abundance led to technological development and managerial reorganization, established a new expertise of extraction, promoted the fiction of wealth in excess of labor, and displaced an aristocratic ethos onto a putatively sustainable venture capitalist economy. In the face of Spain’s command of New World bullion—pieces of eight, fashioned from bullion mined in their holdings in New Spain and Peru, were the first example of global currency—Britain created the South Sea Company that gambled on the false reports of limitless troves of gold and silver, and that eventually collapsed as a bubble.

Imperial ideologies of mining and its language of scarcity and abundance–for example, lode, extraction, and work–also define global electronic technology, particularly computers and other forms of wireless exchange that by circulating knowledge and wealth, including Bitcoin, also create it. Rare earth minerals, for example, are in fact quite abundant on earth and in every computer, as one can learn by Googling the term. But they are difficult to isolate, used in minimal amounts, and are thus rare, controlled by a few nations and corporations at great human and environmental cost. Notions of scarce and abundant minerals, vital to wireless technologies are largely responsible for the many civil wars waged in Africa and labor abuses in Asia, much as were gold, diamonds, and oil in past colonial settings. While we think the ecological solutions to global problems like climate change rest in more and better digital and computer technology just as earlier societies believed that more gold would solve their problems, our technology comes out of the earth with all the material and ecological implications of the past.


January 9: Bunche 6725, 12-1:30pm:

Dominic Boyer and Cymene Howe, Rice University

Of Flood and Ice

The melting of glaciers and ice sheets is accelerating, as is thermal expansion of the oceans, and these vectors together virtually guarantee that sea level rise by 2100 will meet or exceed the highest projections of UNFCCC scientists. Rising surface temperatures likewise guarantee new conditions of drought and flood, exacerbated by a slowing jet stream that will tend to stall weather systems in unpredictable ways. Our changing cryospheres and hydrospheres promise misery to millions across the planet. But they also reveal forms of material connectivity that could potentially be mobilized in the struggle against climate change and the petroculture that produced it. In this presentation, we juxtapose Cymene Howe’s research on the loss of glaciers in Iceland with Dominic Boyer’s project on Houston area flood victims’ recovery from Hurricane Harvey to explore a concept we call “hydrological globalization:” the sociomaterial connections and cultural impacts that follow from the redistribution of water across the planet. We discuss in particular how glaciers are being reconceptualized as vulnerable beings and how Houstonians are coming to terms with the more common presence of floodwater. We introduce a new tool from NASA-JPL that allows us to better understand what specific glacial basins are contributing to sea level rise in the world’s coastal cities, allowing for a visualization of hydrological globalization in action. We close with reflections on the researchers’ recent initiative to install a memorial to the first major Icelandic glacier to be lost to climate change, Okjökull.

Co-sponsored with the Department of Anthropology’s Culture, Power, and Social Change group

Spring 2020

Professor Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, Vassar College

How to Build Your Own Zombie: Animating Corpses and Assembling Spare Body Parts in Caribbean Literature and Art 

Spring 2018

Women peace and security through a vernacular frame: Global/local frictions in Solomon Islands and Bougainville

A lecture by Dr. Nicole George, University of Queensland

Monday, April 9, 2018, 3:00pm-5:00pm, Rolfe Hall 2125

Since the early 2000s, United Nations Security Council Resolutions on Women Peace and Security, and particularly UNSCR 1325, have become a key focus of policy-making and gender advocacy for promoting women’s roles in conflict resolution and transition in the western Pacific Islands region. But in these contexts, arguments about the rights of women to be recognized as those who bear specific sorts of burdens in times of instability come into friction with vernacular notions of security and localized sentiments about the safe ordering of community. In this talk, I reflect on the recent academic development of the concept of vernacular security and the insights this work might offer into the challenges surrounding the promotion of women peace and security principles in the Solomon Islands and Bougainville.

Dr. Nicole George is a Senior Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland. She has a strong interest in the way gender and politics are configured in Pacific Island contexts, with a particular recent focus on the gendered impacts of conflict in the region and the roles played by women in peacebuilding and conflict transition. Recent publications on these themes appear in International Feminist Journal of Politics, Policing and Society, Third World Thematics, International Political Science Review, and the Australian Journal of International Affairs.

Winter 2018

Indexology, Human Ranking, and Pseudo-Science: A Critical Perspective from the Global South

Lecture by Fulbright Senior Scholar Steve Ratuva

March 6, Tuesday, Rolfe Hall 2125, 12:00pm – 2:00pm

One of the latent consequences of neoliberalism is the compartmentalization, stratification, and commodification of knowledge which find expression in the reinvention of pseudo-science and re-articulation of social Darwinism clothed in modernist parlance. An applied manifestation of this is the widespread use of “quantifiable” indexes to ascertain a society’s rank in a global hierarchy of “progress.” Almost all the social indexes constructed in the last few decades, such as Human Development Index, Fragile State Index, Development Index, Governance Index, etc.—used by scholars, international agencies, governments, civil society organizations and policymakers around the world as “scientific” tools for policy—replicate and reinforce the age-old perceptions pertaining to the “advancement” of the “west” in relation to the “retarded” conditions of the “rest.” The presentation explores the technical and ideological underpinnings of indexology, which refers to the construction and application of indexes. It critiques the selective choice of variables to “measure” progress in these sets of indexes and how these variables are shaped by latent ideological, cultural and political partialities. It also critiques the “pseudoscientific” attempts to quantify subjective and complex human values to serve the demands of the neoliberal order. The political narratives derived from indexology is often used as basis for policy framing and intervention by “western” donors targeted at global South countries. One of the consequences of indexology is the construction of a global hierarchy which institutionalizes the continued subalternization of the global South and associated racialized stereotypes. The policy implications of indexology can be profoundly transformative as some examples from the South Pacific will demonstrate.

Steve Ratuva –Professor Steven Ratuva, a Fijian political sociologist, is Director of the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies and Professor in Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. He is Chair of the International Political Science Association research committee on democratization and the military and project leader and editor in chief of the Palgrave Macmillan-Springer global ethnicity handbook project. He is founding editor-in-chief of the Pacific Dynamics: Journal of Interdisciplinary Research and Pacific Policy Briefs series. Currently, he is in the US as Fulbright senior scholar at UCLA, Duke and Georgetown, carrying out research on horizontal inequality, Pacific minorities and affirmative action in New Zealand and the US. He is an interdisciplinary scholar who crosses the boundaries between sociology, politics, anthropology, economics, development studies, history, Pacific studies and philosophy with a critical thought slant. He has written extensively on nationalism, indigenous knowledge, coups, political transition, affirmative action, social protection, security, development, electoral engineering, ethnicity, conflict, peace and social change.

Disappearing Cities: San Juan, Santo Domingo, Cartagena, and the Rising Caribbean Sea

A talk by Professor Lisa Paravisini-Gebert, Vassar College

Monday Feb 26, 4pm, Rolfe 4302

Dr. Paravisini-Gebert is currently Professor on the Sarah Tod Fitz Randolph Distinguished Professor Chair, of Multidisciplinary Programs and Department of Hispanic Studies at Vassar College. She is the author of numerous books, among them Phyllis Shand Allfrey: A Caribbean Life (1996), Jamaica Kincaid: A Critical Companion(1999), Creole Religions of the Caribbean (2003, with Margarite Fernández Olmos / 2ed 2011), Literatures of the Caribbean (2008), and Extinctions: Colonialism, Biodiversity and the Narratives of the Caribbean (2017). Professor Paravisini- Gebert has also co-edited a large number of collections of essays, most notably Sacred Possessions: Vodou, Santería, Obeah, and the Caribbean (1997), Displacements and Transformations in Caribbean Cultures (2008), Healing Cultures: Art and Religion as Curative Practices in the Caribbean and Its Diaspora (2011). Prof. Paravisini-Gebert has translated multiple Caribbean women writers, such as Ángela Hernández Nuñez, José Alcántara Almanzar, Daniel Thaly, and Jean Rhys. She is the founder of important digital humanities projects such as, and has also been curator of important art exhibitions such as Fluid Ecologies: Hispanic Caribbean Art from the Permanent Collection (Catalogue, 2016).

Ocean Imaginaries & Urban Perspectives

Linda Williams, RMIT University

Thursday, January 25, Humanities 193, 4-6pm

For the first time, most of the world’s populations now live in cities, and it is estimated that by 2030 this will extend to 60% of the global population- a third of which will live in urban centres of over half a million people. At the same time, anthropogenic changes to the earth’s climate and the pollution of vulnerable ecosystems have now led to the point where the world’s oceans and their rich biodiversity are at risk. Yet from the perspective of people living in cities, many such changes to the world’s oceans have remained essentially invisible; a problem arguably compounded by a gap in public awareness about how urban life itself affects the oceans. In response, this paper identifies some of the recent cultural representations aiming to visualise environmental changes to the oceans from an urban perspective. I argue that these recent representations are part of a wider cultural turn towards a more benign view of the ocean that has been gathering momentum from the mid-20th century, though the question of to what extent it might enable the mitigation of environmental threats to the world’s oceans necessarily remains open.

Prof Williams will be speaking about her most recent exhibit at RMIT Ocean Imaginaries, which focuses on some of the contradictions and conflicted feelings raised by how the ocean is imagined in an age of environmental risk.

Linda Williams is Associate Professor of Cultural and Environmental History at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. Her most recent publications in the field of the environmental humanities can be accessed at including her recent co-authored book Screen Ecologies: Art, Media and Environment in the Asia-Pacific Region (2016, MIT Press)

Co-sponsored by the Postcolonial Literature and Studies Colloquium, Division of the Humanities, LENS, & The Environmental Humanities Fund

Fall 2017

Thursday, October 5, 2017, 4-6 pm in Humanities 193

       Remembering Gi’was: Indigenous Landmark Legends and the Politics of American Antiquity

       Gesa Mackenthun, Rostock University

The paper investigates the sometimes manifest, sometimes latent connections between constructions of American antiquity and conflicts over territorial ownership and stewardship in the US. It rests on the assumption that the colonial discourse of settlement, which still pervades contemporary legal practice and obliquely continues in the critical approach of ‘settler colonialism’, systematically effaces other forms of land ownership. Late colonial constructions of American ‘prehistory’ collude with the colonial legal construct of ‘continuous occupation’ – a concept that requires of the tribes to prove their long-term tenure of the lands in question. This unilateral imposition of ‘proof’ coincides with the frequent denunciation of indigenous oral traditions as fanciful fictions. I argue that late colonial narratives about antiquity and heritage are themselves powerful instruments for legitimating colonial hegemony and more often than not used to disarticulate indigenous claims. A counter discourse exists, e.g., in an archive of geomythical and geoepistemological stories by the Klamath, Modoc and other tribes from the area around Crater Lake, OR, collected between 1870 and 1920. This impressive corpus of topological narratives suggests a millennia-long indigenous land tenure, a deep knowledge of the land and its products, and the memory of a cataclysmic event 7,000 years ago, thus giving support to indigenous claims and archaeological evidence of an ancient human presence. In addition to this historical relevance, they also are philosophically valuable as they counter the rationalist binaries at the heart of colonial discourse with an other method of preserving survival knowledge in a world of danger –a relational and ‘nomadic’ hermeneutic of resilience that may be used as an antidote to the capitalist logic of appropriation and classification.

Gesa Mackenthun is Professor of American Studies at Rostock University. Her publications include Fictions of the Black Atlantic in American Foundational Literature (Routledge, 2004), Metaphors of Dispossession. American Beginnings and the Translation of Empire, 1492-1637 (University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), and (co-edited with Bernhard Klein) Sea Changes. Historicizing the Ocean (Routledge, 2004). She was the initiator and first spokesperson of the graduate school “Cultural Encounters and the Discourses of Scholarship” funded by the German Research Foundation (2006-15). The resulting conference series she edits (8 volumes so far) include Entangled Knowledge. Scientific Discourses and Cultural Difference (2012, with Klaus Hock), Agents of Transculturation (2014, with Sebastian Jobs), and Fugitive Knowledge (2015, with Andreas Beer). DEcolonial Heritage: Natures, Cultures and the Asymmetries of Memory is an upcoming volume (edited with Aníbal Arregui). Her current research deals with nineteenth-century imperial travel and archaeology and the scientific constructions of American antiquity.

Tuesday, November 2, 2017 at 4 pm in Humanities 193

A talk and reading by Caribbean author Tiphanie Yanique:

Belonging: Immigrating into Our Own Country (and a reading from Land of Love and Drowning)

Tiphanie Yanique was born in the Round da Field neighborhood of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.  Yanique is the author of the poetry collection, Wife, which won the 2016 Bocas Prize in Caribbean poetry and the United Kingdom’s 2016 Forward/Felix Dennis Prize for a First Collection. Tiphanie is also the author of the novel, Land of Love and Drowning, which won the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Award from the Center for Fiction, the Phillis Wheatley Award for Pan-African Literature, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Family Foundation Award, and was listed by NPR as one of the Best Books of 2014. Land of Love and Drowning was also a finalist for the Orion Award in Environmental Literature and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award.  She is also the author of a collection of stories, How to Escape from a Leper Colony, which won her a listing as one of the National Book Foundation’s 5Under35.  Her writing has also won the Bocas Award for Caribbean Fiction, the Boston Review Prize in Fiction, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Fulbright Scholarship and an Academy of American Poet’s Prize. She has been listed by the Boston Globe as one of the sixteen cultural figures to watch out for and her writing has been published in the New York Times, Best African American Fiction, The Wall Street Journal, American Short Fiction and other places. She is currently Associate Professor of English and African American Studies, and Director of Creative Writing at Wesleyan University.

Fall 2016

Tuesday, November 15 2016 at 4 pm in Royce 306

M. NourbeSe Phillip will read from her poem Zong!

M. NOURBESE PHILIP is an unembedded poet, essayist, novelist, playwright and former lawyer who lives in the space-time of the City of Toronto.  She is a Fellow of the Guggenheim, and Rockefeller (Bellagio) Foundations and the MacDowell Colony.  She is the recipient of many awards including the Casa de las Americas prize (Cuba).   Among her best known published works are: She Tries Her Tongue; Her Silence Softly Breaks, Looking for Livingstone: An Odyssey of Silence, and Harriet’s Daughter, a young adult novel.  Philip’s  most recent work is Zong!, a genre-breaking poem, which engages with ideas of the law, history and memory as they relate to the transatlantic slave trade.

              Co-sponsored by:

UCLA Division of Humanities; The Department of English; Atlantic History Speaker Series,
Department of History; Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies; Center for the Study
of Women; Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in History; John Charles Hillis Endowed Chair in Literature


Thursday, April 07, 2016 at 4 pm in Humanities 193

Simon Gikandi, Princeton University “Reflections on Post-colonialism”

This lecture is part of the Penny and Edward Kanner Forum on Literary and Cultural Studies, Department of English


Thursday, Feb 11, 2016 at 4 pm in Humanities 193

Lisa Lowe, Tufts University “Beyond Compare: Asymmetries as Method”

This lecture is part of the Penny and Edward Kanner Forum on Literary and Cultural Studies, Department of English

FALL 2015

Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 4 pm in Humanities 193

Saidiya Hartman, Columbia University “An Intimate History of Slavery and Freedom”

This lecture is part of the Penny and Edward Kanner Forum on Literary and Cultural Studies, Department of English

Thursday, October 8, 2015 at 4 pm in Humanities 193

Peter Hulme, University of Essex “Setting the Sails:  The Theory and Practice of Deep Mapping”

This lecture is part of the Penny and Edward Kanner Forum on Literary and Cultural Studies, Department of English

Past Events