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Past Podcast: Emplacing the Local, Spring 2013

Gary Wilder: Turning Empire Inside Out: Negritude and the Politics of Radical Literalism

Speaker: Wilder, Gary
By pursuing alternative forms of decolonization that would enable self-determination without state sovereignty, Aime Cesaire from Martinique and Leopold Sedar Senghor from Senegal critically challenged the very meaning of place in the postwar period. They did so in part through a strategy of radical literalism through which they rejected the idea that "France" or "Europe" were territorial or ethnic categories. Demanding instead that the French state accommodate itself to the interconnected and cosmopolitan socio-political situation it had created through imperialism,

Sarah Croucher: The Place of Archaeology: Re-membering Local Histories

Speaker: Croucher, Sarah
A new trend, community based projects in historical archeology, purport to do the work of public history because when working with communities, archeologists engage diverse local constituents into the histories of the sites they excavate. This move towards participatory archeology addresses epistemic anxieties in the field by allowing archaeologists to go beyond simply providing new facts about the past. In this talk I explore whether participatory archaeology might go beyond the work of public history. Through a preliminary discussion of my work excavating the Beman Triangle in Middletown, I argue that community based research projects also have the potential to radically alter the way in which historical places become constituted as such. Experiencing history through excavation allows for new reflections by participants on the dialectic of past and present brought together into a single location as they excavate. Community archaeology offers the opportunity for participants to reflect on the role of the past in the contemporary place in which they live in new ways. In this manner, sites can become "re-membered"; participants engage corporeally with sites, bringing pasts into the present in an evocative way.

Michael Armstrong Roche: Secret Marriage, Revenge Murder, and Divas: Lope, Webster, and the Early Modern Theatrical Revolution in Spain and England

Speaker: Armstrong Roche, Michael
With the first permanent commercial theaters in Europe, Madrid and London launched a theatrical revolution from the 1570s. Socially mixed audiences avid for entertainment drove a demand for novelty that gave rise to a huge dramatic repertory, notorious for breaking rules and flouting decorum. Regularly attacked by moralists, these plays are now considered canonical in both Spain and England. This talk looks at that theatrical revolution first through two tragedies by Lope de Vega (1606) and John Webster (1613) on the early 16th-century Duchess of Amalfi. Dramatizing a taboo-shattering story about a cross-rank clandestine marriage initiated by a woman that ends in revenge murder by her brothers, they cut usefully against the grain of comparative (literary and historical) narratives about early modern Spain and England. Lope and Webster differ from their more misogynistic sources in promoting sympathy for the Duchess. And yet Lope's rewriting of the Duchess's story in the deliciously subversive comedy The Dog in the Manger (1615) offers the occasion to think about significant differences in the two traditions, particularly those shaped by the fact that actresses ruled the Spanish stage in the kinds of roles played by boy-actors in England.

Indira Karamcheti: Big Talk, Small Places: The Caribbean Epic

Speaker: Karamcheti, Indira
As genre, the epic makes large and pretentious claims: it's very old, it's very big, it's a myth of national origins-even more, it's universal. In this talk, I will discuss V.S. Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas as epic, which it is generally conceded to be, but as a specifically Caribbean, even specifically East Indian West Indian-an Indo-Trinidadian--epic. It's big in the sense that it's long, but neither old, national, and only arguably universal. The East Indian community in Trinidad, historically the descendants of indentured servants, are numerically almost 50% of the island's population, but invisible in the cultural, national, and international imaginary. The Caribbean is imagined as an "African" space, a "Black" place. A House for Mr. Biswas is embedded in the absent space of Indo-Trinidad. Its epic thrust is to convert that absence into a specific place, a nationalist originary myth, and to make a claim to universalistic representation. It does so through an engagement with literary form, moving from the genre of the epic, which it parodies, to the novel, which is necessarily capitalist.

Dolores Hayden: I Have Seen the Future": Selling the Interstate Highway System

Speaker: Hayden, Dolores
The Interstate highway legislation of 1956 transformed American landscapes, resulting in what architectural critic Jane Holtz Kay has termed an "asphalt nation" and what historian Cotten Seiler has called a "republic of drivers" bound by "compulsory automobility." This talk will analyze the early years of highway advocacy when Alfred Sloan of General Motors led a national lobby to press for federal spending and Norman Bel Geddes created a 1939 GM exhibit called "Futurama" with the slogan, "I have seen the future." Geddes constructed two representations of the national landscape to persuade citizens of local benefits, but his two most effective designs manipulated the bodies and spatial perceptions of millions of spectators who visited the exhibit.

David Kazanjian: That No Tax Will be Paid, by White, Black or Indian: For Over-Reading the Speculative Atlantic, 1820-1860

Speaker: Kazanjian, David
In this talk, I will argue that certain historicist hermeneutics popular in American Studies have inhibited our ability to read the speculative thought that emerges from the quotidian archives of the 19th-century Atlantic world. I will make a case for what is often called "over-reading" those archives, in the interest of generating heterodox perspectives on the meaning of freedom from a century that is often understood to be in the thrall of classical liberalism. This talk will draw on the third part of my forthcoming book The Brink of Freedom, in which I ask what and how did freedom mean in the midst of three relatively unheralded and heterodox historical and textual flashpoints from the mid 19th-century Atlantic world: first, the black settler colonization of Liberia between 1820 and 1860; second, debates about the relationship between race and insanity in the U.S. census of 1840 and the Creole slave ship uprising of 1841; and third, a massive Maya uprising on the Yucatan peninsula that began in 1847 and came to be known as la Guerra de Castas, the Caste War.

Judith Butler: Martin Buber's Two Zionisms and the Question of Palestine

Speaker: Butler, Judith
What is the difference between cultural and political Zionism, and what were the debates that took place prior to 1948 about what Zionism could mean? Although the pre-history of contemporary political Zionism is often regarded as something of interest only to academic historians of Jewish history, it bears direct consequences on how we conceive of co-habitation on the lands of Israel/Palestine. That "backslash" in the last sentence is a rather large problem, and as new debates emerge about statehood for Palestine, one-state and two-state options, the work of Martin Buber becomes salient once again. He argued not only that co-habitation involves bi-nationalism, but that Jewish renewal may well be damaged by a form of Zionism that focuses on a state. Although usually when we ask, "are you a Zionist?" we mean "Do you believe in the right of the State of Israel to exist?". But the equation of those two questions was very far from the minds of those who debated the political value and limits of Zionist discourse in the early part of the 20th century. This lecture contends that those debates have relevance for our current ones.

Matthew Garrett: Subterranean Gratification: Sites of Reading and Scenes of Mobility after the Picaro

Speaker: Garrett, Mattew
Reading will set you free! This is the slogan-maybe the one great transhistorical slogan-of a literate world, in which the written text in its myriad forms promises emancipation from drudgery, ignorance, and want. Perhaps because reading has pledged so much, the people who think most about it have tended to avoid asking what it might actually be. In particular, the most robust and engaging theories of close and critical reading have tended to ignore the vast social inequalities upon which cultures of reading have been founded. But if the image of reading as an emancipatory practice is itself based on practices that serve primarily as means of social domination, then those of us who care about attentive styles of interpretation have some explaining to do.

Greg Goldberg: IRL (In Real Life)

Speaker: Goldberg, Greg
Internet scholars disagree about the social implications of living in a digital world. Some argue that the internet engenders a robust civil society, empowers ordinary people to become active participants in social and political life, transforms relations of production to be more collaborative and egalitarian, and reconfigures social institutions historically plagued by power inequities. Others argue that internet use is anti-social and counter-productive, impoverishing our mental faculties, stunting our emotional development, undermining community and family, empowering bullies, and encouraging crass consumerism.

Frank Ankersmit: A New Look at Old Questions

Speaker: Ankersmit, Frank
A new look at an old question: on the agreements and disagreements between the sciences and the writing of history.