Fall 2015 Seminars

Thinking the Medieval Otherwise:
Inter-Materialities in the Global Southeast

October 23-24, 2015
Linked States of Knowledge: Libraries, Literacies, and Material Histories
Visiting scholars: Philippe Beaujard (Institute des Mondes Africains), Simon Gikandi (Princeton), Isabel Hofmeyr (U of the Witwatersrand), Fallou Ngom (Boston U), Sheldon Pollock (Columbia), Janina Safran (Penn State), Ann Stoler (New School), Dorothy Wong (U Virginia), Hayrettin Yücesoy (Washington U), Travis Zadeh (Haverford College)

Our first seminar will study pre-1500 linkages among the communities and states of Afro-Eurasia, especially through the lens of knowledge institutions. Scholars have revealed that libraries (both private and governmental), and their affiliated academies, temples, mosques, churches, often served as a dynamic matrix of socio-economic and political structures, sometimes linking the village to the metropole, connecting the itinerant, travelling scholar to large translation teams supervised by viziers. This seminar will include scholars of Afro-Eurasian political economy and/or culture, with a focus on state knowledge institutions and translation projects that interacted with local forms of knowledge, language, and material culture. We expect to study major institutions and their trans-regional legacies: e.g, the Mosques of Cordoba, Seville, and Granada and the Arabic-African manuscripts of Tombouctou.

This first seminar will also broach some of the broader questions we will address in subsequent seminars: how do the formation and practices that surrounded these institutions change our ideas about the relations between political, economic, and cultural formations? How do patterns of knowledge exchange between different polities transform our understanding of the processes of modernization and the very notion of modernity? What methodological approaches, strategies, scholarly collaborations, and bibliographies can seminar participants envision to address the limits of disciplinary literacies for scholars wishing to engage these questions and archives?

November 13-14, 2015
Geopolitical Intimacies and Gendered Economies 

Visiting scholars: Ousseina Alidou (Rutgers), Wendy Belcher (Princeton), Jinah Kim (Harvard), Shaun Marmon (Princeton), Ann Stoler (New School)

The second seminar will focus on formations of gender and sexuality as they operated across the pre-1500 Afro-Eurasian World. It has long been assumed that women’s lives and a range of non-heteronormative sexualities are unrecoverable, especially in the extant textual records of the pre-1500 world. This view has been challenged by new scholarship, and this seminar will bring together some of the scholars who have done so. Their work addresses gender and sexuality in a range of pre-1500 locations, ranging from eunuchs, slavery, and diplomacy; to women’s roles in patronage of the arts and academies; to homoerotic relations and literature.

So as to achieve cross-period learning and dialogue, we will also include historians and theorists of gender in later periods, especially those who have studied gender in the context of empire or geopolitical formations. The final session of this seminar may focus on the text(s) of 1001 Nights, as both a rich record of connected histories and a vehicle for discussion of sexualities in this context.