Spring 2016 Seminars

Thinking the Modern Otherwise
Layered Inter-Materialities and Global Dynamics

March 4-5, 2016
Geopolitical Economies after 1450: Resituating Reconquista, Westphalia, and Capitalist Modernity

Visiting scholars: Pinar Bilgin (Bilkent U), Jordan Branch (Brown), Molly Greene (Princeton), Siba Grovogui (Cornell), Walter Mignolo (Duke), Kenneth Pomeranz (U Chicago), Mary Louise Pratt (NYU), Eric Tagliacozzo (Cornell), John Thornton (Boston U)

This seminar will rethink the conditions and dynamics of the apparent “1492” divergence and rise of European modernity. The Christian Reconquista of Spain and the rise of the Westphalian system are often narrowly framed as events within European history and deemed as origin points for the early modern era; typically, scholars have also linked them to the emergence of a global capitalist economy. Yet recent scholarship has placed these developments within a much larger frame that includes pivotal interactions with the Ottoman Empire and, more broadly, allows us to ask: Is 1492 the beginning of new political economies and cultural practices, or were states of eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and indigenous South America equally determinative of historical trajectories at this point? And if so, how might we conceive of a history beyond east/west and pre-modern/modern? Among other questions, how did particular forms of knowledge emerge from a trans-hemispheric context—occluded until recently by colonial ideologies and Eurocentric narratives?

To address such questions, seminar three brings together scholars of different world regions who will: share their expertise on transhemispheric or inter-imperial structures of economy, law, technology, and state knowledge-building in these centuries; and foster fresh thinking about our models for understanding states and transformations in geopolitical economy, post-1492.

April 8-9, 2016
Medieval to Post/colonial: Rethinking Geopolitical and Aesthetic Economies
Visiting scholars: Ousseina Alidou (Rutgers), Nadia Altschul (Johns Hopkins), Simon Gikandi (Princeton), Isabel Hofmeyr (U of the Witwatersrand), Maghan Keita (Villanova), Revathi Krishnaswamy (San José State), Michael Laffan (Princeton), Mary Louise Pratt (NYU), Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (UC Irvine)

Our fourth seminar will turn to the 19th and 20th centuries to track the traces and imbrication of early transhemispheric political and cultural forms within later, and especially postcolonial, forms. Having pulled our analytical lens back before “the birth of the modern world,” we hope to open up new interpretations of our post-colonial present. If the disciplinary regimes of modern armies had connections to the janissary slave corps of the early Ottoman Empire, the Foucauldian reading of disciplinary regimes needs to be re-evaluated. If Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca could have been prompted Ibn Khaldun’s ideas about inflation, how might we re-evaluate the history of monetary theory?

We will likewise turn again to translation studies and literary history so as to consider a longer durée, interdisciplinary study of political and literary-cultural histories that underlie twentieth-century postcolonial texts and expressive culture. Our final session of the seminar may draw on such concepts as accretion, entanglement, and dialectics to explore the longue durée power of sedimented infrastructures, geopolitics, and expressive forms.