In Comparable Americas: Colonial Studies after the Hemispheric Turn

Ayer MS 257, No.9, Map 204
Ayer MS 257, No.9, Map 204
Center for Renaissance Studies Programs
Other Renaissance Programs
Friday, April 30, 2004 to Saturday, May 1, 2004

This symposium aimed to provide a forum for scholars from a variety of fields to reflect critically on the benefits as well as the costs of comparative work, a discussion that has been surprisingly absent from the current drive for more hemispheric and inclusive approaches to the colonial Americas under the rubric of American Studies or Atlantic Studies. The benefits of comparative work are often presented as self-evident, but the costs can be weighed in the solidification of traditional canons and taxonomies, in the collapsing of a complex and historically specific corpus of texts into a transcultural genre, and in facile comparisons between colonialisms motivated by attempts to rank the relative cruelty of various imperial powers at the expense of sustained investigation into the lives and writings of peoples subjected to cruelty.

Symposium participants reflected on a series of related historical and theoretical questions:

  • How have comparative studies of Euro-American colonialism enhanced or diminished our understandings of the histories and literatures of indigenous peoples and of Africans in the Americas?
  • Do theoretical vocabularies and analytical models developed for particular settings cross borders as effectively or with as much difficulty as the texts and peoples we study?
  • How do historical conditions of local and national archive- and canon-formation promote or impair our ability to create meaningful comparisons?
  • How does the recent interest in comparative colonialism depend upon or depart from the established historiography of the “Atlantic World” or the emerging analysis of empire?
  • Ultimately, whose interests are or might be served by a hemispheric literary or cultural history of the Americas?

Sponsored by the Newberry Center for Renaissance Studies and the following units at the University of Chicago: the Center for Latin American Studies; the Franke Institute for the Humanities; the Norman Wait Harris Fund of the Center for International Studies; and the Departments of English Language and Literatures and Romance Languages and Literatures.

Friday, April 30, at The Newberry Library

Welcome

Carla Zecher, Newberry Center for Renaissance Studies

Session 1

Chair: Tamar Herzog, University of Chicago (now at Stanford University)

Some Caveats about the “Atlantic” Paradigm

Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, SUNY-Buffalo/Huntington Library (now at University of Texas at Austin)

The Problem of the Background in Comparative Studies

José Rabasa, University of California, Berkeley, now emeritus

Comment: Dana Nelson, University of Kentucky (now at Vanderbilt University)

Session 2

Chair: LaVonne Ruoff, University of Illinois at Chicago, now emerita

Literary History and the Challenge of Comparative Colonial American Studies

Ralph Bauer, University of Maryland

Comparative Colonialisms and the Indigenous Intellectual Histories Imperative

Joanna Brooks, University of Texas-Austin (now at San Diego State University)

Forgotten Subjects and Texts in Comparative Colonial Latin American Studies

Lucia Helena Costigan, Ohio State University

Comment: Francisco Ortega, University of Wisconsin- Madison (now at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá)

Reception

Saturday, May 1, at the Regenstein Library, University of Chicago

Session 3

Chair: Janice Knight, University of Chicago

Who Reads? Who Cites? A Strategy for Teaching Colonial Literary Comparisons

Rolena Adorno, Yale University

The Garden of Forking Paths: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz in Comparative Contexts

Stephanie Merrim, Brown University

Comment: David Shields, University of South Carolina

Session 4

Chair: Agnes Lugo-Ortiz, University of Chicago

African Magi, Slave Poisoners: Eighteenth-Century Topographies of Knowledge from New England to the Caribbean

Susan Scott Parrish, University of Michigan

The Death of Serpent Piqué and the Value of Life at Natchez

Gordon Sayre, University of Oregon

Comment: Daniel K. Richter, University of Pennsylvania

Session 5

Chair: Sandra Gustafson, University of Notre Dame

Comparative Semantics and the Colonial World

Roland Greene, Stanford University

“Literature” and the Imperial/Colonial Differences

Walter Mignolo, Duke University

Comment: Eric Slauter, University of Chicago; and Lisa Voigt, University of Chicago

Reception

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