The Rise of the Legend of the City of Kitezh in Russian Literature
Little known outside of Russia, the Legend of the City of Kitezh describes an ideal city hidden from the profane world around it. In some versions of legend, the city became invisible to protect it from invading infidel armies; in others, it sank to the bottom of a lake or was hidden underground. According to the legend, only a select few from the profane world are ever counted worthy enough to glimpse this city as it becomes momentarily visible, or better yet, to leave the world behind and enter Kitezh forever. The legend, which claims to date to the 13th century, was virtually unknown in Russian culture before its "discovery" in communities of a persecuted religious sect in the mid-1800s. Within 70 years, the legend attained immense popularity in Russian culture, appearing widely in literature, music, and painting. One of the remarkable features of the appropriation of the legend was the great flexibility with which different writers used it to illustrate variety of ideological, artistic, and philosophical positions. This talk will focus on how the legend went from unilaterally negative to largely positive interpretations between 1860-1910, paving the way for the explosion of excitement about the Kitezh legend in the next decade.
Rethinking Early American Slavery from an International Perspective, 1450-1640
Many are aware that the first “20. and odd” Africans arrived in British North America in 1619. Historians of early America often treat this episode as an exceptional moment in which British colonists, unfamiliar with chattel slavery, integrated culturally pliable “Atlantic Creole” Africans into early Chesapeake society as indentured servants. Moving away from emphases on US historical “beginnings,” I argue that the British, and even Virginia’s first colonists, were intimately familiar with slavery and the slave trade. Moreover, the Angolans that arrived in Virginia in the early 1600s were not “Atlantic Creoles.” Rather, they were like the hundreds of thousands of other Central Africans distributed across the Americas in the first decades of the seventeenth century. Ultimately, there was nothing exceptional about the landing of the first “20. and odd” Africans in Virginia. On the contrary, their arrival was a predictable outcome of historical processes that began as early as the fifteenth century on the Iberian Peninsula, culminating in the variable, overlapping patterns of slaving that characterized the seventeenth-century circum-Caribbean and Atlantic world.
The Visible and Invisible City: Antebellum Authors and the Literary Construction of New York City
My project explores the ways in which a generation of American writers conceptualized a new phenomenon, the emerging metropolis. While nature writing has been widely studied in recent years, we still lack a taxonomy of urban literary forms or a discussion of the most important literary strategies used by city writers. One of the reasons for this critical neglect lies in the connection between New York authors and the history of journalism (which has received little critical attention from literary scholars). With the exception of Herman Melville, all of the writers in my study (including George Foster and Fanny Fern) worked as journalists; five of them (Lydia Maria Child, Margaret Fuller, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, and George Lippard) also served as editors. As I examine these authors’ literary construction of New York, I will be paying special attention to their conceptions of urban space, which for most of them contains important non-visual elements and is often discontinuous or folded. One of the primary goals of this project is to move beyond models of nineteenth-century urban writing based upon the flâneur–the strolling journalist who emphasized visual impressions of the city, often at the expense of ‘invisible’ factors such as class and ideological divisions. In this regard, I am following in the footsteps of Marxist and postmodern geographers like Henri Lefebvre and Edward Soja who challenge the mystification of space into a visible plane excluding class or political divisions.
A Peculiar Custom: Euro-African Marriage in an Atlantic Slave Trading Town
My project is a history of marriages between African women and European men who participated in the slave trade on the Gold Coast in the eighteenth century. I argue that these interracial marriages took place in a field of tension between the local practicalities of the slave trade and the larger Atlantic structures of racial slavery and colonialism. In that larger Atlantic world, marriages between black and white were neither socially acceptable nor economically necessary. Amid the difficulties of the slave trade on the Gold Coast, however, Euro-African marriages were from the very beginning central in creating strong cross-cultural ties and stable trading relations. My book follows five generations of Euro-African families in the small town of Osu (now part of Accra). It shows how these families responded to both opportunities and pressures from the intense social climate created by the Atlantic slave trade, in the process building a cultural world specifically adapted to it.
Martial Arts: Cultural Interactions between the Civil and Military in Ming China
Scholarship on art collecting, art production and the broader world of elite cultural practices during the Ming dynasty has focused on the role that wealth and social status has played in the formation of taste and style, and the ways that anxieties about fluidity in social boundaries in the late Ming led to more vocal attempts to distinguish those who possessed "genuine" aesthetic sensitivity and cultural refinement. Much of this discussion has centered on various strata of the educated elite, which include landholders and government officials with degrees, and merchants. Conspicuously absent from such examinations of social position and its relationship to art and material culture is any discussion of the elite members of the hereditary military class. Yet, during the sixteenth century, Ming China was engaged in several military campaigns of enormous importance to the empire. Not surprisingly, military generals and commanders formed social as well as political relationships with civil officials and other members of the educated civil-degree-holding literati. This lecture will show that military men often participated broadly in activities typically closely associated with educated elites who engaged in civil-service examination culture, in areas such as scholarship, poetry-writing, painting, calligraphy, and collecting antique artifacts. Furthermore, it will be argued that this phenomenon is not merely another example of a one-way flow of cultural influence from the elite arbiters of taste in civil society. On the contrary, high-ranking or influential civil literati who were seriously involved in military matters often engaged actively in pursuits commonly associated with men from hereditary military families, such as archery, swordsmanship and other martial arts, the study of the military classics, writing of military strategy and the collecting of swords.
At the Threshold of New Political Communities: The Nollywood Epic
Many of the most popular genres of Nigeria’s “Nollywood” video film industry have histories that predate the advent of video filmmaking. The “epic” genre, in particular, draws on expectations generated by the Nigerian state television bureaucracy, which itself draws on expectations generated in literary and oral epic narratives. While some Nollywood epics fulfill these expectations, others substantially subvert them, especially in terms of setting and costume. I argue that, because epic narratives are fundamentally narratives about the establishment of political communities, Nollywood epics offer visions of Nigerian nationhood that, depending on the film in question, fulfill or subvert the ideological trajectory of the Nigerian state.
Myth in the Landscape: Ancient Heroes and Hellenic Culture in Imperial Asia Minor
The purpose of my current book project is to understand the role of landscape in the articulation of Hellenism in Imperial Asia Minor. In this presentation I will focus on a particular feature of the mythic landscape of the region: large mounds that dotted the region of the Troad and were believed (sometimes rightly) to be the burial places of ancient epic heroes. For the third century CE writer Philostratus, these tumuli provided a literary trope for the persistence of the Hellenic past in the present. Sources of different kinds offer a wider context for exploring the sorts of landscape – physical and mental – formed by commemorating and creating heroic burials.
Restoring Memory: German Legacies and Polish Politics of Commemoration in Łódź after 1989
The search for German legacies in Poland today serves local, national, and international agendas. As a result, the German past is often deployed in ways that seem contradictory. This development is apparent in the city of Łódź, which embodies many of the ruptures in modern European history. An important industrial center in nineteenth century, Łódź quickly became the second largest city in the Polish lands. It once had a German-speaking majority and also increasingly became a center of Jewish life in Central Europe. It was occupied by Germany in both the First World War and the Second World War, when it was renamed “Litzmannstadt” and the local ghetto became a major site in the Holocaust. Since 1989, however, Poles and Germans have looked back to this multiethnic past as a guide to the European future. This paper argues that the efforts in the city to “restore” a multicultural history that includes Poles, Germans, and Jews have also conflicted with commemorations of the Holocaust and the Second World War, thereby revealing the contested nature of Polish-German memory politics.
The Birth of 'Literati' Painting in the Song and Yuan Dynasties: How to Think About What We Do and Do Not Know
Every study of later Chinese painting history tends to establish two overarching categories into which all paintings are expected to fit: literati and not literati, the latter including court, ecclesiastical, and popular works. All modern viewers are charged with comprehending how this rubric of "literati painting," peculiar to China and tied to its civil service system, accounts for style. Yet the birth of literati painting has confused historians, for in its first few hundred years it exhibited a highly unstable visual identity that must prove baffling to anyone today expecting to see there a clear-cut differential between it and not-it. Why this confusion, and how should we deal with this uncertainty about such a fundamental historical issue?
Rachel Feldhay Brenner
The Holocaust and the Ethics of Witnessing: Polish Writers Look at the Ghetto