Home Past Projects

Narratives of Power: New Articulations of Race, Gender, Sexuality & Class

Project Directors: Donna Murch and Deborah Gray White

The 2010-2012 project at the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis addressed changing narratives of power in a time of historical transformation. Inspired by the election of Barack Obama, media pundits, scholars, and the public more broadly were asking how this momentous shift in the United States’ polity has changed the way that we understand the American past and present. Given the history of New World slavery, segregation, and disfranchisement, the election of the country’s first black president has led many to reflect on the operation and exercise of power in the United States. Although his election has been widely celebrated by supporters, Barack Obama’s campaign highlighted many of the growing fault lines and demographic shifts within the American public. Shifting parameters of identity created both the opportunity for new coalition and division. One of the most striking elements of the election was the remapping of the U.S. electorate based on multiple vectors of identity and voting behavior. The mass media focused an unprecedented level of attention on region, gender, intergenerational change, immigration status and linguistic designation as analysts stressed the increasing power of new political constituencies.

Using both President Obama’s campaign and election as starting point,  the seminar used this topical theme as an opportunity to create an expansive, interdisciplinary dialogue about the intersection, overlap, and conflict across different channels of power and identity, including race, gender, sexuality and class. We chose to include narrative because as decades of scholarship questioning the interrelation of author and subject have shown, an interrogation of how the story is told, by whom, and to what end is essential to the process of understanding power.

This seminar involved a broad meditation on the significance of historically marginal and disfranchised groups moving from the periphery to the center of social, political and cultural institutions. The inquiry was not limited to the 20th century United States, but welcomes scholarship on Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe across a broad sweep of time. In keeping with the rich literature that has developed over the past half-century on the complex interplay of multiple identities, we encouraged participation from a number of disciplines, regions, and time periods to join a wide-ranging discussion of identity, narration and power. In addition to the usual two years of seminars at the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis, “Narratives of Power” also included a campus lecture series, a major conference entitled “From Black Modern to Post Blackness: A Retrospective Look at Identity,” and an undergraduate “signature” class in which postdoctoral fellows participated.

The first year (2010-2011) of “Narratives of Power” focused on material issues of political economy, resource distribution, and the state in shaping theories and practices of identity. Topics of inquiry included social welfare, immigration, deindustrialization, policing and punishment, labor (free, forced, and wage), non-governmental organizations, formal and informal economy. In this new era, we were mindful of how domestic social and economic policy is inextricably linked to changing concepts of citizenship and national belonging. Over the past half-century, increased downward economic pressures created by trade liberalization, capitalist globalization and an erosion of the system of nation states has become a crucial force shaping identity formation across region. Therefore, we also welcomed interdisciplinary research on transnational themes of neoliberalism, economic development, foreign policy and militarization.

In its subsequent year (2011-2012), “Narratives of Power” focused on issues of culture, everyday life and identity formation. Although we recognized that there can never be a clear separation between realms of political economy and cultural production, the second year focused more specifically on the inter-subjective of realm of experience and self-expression. Included within these broad parameters was a meditation on the process of identity formation and culture. This included more traditional ideas of Kultur as understood through artistic expression in aesthetics, music, art, poetry and prose, performance, photography and electronic media, as well as a broader and more inclusive understanding of the social aspects of culture as everyday life and practices. Working in this vein, we invited research on family, community based institutions, religion, education and social reproduction.

2010/2011 Postdoctoral Fellows and Projects:

Robert Chase (Ph.D.: University of Maryland, College Park; Public Historian, Avery Research Center for African American History, College of Charleston):

     “Civil Rights on the Cell Block: Race, Reform, and Violence in Texas Prisons and the Nation”

Abosede George (Ph.D.: Stanford University; Assistant Professor, Barnard College):

     “Saving Saudatu: Girlhood, Juvenile Reform, and Social Develoment in 20th Century Lagos”

Sandra Russell Jones (Ph.D: University of Pennsylvania; Instructor, Department of History, Rutgers; Academic Director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Rutgers):

     "'A Diagnostic of Power:' Strategies of Women Activists in Bahrain"

Ibram Rogers (Ph.D.: Temple University; Assistant Professor, SUNY College at Oneonta):

     “The All-Encompassing Clutches of Black Power: A History of a Social Movement of Social Movements”

Andrew Urban (Ph.D.: University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; Assistant Professor, American Studies and History, Rutgers):

     "The Empire of the Home: Race, Domestic Labor, and the Political Economy of Servitude in the United States, 1850-1920”

2011/2012 Postdoctoral Fellows and Projects:

Ann–Marie Adams (Ph.D.: Howard University):

     “The Origin of Sheff v. O'Neill: The Troubled Legacy of School Segregation in Connecticut”

Kathleen Belew (Ph.D: Yale University):

     "Generations of Violence: Paramilitarism, Mercenaries, and the Racist Right from the Vietnam War to Oklahoma City"                

Sheetal Chhabria (Ph.D.: Columbia University):

     “Making the Modern Slum and Urbanizing Poverty: Bombay and its Oceanic Frontier 1760-1930”

Themis Chronopoulos (Ph.D.: Brown University; Lecturer in American Studies at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, U.K:):

     “When the Government Disappears: Inadequate Municipal Service Delivery and the Decline of New York City, 1945-1981”


Vernacular Epistemologies

Project Directors: Indrani Chatterjee and Julie Livingston

This two-year interdisciplinary project sought to get beyond the implicit homogenization of thought, performance and subjectivities implied by the contemporary ethos of development and globalization. It refocused attention on practices and forms of knowledge that diverge from, challenge, entangle with, and complicate fundamental categories or apparatuses identifiable with Enlightenment. In thinking of and with ‘vernacular’ practices and epistemes, this seminar remained mindful of the processes by which particular categories and performances were rendered ‘parochial’ or ‘local’ by taxonomic projects of others. Implicated in contest, incorporation, translation, vernacular categories also shifted shape. This project considered as broadly as possible the ways in which the vernaculars were formed, change, shift and inform other practices and concerns, and remain visible, even discordant, thereafter. The intent was to foreground histories that bring such discrepant, ‘narrow’, secreted categories to bear on an interrogation of current disciplinary norms and debates.

The first year (2008-2009) engaged discussions around vernacular categories of Time and Value. The seminar studied these pluralities in their specific articulations – as art, music, in narrations of ritual and social import, in economic transactions and calculations. Participants explored processes through which such categories co-constituted each other, or structured relationships between ethics and economics, political and social exchanges and distribution, between facticity, numeracy and regimes of truth.

The second year (2009-2010) discussed Body and Soul/Mind. Taking the cue from experiential and analytic categories from the global south as well as early modern European scholarship that tracks the emergence and gap between intellectual modeling and daily experience of bodily and spiritual life, the project sought to better understand these overdetermined rubrics and the binaries in which they are posited.

Senior Fellows:
Leslie Witz (University of the Western Cape, Capetown) (Spring 2009)
Postdoctoral Fellows:
Moses Chikowero (Ph.D.: Dalhousie University, Halifax, 2008)
Prista Ratanapruck (Ph.D.: Harvard, 2008)

Senior Fellow:
Lila Ellen Gray (Department of Music, Columbia University)
Postdoctoral Fellows:
Karen Lisa Greene (Ph.D.: Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley)
Perundevi Srinivasan (Ph.D.: Human Sciences Program, The George Washington University)


The Question of the West

Project Directors: Ann Fabian and T.J. Jackson Lears

The idea of "the West" animates contemporary public discourse. Politicians and journalists deploy it for polemical purposes, calling up a "clash of civilizations" occurring along an East-West divide. The purpose of this seminar was to restore critical consciousness to current debates by exploring the epistemological status of "the West" from a variety of perspectives. We recognize that from many historical, geographical, and cultural vantages, "the West" may not exist at all as a meaningful referent, or it may exist as a popular fantasy or ideological construction. Yet however evanescent "the West" may be as a geographical location, however spurious its claims to constitute "civilization" or to be the source of "universal" values, the consequences of the idea of the West have been profound and lasting. Imperial fictions demand sustained critical attention, especially when their impact is more than merely fictional.

In 2006-2007, the seminar addressed historical issues—the origins of an East-West divide in early modern thought, ideological uses of universalist claims, relationships between narratives of civilization and imperial policies, non-Western alternatives to Western metaphorical mapping, and related topics. In 2007-2008, the seminar considered contemporary questions. Seminar participants worked through the related terms that characterize writings on the subject: rise and fall; tradition and modernity; civilization and barbarism; the local and the global, the secular and the sacred, Orientalism and Occidentalism; consumption, corruption, empire and globalization. They entertained challenges to the history of the East/West divide, took up the still puzzling mix of hope, promise and mechanistic excess tangled inside the heart of the West, and offered insights into the nature of the stakes of a divided world.

Senior Fellows:
Bethel Saler, Department of History, Haverford College
Kathleen Wilson, Department of History, SUNY, Stony Brook
Postdoctoral Fellows:
Carla Nappi, PhD: Department of History, Princeton University
Nancy Khalek, PhD: Department of History, Princeton University

Senior Fellows:
Alastair Bonnett, Department of Geography, University of New Castle, UK
Steven Stoll, Department of History, Fordham University
Postdoctoral Fellows:
Naomi Davidson, PhD: Department of History, University of Chicago
Dejan Lukic, PhD: Department of Anthroplogy, Columbia University


Planetary Perspectives: Approaching World History in an Era of Globalization

Project Director: Michael Adas

In recent decades world history emerged as one of the most visible and dynamic subfields of historical inquiry, and demonstrated a strong appeal to a broader educated public in societies across the globe. The current prominence of this subfield generated wide-ranging debates over methodologies, periodization, and ways of conceptualizing global perspectives. Scholars critiqued established modes of geographical representation as well as highly charged core concepts of historical discourse, such as civilization, primitive, native, progressive, and modern. Even concepts key to the subfield, such as world, global, globalization, and globalism, proved sources of considerable contention. But however contested the terrain of world history has been, it is clear that most practitioners of this approach to disciplinary inquiry share the conviction that it is essential for the education of an informed, cosmopolitan, and engaged citizenry in an age when the processes of globalization are forging a world community with a depth and intensity never before achieved in the human experience. This project focused on ways of conceiving, researching, writing, and teaching global history.

Distinguished Visiting Fellows:
Jerry H. Bentley, Department of History, University of Hawaii; Editor, Journal of World History
Juan Cole, Department of History, University of Michigan
Ross Dunn, Department of History, San Diego State University
Mrinalini Sinha, Departments of History and Women’s Studies, Penn State University
Howard Spodek, Departments of History and Geography/Urban Studies, Temple University


Gendered Passages in Historical Perspective

Project Directors: Rudolph M. Bell and Virginia Yans

The first year of this project focused on the experiences of single women — past and present, American and global, rich and poor, educated and illiterate – with the goal of developing educational tools to encourage future policymakers to make the lives of these women more productive, safe, and personally satisfying. The larger concept of this project was the idea of “gendered passages.” Much of people’s lives are dependent on certain socially accepted/constructed markers in life – marriage, parenthood, perhaps educational degree, career. These passages are gendered, occurring at different times and holding different meanings for women than for men. One of the major goals of the project was to complicate these passages within the context of specific biological and social events with particular emphasis on the material culture and historical context surrounding them. Another goal of the RCHA project participants was be to construct an inclusive category of “singleness,” one defined positively to incorporate the diverse situations of women never married, and those once married but then divorced or widowed, yet one that goes beyond defining singleness as “not” married. Singleness was recognized, for many women at least, as a status of choice, not as a marginal or liminal moment of transition from one to another socially approved, politically supported, male-connected designation: daughter, wife, mother, and eventually in good circumstances, desexualized grandmother.

In its second year, this project encouraged interdisciplinary research, conversation, and theoretical synthesis of two fields – the study of children and the study of gender. The juxtaposition of the two fields created a fertile site for developing new approaches to gender, childhood, and the gendering of children. We wished to understand how various analytic levels of gender analysis – the personal, individual, social, and symbolic – relate in the varied historical, geographical, ethnic and racial contexts within which children live.

Senior Fellows:
Anne Byrne, Dept. of Political Science and Sociology, National University of Ireland
Amy Froide, Dept. of History. Clark University
Jochen Hellbeck, Dept. of History, Rutgers University
Allyson Poska, Dept. of History, Mary Washington College

Senior Fellow:
Michelle A. Massé, Dept. of English, Louisiana State University
Postdoctoral Fellows:
Chantal Tetreault, Ph.D: Dept. of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin
Erica M. Windler, Ph.D: Dept. of History, University of Miami, Coral Gables


Industrial Environments: Creativity and Consequences

Project Directors: Susan R. Schrepfer and Philip Scranton

Starting with the assumption that the industrial environment is to a remarkable the same as the national environment and encompasses essential characteristics of modern American life, this project has been exploring the relevance of the term "industrial environments" to familiar contexts, as well as to contexts further removed in time and space, beyond factory walls and outside the boundaries of early industrializing Western nations into post-colonial societies. The project had two central objectives: first, to open dialogues among scholars working in the fields of the history of technology, environment, and medicine, and secondly, to carry the dialogues across international boundaries, allowing scholars studying any geography implicated in industrialization an opportunity to contribute.

Senior Fellow:
Greg Hise, University of Southern California
Postdoctoral Fellows:
Susan Smith-Peter, PhD University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign;
Sandra M. Sufian, PhD New York University;
Lynn Swartley, PhD University of Pittsburgh

Senior Fellow:
Kavita Philip, Georgia Institute of Technology
Postdoctoral Fellows:
Erin Elizabeth Clune, PhD New York University;
Jacob Eyferth, PhD Leiden University, the Netherlands;
Lynn Swartley, PhD University of Pittsburgh


Utopia, Violence, Resistance: Remaking and Unmaking Humanity

Project Directors: Omer Bartov and Matt Matsuda

This project explored how different periods and cultures have used utopian visions to advance social and political programs, dedicated to creating “new” humanities, with a focus on the particular links between utopia, violence, and resistance. The purpose of the project was to discover why some utopians employ violence to serve political practice and to examine the cultural and historical roots to such practices. Specific themes included how and why utopias engender boundaries, construct plans, relate to memory and seek total solutions.

Senior Fellows:
Michael Burleigh, University of Wales (Wallenberg);
Scott Spector, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Postdoctoral Fellows:
Frank Biess, PhD Brown University;
Jeremy Varon, PhD Cornell University

Senior Fellows:
Glennys Young University of Washington;
Alastair Davidson, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia (Wallenberg)
Postdoctoral Fellows:
Zvi Ben-Dor, PhD University of California, Los Angeles;
Irina Carlota Silber, PhD New York University


The Black Atlantic: Race, Nation, and Gender

Project Directors: Deborah Gray White and Mia Bay

This project traced the globalization of African culture and the formation of the Black Atlantic since the beginning of the modern slave trade. It aimed to chart a new comparative history of the modern black experience. In mapping the distinctive cultural and political traditions that have shaped the Black Atlantic world, this project put particular emphasis on three broad themes that criss-cross through the history of the Black Atlantic: race, nation, and gender.

Senior Fellow:
David Brown, Emory University
Postdoctoral Fellows:
Michele Mitchell, PhD Northwestern University;
Anne Bailey, PhD University of Pennsylvania

Senior Fellow:
Clair Cone Robertson, Ohio State University
Postdoctoral Fellows:
Christopher Brown, PhD Oxford University, England;
Jason McGill, PhD Loyola University


Varieties of Religious Experience

Project Director: Phyllis Mack

This project aimed to chart a new, comparative history of the varieties of spiritual experience. Specifically, the project sought to address the relation between self-expression and self-transcendence, and the relation between religion as a doctrine of universal love and redemption and as the basis of exclusivity and aggression.

Senior Fellow:
James Gilbert, University of Maryland
Postdoctoral Fellows:
Elizabeth McAlister, PhD Yale University;
Jacob Meskin, PhD Princeton University

Senior Fellow:
Marcia K. Hermansen, San Diego State University
Postdoctoral Fellow:
Elizabeth Castelli, PhD Barnard College, Columbia University


War, Peace, and Society in Historical Perspective

Project Director: John W. Chambers

This project encouraged comparative studies of socio-cultural relationships between war and society, more particularly the impact of war, preparation for war, and preparation for peace upon various aspects of society and culture including cultural attitudes, conditions of class, race, ethnicity, and gender, and the process of state-building.

Senior Fellows:
Stephen Ambrose, Univ. of New Orleans;
Ronald Spector, George Washington Univ.
Postdoctoral Fellow:
Pamela S. Haag, PhD Yale University

Senior Fellows:
Carole Fink, Ohio State University;
Barbara Engel, University of Colorado;
Jay M. Winter, Cambridge University, England
Postdoctoral Fellow:
Heide Fehrenbach, PhD Colgate University


Consumer Cultures in Historical Perspectives

Project Director: Victoria de Grazia

This project moved beyond the conventional debates about mass consumption as a site alternatively of domination or resistance, manipulation or opposition. This project was concerned with how the differing nature of consumption under diverse regimes – whether private or public, individualistic or collectively planned – affects people’s expectations about what they are entitled to, the means they use to organize, and the ways political elites cast their appeal.

Senior Fellows:
Avner Offer, University of York;
Kathy Peiss, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Postdoctoral Fellows:
David Kuchta, PhD University of California, Berkeley;
Richard Smith, PhD East-West Center, Honolulu

Senior Fellows:
Rachel Bowlby, Sussex University, England; Ellen Furlough, Kenyon College
Postdoctoral Fellows:
Timothy Burke,PhD Johns Hopkins University;
Belinda Davis, PhD University of Michigan


The Historical Constructions of Identities

Project Director: John Gillis

The purpose of this project was to explore the way identity formation is shaped by the peculiarities of particular cultures, situations, and historical dynamics. The aim was to create an understanding of the way historically constructed individual and collective identities shape the current discussions of domestic and international issues. The ultimate goal of this project was to provide new approaches to the study of identities, and demonstrate how history and other disciplines can benefit by incorporating a cross-disciplinary approach to the study of identities.

Senior Fellows:
Roger Bartra, Mexico’s Institute of Social Research;
Tamás Hofer, Hungarian Academy of Sciences;
Robert Nye, Professor of History at Oklahoma University, E.P. Thompson
Postdoctoral Fellows:
George Chauncey, PhD Yale University;
Jacqueline Urla, PhD University of California, Berkeley

Senior Fellows:
Rhys Isaac, Professor of History, La Trobe University, Australia;
Robert Thornton, Professor of Anthropology, University of Cape Town, South Africa;
Philip Nord, Princeton University
Postdoctoral Fellows:
Marjorie Beale, PhD University of California, Berkeley;
John Burdick, PhD CUNY Graduate Center

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