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