The Humanities Institute at SUNY Buffalo sponsored a conference organized by faculty from the Department of Transnational Studies on March 22-23, 2013.
Over the last few decades, scholars in all disciplines of the humanities have called upon their colleagues to interrogate, critique, and transcend frames of reference dominated by nation states. While this transnational turn has longstanding intellectual roots, these recent calls have resulted in an unprecedented outpouring of scholarly debate and research.
The State University of New York at Buffalo (UB) has recognized the increasing maturation of this body of scholarship by founding North America’s first Department of Transnational Studies. This new department brings together faculty from several interdisciplinary departments and programs which have long pioneered investigations in transnational studies: African and African American Studies, Gender Studies, American Studies, Native American Studies, Latino Studies, and Caribbean Studies.
The goals of the conference are to assess the transnational turn on a broad interdisciplinary scale, to highlight ongoing research projects in transnational studies across the humanities, to re-interrogate the theoretical bases of transnational inquiry, to critically explore the intellectual history of transnational studies, to learn lessons that have arisen in scholarly practice, and to provide insight and inspiration to scholars and students interested in pursuing new projects of transnational inquiry. While its wide focus is upon transnational work within the humanities as traditionally defined the conference organizers also welcome humanities-inspired scholarship from the social sciences.
The conference showcased projects of empirical research in this field. Some of the questions the panels addressed:
1) Critical intellectual histories of the transnational turn. Do today’s proclamations of transnationality further obscure or help celebrate historically underappreciated and path-breaking scholarship on such matters? How have earlier discussions of nation-transcending phenomena such as race, class, gender, capital, modernity, slavery, immigration, diasporas, borderlands, globalization, “global systems,” empire, popular culture, and the Atlantic world prefigured, strengthened, or perhaps limited the transnational turn? How about the precedents of comparative history and literature, area studies and international studies? What is the role of critiques of national exceptionalism, and is it possible such critiques limit the scope of transnational inquiry? How has the transnational turn intersected with other important “turns” in recent scholarship, towards culture, the body, performance, and questions of space? How has the transnational turn varied by discipline, and what can scholars in the humanities learn from the experience of their colleagues across disciplinary lines?
2) Inquiries about the relationship between the transnational, the national, and other geographic/political/cultural spaces. Is engaging in transnational inquiry equivalent to a contention that nation states are losing relevance, or even that the world has become irrevocably “post-national”? If not, is there nonetheless a risk to over-emphasizing the transnational at the expense of human activity largely confined to spaces such as nations but also within hemispheres, oceanic worlds, nations, regions, metropolitan areas, towns, neighborhoods, households, or within individual psyches? How should we assess the continuing centrality of nationality to liberation movements in many parts of the world? Studies that explore historical contingencies in the relationship between the transnational and the national, or which investigate the multiplicities of transnational geographies are especially welcome.
3) Inquiries about transnational studies as research practice. As the conference hopes to highlight, primary research projects have multiplied in this field in recent years, making it increasingly difficult to reproach transnational studies for remaining solely a theoretical proposition. However, real challenges remain, including the disparity of sources, language barriers, the enormity of costs in money and time involved, the professional risks of trespassing on sub-fields far from one’s training, the special difficulties involved in training graduate students in multiple fields and methods. How have practitioners overcome these obstacles? What successful models of transnational research and training can we identify?
The State University of New York at Buffalo, in the city of Buffalo, New York, lies at the heart of the Niagara River region. This region straddles the border between the United States and Canada, corresponds to the western reaches of the historic homeland of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, and is home to diasporic populations from across the world.
Ato Quayson, Director of the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies, U of Toronto. Editor, most recently, with Antonela Arhin, of Labor Migration, Human Trafficking, and Multinational Corporations: The Commodification of Illicit Flows (2011). Author of Postcolonialism: Theory, Practice, or Process? (2000); Relocating Postcolonialism (with David Theo Goldberg, 2002); Calibrations: Reading the Social (2003); and Strategic Transformations n Nigerian Writing (1997). Editor of several anthologies and collections of essays including the Cambridge History of African Literature; and dozens of articles on African literature, disability, and father-daughter relationships.
Daniel T. Rodgers, Henry Lea Professor of History, Princeton University
Author, most recently, of Age of Fracture (2011); Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (1998); “American Exceptionalism Revisited,” Raritan Review24 (fall 2004); “An Age of Social Politics,” in Rethinking American History in a Global Age , ed. Thomas Bender (2002), “Exceptionalism,” in Imagined Histories: American Historians Interpret the Past, ed. Anthony Molho and Gordon S. Wood (1998), and many articles on U.S. social thought and culture.
Audra Simpson, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University.
Author of Mohawk Interruptus. Durham: Duke University Press, forthcoming; “Under the Sign of Sovereignty: Certainty, Ambivalence and Law in Native North America and Indigenous Australia.” Wicazo Sa Review 25 (2010): 107-124; “Subjects of Sovereignty: Indigeneity, The Revenue Rule and Juridics of Failed Consent.” Law and Contemporary Problems 71 (2008): 191-215. firstname.lastname@example.org
Richa Nagar, Professor of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, University of Minnesota
Author, with Sangtin Writers of Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh, India, of Playing With Fire: Feminist Thought and Activism Through Seven Lives in India (2006) and two books in Hindi, Sangtin Yatra (2004) and Ek Aur Neemsaar (2012); with Eric Sheppard, Philip Porter, and David Faust, of A World of Difference: Encountering and Contesting Development (2009); “Footloose Researchers, Traveling Theories and the Politics of Transnational Feminist Praxis in Gender, Place and Culture 9 (2002) and numerous other articles on the practice of collaboration and co-authorship and the geography of globalization, locality, gender, and feminism. Editor, with Amanda Swarr, of Critical Transnational Feminist Praxis (Albany: SUNY Press, 2010).http://www.tc.umn.edu/~nagar
Aims McGuiness, Associate Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Author of Path to Empire: Panama and the California Gold Rush (2008), and “The Revolution Begins Here: Milwaukee and the History of Socialism” in Perspectives on Milwaukee’s Past, edited by Margo Anderson and Victor Green (2009).
Rinaldo Walcott, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology and Equity Studies, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto.
Author of Black Like Who: Writing Black Canada (second revised edition, 2003); editor of Rude: Contemporary Black Canadian Cultural Criticism (2000); and editor with Roy Moodley of Counselling Across and Beyond Cultures: Exploring the Work of Clemment Vontress in Clinical Practice (2010).
Paul Kramer, Associate Professor of History, Vanderbilt University
Author of The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines (2006); “Power and Connection: Imperial Histories of the United States in the World (American Historical Review 2011), “Empire Against Exclusion in Early 20th-Century Trans-Pacific History,” Nanzan Review of American Studies (2011); and “Empires, Exceptions, and Anglo-Saxons: Race and Rule between the British and United States Empires, 1880-1910,” Journal of American History, 2002.