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Graduate Student Working Groups

Imperial Networks: Bodies and Boundaries

This year’s working group seeks to explore bodies and identities in flux in the wider British Empire, and examines how interaction between colonizers and colonial subjects provoked the remaking of gendered, raced, classed, and politicized constructs from roughly the 16th to 20th centuries. The intersecting movements of people, products, and ideas defined Britain and its empire. The subjects involved in these global transaction and diasporas, from slaves, indentured servants, and soldiers to missionaries, settlers, and colonial officials, were all engaged in a vast project making and unmaking communities and identities.

Social, economic, cultural and literary categories were subject to reworking in the enterprise of Empire. Just as imperial projects policed, managed, and classified different bodies, the identities of British and colonial subjects were constantly being remade by virtue of their interaction with different imperial actors. Latent instability in the ever-changing Empire meant that while some transgressive identities were placed under strict control and observation, others were able to exist and flourish in the less-regulated spaces at British borders. We will discuss and explore how these exchanges provoked both the reconfiguration of the self and its place inside or outside its respective community/ies. We also encourage the rethinking of imperial borders, as sites where British civilians and colonial subjects encountered empires and nations that challenged and weakened– and sometimes confirmed and solidified -- prevailing ideologies and practices within the British world. In addition to the larger body of scholarship developed on the relationship between colony and metropole, we seek to probe transcolonial and transnational interactions whose effects reverberated throughout the empire.

Some questions that the working-group plans to address include: To what extent did the mobility of people and ideas in the British Empire destabilize, reconfigure, or consolidate existing social constructs and hegemonic epistemologies? How have identities in the colony and metropole been mutually impacted by imperial connection and conflict? How are bodies, of both the colonized and colonizer, often used as mediums through which to describe the experience and consequences of imperial exchange?

This year’s working group seeks interdisciplinary engagement in questions of colonial and postcolonial literature and theory, the history of art and architecture, anthropological and ethnographic study, and theories of gender and sexuality. The broad purview of the group’s subjects will, we hope, stimulate cross-disciplinary exchange and constructively enhance the reach and accessibility of our own work.

Organizers: Hilary Buxton (History); Satyasikha Chakraborty (History)

Fall 2013-Spring 2014 Plans:

Reading Weeks: Each semester will be prefaced with a reading week of topical research which the group will meet to discuss, probing theoretical issues and questions of interdisciplinary connection in contemporary work on the British Empire. Readings will be drawn from both History and English, in an attempt to confront colonial and postcolonial studies from an interdisciplinary standpoint. We additionally plan to conduct a student-faculty roundtable in the spring, to enable students to be briefed on professors’ current research and their methodological approaches to the study of empire.

Graduate Workshops: The group plans to hold meetings each semester to workshop pre-circulated papers from graduate students in different departments. Works will span from dissertation chapters to conference papers and articles.

Invited Speakers and Workshops: The group will invite a speaker each semester, particularly focusing on scholars whose research will interest a wide cast of the British Studies cohort.

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