The Noblest Commerce: Intelligence and Sinology on the "Russian Route," 1685-1825
My dissertation deals with the way Russians came to understand, study, and spy on their southeastern neighbors, the Qing Empire, as the two states confronted each other between the late seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries. Intelligence, in the sense of practice-oriented knowledge gathered by actors working on behalf of the state, was vital for diplomatic and commercial relationships: for instance, ambassadors not only needed to know how the Qing court functioned, but also how best to make their way to the Chinese border and beyond. But embassies and trade caravans also shaped the way knowledge was created and circulated. The same ambassadors who had relied on the works of their predecessors returned to augment the Russian state's store of intelligence; for their part, trade caravans provided ample cover for spies as well as often serving as the only means of carrying letters and papers. A particular focus of the project is the relationship between the new Russian Academy of Sciences, created in 1724, and the Jesuit missionaries in Beijing. By forging scientific ties, the two groups nurtured each other's political hopes, with the Jesuits aiming to develop Russia as a link between Europe and China and the Russians hoping to cultivate their new correspondents as a privileged source of influence and intelligence at the Qing court. The role of the Jesuits as well as the increasing volume and importance of trade between the two empires ultimately gave the Russo-Chinese relationship crucial, and wide-ranging, global ramifications. By the end of the eighteenth century, the story had come to involve not just Russia and the Qing but also Britain, France, and the United States. In the nineteenth, the complex of intelligence-gathering mechanisms developed in the previous century produced, and gave way to, the specialized academic discipline known as sinology.
Echoes of Legal Pasts: Landed Property Relations in the Negev, 1858-1948
My dissertation research aims to explore the interplay of geography and law in a relational way in the Negev, now part of Israel, under two different regimes: the late Ottoman, since the enactment of the Ottoman Land Code (1858-1917), and the British Mandatory (1917-1948). Looking at both the social and the material dimensions of geography and law, this project examines the frequent reconfigurations of land relations in the Negev over the century preceding 1948 and how land rights were defined and reshaped within a unique legal order that evolved through the dynamic interaction of state law and tribal customary law. This dynamic relationship was influenced by fluctuating notions of modernization, sovereignty, authority, as well as ongoing capitalist development, all of which impacted the land regime and had significant social repercussions. Focusing on this region's Bedouin-Arab population, my project draws on Ottoman, British, and Israeli archives, personal papers and interviews, to explore the system and evolution of landed property relations, in the context of a broader analysis of state-society relationships. My dissertation will examine how the shifting understandings and categorizations of specific legal, spatial, and social realities by governmental and social actors (including courts, judges, regional governors, tax and land registry staff, inhabitants, and local leaders) shaped the geographic and legal order in the Negev. My project's focus on land relations in the Negev since 1858 provides an excellent angle from which to investigate the legal orders of imperial, colonial, and post colonial regimes in this particular region, and challenges the neat distinctions often drawn between each political order. Further, the research challenges scholarly tendency to treat the legal history of modern Palestine as if each regime brought with it an entirely distinct legal system.
Mobility and Locality: Afghan Identity in South India 1629-1779
I propose to follow the history of two Afghan family lineages, the Miyanas and the Pannis, over a hundred and fifty year time span between 1629 and 1779 as they moved across frontiers and between political centers in central and southern India. While attending to these groups' roles in the major political events of the period, I will also focus on situating them within their cultural contexts. Through attention to their literary production and participation in regional and extra-regional religious networks but also through practices of marriage, patronage, adoption, friendship and other ties that bound them to localities, I seek to uncover a political and cultural history focusing on themes often overlooked in state-centered narratives: the regular movement of groups across state frontiers, the construction of social identities spanning diverse cultural and political contexts, and the production of densely interlocked local, regional and transregional spheres of belonging. The project makes three interventions in existing historiography. Firstly it seeks to articulate a more nuanced understanding of what it means to be Afghan in early modern India across commonly divided time periods and geographies. Secondly, the project seeks to expand our understanding negotiations between local, regional and imperial power structures. Finally, the project aims to contribute to a body of scholarship on the nature of global transformations taking place in late medieval and early modern Eurasia.
Objects of Taste and Knowledge: Chinese Furniture between London, Batavia, and Canton in the Long Eighteenth Century
My dissertation examines the interaction between Europeans and Chinese in the material culture of export Chinese furniture in Canton, Batavia, and Britain during the long eighteenth century. Specifically, it concerns the transmission of cultural and technical knowledge through the production and consumption of furniture and the plural representations of China resultant from such transmission. By examining the Chippendale-style "Chinese bookcase" in Britain, the "Chinese cabinet" of Dutch colonials in Batavia, and the vernacular display cabinets of provincial Canton, my project goes beyond previous scholarship's focus on the exotic chinoiserie to show how Europeans and Chinese co-produced and co-domesticated "Chinese-ness" in heterogeneous ways by mixing exotic and familiar cultural elements. It also replaces the East-West binary with multiple vectors of interest and interaction occurring triangularly between three important trading zones. Following the trajectory of export furniture highlights the networks between dispersed artisans, merchants, and consumers, who formed a complex web of connections that played an important role in the formation of the early modern global trade. By locating its subject matter at the intersection between the local and the global, therefore, my dissertation will reconfigure the transmission and trans-culturation of taste and knowledge through the movement of objects and people in the long eighteenth-century world.
Restaging the Revolution: Military Media and the Contested Legacies of Revolution in Iran
If successful, every revolutionary movement eventually faces a certain dilemma: how does the commitment to the revolutionary project get transmitted from one generation to the next as historical circumstances change? In the case of the Iranian revolution, from the 1979 generation to the present, different media forms have been critical indicators of generational sensibilities, from the graffiti, posters, faxes and other "small media" that characterized the early days, to the work in feature film, television, and social media identified with the contemporary moment. My research investigates how a new generation of Iranian revolutionaries deploys these media to constitute their own generational experience as cultural activists, and as a strategy for "restaging the revolution" for younger generations who have not shared that experience. I request funding for twelve months of ethnographic research on contemporary Iranian paramilitary culture, focusing on their media practices. The Basij, a popular wing of Iran's famed Revolutionary Guards, formed in 1980 at the outset of the Iran-Iraq War, building a reserve army among Iran's civilian population. Since then, their charge has shifted dramatically from guns to media. To understand why and how that has happened, I will focus on the work of Basij media producers as they create mainstream films and television serials at the Center for the Cinema of Revolution and Sacred Defense in Tehran, their most important film studio. Due to preliminary fieldwork and relationships established while making my well-received documentary on Basij victims of chemical weapons, I have permissions from key Basij media producers to shadow them on-set in order to understand how and why they create what they call revolutionary entertainment. This work is intended to contribute to theoretical questions about how media shape political dispositions and sensibilities and how states attempt to resignify revolutions for younger generations.
The Fraudulent Family: Kinship, Knowledge, and Uncertainty in Refugee Resettlement from Nairobi
In 2008, the US government instituted a DNA pilot program to assess "fraud" in its Refugee Family Reunification Program. Over 80% of refugees "failed." While the US government took these results as confirmation of lies and deception, this research seeks to understand the social and cultural processes undergirding this social fact. In addition to genetic requirements, the Family Reunification Program rests on normative, US ideas about familial love and stable cohabitation. In what ways do ideologies of family that shape refugee resettlement policies—including the importance of genetics, and notions of "enduring love" that preclude pragmatic interests—conflict or converge with ideas about kinship and familial practices among refugees in Kenya? How do these and other discourses inform kinship as refugees living in Kenya seek resettlement in the United States? By charting how claims to kinship are articulated, negotiated, contested, or denied within an assemblage of state, non-governmental, and stateless actors involved in refugee resettlement in Nairobi, this research investigates multiple articulations of power as they shape the "family unit." Attending to uncertainties and mutual misunderstanding between refugees and the people who assess their claims, I approach "the family" as a lens into a broader paradox of the interwoven threads of humanitarianism and security that forge refugee resettlement as an ideological practice. By locating "the family" on fortified frontiers between East Africa and the US—where kinship exists as a contested sphere of knowledge—I propose an ethnography of kinship on the border.
The Baboo, the Bibi and the “Padri Sahib”: Christianity, Colonialism and the Creative World of Indian Intellectuals, c. 1813-1907
My dissertation examines Indian intellectuals' encounters with and response to Christianity in the nineteenth century – a relationship broadly unexplored in the existing historical literature, and critical, I assert, to India's putatively secular modernity. The Baboo and the Bibi of my title are the westernized Indian intellectuals, male and female, whose role as intermediaries in colonial India has been thoroughly investigated. Less examined, however, is the significance of their encounters with the "Padri Sahibs" – the white missionaries. Their proselytizing was the subject of debate, ridicule, but just as frequently, evoked serious engagement on the part of India's burgeoning intelligentsia. The men and women who had direct access to Western modes of education, owing to their proximity to colonial agents and evangelicals in the metropolitan centers of Calcutta, Bombay, and Delhi, played a decisive role in the creation of an Indian public sphere. In the way that Christianity was approached, examined and theorized by a spectrum of Indian intellectuals, from Ram Mohan Roy to Brahmabandhab Upadhyay over the course of the nineteenth century, I see the development of a complex relationship of both overt repudiation and covert fascination. I intend to investigate how their extensive examination of Christianity, as a faith and a choice, represents not only a philosophical engagement, but a sustained set of contestations over the nature of faith's sociopolitical implications, and of the political responsibility of the colonized subject. The paradox of Christianity as the catalyst of the modernization impulse in India, and its change over the nineteenth century into a potentially conservative force, privileging the colonizer, provides a rich tension to this narrative.
Windows on the World: Japan's Port Communities and the Global Experience, 1547-1634
My project investigates Japan's port communities in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, a period marked by the dynamic expansion of commerce abroad and political integration at home. I look at the ports of Shimonoseki, Sakai, Nagasaki, and Ishinomaki during the period 1547-1634, asking how their encounters with a diverse of array of foreigners and resurgent political authority shaped how they conceived of their communal identity and how they perceived their place in the world. Eschewing the elite diplomatic and economic histories which have dominated this field of Japanese history, I focus on the local actors—monks, smugglers, pirates, and provincial traders—who oversaw the development of arms manufacture in Sakai, policed and plundered Inland Sea trade routes, bargained with missionaries and warlords alike in Nagasaki, and dispatched an embassy to the Spanish throne from Ishinomaki in the decades leading up to and after the political consolidation of the country under the Tokugawa shogunate in 1600. I assert that this combination of economic opportunity, political turmoil, and the lived experiences of the archipelago's port communities defined the contours of local, regional, and nascent national identity across the archipelago. By narrating Japan's history during this time not through the lens of isolation, but encounter, I contextualize the Japanese experience within the waterways of East and Southeast Asia, host to the competing agendas of terrestrial states, bustling etrepots, privateers, and the initial outposts of aspiring empire. I address the intersection of local lived experience and global networks of exchange, and weave this convergence together into an exploration of ground-up responses to emergent state power.
Identifying Palestine: Transnationalism, Citizenship, and the New World Order (1925-1930)
The dissertation research project for which I am seeking Mellon IDRF funding explores how the 1925 Palestinian Citizenship Order promulgated by the British colonial authorities in Palestine, and the ways in which it was implemented, helped create a new kind of legislated Palestinian diaspora. This phenomenon most conspicuously affected Arab communities in Latin America, whose approximately 25,000 Palestinian immigrants would ultimately, despite their best efforts, be denied the right to return to their homeland as citizens. At the same time, the British policies that denied citizenship to most members of the new Palestinian diaspora established the framework within which that diaspora came to play a role in forging a distinctive Palestinian Arab national identity in Palestine and abroad. Drawing on sources in Arabic, Spanish, French, and English, and on archives, libraries, and collections in Israel, Palestine, Latin America, Switzerland, and Britain, my project seeks to go beyond conventional narratives of the emergence of a Palestinian national identity by treating that process, for the first time, as fundamentally transnational – one that involved Palestinian communities in Honduras, Cuba, Costa Rica and Mexico as well as in Palestine itself. But it also examines the ways in which this process was bound up with an emerging international legal order that played an important role in the lives of subjects of the new Middle Eastern mandates, as well as with the specificities of struggles over legally classifying Palestine's inhabitants, actual and potential. A transnational framework can elucidate the emergence of nationalistic sentiment among Palestinians worldwide during this period, and the particular difficulties that Palestinians ultimately experienced as a result of British citizenship legislation promulgated in the context of a new international legal order.
Decolonizing the State: The Micro-Politics of Transforming Bolivia’s Racialized State Bureaucracy
Bolivia is currently undergoing an epochal transformation in race relations. Since Evo Morales was voted in as Bolivia's first indigenous president in 2006, indigenous men and women have entered the national civil service en masse, occupying authority positions which were largely reserved to the white and mestizo population since the colonial era. This change is the most visible outcome of the Morales administration's initiative to "decolonize" the state bureaucracy in a country where nearly 50 percent of the population is categorized as indigenous. Yet, "decolonization" envisions fundamental changes to the institutional logic of the state and bureaucratic practice that challenge the power and authority of an old generation of bureaucrats. My research examines the micro-politics of "decolonization" of the national bureaucracy. It seeks to understand how decolonization is experienced, perceived, and participated in by old and new bureaucrats on the ground as they attempt to unravel or protect organizational racial boundaries and the institutional logics that sustain them. Relative to countries where attempts have been made to de-racialize state bureaucracies, the currently unfolding project of "decolonization" in Bolivia appears as a much more profound challenge to racial subordination, offering a unique opportunity to examine the micro-politics of racial and institutional change. Through a combination of participant observation within the confines of the Foreign Affairs Ministry and in-depth and semi-structured interviews with bureaucrats across various state agencies, I examine how, in the context of a macro-political and institutional change, bureaucrats interpret, negotiate, and rearticulate racial boundaries and institutional logics in everyday life, and to what effect.
Circuits of Silk: Commerce, Colonialism, and Cultural Encounters Between Lebanon and Lyon
My project will analyze the connections between the French silk trade with Lebanon and the construction of colonialist ideology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Focusing on the economic exchanges and cultural encounters fostered through transnational commerce, I will investigate how the interactions of industrial corporations, imperial agents, and mostly female silk workers in both Lebanon and Lyon at once informed and drew from stocks of imperial knowledge. I approach capitalist practices and Orientalist discourse as mutually constitutive, and my dissertation aims to explore the complex intersections between economic and cultural forms of French imperialism. The goal of my research is to explore how the convergences and contradictions between corporate structures and discursive representations shed light on France's imperial relationship with Lebanon. By tracing circuits of exchange, I aim to elucidate how colonial knowledge mediated commercial practices connecting metropole and colony. I propose breaking down the historiographical separation of economic and cultural colonialism, and I therefore interpret material interests alongside articulations of fantasy, stereotypes, and ideology. In the fields, factories, and marketplaces of France and Lebanon, I suggest, cultural encounters both reflected and constructed imperial power relations. Through the archival records of French silk corporations, consular and military officials, and workers' syndicates, I will be able to evaluate the ways in which laborers, employers, and elites engaged with capitalist structures and colonial governance. From French economic and political expansion into Lebanon in 1860 through formal colonization after the Great War, I intend to track how relationships between material interests and cultural worldviews informed the experiences of capitalism and colonialism across the Mediterranean.
Globalization, Migration, Land Tenure and the Evolution of Racial Subjectivities in Southern Morocco
The dual processes of colonialism and globalization have combined to alter the cultural landscape in Morocco's desert south. Difference has been historically defined in Morocco through language and the linguistic divide between Arab and Berber speakers. However, in Morocco's southern oasis communities, difference has also been defined through land tenure. Specifically, "Black" families were prohibited from owning land and relegated to a lower social status. Following independence, Black Moroccan families were able to take advantage of employment opportunities in the north and have begun to dismantle the physical signposts of their marginalization. Through the purchase of land and the productive use of funds provided by NGOs, Black Moroccan families are remaking the cultural and physical landscape of southern Morocco. In addition, migrant networks embed the local cultural processes of southern oasis communities into broader social movements that include a trans-national Berber rights movement, environmental activism and the Arab spring. By focusing on the oasis community of Akka in Morocco's Tata Province, I will work to understand the impact of these economic changes on how Moroccans understand difference and how previous racial ideologies are reproduced in new and unique ways.
The Western Muslim Frontier Corridor in the Making of Modern China, 1684-1928
In order to explain how China came into the twentieth century in nearly full possession of its imperial territories, this research will examine the collection of Muslim communities in western China, which align with the border of the Chinese cultural area and Turkestan, Tibet, Mongolia, and Southeast Asia. I propose a reading of history in which a Muslim frontier corridor, formed in western China during the Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), allowed the gradual unification of imperial territories during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (1644-1911) through its three major constituents: Muslim middleman merchants, Muslim frontier soldiers, and itinerant Islamic scholars. My hypothesis looks at local actors rather than the central state to explain how such a consolidation was gradually facilitated. I have formed this hypothesis on the basis of two months of archival research in western China with the support of an SSRC Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship (summer 2012), and I propose twelve months of dissertation archival research and fieldwork in western China over the 2013-2014 academic year. I have secured a yearlong affiliation with Ningxia University, China's premier institution for the study of Chinese Muslims (the Hui), which will allow me access to relevant archives both inside and outside of Ningxia, the Chinese Muslim Autonomous Region. Beyond addressing a critical question relevant to both China's past and present, my project looks and speaks to studies of Muslim minority peoples, circulation and internal migration, middleman minorities, geo-spatial analysis, and non-state actors as agents of historical change, with implications for both global history and contemporary Asia.
All Flesh Is Grass: Cultivation as Conservation in the Grasslands of Britain's Settler Empire, 1750-1860
This project focuses on sown grasslands in Britain, New South Wales, and Cape Colony in the age of "Enlightened" agricultural science (1750-1860). I observe two parallel processes at play in this time period: 1) Britain's "New Husbandry," a form of intensive agricultural cultivation based primarily on grass-based crop rotation and increased livestock production (mixed husbandry), and 2) the settler revolution in what would become the British Commonwealth following the loss of the American colonies. I suggest that these seemingly discrete developments are, in fact, related, and that this becomes evident when we uncover the part grasslands have played in agrarian development throughout the Empire. I examine the role of grassland cultivation in colonial responses to ecological thresholds, namely soil fertility. I question both the portrayal of ecological imperialism as a largely unsupervised phenomenon and the interpretation of settler practices as singularly exploitative. I do this by examining the scientific networks overseeing biological transfers and the "on the ground" efforts of settlers to establish agrarian sustainability. My overarching argument is that grasses became the calculated foot-soldiers of agrarian development in the settler empire and were, therefore, foundational in the history of British settler colonialism and fundamental to understanding environmental transformations in these territories.
Mapping a Contested Landscape: Religion, Politics, and Place in the Making of Pasupata Identity
This nuanced regional study investigates a formative period in the history of the "Pasupatas," the earliest known religious community devoted to the worship of the Hindu God Siva. Through an interdisciplinary approach that integrates the study of new manuscript sources and epigraphic data in Sanskrit, with fieldwork at three vital groups of temple sites, my work will illuminate the ways in which this community participated in, and was shaped by, the religious competition and political upheaval that permeated early medieval northwest India (7th-9th century CE). Using these sources, I will work to recover the many, often marginalized, voices that animated this diverse community and, in doing so, engage in a radical rethinking of what it meant to be "Saiva" (i.e. a devotee of Siva) in this contested region and historical period. This study will produce an alternative history of early Saivism, which challenges the traditional scholarly categories and binaries (e.g. popular/élite; lay/ascetic; orthodox/heterodox) that circumscribe the study of Indian religions. By theorizing the ties between the self-fashioning of the Pasupatas and the dynamic landscape in which they were embedded, my work will move beyond my immediate sub-field and discipline to explore the polysemy of religious identity in India, both medieval and modern. Fieldwork at three clusters of early medieval temple sites—located near Mumbai in Maharashtra, Mandasor in Madhya Pradesh, and Chittorgarh in Rajasthan—will be an intrinsic element of my study of this region. By studying architectural elements and aspects of religious imagery and by analyzing the interrelationships between the natural and constructed features of these sites, I will theorize the multiple ways in which devotees used and experienced these lived spaces. This study will shed new light on the social function of sanctified spaces as media for the negotiation of socio-political hierarchies and the expression of religious identity(ies).
Colonial Cinema Across Borders: Educational Film in Malaya and the British Empire (1920-1957)
My dissertation traces the relationship between educational film and the imperial project in British Malaya – currently Malaysia and Singapore. My timeframe begins in 1920 with the production of the first educational films in Malaya, and concludes in 1957 with Malaya's independence from colonial rule. Films produced by the Malayan government as well as by the colonial government in Britain sought to teach colonial subjects about the place of the colony in relation to the British Empire. During this period, ideas about using cinema for education in the colonies underwent shifts that underscored the changing texture of imperial rule globally. The establishment of film libraries and international film associations during the interwar years imagined a world where educational films could circulate freely. These developments in film policy reflected the turn towards a more decentralized British Empire in the 1920s, followed by the divestment of imperial territories altogether after WWII. Hence, although the context of my study is that of British Malaya, this dissertation is inseparable from a larger study of economic imperial internationalism between World War I and the "end" of empire. My research engages with underutilized archival sources and fieldwork methods uncommon to cinema studies to make new historical claims about the role of cinema in the management and construction of the Empire. It brings an understudied contextual examination of film in Malaya into conversation with larger shifts in the nature of empire and global economy. It discusses media and Islam in Southeast Asia, and its connections to modernity and national citizenship under colonial government. By connecting cinema history to an understanding of an emergent and changing sense of internationalism from the 1920s to the 1950s, this project will illuminate the highly influential ways in which visual media culture facilitated the transition from classical imperialism to global capitalism.
Consuming Revolution: Yangbanxi as Material Culture of the Chinese Cultural Revolution
As the 'post-Mao' designation of the contemporary period makes plain, the present circumstances in the People's Republic of China are often considered in contrast to what preceded them. While the dramatic socioeconomic changes China has undertaken over the past thirty years may render this desire understandable, the clean break intimated by the 'post-' prefix is a fallacy. The rampant market commodification said to define the Chinese 'postsocialist' condition did not emerge from a vacuum. Despite the widely held characterization of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) as a time of aestheticized politics and ideological indoctrination, it was by no means devoid of everyday things, which were also 'consumed' in their own way. This project examines Cultural Revolution material culture and investigates how the circulation and consumption of quotidian objects during that time prefigured postsocialist market commodities. As the pinnacle of the socialist performing arts, the yangbanxi––a repertoire of, originally, eight model works––were promoted by objects spanning every conceivable form. I focus on the constellations of things, brought together by and around these yangbanxi 'tie-ins,' as they developed in relation to three 'media': ceramic knickknacks, amateur performances, and recorded sound technologies. Each of these constellations invoked different modes of circulation and consumption, and I examine how these disparate modes participated in and facilitated Cultural Revolution constructions of time, the body, and space. In doing so, I pay particular attention to the materiality of these ideologically 'marked' things, thereby troubling notions of propaganda as a top-down process of passive indoctrination. Instead, I consider how individuals interacted with and through these constellations of things and the relationship between such interactions and commodity consumption under postsocialism.
Living in Floods: Knowledge(s) and Technologies of Disastrous Water in North Bihar, India
How do people in rural north Bihar, India, live and make sense of water in a landscape periodically destroyed by floods? The proposed study draws on disaster studies, environmental anthropology and science and technology studies to trace how water-related knowledge(s) are deployed in everyday practices, and mediated by technologies, in a frequently flooded environment where people live in, and often die from, water. This query enables an ethnographic perspective on wider debates about human knowledge and adaptation in conditions of rapid environmental change and specifically on the ways in which rural inhabitants react to environmental disasters drawing on cultural resources such as local knowledge and networks, as well as technologies of water management. The proposed ethnography combines an epistemological analysis of life in a disastrous waterscape with the close observation of pragmatic responses to waterborne disasters to reveal complex forms of articulation between dynamic ecologies, water-related practices, environmental knowledges, and technological choices.
The Compagnie des Indes and the Fate of Commercial Empire in the French Revolution
My dissertation studies the fate of France's late eighteenth-century global empire through the lens of the last French East India Company during the final years of the Old Regime and into the French Revolution. Though this Company has not received any recent scholarly attention, the history of its incorporation and liquidation elucidates a broader transformation in the policy and structures of France's empire. My project will examine the interrelated nature of colonial and metropolitan histories, particularly as I explore how the imperatives of global commercial competition with Britain – especially in the aftermath of France's territorial losses in the Seven Years War in India – informs economic policy at home. I hypothesize that, as Indian markets were drawn into the sphere of British influence, French policymakers began an "imperial exit strategy" that encouraged the development of industries in the mainland to replace key goods imported by the Company. This exit strategy reached its ideological apogee during the radical phase of the Revolution, which I see as part of an ongoing battle between two conflicting visions of France: a maritime, cosmopolitan one, and an insular, continental one. I will place my work in broader scholarly contexts by exploring the links between the policy of exit strategy and larger anti-imperial trends in eighteenth-century intellectual history and political theory. My research will thus explore how eighteenth-century France navigated the balance between foreign expansion and domestic prosperity, which will have contemporary relevance to current debates in both history and other social science disciplines about the origins and processes of globalization.
Knowledge Production in the African AIDS Epidemic: The Rakai Health Sciences Program
With the contemporary emphasis on evidence-based practices in public health it is more important than ever to understand how that evidence is manufactured and brought to the attention of policy makers. Over the past thirty years experts have amassed an enormous body of knowledge about the microbiology, epidemiology, treatment, and prevention of AIDS in Africa. However, we know almost nothing about how this knowledge was produced. This project aims to fill this gap by using written and oral sources to trace the history of AIDS research at one of the most important AIDS research sites in Africa: the Rakai Health Sciences Program (RHSP). This project will address the following questions: How were research agendas and questions defined by the RHSP? How was AIDS research shaped by local politics, economics, and institutional arrangements? How have these decisions, conditions, and relationships changed over time in relation to the shifting nature of the AIDS epidemic, fluctuations in priorities of funding agencies, and changes in the global commitment to fighting AIDS in Africa? As a case study in knowledge production by an internationally-funded, African research team, the RHSP offers an exceptional opportunity to observe the creation of biomedical evidence within a global network. By applying the methods of historians of science and medicine as well as local history and ethnography, this study aims to inform the ways that consumers of this evidence assess its value and relevance.
Inhabiting One’s Skin: An Ethnography of Skin Color and Appearance in a North Indian City
This project sets out to examine the lived experience of bodily appearance and skin color in the South Asian cultural context. Scholarship on South Asia has extensively investigated forms of social difference and hierarchy in the region, producing a substantial corpus of literature on caste, class, and gender. Surprisingly, however, this dense body of writing has not significantly addressed the question of skin color, and how it might also relate to practices of social differentiation and hierarchizing. This project proposes to investigate how color, as a central social preoccupation in South Asia, relates to formal social classifications (caste, class, race, gender) without entirely mapping on to any of them. As such, it draws from research on the varying formulations of race and color in different world regions, and seeks to identify the specificities of the discourses and experiences of bodily difference and color in the South Asian situation. It will investigate this problem through focusing on three kinds of sites –the matrimonial photography studio, the Unani skin clinic and the more informal site of the neighborhood and home – in Lucknow, a North Indian city considered to have its own specific history of emphasis on bodily aesthetics.
Preserving Tradition: Archival Experience in the Western Sahel
This project explores the history of reading and writing in the Western Sahel through an historical ethnography of public archives and private libraries in Senegal, Mali and Guinea-Conakry. Beginning with late-19th century manuscript collecting efforts by French colonial administrators, it examines how archivists and Islamic scholars throughout the 20th century have discursively constructed a West African intellectual tradition by physically constructing archives of handwritten Arabic manuscripts. How have these various actors reconciled the seemingly disparate goals of establishing West Africa's regional specificity while acknowledging its membership in the putatively global community of Islam? More concretely, how have they actually gone about assembling a manuscript corpus? By following the passage of manuscripts from private homes to public archives, this project traces the shifting status of textually authorized forms of knowledge in the Western Sahel. Through its attention to archive formation, it examines how a host of readers—scholars and laypeople, Qur'anic school teachers and students, manuscript prospectors and library owners—have engaged with the substantive contents of texts as well as their ritual, aural and material aspects. In seeking to explain how the idea of a locally constructed Islamic textual tradition came to hold special importance in the Western Sahel, it also attempts to reconstruct debates over political and religious authority and appreciate the range of religious practices and political futures that have been envisioned in the region. More broadly, it challenges the tendency to equate African intellectual history with the history of African writing in European languages in order to highlight a ubiquitous but often overlooked dimension of intellectual life on the African continent.
Interdisciplinary Indigeneity: The Xavánte and the Human Sciences, 1962-2012
Indigenous bodies, relationships, and communities have long been considered valuable sites of research by scholars in the human sciences. In this project, I examine the history of research on the Xavánte, a Brazilian indigenous population that, since the 1960s, has endured repeated interaction with a variety of researchers. Scholars visited, measured, and sampled the Xavánte, viewing them as saturated with scientific data that required urgent documentation in the face of their imagined impending cultural extinction. Inquiring into the highly interdisciplinary research agenda of the geneticists, cultural anthropologists, physical anthropologists and others who have studied the Xavánte, my work aims to elucidate questions of research practice, interpretation, and sociability across disciplines. By bringing the history of the biological and social sciences into conversation with a rich historiography of indigeneity and ethno-racial identity in Brazil, this project will inform understandings of the role of the human sciences in producing knowledge about "the indigenous", and the subsequent mobilization of this knowledge to diverse political and social ends. It will contribute to the nascent history of science for the second half of the 20th century in Brazil. Finally, using oral history and both formal and multimedia archives, this project seeks to understand how the Xavánte have experienced, participated in, and resisted their positioning as a privileged source of knowledge for cross-disciplinary study.
Infrastructure and Illness in the Modern Middle East
By unearthing the environmental history of development and disease in the peripheral triangle of territory between Aleppo, Mosul, and Baghdad between 1858 and 1939, my project explores the connections between infrastructure and illness, between humans and non-human nature, and between the Ottoman and post-Ottoman world. The work follows bureaucrats and beasts of burden, railroads and rinderpest, and peasants and Pasteur-Institute-trained scientists to tell a synthetic story of the integration and disintegration of this space under Ottoman imperial, Turkish and Iraqi republican, and British and French colonial authorities, illuminating continuities obscured in the limited temporal scope and spatial scale of historical accounts bounded by particular political regimes or state-defined spaces. Beginning with Ottoman modernization efforts in the mid-nineteenth century, the project explores how roads and rails created a unified space between and around these three cities, and how epidemics illuminated this degree of cohesiveness. Additionally, I follow how health interventions underpinned by new understandings of disease based on germs enabled innovative interventions into the lives of humans, plants, and animals. Finally, I explore how various political regimes coped with these transportation networks and disease ecologies after the post-World War I dismemberment of the Ottoman domains. Based on archival research and powerful mapping tools like GIS, the product promises to illuminate the shared legacy of integration and disintegration in a broad swath of the Middle East now divided among different nation-states, bridging accounts of the late-Ottoman and interwar Middle East while also speaking to the developing field of the environmental history of disease. The project ultimately aims to highlight the unexpected connections forged in the process of modern states' attempts to simplify space, as well as the limits of these interventions.
Consumption as a Tool of Self-Fashioning and Sociability in Post-War Soviet Central Asia, 1945-1985
I plan to conduct research in the national libraries and archives of Tashkent, Bishkek, and Moscow from September 2013 to August 2014 in order to investigate how the consumer culture that arose in postwar Soviet Central Asia created new opportunities for self-definition, reshaped social relationships, and drove cultural change in the region. Drawing on a combination of Soviet archival sources, articles and images from the local-language Soviet press, and collections of personal documents, I will examine how Central Asians utilized the consumer goods available through the Soviet planned economy to "perform" both new and old cultural affiliations and social distinctions. Ultimately, I will argue that the expanded sphere of consumer choice that arose in Central Asia from 1945 to 1985 became one of the primary engines of cultural change in the region. However, the direction of this change was not determined by Soviet ideology or external homogenizing pressures, but instead by the ways that Central Asians incorporated the new kinds of consumer goods on offer into their own self-presentations, social contests, and cultural disputes. By engaging with cross-disciplinary theoretical literature on consumerism and globalization, my dissertation will both offer fresh insights into the interaction between local social dynamics and sweeping cultural change in the field of Soviet Central Asian history and present scholars across disciplines interested in cultural change with a case study in a profound but voluntary and piecemeal cultural transformation of a historically Islamic society.