Histories of Empire and Transcolonial Circuits of Freedom

Thursday, Sep 13, 2018 | 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

691 Barrows Hall, UC Berkeley
Location is ADA accessible

Caribbean Slavery and Maritime Marronage:
Geographies of Slavery, Freedom, Empire, and African Diaspora
Elena Schneider
, Department of History

In 1768 a refugee man, woman, and her two children arrived on the shores of southern Cuba. Like dozens of people before them, they had escaped by boat from the horrors of sugar plantation slavery in British Jamaica, more than one hundred miles to the south. At the time, Spain had a policy offering religious asylum and manumission to escapees from slavery in the colonies of its Protestant imperial rivals. What did it mean to be a family of African descent, fleeing one slavery regime for another?  How did they and others like them fare? This study of the borders between British and Spanish empires and between slavery and freedom complicates traditional categories of immigrant and refugee. In doing so, it argues for the need to rethink our imagined geographies of African diaspora and the role of individuals in shaping them.

Conjuring Conspiracy: Racial Paranoia and Radical Sympathy
Poulomi Saha
Department of English

When, in 1925, members of the Jugantar, a secret revolutionary association in colonial India, who had previously been jailed for anticolonial activity were freed under the Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Act and began to conceive of what they believed to be a more effective strategy of anticolonial revolt than that of nonviolence promoted at the time by the mainstream Congress Party in Chittagong, they chose for themselves a new name: the Indian Republican Army (IRA). In so doing, they explicitly constructed a revolutionary genealogy from which their future actions were to draw inspiration, a direct link between the anticolonial revolt in East Bengal and the 1916 Easter Uprising in Ireland. The 1930 attack on the Chittagong Armoury, the first in a series of revolutionary actions taken on by the IRA, marked too the anniversary of the Irish rebellion. The very language of Irish revolt seeped into the practices of the Indian organization, as they smuggled illegal copies of the writings of Dan Breen and Eamon deValera, and began each meeting with a reading of the Proclamation of the Irish Provisional Government.

I want to suggest a relationship between these two anticolonial communities and another former holding of the British empire, the United States, in which an ideological and textual kinship illuminate transcolonial circuits by which a curiously shared revolutionary project, at once deeply local and insistently global. Rather than simply offer a historical account of those interconnections, I want to press upon the language of resurrection offered by the Easter date of these two uprisings to theorize a practice of reading revolutionary violence as perpetual, repetitive haunting, a politics of the undead. To argue for a historiographic live burial by which the violences of the past reappear in surprising, fleeting, and sometimes incongruous forms, disrupting the imperial promise of futurity and continuity. To argue for forms of radical sympathy that emerge, flourish, and stutter in an era of ethnonationalist constriction.


Elena Schneider is a historian of Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic World. She is an assistant professor in the Department of History, and her book The Occupation of Havana: War, Trade, and Slavery in the Atlantic World will be published this fall by the Omohundro Institute / University of North Carolina Press.

Poulomi Saha is Assistant Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. She is affiliated faculty in the Program in Critical Theory and teaches courses in postcolonial studies, gender and sexuality theory, and ethnic American literature. Her first book, An Empire of Touch: Feminine Political Labor & The Fabrication of East Bengal, 1905-2015, which was awarded the Helen Tartar First Book Subvention Prize by the American Comparative Literature Association in 2017, is forthcoming from Columbia University Press.

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This talk is produced by the Native/Immigrant/Refugee: Crossings Research Initiative, which is supported by Critical Refugee Studies, the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, the Institute of International Studies, Social Science Matrix and the Peder Sather Grant Program.

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