Borders | James M. Dolliver NEH Humanities Professorship Project | John Lear and Doug Sackman

Borders and the Making of Trans-American Studies: Exploring Transnational and Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies of the Americas

 

A Proposal for the Dolliver Professorship, submitted by Douglas Sackman and John Lear

 

I. Introduction and Conceptualization

In a remarkable and influential collection of writing—part history, part poetry, part manifesto, part memoir—Gloria Anzaldúa gazed across Mexico’s border with the United States, and saw it as a

 

1,950 mile-long open wound

dividing a pueblo, a culture

running down the length of my body,

staking fence rods in my flesh,

splits me  splits me

me raja  me raja

 

Continuing in prose, she observed that “The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierta [an open wound] where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country—a border culture.”[1] Since the publication of Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera in 1987, a new wave of border studies has emerged, opening up innovative ways to understand nations, migrations, citizenship, empires, and identities in the United States, Mexico, the Americas, and beyond. While the study of the US/Mexico borderlands has been a particularly busy intersection for scholarship, borders and borderlands have taken root as objects of study and a cluster of questions in a wide range of disciplines and areas. As Pekka Hämäläinen and Samuel Truett define them, borderlands “are ambiguous and often-unstable realms where boundaries are also crossroads, peripheries are also central places, homelands are also passing-through places, and the end points of empire are also forks in the road….borderlands are places where stories take unpredictable turns and rarely end as expected.”[2]

Paralleling and in part propelled by the growth of borderlands scholarship, the field of American Studies has in recent decades shed its former nationalistic and hermetically sealed (not to mention imperialistic) project of defining a singular “American” culture and claiming it as the unique product and property of the United States; American Studies has increasingly become transnational, looking at connections and flows that span the Americas and situate the United States within larger movements of people, culture, goods, and ideas.[3] Looking at “migration networks, economic enclaves, indigenous homelands, world systems, and border zones” that include those linking Central and South America (as well as Asia and the Pacific, Africa, and Europe) to North America, borderlands historians “have staked out a range of alternative perspectives from which the history of America seems less national and more transnational—if not also more transcultural and transregional.”[4]

Of course, the field of Latin American Studies has always been transnational and a deliberate challenge to US exceptionalism, though one largely shaped in its origins by Cold War and dependency paradigms. The end of the Cold War, globalization, and the emergence of China and Brazil as world powers have all challenged old binaries of first and third worlds, core and periphery, even as economic integration and migration have accelerated from Panama to Alaska and cultural studies have helped Latin Americanists rethink multiple borders and relations of inequality. In dialog with Americanists, Latin Americanists force a constant expansion and recentering of the borderlands, with experiences beyond the US border no longer simply “historical roots,” but a vital and concurrent piece of the crossroads.[5] 

We propose to develop a Dolliver program to explore the power and relevance of these new approaches to our work at Puget Sound. We see the borderlands and transnational scholarship as blazing new paths of interdisciplinary inquiry, with deep and vital implications for scholars across the humanities and social sciences. Pursuing these questions promises to open up intellectual horizons for faculty and students, ones that are important both for keeping up with directions the disciplines are going and with directions the hemisphere and the world are going. To suggest the places where our Dolliver program might lead, we pose three interrelated questions: 

 

1. Can looking at the Americas as a region help us rethink and teach lived experiences and cultural production that has traditionally been considered around national categories? And in rethinking national borders, how can we best understand relations of empire, coloniality and power?

 

2. Can a focus on migration and transnational movements of people, goods and cultures—and the political and economic structures that shape them—help us think about the ongoing exchanges and transformations that constitute the Americas in different ways and places?

 

3. Can thinking without and across borders help us reconsider traditional disciplinary approaches in faculty teaching and students’ learning? Does the field of cultural studies provide coherence across humanistic (and social science) disciplines? Is there a place at Puget Sound for a program on the Americas with cultural studies at its core? 

We hope in the course of the various Dolliver activities, involving different participants across the campus and beyond, to come up with many answers. Here, we will not limit the questions by attempting to answer them in advance. We can, however, answer some questions about how a program pursuing this trio of inquiries will fit within the spirit of the Dolliver Professorship.

The Dolliver Professors are called upon to “provide leadership for the ongoing development of curriculum and of teaching in the humanities.” In our proposed program, we would be both leading and following. We would be following, because already—partly inspired by the programs coming out of the last Dolliver cycle—faculty have been talking about the prospects for developing more collaboration, perhaps even a program, built around the interdisciplinary teaching of cultural studies in the Americas, across the Pacific, and globally. Individual faculty—in departments and programs from Foreign Languages and Literature, English, Theater Arts, Communications and Comparative Sociology to Art, African American Studies, Music, Politics and Government and Religion—are currently engaged in scholarship and teaching in these areas; our Dolliver program would draw strength from these efforts and would in turn offer support to the endeavors of our faculty.

The leadership would come from creating spaces in which faculty could further develop their interests and expertise, as well as forge connections with others interested in parallel pursuits on campus. The summer seminar would create an intellectual framework and a space to explore the pedagogical possibilities for borderlands and transnational issues on campus. By inviting scholars from other institutions to give talks and lead mini-workshops in subsequent years, we intend to provide on-going opportunities to develop these interests. In addition, these scholars will share their experience and expertise on teaching, and in developing and transforming programs such as American Studies, Latin American and Latino/a Studies, African-American Studies, Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies, Canadian Studies, and Global Cultural Studies. We would also be in the position to host discussions about particular courses and potential program development, as well as how the development of new courses or the enhancement of existing courses could help strengthen the Core, contribute to the diversity of our curriculum, and reflect Puget Sound’s abiding commitment to fostering innovative teaching in the humanities. (Below, we will discuss some of the work each of us has done, both on campus and in our scholarship, that prepares us to provide this leadership).

We believe that the promise of the Dolliver Professorship is best met by creating it around a core topic or idea, but also making sure that associated activities are open and potentially useful to a wide variety of potential participants—whether or not they share a particular pedagogical or scholarly interest in the topic. Because borderlands and transnational scholarship is being pursued globally, many colleagues would find the exploration potentially rewarding even if they do not address the Americas directly in their work.  In addition, borders are at once literal and figurative, as they involve many different kinds of cultural thresh-holds: between one place and another; between one race or people and others; between one gender and another; between insanity and normality; between citizenship and marginality, and so on. As such, a focus on borders can be helpful in pursuing important questions across the humanities. We should also add that as historians we work with many of the same kinds of texts that concern colleagues in other programs and departments. Art, literature and other forms of cultural production have been the focus of some of our scholarship. In this sense, though we may occasionally lead as historians, we will enthusiastically follow across the humanistic borderlands that this topic and our hoped-for cohort will allow. Whether a faculty member is concerned with politics and immigration law or with music and identity, thinking about borders and migrations, we believe, may open up new avenues for research and teaching. Ultimately, we think our students (including the increasing numbers coming from the US Southwest and Southern California) will appreciate and be challenged by the way border and migration matters may be taken up in the curriculum.

Over the course of our Dolliver programs, we envision exploring in different ways a number of more specific border matters. We expect that considerable attention will be paid to the US/Mexico border—its creation, force, and role in politics, economics and culture. We will explore the Mexican-American transnational experience from sender communities to border crossings, work, marginalization, and cultural transformations. We will also delve into the Central American transnational experience, as an ongoing region of US political and economic empire, a major source of migrants and refugees, and as part of a network of transnational gangs and drug violence rooted in linked policies and the flows of people and goods across North America. Our proximity to the 49th parallel suggests possibilities for considering the US/Canada border. The Americas also “border” on Asia across the Pacific. Transpacific interconnections, which have at times involved Asian migrants moving among United States, Canada, Mexico and other Latin American countries, will also be considered. We also hope to examine interactions among immigrant groups and minorities, such as African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans. We will view the American West in particular as a multicultural contact zone, shaped through the ongoing experiences, interactions and dreams of all manner of border crossers. Henry Yu points to critical insights that, if slightly re-imagined for other nations of the Americas, may come from such explorations: “If we see this imagined nation, and the border practices by which it is enacted, as the creation of the migratory networks that embed the Americas in a larger world, then the United States as a subject will not drive our scholarship like the administration of a citizenship oath. We can follow its travels, its appropriation and its reimagining, and recognize that it is just one of many ideas created out of the dense interactions that have occurred at nodal intersections. It might be one way by which we can truly forsake the political interests of nation building as the narrow rationale for scholarship.”[6]

 

II. Organization of seminar and subsequent years

In our first Dolliver year, we will plan activities and readings, recruit participants and hold a seminar in May 2013. We hope to invite participants from a variety of humanistic backgrounds working on different regions of the Americas, across the Americas, and even connections between the Americas and other areas of the world (including Europe, Africa and Asia) that have been central components to the creation of multi-cultural societies. Reaching out to and choosing participants will help us, as organizers trained distinctly as an “Americanist” and a “Latin Americanist,” to reconsider traditional categories from the start, incorporating participants with a variety of regional, spatial and disciplinary expertise, with the goal of eventually imagining ourselves as “all ‘neo-Americanists’ now.” We will make a concerted effort to invite recent hires in the Humanities working on related topics and will also consider applicants from the social sciences whose research and teaching address topics of transnational migration and cultural politics. We will encourage participants immersed in cultural studies and welcome those who are new to or skeptical of it. The process of selecting participants will in turn shape the mix of themes mentioned in the previous paragraph. 

In a summer seminar that will last two weeks, we would be both leading and following. We will direct the first two classes ourselves, based on broad readings chosen to generate an overview of conceptual, methodological and pedagogical issues involved in teaching across borders in the Americas (for example, selections from Benjamin Johnson and Andrew Graybill, eds., Bridging National Borders in North America: Transnational and Comparative Histories and Mabel Moraña et al eds., Coloniality at Large: Latin America and the Postcolonial Debate). Seminar participants will lead remaining classes, organized around a variety of related themes and texts, including but not limited to disciplinary- and interdisciplinary based research, testimony, literature and art. About half of these classes will address themes and texts chosen by agreement by organizers and participants, with readings that are new to most and designed to help us rethink our teaching and research about the Americas; the other half will be taught around readings that members have found particularly useful in their research and teaching, and designed to help us connect intellectually challenging texts and subject matter to the Puget Sound classroom.

The seminar will conclude and begin anew with two practical discussions. First, each faculty member will present initial plans for an interdisciplinary humanities unit on borders and migration that could serve as a seed, to be planted in an existing core class; to form the basis of a new core class (first-year seminars, Humanistic Approaches, or Connections); or to be a piece of a broad, interdisciplinary class that could anchor a new program in “the Americas” or serve as a requirement or an elective in existing programs (LAS, AFS, Hispanic/Latino Studies). Second, seminar organizers and participants will propose and plan a series of guest speakers and workshop leaders to be invited over the next two years.

In our second Dolliver year we will organize, with substantial input from participants, a series of visiting speakers and mini-workshops. Potential invitees might include Henry Yu (University of California, Los Angles and the University of British Columbia); Lynn Stephen (University of Oregon); Elliott Young (Lewis and Clark College); Eric Zolov (SUNY-Stoneybrook); Moon-ho Jung (University of Washington); Philip Deloria (University of Michigan), David Gutiérrez (University of California, San Diego), Lissa Wadewitz (Linfield College), Ben Johnson (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee), Patricia Limerick (University of Colorado).[7] We envision two types of visits: several speakers brought in for overnight visits to give single public talks and to meet informally with Dolliver and interested faculty; and at least two speakers brought in for several days who would collaborate with Dolliver faculty to teach a unit of a particular class, give a public talk, and hold a formal workshop with Dolliver participants organized around particular readings or pedagogical issues. By the end of the second year, seminar participants would finalize and submit their hypothetical or actual units on borders and migration in a way that can be gathered and shared as a single document available to seminar participants and others. By the end of the second year, organizers and participants will also have agreed on the interest and feasibility of teaching a collective course on “the Americas” in the third year and, if feasible, have formally proposed it for Spring 2015. 

In our third Dolliver year, we would forgo a visiting professor position in favor of a continued series of guest scholars, writers or consultants. The direction will depend on whether there is sufficient interest in a broad collective course that might anchor a program of cultural studies of the Americas. As Dolliver organizers, we might coordinate the teaching of such a course Spring 2015, though it would be predicated on the participation of various seminar members as guests and perhaps eventual coordinators, and the incorporation of invited guest scholars to design and teach units of two or three classes. A model for this might be how John Lear and Don Share organized the introductory course for Latin American Studies in Fall 1997, with Burlington and other funding. We would consult with guest scholars from a variety of universities ahead of the semester on the organization of a particular unit within a larger course; these scholars would visit campus to teach one or two of the classes of that unit, and give a public talk and advice on program formation. If there is not sufficient momentum for a single “Americas” anchor course, we would extend our program of visiting speakers and workshops, culminating with a major, week-long residency in Spring 2015 (or a series of visits by a single scholar over the course of a semester).

As co-chairs, we would be breaking new ground, though the recent, concurrent Dolliver cycles of Hans Ostrom and Geoff Proehl suggest some of the benefits of related themes and collaborations. Our basic assumption now is that we would equally share responsibility, stipends and funds for a single Dolliver cycle as described above. At the same time, we are open to changes and innovations and welcome suggestions from Dean Bartanen, the Dolliver Committee and seminar participants. We request a total of four release units, two units each, to accommodate the additional time involved in collaboration and in organizing shorter term resident lecturers in the third year. Given our ambitious topic, possible links to an eventual program, and the fact that there are two of us, we are open to increasing the number of seminar participants or extending the length of the Dolliver cycle by a year, assuming additional funds were available. Extending the cycle to four years would also make it easier to work around the sabbaticals that we both anticipate for the academic year 2013-2014. (If that is not possible, we will coordinate our sabbaticals so as to sustain the cycle of visiting scholars in the second year.)

 

III. Our Experience/Preparation

Doug’s teaching has contributed to the humanities and the core in a number of ways. He regularly teaches an interdisciplinary SCIS seminar and has plans to develop a Connections course or courses on the Multicultural West in the 20th century (this is being “piloted” as a History 399 seminar next fall) and/or on America’s Borders. Two of his long-standing courses engage with related themes to our proposed Dolliver program (History of the West and Pacific Northwest and Frontiers of Native America), and more recent additions do as well (The Course of American Empire, 1776-1919; American Cultural History). With interdisciplinary training that included an emphasis in critical theory, Doug would enjoy the opportunity the Dolliver would bring to continue to build bridges across disciplines and programs.

He has worked in a variety of ways to build those bridges in his time at Puget Sound. He wrote the initial grant proposal to support Canadian Studies at Puget Sound. With modest funding from Canada and administrative support, he worked with Lisa Ferrari and others to bring a variety of speakers to campus over the years, which ranged from historians sharing their research on the border and Hawaiians in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia to an artist and a philosopher from First Nations groups, a museum curator and Parks Canada historian, and artists and critics comparing the art scene in Seattle and Vancouver. He has also been a member of the Brown and Haley Lectures Committee, which has also brought speakers to campus who have enriched the humanities. Doug gave a talk for our campus’s SymPOEsium in 2009, participating on a panel that included two members of the English Department. An example of how he has brought people together around the humanities was the interdisciplinary campus forum on the work of American artist Beth Lipman and Swedish artist Ingalena Klenell, whose exhibition “Glimmering Gone” appeared at the Museum of Glass in the Fall of 2010. Klenell came to campus to participate in the forum, and Doug asked a diverse group of faculty—from art, education, Politics and Government, and English to present their interpretations of her work in light of their own scholarship and approach to teaching. More recently, current Dolliver Professor Hans Ostrom asked Doug to co-direct a mini-faculty seminar during the Fall 2011 semester with him and Stephen Sumida, Visiting Dolliver Professor. They developed a seminar format that had faculty meet over three days on subsequent weeks. It involved 12 faculty members in discussions of Hawaiian history, literature, connections with the Pacific Northwest, and the implications for “American Studies” of new scholarship on transnational and transpacific phenomena.

Doug’s research and professional activities also dovetail with this proposal. He has written an article on Puget Sound as a borderlands shaped by transpacific exchanges of people, culture and nature (“Boardwalks Across the Pacific: Lumber Mills, Transpacific Traffic in Nature, and the Spatial Integration of Puget Sound with the Pacific World, 1850-1900”) and is beginning a new synthetic overview of American Western history (“American Panorama: Rediscovering the History of the American West”). That work will draw heavily on borderlands scholarship. His earlier research has connections with this initiative as well. Some of the key works in borderlands history have come out of Native American history, and this body of literature influenced his book Wild Men: Ishi and Kroeber in the Wilderness of Modern America (though the “border” between nature and culture is also a prominent theme). In one major section of his book Orange Empire: California and the Fruits of Eden, he examined labor in the citrus industry, including Mexican American workers and workers who had roots in China, Japan, and the Philippines. Coming out of this book on the production and consumption of the Sunkist orange, Doug has continued to explore the intersections of the environmental and cultural history and food; in a recent historiographic essay (for A Companion to American Environmental History), he suggested that “Food and plants travel; people and culture travel; food in motion makes and remakes place—transports it. It at once makes the local, regional, national, and global; and it busts boundaries. Following food in the way we can as environmental historians—with attention to culture and nature—allows us to contribute uniquely and critically to the burgeoning scholarship on transnationalism.” His thinking here was in part inspired by Jeffrey Pilcher, an historian of Mexico and food and a scholar who John Lear brought to campus. Finally, Doug is currently serving as the co-chair for the program committee for the 2013 conference of the Western History Association. It will be meeting in Tucson—a border location charged with Arizona’s anti-immigration politics.  He will be working to develop panels and programs for that conference engaging with the contemporary issues and bringing perspectives from the humanities into the conversation.

 

As a historian and a Latin Americanist, John’s teaching and research are close to the humanistic and interdisciplinary endeavors that Puget Sound values and that the Dolliver Professorship seeks to enhance. The content of his courses ranges broadly across periods, disciplines and the region of Latin America, while frequently crossing and redefining borders. In the 1990s, he taught a course on US and Latin America that was a part of the International Studies core, and he has frequently taught the History thesis seminar around US-Latin American relations and the experience of Latin Americans in the US. Virtually all of his courses incorporate literature and art. He regularly teaches three interdisciplinary Latin American Studies courses that are rooted in the humanities and frequently cross disciplines and national borders: a SCIS seminar on Latin American popular culture (“Salsa, Soccer and Samba”); the introductory course for Latin American Studies (Humanistic Approaches), which in its last three iterations included an ambitious final unit on migration; and a Connections course (Art and Revolution in Latin America). He has co-taught the introduction to Latin American Studies alone and with Don Share, Pepa Lago and Brendan Lanctot (and always with generous guest participation from Puget Sound faculty and outside guests). He developed and co-teaches the class on art and revolution with art historian Linda Williams.  

John provided key leadership (along with Don Share) in the creation and development of the Latin American Studies program, which has involved working closely with a variety of newer hires from different disciplines and organizing a constant stream of guest speakers and related events on and off campus. With generous support from the Dean’s office, he and Monica DeHart organized a series of three speakers on migration over three semesters (2009-2010). With Chism support, he and Linda Williams organized a campus visit and Kittredge exhibition of prints by Mexican artists Rina Lazo and Arturo Garcia Bustos in spring 2009. He participates regularly in the “Spanish Matters” colloquium on campus (and next week is presenting research on the transnational experiences of Diego Rivera and his biographer, US radical-turned-conservative Bertram Wolfe). John was also fundamental to developing an interdisciplinary semester abroad program in Oaxaca, Mexico in collaboration with Pacific Lutheran University, sending the first group of students in 2005, and serving as on-site director for the program in the fall of 2007. Over the years, he has participated in a variety of different collective endeavors, including David Lupher’s Dolliver seminar on the classical tradition in the Americas. In 2010, he nominated and helped host commencement speaker Cecilia Muñoz, President Obama’s primary advisor on immigration reform. Over the years, he has worked to connect Latino leaders with the campus community, and students and faculty with the Latino and migrant communities.

John’s research has ranged broadly across different fields. His first book, on economic and social policy in Pinochet’s Chile, Chile’s Free-Market Miracle: A Second Look (1995), helped him connect with students and colleagues in the social sciences and the IPE program. His second book, Workers, Neighbors and Citizens: The Revolution in Mexico City (2001), formed him as a social historian. His current book project, “Representing Labor: Artists, Workers and Unions in Post-Revolutionary Mexico, 1920-1948,” has allowed him to more directly focus on culture, consider the movement of artists and visual representations across borders, and engage tentatively with cultural studies and art history.

 

We are honored to be nominated for the Dolliver Professorship, and we thank you for your consideration of our proposal.


Notes

[1] Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987), 2-3.

[2] Pekka Hämäläinen and Samuel Truett, “On Borderlands,” Journal of American History (September 2011), 338.

[3] American Studies—a hybrid academic field coeval with the so-called American Century—was in its beginnings intensely nationalistic and committed to the notion that the United States was an (or the) exceptional nation in world history. The field has grown and evolved over the years, engaging in spirited rounds of deconstruction and reconstruction as the challenges of ethnic studies, cultural studies, and, most recently, transnational or global orientations have been posed. The field has also perennially recalibrated its mix of different disciplines in the humanities (e.g. history and literature) and the social sciences (e.g. political science, economics, sociology). In 2004, in her Presidential Address for the American Studies Association, Shelley Fishkin asked: “What would the field of American studies look like if the transnational rather than the national were at its center…?” She noted that “Over the last ten years a web of contact zones has increasingly superseded ‘the nation’ as ‘the basic unit of, and frame for, analysis.’” As well as the “increasing attention to the historical roots of multidirectional flows of people, ideas, and goods and the social, political, linguistic, cultural, and economic crossroads generated in the process.” Her prediction for the field has been borne out: “We will increasingly interrogate the ‘naturalness’ of some of the borders, boundaries, and binaries that we may not have questioned very much in the past, and will probe the ways in which they may have been contingent and constructed.” Shelley Fishkin,“Crossroads of Cultures: The Transnational Turn in American Studies—Presidential Address to the American Studies Association,”American Quarterly, Vol 57, No 1 (March 2005): 17-57.

[4] Hämäläinen and Truett, “On Borderlands,” 347.

[5] Ana Del Sarto, “Foundations of Latin American Cultural Studies” in The Latin American Cultural Studies Reader, editor Ana Del Sarto. Duke University Press (2004), 153-182.

[6] Henry Yu, “Los Angeles and American Studies in a Pacific World of Migrations,” American Quarterly 56 (September 2004), 541.

[7] This list’s current bias towards historians will likely change.

 

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