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The concern of this seminar is the history, literature, and culture of the United States, focusing on the period from the nineteenth century to the present. Recent subjects have ranged from Margaret Fuller to the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, from Asian American fashion designers to letters from former slaves who settled in Liberia. A number of presentations have positioned the United States in transnational or comparative contexts. The seminar’s strength is the variety of fields represented by its intellectually active participants. The very lively discussion periods are one of the most appealing aspects of this seminar.

Professor James Kim

Professor Matt Sandler

Rebecca Stout

Meeting dates and locations are subject to change. Please confirm details with the seminar rapporteur.

Meeting Schedule

09/17/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
The Turn to Refugee Aesthetics
Tim August , Stony Brook University

10/15/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Indigeneity and Asian America: The Double Displacement of Wartime Incarceration
Karen Inouye , Indiana University, Bloomington

11/19/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Style as Antihero in the Narrative of Enslavement
Ezra Tawil, University of Rochester

12/03/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Homo Asianus Neoliberalis: Human Capital Theory and Asian American Self-Help
Paul Nadal , Princeton University

01/28/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Image (Into) Sequence: Colonial Photography and Racial Logics of the Philippines
Angela Reyes , Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY


This talk examines images of Philippine racial differentiation in colonial state technologies—photography, census, exhibition—during the early years of American empire in the Philippines. These images, from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, not only create distinctions between Philippine types, but do so in the Austinian manner of performing other kinds of action: from justifying tutelary colonialism to fostering elite collaboration. In this talk, I focus on the “image sequence” as a genre of a photographic portrait set (typically two or three images) depicting what the U.S. viewed as a “wild” Filipino “before” and “after” American imperial intervention. Considering two competing racial logics of the Filipino at the turn of the 20th century, I analyze the semiotic configuration of the image sequence as a potentiality not only for perceiving evolution across a lifespan, but also for organizing perceptions of images into sequences. I argue that the image sequence, which played a central role in the racial subject formation not only of the perceived Filipino but also of the perceiving state actors of colonial governance, hindered Philippine elite desires for recognition as a distinct racial type with a distinct path of progress.

02/25/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Evoking 'Woman' in Kurdish Diasporas: Managing Racializations and Performing Kurdish Identity
Stan Thangaraj , City College of New York, CUNY


My newest project is on Kurdish diasporas in Nashville, TN and the northeastern United States. In particular, I discuss the gendered dynamics of the racialization of refugee Muslim women while accounting for how their own epistemologies aid in their negotiation of their racialization, state violence, the global war on terror, and histories of colonialism. In particular, I am interested in understanding how both Kurdish diasporas in the United States and a wide set of political and non-political entities (such as nation-states and NGOs) engage with interpellations of the “Muslim woman” and “Kurdish woman.” I want to actively decipher how this category of “woman” is put to use by a variety of parties with different, sometimes common, and very contradictory interests. Kurdish diasporas emphasize the difference between how women are treated in Kurdish cultures versus Islamic cultures, which is part of their strategy for statehood that is useful during this period of the global war on terror. By underscoring Islam and femininity as a point of foregrounding Kurdish-ness, Kurdish diasporas create the contours of Kurdish identity by depicting Islam and Arab societies as backward, uncivilized, and violent. It is both a way to navigate histories of Arab state violence, a way to make indigenous claims to the land and to their rights as rightful heirs to the land, and a way to engage with the dominant racial cartographies in the United States. To manage their own racializations, they racialize Arab societies and Arab states through race, religion, gender, and ethnicity. Instead of centering race as just between west/non-west, my paper highlights how race and its colonial logics operate in West Asian/Middle Eastern diasporic communities where one’s notion of “womanhood” is not centered by western epistemologies and western femininities.

03/24/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Ben Balthaser, Indiana University, South Bend

04/21/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Sarah Blackwood, Pace University