This symposium aimed to provide a forum for scholars from a variety of fields to reflect critically on the benefits as well as the costs of comparative work, a discussion that has been surprisingly absent from the current drive for more hemispheric and inclusive approaches to the colonial Americas under the rubric of American Studies or Atlantic Studies. The benefits of comparative work are often presented as self-evident, but the costs can be weighed in the solidification of traditional canons and taxonomies, in the collapsing of a complex and historically specific corpus of texts into a transcultural genre, and in facile comparisons between colonialisms motivated by attempts to rank the relative cruelty of various imperial powers at the expense of sustained investigation into the lives and writings of peoples subjected to cruelty.
Symposium participants reflected on a series of related historical and theoretical questions:
- How have comparative studies of Euro-American colonialism enhanced or diminished our understandings of the histories and literatures of indigenous peoples and of Africans in the Americas?
- Do theoretical vocabularies and analytical models developed for particular settings cross borders as effectively or with as much difficulty as the texts and peoples we study?
- How do historical conditions of local and national archive- and canon-formation promote or impair our ability to create meaningful comparisons?
- How does the recent interest in comparative colonialism depend upon or depart from the established historiography of the “Atlantic World” or the emerging analysis of empire?
- Ultimately, whose interests are or might be served by a hemispheric literary or cultural history of the Americas?
Sponsored by the Newberry Center for Renaissance Studies and the following units at the University of Chicago: the Center for Latin American Studies; the Franke Institute for the Humanities; the Norman Wait Harris Fund of the Center for International Studies; and the Departments of English Language and Literatures and Romance Languages and Literatures.
Friday, April 30, at The Newberry Library
Chair: Tamar Herzog, University of Chicago (now at Stanford University)
Some Caveats about the “Atlantic” Paradigm
Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, SUNY-Buffalo/Huntington Library (now at University of Texas at Austin)
The Problem of the Background in Comparative Studies
José Rabasa, University of California, Berkeley, now emeritus
Comment: Dana Nelson, University of Kentucky (now at Vanderbilt University)
Chair: LaVonne Ruoff, University of Illinois at Chicago, now emerita
Literary History and the Challenge of Comparative Colonial American Studies
Ralph Bauer, University of Maryland
Comparative Colonialisms and the Indigenous Intellectual Histories Imperative
Joanna Brooks, University of Texas-Austin (now at San Diego State University)
Forgotten Subjects and Texts in Comparative Colonial Latin American Studies
Comment: Francisco Ortega, University of Wisconsin- Madison (now at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá)
Saturday, May 1, at the Regenstein Library, University of Chicago
Who Reads? Who Cites? A Strategy for Teaching Colonial Literary Comparisons
The Garden of Forking Paths: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz in Comparative Contexts
African Magi, Slave Poisoners: Eighteenth-Century Topographies of Knowledge from New England to the Caribbean
The Death of Serpent Piqué and the Value of Life at Natchez
Comparative Semantics and the Colonial World
“Literature” and the Imperial/Colonial Differences
Learn more about Center for Renaissance Studies programs.