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Call for Papers: Sensing Colonial Ports and Global History: Agency, Affect, Temporality

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Keynote Speakers:

Leila Fawaz (History, Tufts University)

Benjamin Walton (Music, University of Cambridge)

Sensing Colonial Ports and Global History is an interdisciplinary two-day conference organised by the Colonial Ports and Global History (CPAGH) Network in TORCH Oxford from 2nd May (full day) to 3rd May (half day) 2019.

Its aim is to cross-examine three key concepts – agency, affect and temporality – that are increasingly central to anthropological, historical, musicological and sociological thought about colonial port cities. In doing so, it also explores anew the implications of the ‘colonial port city’ for global history, both in and beyond the academy.

Within this framework, the conference will centre around three main concerns. The first relates to issues of agency and power, notably the ways in which actors and institutions interacted with different connections and connectors, as well as with disruptions and disruptors. On the one hand, we seek to further the critical study of colonial power and power relations between port cities. Taking into consideration the five ‘scapes’ Arjun Appadurai (1990) has identified for narrating patterns of globalisation, we also seek explorations of the ways in which colonial power demonstrated itself in different port cities. On the other hand, we seek, too, to move beyond the study of colonial ports as a tool to explain connections, and to examine port cities in their own right, thereby highlighting hitherto understudied voices, and uncovering new perspectives on connections and disruptions. In other words, we seek to explore how people in port cities variously experienced, navigated, negotiated as well as expressed in local vocabularies what ‘global’ connections and the ‘colonial port city’ were and meant in their everyday lives.

Second, the conference will highlight the role of senses in researching colonial histories. Taking our cue from Hearing History (Smith 2004), what does it mean to not only tune but also sense into an extended, yet uneven geography of colonial ports? The interconnectedness of these global hubs can detract from their significance as nodes shaped locally, and translocally, by an extensive range of affective registers. Their distinct performativities, listening practices and multi-sensory environments, for example – coupled with the various ways in which such registers are (not) documented, experienced and/or contested – raise intriguing questions about the role of the senses both within and across the colonial ports, and their implications for rethinking the so-called globality of the colonial ports. Furthermore, how might these ports – when ‘sensed’ as nodal cultures – more broadly inform the re/writing of global history with their particular affective registers?                                                         

Last but not least, we hope to bridge between new research on time, temporality and global history. The weight of historical inquiry on time has fallen heavily on Western Europe, where imperial expansion and advanced production and communication technologies revolutionised time-keeping practices and temporal habits. As the movement to regulate time across nations, empires end hemispheres grew stronger, it came into conflict with maritime as well as local regional temporalities that had been associated with the community, religion, environment, seasonal cycles and the sea regimes. Situated at the crossroads between local cultures and the increasingly regulated temporal regimes applied to trade and governance, port cities represent spaces that can facilitate and reveal tensions in the global transformation of time. How did the emerging rhythms of work and civic life in port cities come into contact with the existing ideas and practices of time? How was time negotiated between the increasing pressure of standardisation, and the environmentally and socially-embedded temporal traditions? To what extent did multiple understandings of time create a virtual spatio-temporal dissociation between port cities and their hinterland? Participants are encouraged to explore these questions, as well as connections and exchanges between temporal cultures that emerged in various port cities in the era of European imperialism.

We are delighted to have two distinguished keynote speakers: Leila Fawaz, Issam M. Fares Chair of Lebanese & Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Tufts University, whose broad expertise encompasses migration, trade and war in the modern Middle East; and Benjamin Walton, Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Cambridge, whose rich expertise extends from touring opera troupes beyond Europe to the globalisation of opera in and beyond the nineteenth century.  

Scholars working in Anthropology, History, Musicology, Sociology and other related disciplines in the Humanities and Social Sciences, who are interested in presenting at the conference, are asked to send an abstract of 250–400 words and a brief (1–2 page) CV to cpagh@torch.ox.ac.uk by Monday, 4 February 2019. We strongly encourage submissions from researchers from underrepresented backgrounds. Co-authored papers (with no more than two speakers) are also welcome.