Colonial Ports and Global History (CPAGH)
Founded in 2018, CPAGH is an interdisciplinary network at TORCH that fosters collaborative thinking about colonial ports and global history, creates an exciting and diverse hub of related expertise, and brings together scholars and practitioners across a range of career stages and cultural backgrounds.
Colonial ports are dynamic nodes of political, economic and socio-cultural activity, connecting people, ideas and objects and, thus, playing a key role in shaping global history as a practice. Although the concepts, methodologies and languages that inform this research often transcend disciplinary ‘borders’, colonial ports, to date, have often been researched in isolation rather than synergistically. With that potentiality in mind, CPAGH aims to revisit, in democratic and provocative ways, the constructed idea of the ‘colonial port’, with a view to disentangling (but not automatically divorcing) such an idea from lingering narratives of Anglo-imperial and maritime history. In doing so, CPAGH aims to explore – through boundary-crossing conversations across and beyond the Humanities – the salient concerns of methodology, pedagogy and equitable knowledge in the practice of global history, and in academies of the twenty-first century.
Indeed, while colonial ports vary greatly in their political, historical, economic and socio-cultural conditions, their impact on the ways researchers (re)map and (re)interpret knowledge is best substantiated through a vibrant exchange that is comparative, relational and multicultural in perspective. CPAGH aims, therefore, to facilitate and further such a dialogue through targeted activities, connecting archival and ethnographic researchers on related questions of epistemology, historiography and agency; and interfacing these researchers with such stakeholders as archivists, curators, performing musicians, A-Level students and adult learners. In doing so, CPAGH aims to engender a more comprehensive, widely intelligible and post-Eurocentric approach to studying colonialism in global history, underlying asymmetries of power, and their enduring legacies across time and place.
CPAGH’s co-founders, moreover, take a particular interest in postcolonial theory and decolonial praxis, and the ways these can pluralistically enrich the practice of global history, taking into account but also venturing beyond global history’s western-centric paradigms. Crucially, it is in emphasising a shared enterprise that CPAGH advocates a new knowledge exchange across disciplinary canons, and a global research ethics attuned to questions of access and local narratives.
CPAGH is fortunate to have a team of advisors with related and richly varied expertise: Prof Elleke Boehmer (English, Wolfson), Prof Erica Charters, (History, Wolfson), Prof James McDougall (History, Trinity) and Prof David Pratten (Social Anthropology, St Antony’s).
On Thursday 8 November 2018, CPAGH’s multimedia launch took place at the Grade II listed St Luke’s Chapel and attracted a full house. Key to the launch were position statements from CPAGH’s advisors and invited panellists; musical interludes performed by a student ensemble; and a sound work on the theme ‘Colonial Ports: Nodes of Global History?’. The event concluded with a lively provocative discussion.
On Saturday 9 March 2019, CPAGH collaborated with the Pitt Rivers Museum for a PER activity titled ‘Global Ports: Postcolonial Enclosures?’. Central to this activity were its three sensory-themed stations – tasting/smelling, seeing/feeling, hearing/listening – with various museum objects and stimulating short talks by CPAGH’s co-founders, highlighting such themes as slavery, migration and colonial collecting practices. The guided talks were enthusiastically received by museum visitors from a range of age groups and nationalities.
On 2 and 3 May 2019, CPAGH returned to St Luke’s Chapel to host its international interdisciplinary conference, ‘Sensing Colonial Ports and Global History: Agency, Affect, Temporality’. Adding to the keynotes by historian Leila Fawaz (Tufts) and musicologist Benjamin Walton (Cambridge), and the various panels of individual papers was the World Café, a participatory workshop to kick off the proceedings. CPAGH’s first conference brought together scholars from five continents and cutting-edge expertise from such fields as Archaeology, Area Studies, English, History, Italian and Comparative Literature, Musicology, Sociology and Visual Anthropology.
Keen to contribute to the Oxford-Berlin Partnership and to add to its interdisciplinary spirit, CPAGH will host a workshop in Oxford in Michaelmas 2019 that will involve but not be limited to participants from Berlin. This workshop – coupled with CPAGH’s collaborations with the Pitt Rivers Museum and History of Science Museum in Hilary and Trinity 2020 – will also serve as knowledge labs for an international conference in Berlin in Summer 2020. Through this cross-locational model, CPAGH aims, in collaboration with the Staatliche Museen Berlin (SMB), to foster new ways of shaping interdisciplinary exchange, and to broaden the geography of the network as a hub for continued democratic debate and knowledge co-creation across institutions and existing practices. Details will be announced in due course.
On Saturday 9 November 2019, CPAGH hosted the first event of its new funded year: a one-day research workshop titled ‘Decolonising colonial ports and global history: rethinking archives of power’. In the Port (i.e. World) Café discussion, the hosts and participants explored such pertinent topics as ‘reading subaltern power beyond colonial and imperial archives’, ‘hearing sonic archives and dissonant oral histories’, and ‘decolonising knowledge and re/examining practices across the Global North and South’. The afternoon panels saw an exciting array of themed papers on gender and intersectional identities; and globality, im/mobility and ‘histories from below’. The workshop concluded with an open general discussion of issues of decolonisation, and the methodological and epistemological challenges encountered when balancing between colonial-era sources and more democratised forms of global history writing.
On Saturday 7 March 2020, CPAGH hosted an object handling activity at the Pitt Rivers Museum – ‘From ritual to performance: playing (with) gender’ – with a focus on toys, masks and dolls from around the world, and the ways these objects can reveal surprising insights (and western-centric assumptions) about gender in ritual and performance. Similar to CPAGH’s previous collaboration with PRM, this event was greeted with much interest and enthusiasm from the Museum’s visitors.
Due to the impact of COVID-19, CPAGH has had to postpone its PER activity, ‘Travelling Objects and Untold Journeys’ at the History of Science Museum. CPAGH has also postponed its international interdisciplinary conference in Berlin, ‘Myriad Materialities: Towards a New Global Writing of Colonial Ports and Port Cities’ within a one-year timeframe (from 10 and 11 July 2020, the original dates of the conference). Further details will be announced here as soon as they become available.
Dr Julia Binter (Social Anthropology)
Olivia Durand (History)
Dr Yvonne Liao (Musicology)
Dr Helena F. S. Lopes (History) - from AY 2019–20
Dr Katharina Oke (History)
Min-Erh Wang (Musicology)
Dr Hatice Yıldız (History)