Alessandro is busy processing some of the data collected in Martinique, so today it’s Louise here, with updates on postcolonial events we have attended this week at the University of Birmingham.
We have been spoiled for choice, with two guest lectures taking place here which both expertly demonstrated the range of interdisciplinary research being carried out into colonialism’s legacies. Both lectures presented fascinating insights into economic histories of slavery, exploring the colonial and postcolonial with close attention to processes of “capitalism” and “economic extraction”. In addition, both speakers are responsible for the creation of very different online resources, encouraging researchers, and the general, or rather international public, to embark on new interactive relationships with research thanks to modern technology.
On Tuesday 30th April, we attended the Birmingham Centre for Modern & Contemporary History Annual Lecture, given by Catherine Hall (UCL), Professor of Modern British Social and Cultural History. Professor Hall’s lecture, ‘Reconfiguring race after slavery: the stories the slave-owners told’ examined the roles and influence of slave-owners within British society in their lifetimes, tracing their major legacies after their deaths. Her major research project, ‘Legacies of British Slave-Ownership’, set out to examine the impact of slavery on the formation of modern Britain, and the project created a publicly-accessible online Encyclopedia of British Slave-Owners, launched in February 2013, which acts as a hub for regional efforts to show how communities in Britain were linked to slavery. The lecture revealed hitherto concealed networks of economic transfer, as “compensation” monies paid to British slave owners after abolition were reinvested elsewhere in the British empire. Afterwards, I was delighted to be able to meet Catherine and discuss her work in the light of my recent research on Edouard Glissant and his 2007 publication Mémoires des esclavages,
a text which offers a French perspective on many of the questions Catherine is exploring.
The following evening, on 1st May, our attentions turned to the Hispanophone and Francophone Caribbean, as we attended the annual Henry Thomas Guest Lecture, by Lisa Paravisini (Vassar College, New York), Professor of Caribbean cutlture and literature. Professor Paravisini runs, with Professor Ivette Romero-Cesareo, the trail-blazing Caribbean cultural blog Repeating Islands, which has become an invaluable research resource for anyone interested in all aspects of the Caribbean. Her lecture was entitled ‘Food, Biodiversity, Extinctions: Caribbean Fauna and the Struggle for Food Security during the Conquest of the New World’. Professor Paravisini discussed her current research project which spans the fields of colonial literature, ecocriticism and environmental history and presented a detailed and utterly persuasive case as to why the contemporary concerns in the Caribbean regarding food insecurity can be better understood with reference to studies of colonial and postcolonial literature and culture. By reading old texts about colonial conquest through the filter of ecocriticism, it becomes apparent that the Caribbean’s astonishing biodiversity has been subjected, since ‘discovery’ by Columbus, to a series of man-made environmental catastrophes, which continue to the current day. After the lecture, several of us joined Lisa for dinner to thank her for her lecture and continue our multilingual, comparative exchanges on Caribbean literature and culture at one of Birmingham’s curry houses.
These kind of international, interdisciplinary exchanges are really valuable moments to exchange and test out research ideas, and it has been fantastic to benefit from two excellent visits to the University of Birmingham in one week! It’s back to the books now though…