The Hemispheric South and the (Un)Common Ground of Comparability

Anna Brickhouse, University of Virginia
Kirsten Silva Gruesz, University of California, Santa Cruz

This seminar addresses the problem of comparability at the heart of Americas Studies, with particular attention to conceptualizing the regional site of the conference within the hemispheric South. “Common ground” has been a foundational trope in the field, from Do the Americas Have a Common History? and Lewis Hanke’s 1964 volume of essays responding to the Bolton thesis of hemispheric historical inquiry, to Gustavo Pérez Firmat’s 1990 collection, Do the Americas Have a Common Literature?, which posed the same question for literary studies and concluded that “it is possible to find substantial common ground.” Dissenters, on the other hand, often follow the lead of the Mexican philosophical historian Edmundo O’Gorman, who argued that any vision of a hemispheric common history was a “geographical hallucination” that flattened differences in order to produce a distorted narrative of similitude, one that often implied Latin American belatedness to the table of modernization. A hemispheric approach, then, calls for temporal as well as spatial reframings of nation-based models.

In addition to exploring new regional optics offered by the concept of intersecting and overlapping “Souths”—the circum-Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, the border/la frontera, the Latin Pacific—we invite reflection on how to periodize a transamerican “common ground.” Topics may include but are not limited to: settler colonialism; indigenous resistance and adaptation; the plantation/hacienda complex; slave rebellion and the “specter of St. Domingue”; comparative revolutions, civil conflicts, and reconstructions; racial formations, miscegenation and mestizaje; translation, language, and power. This seminar will both represent and critically examine the state of the hemispheric field, and the problems of the (in)comparable and the (un)common that continue to define it.

Anna Brickhouse is the author of Transamerican Literary Relations and the Nineteenth-Century Public Sphere and essays on topics such as hemispheric Jamestown, Haiti and the imagination of disaster, and the geographies of abolitionism. She is completing a book titled The Unsettlement of America: Translation, Interpretation, and the Story of Don Luis de Velasco, 1560-1945.

Kirsten Silva Gruesz is the author of Ambassadors of Culture: The Transamerican Origins of Latino Writing and essays on early Spanish-language print culture, the politics of language and translation, and the construction of a Latino literary tradition. Her current book project is Bad Lengua: A Cultural History of Spanish in the U.S.

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