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Vanderbilt History Seminar 2013-2014


The theme of “sovereignties” offers VHS an opportunity to examine forms of power over a vast temporal and geographic terrain, from the most ancient kingdoms and empires to the modern nation-state. From this perspective, this theme will allow us to engage with fresh and exciting work in political, intellectual, and social history, much of it stimulated by living through an era of global history in which the borders and powers of nation-states have become deeply unsettled.  This unsettling has prompted interest in other kinds of polities across history—empires, city states, confederacies, and tribes—and how they have exercised control over their territory and peoples. It has also generated interested in the deployment of power by groups living “in between” territorially demarcated polities, both on land and at sea. We intend to explore the meanings of sovereignty and power in these borderlands and international maritime zones. And we will be keen to connect our interest in sovereignty to recent work on the break up of colonial empires, the formation of post-colonial and post-independence states, and the religious, ethnic, and racial identities that flourished in these political spaces.

Issues of sovereignty raise intellectual and social questions as well as political ones. We are interested in how different societies and legal regimes have defined sovereignty over time. We will chart how medieval polities began to distinguish the rights of rulers and subjects, and of “superior” and “inferior” groups, in varying parts of a domain, and how such distinctions congealed over time into early modern discourses about “sovereignty.” We will explore the ideologies and practices of “popular sovereignty” launched by the Atlantic Revolutions of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. And we will inquire into attempts made by rulers, from absolute monarchs to ordinary heads of families, across a broad array of state and non-state polities, to exercise sovereign power over the persons and, in many cases, the actual bodies of those who comprised their households.  Thinking about “household sovereignty” will make gender and reproduction key categories of our historical exploration.

Sovereignty raises questions, finally, not just about political power and patriarchal rule but also about mastery over the self. Self-rule, virtue, and a capacity for independence have been foundational elements of republicanism wherever it has appeared (ancient Greece and Rome, early modern Italian city states, eighteenth-century France, British America and Spanish America); on the other hand, a wide variety of discourses across history, from the theological to the medical and psychological, have challenged this vision of the autonomous, knowing, and disciplined self.  We will use the opportunity afforded by the sovereignty theme to explore varying conceptions of personhood across time and space.

Vanderbilt History Seminar 2013–2014 participants:

Bhavani Raman, Princeton University
Extraordinary Law at a Colonial Frontier: The East India Company and State Prisoners in Early Nineteenth Century South India
October 7, 2013
Sarratt 216/220, 4:10 PM

Christopher Loss, Vanderbilt University
Interdisciplinarity, Popular Sovereignty, and Urban Planning: Harvard, MIT, and Ciudad Guayana in the 1960s
October 21, 2013
Sarratt 216/220 4:10 PM

James Sheehan, Stanford University
The Origins of the Legible State: Map Making, Census Taking, and Codification in Early Modern Europe
November 4, 2013
Sarratt 216/220, 4:10 PM

Susan Boynton, Department of Music, Columbia University
Liturgy of Empire: The Meaning of the Mozarabic Rite in Early Modern Spain
November 18, 2013
Sarratt 216/220, 4:10 PM

Shao Dan, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Bloodline and Borderline: Nationality Law and Sovereignty Contestation over Taiwan, 1895-1993
December 2, 2013
Sarratt 216/220, 4:10 PM

Melanie Newton, University of Toronto
'The Race Leapt at Sateurs': Genocide, Narrative, and Indigenous Exile from the Caribbean Archipelago 
January 13, 2014
Sarratt 216/220, 4:10 PM

William Novak, University of Michigan School of Law
Sovereignty and the Creation of the Modern American State
January 27, 2014
Sarratt 216/220, 4:10 PM

Tom Dillehay, Vanderbilt University
Araucano Indomito: Anti-Imperialism, Independence, and Ethnogenesis in Colonial (and Present-Day) Chile
February 10, 2014
Rand 308, 4:10 PM

John Martin, Duke University
Torture, Early Modern Jurisprudence, and Limits on the Sovereignty of the State and the Self in the Venetian Empire
February 24, 2014
Sarratt 216/220, 4:10 PM

Pekka Hämäläinen, University of Oxford
The Ungovernable: Indigenous Struggle for Power and Sovereignty in North America before 1900
March 17, 2014
Sarratt 216/220, 4:10 PM

Catherine Molineux, Vanderbilt University
African Sovereignty in the British Atlantic World 
April 7, 2014
Sarratt 216/220, 4:10 PM