(Assistant Professor, GLOA)
"Crisiswork: Everyday Activism, Ethics, and Class Mobility in Lebanon"
My project theorizes the relationship between politics, ethics, and temporality by examining the popularization of activism in contemporary Lebanon. What I call “crisiswork” refers to activist practices that sought to transform both individual moralities and affects and political and social structures of sectarianism to respond to Lebanon’s crises. Approaching future as a central political category which operates as a “cultural fact,” my research centers on narratives of hope and future that informed present struggles for social change. Drawing on twenty-four months of fieldwork conducted between 2012 and 2015 as well as follow-up research between 2018 and 2021, my ethnography lays the groundwork for understanding the increasing political mobilization in Lebanon. Rather than studying activism either as reproduction of or resistance to power, Crisiswork employs a decolonial perspective that centers on competing practices of doing politics resulting from class and other differences among activists. This project's emphasis on difference as a generative space of ethical, affective, and temporal formations reveals co-constitutions of long-standing power structures and alternative imaginations.
(Associate Professor, English)
“Oil and Cultures of Transition”
Arising from a popular course on Oil and Culture that I have taught since arriving at Mason in 2005, my project is concerned with how petroliterate cultures imagine and resist energy transition. Contributing to the field of Energy Humanities and Petroculture Studies, this project reads media artifacts of petroculture as shaped by contested ideological visions of imagined post-oil futures. In my new project, I understand “transition” in Gramscian terms as an interregnum between dominant ideological formations. It is during these periods of interregnum that Gramsci says a “war of positions” takes place among emerging and latent ideological formations and it is these “wars” that I often study – contested relations between older Irish and newer Caribbean writers, or, in the case of World English, the British empire between anti-colonial activism and the rising power of the U.S. During such wars of position, temporality is deployed as a weapon as efforts to define narratives, imagine progress, or resist it and maintain a “durative present,” are precisely the objects that are made available for cultural studies analysis.
(Associate Professor, History and Art History)
“Wind, Worms, and Weeds: Rescuing the Past in Early Modern Japan”
In the early 18th century, people at all levels of literate society in Japan, motivated by an impulse to rescue the past from obscurity, began to engage in acts of historical salvage. By the mid-19th century, just before Japan’s encounter with Western imperialism precipitated its modern revolution, they had produced thousands of volumes, mostly unpublished, of family history and local historical research. They engated in other historical practices as well, erecting monuments at local historical sites, unearthing and investigating the origins old bells, swords, mirrors and other artifacts, and researching and preserving castle ruins, sculptures and artwork they deemed to be of historical significance. My research project examines the emergence of these practices and connects them to a transformation in how people conceived of the relationship between past and present, a transformation brought on by the dramatic political and social upheavals over the 17th century.
(PhD Candidate, Cultural Studies)
“Women on the Web: A Study in Online Solidarity Struggles and the Emergence of the Feminist Digital Collective”
Throughout my project, I trace how digital terrain references and refashions past feminist beliefs, strategies and schisms. By examining the movement’s archives of texts, groups, strategies and events, I underscore how these elements shape current manifestations of feminism through the emergence of the feminist digital collective. As feminism has moved online, it has been forced to reckon with its unresolved struggles over solidarity due to the capacious and mercurial nature of digitally-based collectivity. In the process, feminism has encountered new threats to its progress, including platform capitalism and digitally-based patriarchic violence. By creating a historiography of this burgeoning form of feminism, I highlight how past tensions shape our present world(s) in the hopes that such knowledge may engender greater space for the movement's advancement.
(PhD Candidate, Cultural Studies)
“Remembering Democracy: Activist Museums and the Politics of Memory”
I will be working on my dissertation, "Remembering Democracy: Activist Museums and the Politics of Memory" which looks at the ways that several newly opened history and culture museums in the United States and Canada navigate the spaces between history/memory and past/present to open up new possibilities for politics. My project aligns with the Center's 2021-22 theme through the ways that these institutions that I call activist museums are challenging traditional museum practices and historical narratives by making connections between the past and present for the future. What makes these museums activist museums is precisely their desire to undo the conceptions of time that have, historically, delimited what we are able and unable to see. Each one, in different ways and for different reasons, tries to center or recenter narratives, voices, and people that they perceive to have been erased or marginalized in our traditional narratives of history.
(Associate Professor, History and Art History)
“The Past, Present, and Future of Emancipation: Vincent Colyer and Thomas Nast Envision Freedom in 1863”
My project, "The Past, Present, and Future of Emancipation: Vincent Colyer and Thomas Nast Envision Freedom in 1863," examines two visual depictions of freedom created by white, northern artists in the winter and spring of 1863. Each artist presents his narrative of emancipation within a different temporal construction: graphic artist Thomas Nast presents future freedom as an optimistic contrast to a horrific past, while painter Vincent Colyer envisions a more complex and ongoing process. By evaluating these nineteenth-century visual responses to emancipation, we can uncover and understand white artists' and viewers' assumptions about progress, freedom, and self-reliance, attitudes that continue to shape American race relations. This project will be a chapter in my larger book project about genre painting during the American Civil War.
Assistant Professor (Communication)
“Naming the Dead: Performing Memory Beyond Monumentality”
This project performs encounters with everyday memorial objects and the named and unnamed dead to whom these objects draw us. Through these encounters, I seek an ethics of remembering. This ethics takes the proper name as its critical beginning, recognizing the name as both a possibility and a danger, as both a sign of respect and acknowledgement and a site for the re-enactment of old violences. As it draws from and enacts performance theory, “Naming the Dead” animates the metonymic displacement of the name, framing the name as a signifier that is not enough and so often all we have as we remember the dead. While the dead can never be contained, discursively and finally, to the page, I argue in this project that we must nonetheless forge ahead, writing better futures into and out from the insufficiency of the name.
Assistant Professor (English)
“Memory and History in Medieval Britain, c.800 - c. 1400”
My project, "Memory and History in Medieval Britain, c.800 - c.1400," studies how medieval memory theory shaped the writing of history in medieval England and Wales. In the Middle Ages, certain objects, such as books, buildings, coin purses, and even beehives were associated with the memory. In medieval rhetorical treatises, these objects function as metaphors that help explain how human memory works, while in literary and visual artworks, their appearance prompts audiences to activate their memories. My project investigates how medieval historians use mnemonic objects in a similar way, in the hopes of spurring their readers to reflect on, and learn from, history. In this way, I show how medieval memory theory allows historians to trouble the boundaries between past, present, and future.
Associate Professor (English)
“Queer Routes: Sexuality, Feminism, and Racialized History in American Culture, 1865-1950"
Queer Routes: Sexuality, Feminism, and Racialized History in American Culture, 1865-1950; In this project, I examine how African-American and Anglo-American women writers and artists used racialized histories in their work to imagine different futures, futures variously involving racial justice, inter-class white supremacist sorority, women’s enfranchisement, increased mobility for single women, and queer familial formations. More specifically, I look at the various ways that African- and Anglo-American women writers and artists theorized their present and imagined these possible futures through retelling histories of white European exceptionalism, histories of ancient Greece and Rome, of Vikings and medieval English knights, and of imperial England and New England. In examining how US women writers and artists deployed racialized histories, I make visible both the complexity of early feminist and queer feminist discourses as well as their racial roots and racist fault lines.
Associate Professor (History and Art History)
“The Intimacy of Racial Violence in Northern Louisiana: Tracing Terror through Family Networks”
My book project examines Black and white family interactions across generations and parishes as a framework for understanding not only the interconnectivity of violent eruptions but also the interpersonal oppression Blacks faced who lived near and worked within the family networks of their tormentors. In identifying the members of white family networks, which included legal authorities, the study exposes the high level of collusion that sustained a system of racial terror. A major goal of this study is to break the silences imposed on Black survivor families and witnesses by creating new narratives from the records of the dead and the memories of the living. The past recycling through new narratives helps make the present decipherable and leads the way toward changing future trajectories.
Associate Professor (Schar School)
“Past, Presents, and Futures of 'Religion' and 'Democracy'”
As a Residential Fellow at the Center for Humanities Research in association with the Center's theme of temporality, "Past/Presents/Futures," I propose to complete work on two chapters of my manuscript concerning the Muslim Brotherhood, Political Islam, popular uprisings, and the promise of democracy in Egypt. These chapters are deeply concerned with the thematic of temporality in many respects. In the most general sense, following Talal Asad’s (2015) argument that Islam should be understood as a tradition, my study of Politcal Islam as a tradition focuses on its practices, relations, and patterns of authority that draw the past into the present with the intention of shaping the future. A wide range of questions about time emerge as this specific temporality of tradition crosses the temporal structures endemic to the practice of democracy (cf. Derrida (2015) Democratie à venir, Wolin (2018), fugitive and episodic democracy, or Stout (2004) democracy as tradition). Yet another range of questions emerges at the intersection with the temporality of revolution (revolution as a crisis and break in time; but also revolution as indeterminate duration, a duration only consolidated through retrospective narration that determines the existence/non-existence of a revolution, as well as the temporal boundaries). Moving beyond these fundamental theoretical questions, as their tenth anniversary passes, the Egyptian uprisings bring a number of specific questions about time into focus: How do commemoration and the historical reverberation of the uprisings shape the present of democratic political practice (and how were the uprisings themselves, in the first instance, conditioned by similar historical reverberations and echoes)? How do we now understand the uprisings’ significance in light of a decade of scholarly inquiry into their dynamics, and how can this historical remove produce a critical perspective on the ways in which they were framed at their point of emergence? From the present historical vantage, how can we understand the consequences of the uprisings (beyond identifying relative stability in Tunisia, civil war in Syria, counter-revolution in Egypt) both with the knowledge of how events would play out, and the advantage of being able to situate them within the much longer trajectories of popular politics that preceded them? What futures became possible and impossible to imagine as democracy, crossed in a new configuration with religion, passed in and out of existence in Egypt’s revolutionary moment? How have those alternatives echoed through to the present?
PhD Candidate (History and Art History)
“Potomac Bound: A Spatial Analysis of Enslavers and Networkers (1780–1825)”
As a fellow at CHR, Greta Swain will work on her dissertation which tells a more inclusive story of George Mason IV—the namesake of our University—his family, and his enslaved laborers as they forged a social and economic dynasty along the lower Potomac during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. More specifically, in her chapter entitled “Potomac Bound: A Spatial Analysis of Enslavers and Networkers (1780–1825),” she explores how the Potomac River and its surrounding waterways supported the Mason family’s cycle of enslavement while also providing a set of networks and occupations such as a ferryman or messenger which enabled their enslaved people to pursue their own paths to freedom. Her work employs digital methods such as social network analysis and multi-vocal deep maps. These techniques can break through the temporal bounds which often uplift some narratives while obscuring others—capturing experiences of multiple actors occurring simultaneously in the same space and recovering silenced narratives and connections. This work brings more truth to our present understanding and acknowledgement of the legacies of slavery bound to George Mason University, and is a first, yet critical step for affecting change in the present and future.