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.
PhD Candidate (Cultural Studies)
"Uneven and Combined Cultures: The Temporal Ideologies of Modes of Production"
The latest phase of capitalism has inaugurated a significant moment in human history: the entire world is now capitalist. Consequently, the primary way that capitalist societies have historically interacted with other societies – via economic exploitation such as the ongoing underdevelopment of Africa, and political domination such as America’s geopolitical escalation with China - is now virtually unchallenged. Determining whether these forms of intersocietal interaction are contemporary phenomena or universal throughout history has become central to social struggles for more egalitarian international relations between modern societies in recent years. My research considers how modern societies gradually developed cultural norms about how to interact with other societies as capitalism spread across the globe. Specifically, I examine the rise of the modern idea of history as “development” - the notion that history progressively unfolds as “backward” societies advance into higher and more “advanced” socio-economic stages, while receiving external assistance from other societies to develop through these stages, before culminating into a capitalist society. Through my historical investigations, I conclude that the idea of history as development only first emerges in Western Europe as capitalism gradually spread in the aftermath of the bourgeois revolutions in the Dutch Republic, England, Scotland, and France. I argue that contemporary international relations between societies is driven by this cultural conceptualization of time as “development” within nationalist discourses. This finding suggests that economic exploitation and imperialist domination is determined by a historically contingent cultural conceptualization of time that is implicated in this exploitative world system. Consequently, we can consider temporal alternatives to find more peaceful and socially just ways of negotiating interaction between different societies in the global community.