In the United States, historically-mediated concepts of race and racism have influenced the shape of many policies, practices, and laws. These are “racial projects” (Omi and Winant 2015); they help develop race as an organizing social force and shape its significance within identities and social structures. My research explores a racial project of the present moment as it purports to move toward social justice: contemporary discourses of antiracism and their associated political outcomes.
Using public discussion on four Richmond, VA monuments as cases of study, I explore how communities form around these changing notions of racism. I ask, how does racial meaning become formulated in public spaces and how might it advance, or hinder, progress? These four monuments represent a tension between one kind of hegemonic community, attempts to disrupt that community, and the potential for democratic space to be created between them.
The Central Vista, Delhi’s equivalent of D.C.’s National Mall, encapsulates the idea of community writ large and symbolizes what Jawaharlal Nehru called India’s “unity in diversity.” However, the Central Vista Redevelopment Project being enacted since late 2020 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party ruling coalition is a top-down demolition and redesign of the entire area. The redevelopment is seen by many as causing a great “disconnect” between people and their monuments, history, and urban space. My project will analyze the competing narratives about the Central Vista and its redevelopment in order to understand how ideas of community and alienation are being employed and deployed by architects, urban planners, activists, petitioners, politicians, and the Indian judiciary. How are vocabularies of belonging and not belonging, heritage and progress used to imbue debates over aesthetics and the built environment? How is the site itself a canvas for national reckoning, assertions of power, and a struggle over meaning?
From the recent occupations of federal lands by white male ranchers in the US West to the revolutionary Indigenous demands for LandBack, it appears that the politics of land in the US are increasingly central to broader struggles. Less dramatic than these contestations, but perhaps equally important, are recent changes in the land market – as wealthy individuals and institutional investors increasingly view land as a desirable financial asset. This project examines the political dynamics of land ownership changes in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
Over the past two decades the valley has experienced an increase in “amenity migration” – development of vacation homes, resorts, and short-term rental properties – a trend that intensified due to increased telework during the COVID-19 pandemic. When layered on top of the declining agricultural economy, the punctuated expansion of tourism and amenity migration are significantly reshaping the Shenandoah Valley. My research analyses the formation of political communities in the context of increasing tensions over land use and ownership change in the Shenandoah Valley, highlighting the ways that notions of stewardship and belonging are continually contested and reworked.
For Immanuel Kant, Enlightenment was the gradual coming-to-reason of humanity in general. For Kant’s acquaintance and contemporary Johann Georg Hamann, the preeminence of reason is the preeminence of the reasoning class—intellectuals, government ministers, and officials of the established Lutheran church. In one of the very first published responses to the Critique of Pure Reason, he connected this political “metacritique” to a philosophical one, diagnosing language as the blind spot of Kant’s critical enterprise. Philosophers grasp for power over common people, but pretend they are doing nothing of the sort, and in analogous fashion in his philosophical writings Kant tries and fails to suppress the origin of his rationalistic project in ordinary language. Or so Hamann sees it. My project involves connecting the political side of Hamann’s critique of Kant with the philosophical, and exploring possibilities for a Kantian rejoinder.
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.
(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.
Ashley Gaddy is a Black Southern Educator, Scholar-Activist and Researcher. Ashley received her Bachelor’s in Communication Studies and Master’s in Liberal Studies from the University of North Carolina Wilmington and is currently a doctoral candidate at George Mason University in the Cultural Studies PhD Program. Ashley’s areas of interest include Social Justice Education, Empowerment, Social Change and Authentic Leadership. The power of Black Women’s bodies and the happenings of 2020 inspired her project “Reproducing Through 2020: Reproductive Liberation Strategies of Black Women Welfare Recipients in Washington, DC during Floyd, Trump and Covid-19”. Ashley is also a Dog Mom to Bobo and a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Associate Professor of Arabic
Nathaniel Greenberg is an Associate Professor of Arabic in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages at George Mason University. A comparatist by training with a background in literature, his research looks at the history and aesthetics of soft power technology in the modern Middle East and North Africa. His most recent book How Information Warfare Shaped the Arab Spring: The Politics of Narrative in Tunisia and Egypt (Edinburgh 2019) offered a first-person account of the opening weeks of protest in Cairo, in 2011, and examined the rhetorical disparity between opposing parties as the battle to define the Arab Spring unfolded. As a CHR fellow he will be focusing on an earlier revolutionary period with a project titled “Salvaged Archives: The Social Photography of Kamil al-Chadirji and the Image of Revolt in Iraq (1920-1958).
Annie is a PhD candidate in Cultural Studies. Her research examines the aesthetics of transnational social movements via visual and narrative appropriations of mass culture in contemporary protests. Her dissertation, “Visual Resistance and Political Be/longing: The Politics of Mass Cultural Symbols in Sites of Protest” examines how citizens imagine their cultural and national be/longing (both an existing belonging to and a longing for inclusion) and the ways that mass culture facilitates democratic participation while also challenging hegemonic neoliberal frameworks that consistently work to silence vulnerable and marginalized populations.
Assistant Professor in the Global Affairs Program
Niklas Hultin is Assistant Professor in the Global Affairs Program. With a background in both law and anthropology, Professor Hultin’s research interests focus on human rights, political culture, and the politics of information in West Africa. As a CHR Faculty Fellow, Professor Hultin will work on his book manuscript preliminary titled Human Rights and Autocracy: The Gambia under Yahya Jammeh, 1994-2017. Drawing on Professor Hultin’s two decades of research in the Gambia, the book explores how the language of human rights shapes and sustains dissent when up against an autocratic leader who literally pledged to rule for a billion years.
Historian of US Political and Cultural Life
Sam Lebovic historian of U.S. political and cultural life, and is particularly interested in the ways that information and ideas circulate – and don’t circulate – through the U.S. public sphere. Studying this problem has led to work in a variety of fields: the history of civil liberties; media history; American Political Development; intellectual history; political economy; the history of U.S. foreign relations and national security. He is the author of the Free Speech and Unfree News: The Paradox of Press Freedom in America (Harvard, 2016), which provides a revisionist account of America’s free press in the era of corporate consolidation and state secrecy, and which won the Ellis Hawley prize in political history from the Organization of American Historians and the Paul Murphy Prize in civil liberties from the America Society for Legal History. He has recently finished a book on the political history of cultural globalization in the years after World War II (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming 2021). As a fellow at CHR, he will be writing the first narrative history of the Espionage Act. Under contract with Basic Books, the book uses the history of this controversial law to explore the censorship of anti-war dissent and the rise of U.S. state secrecy over the past century. His writing on history, media, and politics has appeared in a number of leading scholarly journals, as well as such publications as the Boston Review, the LA Review of Books, the Boston Globe, Politico, the Columbia Journalism Review, and Dissent.
Associate Professor of English
Jessica Scarlata is an associate professor of English and film and media studies and the director of the FAMS minor in CHSS. Her work addresses the intersection of visual culture with contested geographies, national memory, incarceration, and state-of-emergency discourses. Her book, Rethinking Occupied Ireland: Gender and Incarceration in Contemporary Irish Cinema (Syracuse University Press, 2014), studies films that explore Irish history from the perspective of those marginalized within or ejected from Irish and British national narratives, offering a chance to reevaluate what constitutes political cinema and political resistance. She is currently working on a book tentatively titled Geographies of Irish Visual Culture that looks at film, video, television, and photography made in or about Northern Ireland after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. This project seeks out works that deliberately or haphazardly open Irish history up to a wider global history of oppression, occupation, and emergency legislation. She is interested in the representation of contested spaces, places, and memories in the North, particularly in works that dissent from dominant narratives of the Troubles by inviting associations to other contested sites/sites of contest within and beyond Ireland and the UK. Her main focus in teaching is world cinema, particularly that of postcolonial nations, and her courses have covered Third Cinema and its legacy, multiculturalism and migration, and geographies of violence, all from a wide range of national/cultural contexts.