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Our symposium sets out to trace the many ways in which African Americans in the long nineteenth century conceptualized the world in imaginative and material modes, in theory and in practice.
We understand worldmaking in various senses of constructing a world and one’s place in it. In the words of Nelson Goodman, “worldmaking as we know it always starts from worlds already on hand; the making is the remaking.” Scholars in postcolonial studies have differentiated between worlding as an act of colonization (the colonial mapping of the globe as a possessive and interpretive act) on the one hand, and conceptions of planetarity (an awareness of our planet as unknowable and vulnerable, as well as a sense of human connectedness) on the other (Said, Spivak, Gilroy). In world literature debates, there is an attempt to differentiate capitalist and neocolonial modes of controlling the globe from worldmaking as the literary conception of multiple alternative worlds in the process of becoming (Cheah).
Our symposium is interested in how worlds were made and remade in the historical contexts of diaspora, enslavement, and segregation in North America. How did people of African ancestry map their world in the long nineteenth century? Which networks and connections did they envision and create? Which genres and modes did they employ to conceive of their place in the cosmos? What kind of worldviews did they create, discuss, or dismiss? How did they relate to debates on cosmopolitanism? We invite papers from various perspectives (history and public history, literary and cultural studies, and other fields) that address some of these questions. We encourage papers that theorize possible approaches to African American worldmaking: Which factors (such as identity, character, race, cultural belonging, gender, religion, enslavement, economics, mobility, territory, community, nation, diaspora, pan-Africanism, cosmopolitanism, etc.) are useful for this analysis? Which new approaches and paradigms may we need to develop?
The symposium seeks to bring together an international group of established and early career scholars from various institutions and disciplines in the hope of generating intense discussion and exchange.