Center Research Theme for 2015–16

For 2015-16, scholars from the humanities, arts and sciences will join the Center for 21st Century Studies (C21) in addressing the theme, Indigeneities.

The concept of indigeneity in the contemporary world is a crucial, still evolving legacy of colonialism and nation-state formation across the globe in the preceding centuries. Today, global flows of goods, people, information, resources, and risks cut across national borders with unprecedented intensity, investing actors at both sub-national and super-national scales with new roles, power, and perils.

The ascription of indigeneity, which once derived mainly from a people’s history of belonging to a territory and culture that were subjugated through conquest by colonial empires and marginalized in successor post-colonial nations, now is being thoroughly mediated by human and nonhuman actors and forces that transcend the national form. The transnational dynamics mobilized around the question of indigeneity have helped extend the concept to new reaches of the globe, new communities of people, and new issues to which earlier definitions of indigeneity are not immediately applicable. Although indigeneity has historically been defined against the background of territorial, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural dominance within nation-states, it also has wider implications in the 21st century, pertaining to questions of nonhuman as well as human belonging.

Indigeneity is of paramount importance for the local environment of UWM, Milwaukee, and Wisconsin, including the sovereign status as domestic dependent nations of eleven federally recognized and numerous historic communities now part of the state of Wisconsin. UWM has more American Indian faculty members than any other school in the University of Wisconsin System. The Milwaukee region is the American Indian population center of Wisconsin, the territory of which, like all current holdings of the United States, was originally American Indian land. American Indian students present distinctive challenges and opportunities for higher education in the state. And questions of tribal sovereignty are regularly in the news in regard to hunting and fishing rights, casinos, and more recently mining rights in the Bad River region. Finally questions of indigenous and invasive species play a crucial role in studying and maintaining the health of Lake Michigan in particular and the Great Lakes’ watershed more generally.

In choosing Indigeneities as our theme for 2015-16, the Center for 21st Century Studies invites scholars from the humanities, arts, and sciences to take up the concept of indigeneity from a variety of different disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives. This theme was chosen to complement UWM’s and C21’s participation in the Mellon-funded program in Integrative Graduate Humanities Education Research and Training (IGHERT), which takes up the topic “Indigeneity in an Expanded Field.”

We are especially interested in proposals that integrate local and global perspectives in order to:

  • pursue how artifacts and narratives (histories, legends, literary fictions, testimony) work together to construct indigenous memories, and how memorial processes spur culturally creative production or reinterpretation of objects and inherited narratives
  • consider dynamics of place and displacement in indigeneity, with special attention to how traditional conceptions of territory interact with more abstract notions of space and with highly contested, often transnationally scaled conceptions of environment
  • concentrate on major forces redefining indigeneity, such as geographical/cultural displacement in migration and the diversifying range of domains in which claims to indigeneity may be made (legal, political, cultural, linguistic, genomic, etc.)
  • expand the defining frame of indigeneity to include human and non-human actors (e.g. climate, animal and plant species, topographical aspects of land, technical instruments) and their complex interactions

Top image: A sheet used in the construction of globes from the French company Girard & Barrère. Crossett Library, Bennington College. Flickr, Creative Commons.