November 1-3, 2001
As the migration of peoples and cultures across borders has accelerated, the growing interdisciplinary field of diaspora studies has provided a much needed examination of the structural features that characterize these movements. While scholars agree that not all migrations can be considered diasporas, the term diaspora nonetheless remains a fluid one. The word's ancient Greek root connotes simply migration and colonization. Since 1700, however, the term has collected valences implying forced migration, shared community in foreign nations, and collective desire to return to an existent or imagined homeland. The exile of Armenians and Jews have provided the classic models through which European and American academies have investigated the term diaspora. More recently, the concept of diaspora has come to include a wider group of migrations and oppressions, including that of enslaved Africans shipped to the Americas, Palestinian Arabs, and Turkish guest workers in Germany, to name but a few.
The utility of employing diaspora as conceptual rubric through which to understand a diverse set of migrations lies in the fact that diaspora troubles the stability of concepts such as nation-state, citizenship, and empire. Much, of course, distinguishes the multiple exiles of the Jews from the slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries, and the dispersal of Armenians from the "trade diasporas" that force floods of people across national borders in search of work unavailable at home. Yet the project of examining these diasporic histories in relation to one another forces us to engage questions about what constitutes "voluntary" migration, political oppression, and exile--questions that are in turn central to debates around refugee status, ethnic nationalism, and global capital.
In addition to raising questions about political economy, diasporic communities have significantly altered how we understand cultural memory. Shared stories about an original homeland and the events that caused exile from it are central features for diasporic populations. The transmission of cultural memory in new contexts has spawned innovative modes of artistic production and ritual, as well as new forms of community interaction. Moreover, as diasporic cultures evolve over time, the traditions of the diaspora are no longer necessarily identical to those at the time of migration; nor are they identical across different segments of the community living in different parts of the globe.
What does community mean when it is conceived across national boundaries? How do differences in how nations conceive of statehood and citizenship affect exiled populations? What happens as a culture tries to enunciate itself from a transnational setting? Our seminar will focus on the diasporas of Greek, Jewish, Armenian, and African-American populations, in addition to considering how globalization has reshaped mass migrations of people in the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Speakers will include Prasenjit Duara (History and East Asian Languages and Civilizations), Jonathan Hall (History and Classics), Paul Mendes-Flohr (Divinity School), Khachig Tololyan (English, Wesleyan University), and Ken Warren (English).