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Get to Know Our Fellows: Christine Sylvester

sylvester-christine-What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

My formal academic background is in the field of International Relations, which in the USA is located in departments of Political Science, and elsewhere is often a field on its own. I have spent most of my academic career in regular tenured positions abroad, in Australia (Australian National University), the Netherlands (The Institute of Social Studies, The Hague), and England (Lancaster University), with visiting research appointments at the University of Zimbabwe, University of Southern California, Gothenburg University and Lund University. Currently I am Professor of Political Science and of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies here at Uconn, in my home state (I am from Milford).
 
-What is the project you’re currently working on?
In recent years I have been associated with critical war studies in International Relations, emphasizing  war as experience rather than war as military strategy, weapon systems, and foreign policy. I am interested in everyday and ordinary experiences with war inside and outside of war zones, and am spending my year with the Humanities Institute researching new ways of apprehending war through war objects and their display. With a focus on the Vietnam and Iraq (2003) wars, I consider objects that are displayed by professional curators at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, by communities of loss at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and in Section 60 of Arlington Cemetery, and by veterans of the wars who write novels about their war experiences and mention objects they grew attached to or despised in war zones. The project, called Objects of War: Whose Wars Are on View? is, in effect, a three-way recreation of both wars that works through the power of objects to communicate grand stories of national significance about war and countervailing stories about America's recent wars as experienced by a range of ordinary people involved in them.
 
-How did you arrive at this topic?
My field of International Relations has a history of writing people out of war studies. This has never sat well with me, especially after I experienced war in Zimbabwe in the days when the new government of Robert Mugabe sought retribution against people in the southern part of the country who supported a different would-be leader. I was there when the infamous Fifth Brigade of the national army, trained by North Korea, moved into the second city of Bulawayo and started shooting and smashing heads. Suddenly and unexpectedly the locals and I were in a war zone, and that experience early in my career, which I wrote up for the magazine The Progressive (1983), has never left me. While working in the UK (2005-2012) I started a multi-disciplinary and collaborative research project called Experiencing War, with colleagues based in Europe, and that project rolled into an ongoing book series I edit with Routledge (London) on War, Politics, Experience. Several volumes in the series are collections by project participants --the latest is Masquerades of War (2015) --while my own theorizing of war as physical and emotional experiences of collective armed conflict appears as War as Experience (2013). The Objects of War research is an off-shoot of that larger project and incorporates my serious interest in museums as important but often overlooked institutions of international relations (Art/Museums: International Relations Where We Least Expect It (2009) and a longstanding tendency to embed quotes from "fictional" people and tales in works of supposed war facts.
 
-What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?
To me it is important for all of us to pay attention to the power of ordinary people to shape international relations and domestic politics today. In the case of war, it is ordinary people who conduct and suffer (and in some cases enjoy or reap benefits from) war. We should not hide the ordinary behind cold abstract terms like "collateral damage," "troops," or "civilians." The current wars in Syria and Iraq are central to the daily lives of everyone there and have become increasingly central to people who live in areas of the world that Syrians and Iraqis seek to enter as international war refugees. We miss so much of what the dailiness of war if we skip over people entirely or uncritically buy into stories of war reported from only one, supposedly expert, angle; when Americans thank soldiers on the street for their service and do not ask them their views on the war and how it is going, we fail to recognize that they are true experts on war, too. It is akin to learning about war from an exhibition at the Smithsonian and not going to see what "ordinary curators" of war display at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial or in Section 60 of Arlington. I'm interested in producing a book from the project that is of use to academics and is also accessible to the interested public, because it concerns me that America has rebounded from utter defeat in Vietnam with such a ramp up of the military and war willingness that it makes sense to say that we are in a militarist era of permanent war.
 

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with George Moore

george-moore
George Moore Ph.D. candidate (English)

-What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

I am a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Connecticut and a dissertation fellow at UCHI. I received my masters in English from UConn and my bachelor’s degree in English at Southern Connecticut State University.

-What is the project you’re currently working on?

I am writing a dissertation titled “The Return of Dagon: Failed Iconoclasm in Early Modern English Literature.” The dissertation explores the intersection between English Renaissance literature and the iconoclastic movements of the post-Reformation period. It argues that early modern writers were often interested in the ways in which idolatrous artifacts might survive, resist, or even undermine the actions and intentions of their assailants. I maintain that this archive of failed iconoclasm calls into question theories of disenchantment applied to the Reformation. Iconoclasm, I show, ironically provoked a broad cultural interest in the agency of material artifacts.

-How did you arrive at this topic?

During my reading of English literature and polemical pamphlets, I became increasingly interested in the deep-seated fear among radical Protestants about the dangers of idolatry. Why were these radicals so fearful of idolatry, if, as they claimed, idolatrous objects and images were merely “dumb,” lifeless, or inert?

My interest is probably also driven by my Roman Catholic upbringing. Having once been an altar boy, I had close proximity to the kinds of ritual artifacts—incense, candles, bells, liturgical vestments, crucifixes, stained glass windows—that radical Puritans of the early modern period would find abominable.

-What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

Public discourse surrounding iconoclasm typically presents it as absolute loss: We deplore iconoclasm because it violently erases our access to the past. My dissertation shows that early modern people often thought about iconoclastic incidents much differently. They did not automatically equate iconoclasm with erasure. Rather, they were often attentive to how certain artifacts might survive or resist the process, thus calling the efficacy of iconoclasm into question. Iconoclasm, in other words, elevated early modern interest in the capacity of material artifacts to transform human actions and intentions. In the twenty-first century, our closest analogue to this might be our increasing recognition of how digital technologies transform our consciousness and behaviors in ways we cannot fully control for.

 

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Leo Garofalo

-What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

I’m Leo Garofalo and I am associate professor of history at Connecticut College, and I teach Latin American history. My research is on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for not only colonial Latin America, in particular the Andes, but also the African Diaspora, particularly how it touches Europe and how it connects Europe to Africa and the Americas.

 

-What is the project you’re currently working on?

At the Humanities Institute, I have the great privilege of working on a book project Leothat I’ve been doing research for for a couple of years now, and it’s on Afro-Iberian, that is Black no comma European slaves, sailors, soldiers, freed people, travelers who traveled back and forth between Europe and the Americas, particularly Portugal and Spain which had a large African-descent population. They had, by the begining of the sixteenth century, achieved the status of sailors, soldiers, slaves, artisans, domestics, and traders, and had a big presence in terms of participation in the colonization of the Americas carried out by the Portuguese and the Spanish. In fact, up until 1700, more people from Africa and of African descent arrived in the Americas than they did from Portugal and Spain. So, Black Europeans are a small group within that larger African diaspora–it’s a chapter that’s not as well know. So my book is trying to elucidate the importance of the position of these Black Europeans within the colonial and colonizing enterprise.

 

-How did you arrive at this topic?

This project began in many ways as a question that emerged when I was working in the archives in Peru, looking at how different groups of Europeans, different indigenous groups of many ethnicities, and West and Central Africans came together in large cities such as Lima, cities that were markets, that were colonial creations that had never existed in this format before with large resident populations with fish markets and taverns and breweries and so forth. My goal was to set out to understand who did this kind of work and how were they able to negotiate it when you had different groups coming together. Among the people who appear as very dynamic cultural mediators and people skilled at crossing different cultural zones and bringing together different practices were people of African descent who originated in Portugal and Spain. And so I was wondering, who are these Black Europeans, these people of African descent who appear to be playing such an important roll in daily life within the Americas in this formative colonial period? And so, once I finished that project, my goal was to try to trace these people back to Europe, to try to understand who they were, where they came from, what neighborhoods they lived in, how they made it to the Americas, and did they retain those connections once they got there?

 

-What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

Once of the things we’re learning when we look more closely at African diaspora is not only the tremendous impact of people coming directly from Africa, but also the impact of people who are traveling through Europe and acquiring a knowledge of Portuguese and Spanish ways whether that’s language or Christianity, ways to carry out different artisan practices. They are becoming then, in a sense, settlers and colonists, whether they are enslaved or free, whether they are forced migrants or people who are volunteers, like soldiers, sailors, and traders on these ships. They are coming to the Americas in this very formative time, and they are coming over at a time that is much earlier than when we usually think of as being the important period for Africans in reshaping the Caribbean and Brazil. We usually think that happens in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the emergence of the sugar complex. At that period of time, we’re well aware that Africans are playing a very important role. What we’re finding with this kind of research is that they also play a very important role in shaping and cementing Spanish colonialism in the Americas, where they are fully half of the migrant communities in these urban areas. And this happens in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.