Number 69 (2020)

Edited by Heike Paul, Martina Kohl, and Hans-Jürgen Grabbe

Uncovering Indigenous Worlds and Histories on a Bend of a New England River before the 1650s: Problematizing Nomenclature and Settler Colonial History, Deep History, and Early Colonization Narratives

The essay explores the often-ignored histories of the indigenous people who resided on the confluence of the Merrimack and the Concord rivers up to the 1650s. This place is characterized by a significant bend in the Merrimack River as it changes its southerly flow into an easterly direction. Today, the area includes the modern city of Lowell, Massachusetts, and its surroundings. While the 1650s saw the creation of a Native American “praying town” and the incorporation of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s towns of Chelmsford and Billerica, it is the diverse and complex indigenous past before this decade which North American and global historians tend to neglect. The pre-colonial and early colonial eras, and how observers have described these periods, have shaped the way we understand history today. This essay problematizes terminology, looks at how amateur historians of the 19th and early 20th centuries have shaped popular perceptions of Native Americans, and explores how researchers have told the history before the 1650s. The materials available to reconstruct the history of the region’s Native Americans are often hard to find, a common issue for researchers who attempt to study the history of indigenous peoples before 1500. Thus, the essay pays special attention to how incomplete primary sources as well as archeological and ethnohistorical evidence have shaped interpretations of this history and how these intellectual processes have aided in the construction of this past.

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On Democracy of Digression: Chapter 30 of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick

This essay focuses on chapter 30 of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, one of the novel’s shortest chapters. It contrasts bigness, destiny and Captain Ahab’s authoritarian abuse of power with smallness, free will, and digression, the democratic virtues portrayed in Moby-Dick mostly through their absence but also, in chapter 30, by their presence in the form of a pipe that Captain Ahab smokes on deck and is then compelled to toss overboard so that The Pequod might complete is star-crossed and disastrously foreshadowed voyage.

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Entangled Encounters: The Transcultural Counterwitness and Implication in Claudia Rankine and John Lucas’s Situations

Drawing on current definitions of public testimony, this study turns to the work of Claudia Rankine and John Lucas’s Situations to explore how video poems challenge the pervasive stereotyping of black Americans in mainstream journalism and implicate viewers, particularly white ones, into the everyday and historical traumas of racial violence. Video poems, such as Situations, take advantage of multimodal channels to move viewers beyond spectator guilt to introduce a more nuanced understanding of American and global racism. Through an investigation of three of their video poems, “Stop and Frisk,” “In Memory of Trayvon Martin,” and “World Cup,” this study explores how Rankine and Lucas’s work opposes, and engages with, the pervasive stereotyping of black Americans presented in mainstream news media; how the multimodal nature of video poetry problematizes the viewers’ relationship with American and global racism; and how acts of counterwitnessing implicate viewers into distant histories of racial trauma.

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Can the Undocumented Speak? Undocumented Immigrants and Self-Representation

Undocumented immigrants usually trust their voices to immigration activists rather than engaging with strategies of visuality to reclaim their rights. The universe of illegal border crossing is about radical experiences of invisibility, misidentification, erasure, dispossession, and disappearance. First person testimonies by undocumented immigrants have, however, seen the light of day throughout the last decade in unsuspected media venues, from the New York Times to the Guardian, small sites of independent journalism, and also some book publications. Revealing their presence, their names, and their faces seems a brave decision, when the risk of deportation is part of their everyday reality. In my reading of their testimonies and the photographs illustrating them, I follow two theoretical lines that engage with the subjectivities of marginalized groups: sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos’ elaboration of a post abyssal thinking and cultural critic Nicholas Mirzoeff’s ideas of spaces of appearance and practices of counter visuality. Combining them will allow me to analyze how instances of self-representation by undocumented immigrants in the United States contribute to crafting a new subject position by a group who, by definition, cannot speak because it is deemed non-existent in legal terms. The issue brings back to the discussion Gayatri Spivak’s classical questions on subalternity and power.

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“Art Has a Bad (W)rap”: A Conversation with Michael Cullen about the “Wrapped Reichstag”

“The history of monuments teaches us much more about people and societies that commissioned them than the people and events for whom they were commissioned.” This is how Michael S. Cullen explained the meaning of commemorative architecture in an interview conducted by telephone, due to Corona restrictions, on 17 September 2020 (see also his introduction to Das Holocaust-Mahnmal, 18). Monuments are designed to commemorate important figures and events, but they also materialize the discussions and debates involved in their construction. Cullen should know. His work has made him the voice, perhaps even the conscience, of what is perhaps the most dialogic monument in Berlin: the Reichstag. 

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Essay: The Mad Patriot

Historians have tried to trace the origin of the American Revolution, but few, if any, have dared indicate an exact moment in time. Yet sufficient evidence points to the chilly afternoon of February 24, 1761, inside the Old Town House (now the Old State House) in Boston as the precise time and place.  Future president John Adams, who, as a 25-year-old Boston attorney in attendance at that occasion, later declared, “Then and there was the first scene of the first Act of opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there, the Child Independence was born” (Adams to Tudor, 29 March 1817). It was “then and there” that one of the American colonies’ most notable attorneys, James Otis, Jr., gave a speech that caused tremors throughout the British Empire. Textbooks have often downplayed this moment because the man who first sparked the American Revolution—James Otis, Jr.—was considered mad. However, we know today that James Otis Jr. was probably suffering from bipolar disorder and his condition was exacerbated by alcoholism.

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