CCHS Distinguished Visiting Speakers

David Kazanjian, University of Pennsylvania

The Brink of Freedom: Racial Capitalism and the Caste War of Yucatán”
Thursday, November 3 @ 3pm, Bingham Humanities Bldg. Room 100

In his new book The Brink of Freedom David Kazanjian revises nineteenth-century conceptions of freedom by examining the ways black settler colonists in Liberia and Mayan rebels in Yucatán imagined how to live freely. Focusing on colonial and early national Liberia and the Caste War of Yucatán, Kazanjian interprets letters from black settlers in apposition to letters and literature from Mayan rebels and their Creole antagonists.

In this talk, Kazanjian tracks the role the nineteenth-century Yucatán played in Cedric Robinson’s influential theory of racial capitalism. Drawing on Robinson’s own seemingly incidental reference in Black Marxism to Chilam Balam, a legendary Maya prophet, Kazanjian unsettles Robinson’s “red to black” narrative, which presumes that enslaved Afro-diasporans replaced exterminated indigenous people as the principle racialized labor force in the Americas. Kazanjian shows how the frequent appearance of the figure of Chilam Balam throughout the nineteenth-century—in Maya texts, in the archeological and anthropological research of Karl Hermann Berendt, and in the writings of Yucatec Creole intellectual Justo Sierra O’Reilly—indexes the complex articulations of African-descended people and indigenous people. Viewed from the perspective of the figure of Chilam Balam and the racialized dynamics of the Caste War conjuncture, Kazanjian argues for what Jack Forbes might have called a red-black theory of racial capitalism.

David Kazanjian is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of The Brink of Freedom: Improvising Life in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World (Duke) and The Colonizing Trick: National Culture and Imperial Citizenship in Early America (Minnesota), as well as co-editor of Loss: The Politics of Mourning (California) and The Aunt Lute Anthology of U.S. Women Writers, Vol. 1 (Aunt Lute Books). He has also published widely on the cultural politics of the Armenian diaspora, and is a member of the organizing collectives of Social Text and the Tepoztlán Institute for Transnational History of the Americas.

Presented by The Department of Comparative Humanities and the Commonwealth Center for the Humanities & Society

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Reginald Oduor, University of Nairobi, Kenya

Liberal Democracy, An African Critique
Monday, November 28 @ 3pm, Bingham Humanities Room 100

Reginald M.J. Oduor, Ph.D.,University of Nairobi, Kenya will present an African critique of liberal democracy. Despite the end of the Cold War and the ascendancy of liberal democracy, several Western scholars and political activists have pointed to its inherent weaknesses. Furthermore, while it is also often considered to be the panacea for Africa’s political instability, liberal democracy is actually alien to Africa, having arisen out of the peculiar social, economic and political developments in Western Europe. Drawing from Recent African scholarship, this paper advances the view that the imposition of liberal democracy on post-colonial African states has stifled the growth of models of democracy that draw from indigenous African political thought and that are therefore more in line with the worldviews of the vast proportion of the populations of these polities. This situation also amounts to the ongoing political subjugation of such populations and the inhibiting of healthy intercultural political dialogues on a global scale.

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