I am currently Associate Professor of the Practice in International Comparative Studies at Duke University (with secondary appointments in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies and History).
In addition to regularly teaching the core ICS classes, I have also developed courses on migration, decolonization, and diaspora. Below are descriptions of a sampling of the courses I have developed.
Decolonization: Histories, Meanings, Struggles
“One cannot describe the movements of colonial nationalism without the moment when the unspoken discovered that they had a history that they could speak, that they had languages other than the languages of the master. It is an enormous moment. The world begins to be decolonized at that moment.” Stuart Hall, “The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity” (1997, p. 184)
Historians and other scholars of imperialism often demarcate the late 15th century as the beginning of the “age of imperialism,” more often than not illustrated by the voyage of Christopher Columbus who set out in 1492 from Spain to what European imperialists called “the New World.” For centuries following this initial voyage, various European corporations, monarchies, and eventually nation-states, set out to colonize large swathes of the globe, creating new geographies of conquest and domination, initiating famines, wars, military occupations, and expulsions that often turned genocidal against both humans and non-humans (for example, the near extinction of the buffalo on Turtle Island). While there was always on-the-ground resistance to occupation, including, for example, the slave revolt that freed Saint-Domingue from France in 1804, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the global movement to decolonize, particularly in Asia and Africa, solidified. Yet, despite the widespread “success” of movements for independence and decolonization in places such as the Philippines (1946), India (1947, when Pakistan was created), Indochina (1953-4), Sudan (1956), Morocco and Tunisia (1956), Ghana (1957), Nigeria (1960), the Congo (1960), Algeria (1962), Uganda (1962), Burundi and Rwanda (1962), and Angola and Mozambique (1974), there are many areas of the world that remain colonized today. [This is an incomplete list of movements for decolonization, but you get the idea!]
This course explores decolonization as an historical event, a theoretical category, and a series of contemporary movements. While historians have tended to treat decolonization as a completed event, many social activists today use the term to discuss a still-present need to end colonial institutions — from settler colonial occupation in places as widespread as Turtle Island (North America), Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, Palestine, and Aotearoa (New Zealand), to the hegemony of Western thought in university curricula, to the display of art and artifacts expropriated from the colonies in museums in major cities such as New York, London, and Paris. Some questions we will ask and attempt to answer in this class are: What does decolonization mean historically as well as in contemporary society? Is decolonization a project that can be completed? How do people in different parts of the world understand colonialism and decolonization, given the vast geographic and temporal differences in colonial history? Is there such a thing as a global decolonization? What could it mean to live in a decolonized world, and is it possible to have a common, universal vision for what this could look like?
Global South Asia
Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, there is no one link that ties a neat boundary around the region. As Dhruva Jaishankar wrote in Foreign Policy,
“What defines South Asia? Is it geography? The Indian Plate excludes all of Afghanistan and much of Pakistan, Nepal, and Bhutan, and includes the Irrawaddy basin. Religion? Not when India and Nepal are majority Hindu, Sri Lanka and Bhutan majority Buddhist, and Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and the Maldives majority Muslim. The legacy of British colonial influence? Maybe, but where then does that leave Myanmar? Ethnicity and language are similarly limiting. Pakistani and north Indian languages are more akin to Persian than to the Dravidian tongues of southern India, while it would be a stretch to draw ethnic links between the Manipuri, Baloch, and Sinhalese peoples. How about the footprint of Brahmanic culture and Sanskrit? That, as historians have noted, would mean encompassing much of Central and Southeast Asia.” Given the great diversity in this grouping, we may ask, why use the term South Asia? What does it give us that using the names of individual nation-states would not? The answer, I argue, lays primarily in the history of migration and diaspora originating in this part of the world.
The use of South Asian as an identity marker outside of the geographic region of the modern-day countries, although recent, stems from a long history of global migration that has transformed the histories and cultures of four continents. So-called South Asians have migrated within the region and beyond, following imperial networks to East and South Africa, as indentured servants in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean, and as intellectuals, laborers, freedom fighters, professionals, and economic, political, and cultural refugees throughout the world. Many of the histories of migration we will examine began well before the creation of contemporary national borders. This course, thus, explores the construction of the South Asian diaspora, asking questions about the relationship between people and states, and whether one can actually define a coherent and cohesive South Asian diaspora. How, in other words, what does it mean for a person to be of a nation, while not necessarily belonging to that nation? How has the history of modern South Asia, from the colonial era through independence and Partition, shaped the migrations of South Asian people throughout the world, and how has this same history affected other parts of the world? We will think about how race, caste, gender, sexuality, and nationality operate in the South Asian diaspora, as well as about how South Asia is represented in Western popular culture. Because the South Asian diaspora is truly global in scope, I have narrowed the regions we are studying this semester to primarily cover migration from pre-1947 India to the UK, East Africa, North America, and the Caribbean. I could have easily included the Gulf States, Singapore, Australia, and everywhere in-between, and am happy to provide reading suggestions for other geographic areas, though as will see, the subjects in question are almost never static.