Contesting Honor: Recognizing Status, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Atlantic World, 1720–1830

AHA Session 206
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Clarendon Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Dain E. Borges, University of Chicago
Nicole von Germeten, Oregon State University

Session Abstract

In his classic study, Pierre Bourdieu discovered that the men of Kabylia (Algeria) followed “the principle of mutual recognition of equality in honour.” In Hegel and Weber’s theories we find this same principle of equality in honor. It is always and only among the equals that honor matters. In this dominant understanding, honor means one’s emotional and ethical commitment to a community and its shared values and recognition by other members of the community. But what happens when two honor communities clash, when two different ethnic, social, or professional groups encounter and engage each other?

In the current scholarship on honor and practices of mutual recognition, the focus has been on dueling and masculinity (for instance, Nye, Frevert, Wyatt-Brown), in meritocratic recognition (Reddy) or gift giving (Mauss, Godelier). These studies all share the assumption of equality in honor within a group, class or gender. Our panel will shift the attention to those conflicts, in which honor and other practices of mutual recognition took shape in encounterings, and exchanges between groups.

Michelle LeMaster’s paper investigates the cross-cultural rhetoric of manhood and honor as it developed in British-Native American diplomacy in the eighteenth century North American Southeast.  The colonial period witnessed the collision and clash of competing cultural notions of honor between British and Native American elite men.  Diplomatic meetings, especially after about 1720, provided a venue for leaders to articulate their notions of what constituted honorable behavior and who might claim honor.  Both sides insulted the honor of the other, usually with a distinct political purpose in mind.

José Luiz Passos focuses on British planter and traveler Henry Koster (1793-1820), who has recorded in detail the negotiations between the competing honor codes that coexisted in pre-independent Brazil. The paper explores the highly ritualized practice of visiting among strangers from different social backgrounds. Typically, travelers would engage the local elites but also interact with slaves and carry out official business on behalf of foreign merchants and the state, thus cutting across different sociopolitical strata as well as performing wider social roles than those he or she performed in their places of origin. The paper interprets how these visitors handle the stories they hear and create narratives to account for the constrictive or liberating change in their perception of social identity.

Heikki Lempa will probe the ways spatial divisions and rearrangements shaped and were shaped by honor in the city of Weimar during its classic era, 1770-1830. More specifically, he is interested in the ways Germans from different social classes articulated their sense of honor in these rearranged spaces. How for instance, the creation of large parks, sidewalks, gardens, and plazas accessible to all city-dwellers and foreign visitors did change the culture of social distinction typical for such small princely capitals as Weimar?

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