Dislocated Lives: Caught in the Web of Global Systems

AHA Session 213
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Grand Ballroom Salon D (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Julia Clancy-Smith, University of Arizona
Karen Ordahl Kupperman, New York University

Session Abstract

The emergence of global systems in various times and places produced new forms of economic and cultural contact among disparate communities and fostered significant expansion in the scope and depth of human experience.  But there were dark sides, and not least among them was the way many individuals lived the new global as a form of extreme dislocation of both place and identity.  Historical studies of global systems have tended to focus on large-scale changes in patterns of connectivity, rather than on the meaning of these changes for individuals caught up in global processes largely against their will.  It is the lives of these individuals - the ways in which they struggled to gain a footing in lands and cultures out on the margins of global systems distant from their origins  and remade themselves in the process - that we discuss in this panel.  These stories supplement the global systems narrative by calling attention to the human costs, as well as some of the novel opportunities, engendered by new global patterns.

The three papers address the experience of dislocation and adaptation in different times and places.  Jacqueline Armijo’s study of Sayyid `Ajall Shams al-Din traces the highly successful career of a captive from Bukhara in Central Asia in the thirteenth century who manages to move from servitude to high officialdom in the Mongol Yuan dynasty.  Jenny Shaw’s paper examines the life of Cornelius Bryan in the seventeenth century, a poor Irishman whose story of transportation has a happy ending, for him at least, when he joins the ranks of the Barbados planter elite.  Judith Tucker’s paper looks into the career of Selim “the Algerine,” a man from eighteenth century Algiers, whose misfortunes eventually land him in colonial Virginia where he makes a life for himself on the edges of gentry society. 

The three papers deal with similar issues of adaptation, as certain markers of difference such as race, religion, and culture play a major role in the ability of individuals to reshape their lives in a novel setting.  Taken together, the papers allow us to raise some very interesting questions about the relative fluidity of identity and the barriers raised by these markers of difference in various global systems.  Shams al-Din reached the pinnacle of power; Bryan made his way to respectability; Selim struggled on the verge of insanity.  The barriers to success raised by race, religion, and culture operated differently in these three contexts.  The papers also address the strategies of adaptation available to our three protagonists in their efforts to overcome their displacement and negotiate the social hierarchies of their new homes.  Ultimately, the ability of any one individual to survive dislocation and perhaps even thrive in its aftermath was directly connected to the degree of flexibility in social arrangements on the margins of global systems.                          

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