Intimacies and Empires

AHA Session 47
Friday, January 2, 2015: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM
Mercury Rotunda (New York Hilton, Third Floor)
Barbara M. Cooper, Rutgers University–New Brunswick

Session Abstract

The most intimate components of private lives are far more present than was initially imagined by scholars, albeit occasionally difficult to locate, in the archives of Empires.  Yet even scholars who work on themes such as sex, sexuality and love in archival texts also turn to other types of sources, and other disciplines.  They do so to frame their studies of imperial intimacies with these disciplines' theoretical underpinnings and methodological perspectives.  This topical discussion session speaks to the overarching theme of the 2015 American Historical Association conference by considering why disciplines related to history are so often invoked by scholars of the intimate, and how such disciplines and their attendant approaches and methodologies can illuminate, inform and help us to define what we mean by intimacy, especially, but not only, in an imperial setting. 

To anchor our conversation, each panelist will briefly suggest some approaches to imperial intimacies.  We will invoke questions that have been useful (or problematic) in our own research.  These presentations will progress via a series of interlocking problems:  Ann Laura Stoler will ask us how intimacy is also a political concept that influences our readings of imperial governance.  Jennifer Anne Boittin will in turn consider why archives and the administrators who shaped them provoke scholars to study the transgression of sex rather than the comfort and love its female partakers experienced.  In response Rachel Jean-Baptiste wonders why masculinity is not more often considered as a lens through which to view (inter)racial intimacies.  And finally Denis M. Provencher will provoke us all to consider the place of queer studies in our readings of postcolonial intimacies.  We will all offer working definitions of intimacies in our presentations, and explain how other disciplines have helped us to shape our work.

Altogether, this roundtable gathers panelists and a chair, and invites audience members, who draw from varied disciplinary backgrounds in framing historically-informed research.  The perspectives we invoke here include anthropology, literature, cultural studies, media studies, gender and women’s studies, queer studies, and of course history.  The sources touched upon include film, literature, photography, theory and various forms of art and performance.  We welcome interaction with an audience with similarly transnational and interdisciplinary interests in how other disciplines shape history, and how better to define our study of intimacies.

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