Navigating Identity and Community in the Gray Zones of Empire

AHA Session 220
Society for Advancing the History of South Asia 7
Saturday, January 6, 2018: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Congressional Room B (Omni Shoreham, West Lobby)
Scott C. Levi, Ohio State University
Ethnē at the Limits: Collectivities and Change in the China-Southeast Asia Borderlands
Bradley Camp Davis, Eastern Connecticut State University
Creating and Recreating Community in the Gray Zones of Empires
Purnima Dhavan, University of Washington
Unnamed Identity Systems at the Margins of Empire
Rian Thum, Loyola University New Orleans
Scott C. Levi, Ohio State University

Session Abstract

This roundtable brings together scholars of empires and their borderlands to interrogate the ways in which modern notions of race and ethnicity are complicated by a perspective structured outside the narratives of modern nation states. While concepts of race and ethnicity as markers of biological, social, and political identities have had and continue to have an undeniable history in the modern period, other forms of social ordering and organization also had a significant historical impact on human societies. What makes these forms of identity salient in different places and times can help us understand how notions of social and political power shape and propel ideas of self and other. We find the “gray zones” of empire a particularly useful perspective from which to begin our conversation. Such zones are found not only at the geographical limits of imperial territories, but are also zones within empires of cultural and political resistance to imperial polities. These occupy the liminal spaces both within empires, and at their political and geographical edges. Here, the limits of imperial power enable the sustenance of individual and communal identities very different from those at the imperial center. A focus on such forms of identity making and histories has much to offer the contemporary discussion of race and power today.

This roundtable brings together scholars of Eurasian borderlands whose work spans the Early Modern and Modern periods. Each participant will have ten minutes to engage the theme of this panel from their own research perspectives. The commentator will then step in to articulate the key issues that emerge in the initial round of presentations and the circle back to facilitate a deeper examination of these issues. We intend to budget generous time for audience participation.

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