Revitalizing Area Studies at the University of Iowa Phase Two, 1999-2002
This page is currently under revision as the Crossing Borders Program undergoes administrative changes.
A Proposal to the Ford Foundation
February 28, 1999
University of Iowa
Building on activities and inter-disciplinary alliances supported during the 1997-98 first phase of the Ford Foundation (FF) Crossing Borders (CB) initiative, faculty and academic administrators at the University of Iowa (UI) propose several Phase Two projects. Chief among them is a pilot project in cross-area graduate training that will prepare at least 20 students for dissertation research at the intersection of two or more foreign cultures. This pilot project, described below, is Iowa's “striking idea.” In essence, five departments have committed themselves to special language and interdisciplinary training that can serve as a national model for doctoral-level education in area studies. The Graduate College and the Liberal Arts College between them are supporting this request to FF with approximately $600,000 in research assistantships and teaching assistantships along with other forms of direct and indirect matching. In addition to the graduate training pilot project, UI faculty will also initiate (2) a collaborative African-South Asian research project entitled “Investing in Survival and Gambling with Identity” that will serve as an example to faculty and students of the possibilities for group field studies. Further, there will be two other faculty research activities that are intended to intersect and resonate with the Africa-South Asian project while displacing onto remoter sites the key issue of African-Indian interactions: these two activities are (3) a collaborative linkage project entitled “Reciprocal American Studies” that examines the United States as an “area” itself when viewed from the perspective of African and Indian scholars, and a research project (4) entitled “Unstable Diasporas” that will re-examine Indian and African encounters on the islands of the Caribbean. Hence India and Africa will be considered simultaneously from several viewpoints by three groups of researchers drawn from several disciplines. All three projects problematize affinity and identity in relation to historical dispersal, a theoretical problem that is mostly ignored in traditional area studies. Yet all three are designed to illustrate to participating students new ways in which the traditional elements of area-studies--foreign language learning, knowledge of historical contexts, familiarity with local cultures acquired through immersion abroad--can still serve as the backbone for novel, multi-sited research. While the organizers will constitute themselves as a research planning collective, they will also be drawing on a far-flung network of students and faculty in our own university, in other US universities and in foreign institutions.
Two key needs in present-day area studies are to enhance the knowledge and interdisciplinary training of graduate students and to upgrade the knowledge and skills of already appointed area studies faculty. On the one hand, given that academic careers span 35 or more years, it should become the norm that area studies scholars are supported in their efforts to gain additional area expertise and foreign language skills. On the other hand, a new kind of graduate training is required, one that prepares graduate students for teaching about more than one world area. Not only do globalizing processes demand this wider competence, but the marketplace of ideas increasingly rewards those who work across disciplines and areas. In the late 1990s, however, American universities have grown cautious about investing in area-studies. It appears that academic administrators hope to stabilize area studies faculty at or below the limits of existing FTEs. Such a policy need not be ruinous if area studies resources are deployed in a more efficient fashion. We propose to do this at the University of Iowa (UI), with help from the Ford Foundation (FF), by instituting innovations that can be summarized as second-area training, intra-and inter-institutional bridging and cross-area research. We define "second-area training" as strengthening a scholar's knowledge and skills through inter-area and inter-disciplinary study groups, seminars and conferences, and through the acquisition of new foreign language skills; second-area training also includes focused foreign travel to sites beyond an area scholar's principal area of expertise. In a similar vein, we understand "institutional bridging" to mean collaborating across the boundaries separating disciplines, programs, and universities, as well to mean acquiring experience working directly with scholars in and from foreign institutions. “Cross-area research" means that teams of scholars explore practical and theoretical issues that arise at the geographical margins where cultural and social processes mingle, potentiate or simply overlap. We expect that when these proposed changes in graduate training programs and in faculty research habits are institutionalized, the nature of area studies will be definitively altered at the University of Iowa.
Continuities with Phase One
During Phase One in 1997-98 a group of five African Studies Program (ASP) and South Asian Studies Program (SASP) faculty and students participated in a year-long sequence of study-group meetings, site visits to East Africa and Western India, seminars and conferences, all connected to the theme of "Diasporas and Exchanges across the Indian Ocean." Graduate student response in these “second area” activities was electrifying, and several students subsequently shifted their research to Indian-African interactions in coastal cities of East Africa as well to related Indian-African encounters in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean. The 1997-98 African-Indian diasporic project will now be pursued in depth over the next three years, as described below. Two other elements of continuity with Phase One will be (1) additional faculty-student summer seminars modeled on the successful “Global Theory and Area Studies” seminar held in May 1998, and (2) additional all-University convocations modeled on the one held in October 1998 on “Global Theory and the Future of Area Studies.” Both the 1998 seminar and the convocation succeeded in raising serious issues about the conceptual, evidentiary and pedagogic sides of area studies; at the same time they became unprecedented vehicles for sharing research results among students and faculty. The graduate training centerpiece of the present proposal, however, was not part of the Phase One activities.
Activities to be Supported
Cross-area graduate training
At the University of Iowa, and especially in the College of Liberal Arts where most area studies faculty are appointed, the institutional culture favors transactions across departmental lines. With the enthusiastic support of the Deans of the College of Liberal Arts and of the Graduate College, and bolstered by the Office of the Associate Provost for International Programs, five departments have banded together to support a pilot project for graduate training in area studies. A minimum of 20 graduate Fellows will be enrolled in the pilot project over three years; each Fellow will be appointed for two years and denominated a Ford Foundation Crossing Borders Fellow.The five departments are Anthropology, Cinema and Comparative Literature, Geography, History and Political Science.
The key features of the project are that
- Fellows will be be advised by designated mentors in the acquisition of research skills applicable in two or more foreign areas.
- Students will be expected to enroll in or otherwise demonstrate competence in two foreign languages during the course of their pre-dissertation training (one of these can be the primary language but the rudiments of a second research language need to be demonstrated).
- They will enroll in one new interdisciplinary seminar each year offered by Crossing Borders project faculty during the course of the pilot project.
- They will participate in two all-University convocations organized by the Crossing Borders initiative.
- They will attend Crossing Borders summer seminars each year in 2000, 2001, 2002.
Students' tuition for the summer seminars will be paid by the Crossing Borders pilot project (faculty will be compensated through the regular summer school payment mechanism). These seminars will emphasize methods, case studies and theoretical positions of broad applicability and will not have an area-specific focus. For example, the topic for the May 2000 seminar is Historical Memory in Cross-Cultural Perspective, and will be taught by Professors Paul Greenough (History, South Asian Studies) and by Larry Zimmerman (Anthropology, Native American Studies).
In return for selecting and advising the Fellows, the five departments will each obtain from the pilot project additional funding for five HTEs (half-time equivalent, a measure of support equivalent to 20 hours of a student's time each week)--1 HTE during 1999-2000, 3 HTEs during 2000-2001, and 1 HTE during in 2001-2002. Each department will be expected to match from its own resources a single HTE each year for three years and to denominate these students also as FF Crossing Borders Fellows. (These departmental matches will take the form of research assistantships, teaching assistantships, fellowships, or some combination thereof; see appendix for full details of this arrangement.) The selection of Fellows will be made by the departments. Disbursement of the Crossing Borders HTEs will normally be on an academic year basis, but departments can arrange to schedule the Fellows' appointments flexibly to include summers and residence abroad. (Fellows will be expected to use a portion of their funding to make visits to two or more foreign sites in preparation for their dissertation research or to study foreign languages off campus; they will be encouraged to combine their funding flexibly with other awards for such pre-dissertation travel and off-campus study purposes.) Summer support per se is not included as part of the pilot project. A Crossing Borders oversight committee, made up of departmental, Liberal Arts, Graduate College and International Programs representatives will periodically meet to review the working of the pilot project.
Research project on Africa-India diasporic linkages
Faculty from two interdisciplinary programs--the African Studies Program (ASP) and the South Asian Studies Program (SASP) will extend an interdisciplinary research project began in 1997-98 that has attempted to define, contextualize and interpret the movement of persons, objects and abstract elements of culture between East Africa and India since the turn of 19th century. These movements are being explored within interpretive frameworks that acknowledge colonialism, global capitalism and post-colonialism as defining features in the history of the Indian Ocean basin. The chronological scope of this proposal--1800 to 2000--sets the broadest range within which human and material transits are being studied, but the ultimate goal is to understand the contemporary social, economic and political life of ethnic minorities in East Africa and India--especially the situation of coastal minorities. While the Indian presence in Africa as merchants and shopkeepers is obvious and well-documented, the African presence in India is more elusive. Ex-slave African communities, who are usually low-income wage-workers called Habshis or Siddas, do not fully acknowledge their origins. Although we have only begun to understand why India has so thoroughly absorbed its African presence and why Indians in East Africa stand out, we will encompass both minorities within the same interpretive framework.
During a one-month trip to Tanzania and India in the winter of 1997-98, the principals confirmed the utility of short-term field tours by well-prepared investigators accompanied by local academic hosts. (See linked site “Images of Zanzibar and India.”) This trip had been preceded by a semester of discussions among the faculty-student group, which had reviewed the existing Africa-India diaspora literature and had contacted leading American scholars of the Africa-India connection (e.g. Ned Alpers at UCLA, Leah Hamilton at MSU, Karen Leonard at UC Irvine). In Africa and in India, contacts with local scholars and informants (based on prior research and conference collaborations) led to rapid refining of many of the group's original assumptions and a realization that the presence of ex-Africans in India and ex-Indians in Africa offers a richly symmetrical research problem: how have these minorities managed their displacement? How do Indians and Africans self-identify in difficult circumstances, and how do they accommodate to sudden shifts in majority attitudes toward them? These are questions that could be asked of any minority group separately, but when asked simultaneously within the framework of a single project that acknowledges the complexity of doubling diasporic flows across the Indian Ocean basin. Specifically, we intend track (1) how group identities are built conditionally across politico-economic boundaries and (2) how these identities shift when local political alignments and economic trends undergo sharp alterations. We are tentatively naming practices we have glimpsed among the coastal minorities in India and Africa as "Investing in Survival and Gambling with Identity,” because we find that these minorities make calculated efforts (i.e. forms of gambling) to avoid adverse notice by the majority communities (i.e. survival strategies). Their dilemma is that, as they express solidarity to forge reliable bonds of community support, they render themselves ever more visible and thus more liable to majority oppressions. In a word, there is risk both in forging and in not forging community bonds, with the result that both processes occur. Our working assumption is that, without protection from newly-formed host states and with only the slimmest of diplomatic guarantees from their countries of origin, coastal Indian minorities have had to invent a mix of self-supporting institutions, extra territorial networks, systematic illegalities, and exaggerated forms of deference to protect themselves and their livelihoods in times of economic downturn and majoritarian violence.
Our focus, then, will be on the variability of identity, and of identity markers, under unstable political and economic circumstances (ancillary studies will inquire into linked matters of the ways that race, gender, class, and nationality play across identity). Colleagues from the universities of Dar es Salaam and Durban will be closely involved. The principal research method will involve two field trips to East Africa and India (Tanzania and Natal province in Africa, Hyderabad and coastal Gujarat in India) where open-ended interviews will be supplemented by document collection, study groups, local scholarly insights and university-based seminars. ASP and SASP have already made good contacts in both countries. In the US collaborations with other US and foreign scholars and institutions will also be an important feature of the project. Graduate students will participate at each step and will be encouraged to frame personal research agendas around the practical and theoretical issues that are expected to arise in the course of the three-year project.
Linkage Project on Reciprocal American Studies
The Crossing Borders project offers opportunity to build institutional and intellectual connections between the Africa-India research project and IFUSS, a unique UI unit within International Programs. IFUSS (the International Forum for United States Studies), directed for the last three years by Professors Virginia Dominguez and Jane Desmond, is reformulating the practice of area studies by redefining the place of the United States as an "area" that has its own global community of scholars. Each year IFUSS recruits a handful of foreign American Studies scholars (selected from among thousands worldwide) and invites them to the University of Iowa for four months of discussions and individual research. After several years' experience, IFUSS has identified most of the American Studies centers around the world--including a major established center in Hyderabad, India and nascent centers on the east coast of Africa at universities in Maputo, Mozambique and in Durban and Capetown in South Africa. In validation on the logic of the the FF Crossing Borders initiative, IFUSS will bring two foreign scholars from the American Studies Research Center (ASRC) in Hyderabad to UI in fall 1999, and then, in the following summer of 2000, will send six UI participants (3 faculty, 3 students) to ASRC in Hyderabad for several weeks of meetings with the Indian Americanists. Accompanying, the Iowa team will be a single African American Studies scholar from Maputo, Natal or Capetown. While in Iowa the two Indian scholars will lead a development seminar, pointedly including SASP and ASP students and faculty as well as other IFUSS visitors, that will explore issues of mutual interest. Similarly, while in Hyderabad the UI team plus the African scholar will, in addition to attending an American Studies seminar, make contact with the city's sizable Habshi/Siddi (i.e. ex-African) settlement (itself a target of the ASP-SASP diaspora research project). In this way the two Crossing Borders projects will begin to be entwined. At the end of the first year, each participant to the IFUSS exchange will produce an analysis outlining the key intellectual issues that such encounters have raised for them. These statements will become part of the evolving dialogue for the IFUSS project and will be made available to current and future participants. In the fall of 2000 a similar sequence will be followed, but this time two different scholars (one from India, one from Mozambique) will come to Iowa in overlapping month-long residencies. This visit will be followed by six UI scholars (again, 3 faculty and 3 students) who will travel in the summer of 2001 to Maputo, Natal and Capetown in South Africa. Accompanying the UI team on the African tour will be an Indian scholar from Hyderabad. Again, analytic reports based on the year's work in development seminars and travel will be made available to the expanding network on both sides of the Indian Ocean as well as across the Atlantic. In year three, 2001-2002, a week-long international conference will be held at Iowa that will bring together all of the participants from the previous two years' activity: four Indian and Africanist scholars, the two Iowa study tour teams, and related IFUSS, ASP and SASP faculty and students. The focus of the conference will be American Studies in International Perspective. Portions of this conference will be shared more widely with the campus through the final Crossing Borders Convocation and with the wider world through the IFUSS website.
The expected outcome of this project is not to secure research results per se but to explore important and unprecedented linkages among sets of scholarly communities hitherto operating in isolation. By bringing American Studies specialists into intense contact with specialists of Africa and India, the organizers hope to revitalize area studies in four major ways: (1) by reconfiguring American Studies as an "area" that has a global community of scholars; (2) by putting "American Studies" into interactive contact with extant specializations so that the intellectual practices of investigating the "foreign" and the "domestic" are both juxtaposed and linked; and (3) by triangulating relations of knowledge to grow beyond the binary "us-them" that has shaped area studies programs in the past and which has fostered the hermeticism of US American Studies since World War II. Finally (4) this project will enhance the likelihood of "horizontal flows," that is, conversations between Americanists outside the US; thus it will not only contribute to de-parochializing American Studies in the US , but it will also extend the international and comparative dimension of "area studies" outside the US, when the "area" being studied is the US.
Research Project on Unstable Diasporas in the Caribbean
The production of new forms of knowledge and the active engagement of political and cultural symbols from Africa, Asia and other places in the context of old modernity, and now, late modernity, rendered under various globalized conditions, is the object of study. This project--the first phase of what will become a larger research effort going beyond the frame of the Crossing Borders project-- will offer insight into issues and problems of identity constructions under unstable "diasporic" conditions. The research, organized by an anthropologist but involving also scholars of language and cultural studies, will investigate how African and Asian (i.e. East Indian ) cultures have contributed to and structured the settlement formations and unique identity structures in the Caribbean region. In a nutshell, what happens to cultural identity when it moves to and is deployed in another location? To be sure, the Caribbean threw up its own peculiarities in geography and environment. Many of the emigrant diasporic groups differed significantly from each other in creating plural and fractured societies. Further, these settlements were administered by metropolitan powers with different cultural trajectories and economic interests, many of which became vessels of "respectability" (in the local hierarchies of status) through which Africans and Asians sought cultural refuge, at that same time that they contested them. Together, these factors have combined to give shape to an interesting heterogeneity in Caribbean societies and identities, that links them (however haphazardly) with elements of the old world. They at once reflect aspects of African and Asian "ancestral" forms (however imagined), as well as innovative indigenous responses in structuring new Caribbean identities. Dispersal in migration, adaptation in survival, and innovation in creative human settlements point to both continuity and change in the impact of Africa and Asia on the Caribbean. The connection of this project with the SASP-ASP research on investing in survival and gambling with identity is obvious and suggests a productive conversation over the next few years.
Specific activities to be undertaken during the next three years by the "Unstable Diasporas" project will involve
- An initial visit to UI in 2000 by a faculty member from the University of Trinidad and Tobago to hone a research strategy, followed by
- A group (two students and four faculty) study-tour in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and/or Haiti in the following year (2001). The focus of the study-tour will be (A) the production of art, festivals and carnivals, and (B) the formation of nationalist African and Indian organizations that propagate Africanness and Indianness, particularly in relation to family and individual comportment (role models), (C) state cultural policies and their deployment of images of India and Africa, and (D) the impact of migration on culture and community in relation to notions of Africanness and Indianness.
This research will be interdisciplinary, and will be contoured along racial, gender and class dimensions. During this two-year period additional research fund-raising for this project will proceed with the collaboration of the ASP-SASP faculty involved in the Africa-India project.