I’m heading south on Amtrak now, after spending the last two days at the JCB Fellows Program 50th Conference. I always love going back to Providence — as Ralph Bauer said during his talk yesterday afternoon, every time we one-time fellows walk back to Thayer St it feels like home. The conference itself was an odd and intriguing mix, mostly historians — my panel and Ralph’s were the only sessions chaired by literary scholars, and mine the only one with a substantial proportion of literary rather than historical folks on the panel. The keynotes, by Bernard Bailyn and Rolena Adorno, were really about the history of the JCB and the Brown family since the 18c, and also of the Fellows program since 1962. It’s great stuff to know about, esp. after collaborating with the JCB on the Hungry Ocean conference last year, but not the same as an academic conference that’s going to change the way you think and do your work.
My panel, Salt Water in the Archive, was great fun. We ran it as a real round table, with no one speaking for more than 4-5 minutes at a time, as we went three times round describing our favorite items from the collection, our most valued insights from current oceanic studies, and our hopes for its future. Some interesting paths opened up: Hester Blum sent me toward Gayatri Spivak’s argument for “planetarity” as an alternative to “globalization,” as outlined in her 2003 Death of a Discipline where she writes “I propose the planet to overwrite the globe” (72). While I’m not sure the planet/globe binary maps as precisely onto her political nexus as she might want, I do think that, as with Ursula Heise’s presumably related “sense of planet,” the oceanic, alien, and inhospitable element of our globe can best emphasize the scattered and disorienting nature of the global/planetary imagination.
Some other very good stuff by Mac Test in his Latourian reading of New World commodities in Old World economies, including his pointed reminder about the present of two Algonquin natives in Harriot’s house when he wrote his Brief and True Report of…Virginia. John Hattendorf reminded us that the AHA has recently added “maritime history” to its official list of categories; Mary Fuller mentioned several fascinating collaborative projects she’s working on with scientists at MIT; and Chris Pastore gave a fascinating glimpse of ecological and cultural boundaries of Naragannsat Bay in the late 17c. The Q&A was very lively and spilled us over the time; several people including Robert Foulke, who I was very happy to meet for the first time this weekend, wondered if we had any plans to expand maritime studies as a sub- or inter-discipline, and David Armitage had a wonderfully focused closing question about depth and the unfortunate tendency of maritime history to stay on, or near, the surface of the ocean.
There were quite a few strong talks in the part of the conference I could stay for, including some very interesting observations about comparative history in the Americas and several wonderful spculative talks & performances about early modern music and the European-Native encounter. I hadn’t known that some northern FL Indians apparently remembered for a generation or so a French hymn they had learned from a Huegenot colony that had been subsequently massacred by Spanish Catholics. Some very interesting methodological speculations about the early modern musical landscape also: many more performers, but much less music than our iPod-connected world.
It’s especially great always to see the JCB community, including many of my fellow Fellows from 2008-09, though not Vin Caretta alas, and the great curators and staff. Maureen O’Donnell sounds fired up for Hungry Ocean 2 in 2013 or 2014 — though I need to finish the book attached to the first conference first!