Description of the Conference

Over the last few decades, scholars in all disciplines of the humanities have called upon their colleagues to interrogate, critique, and transcend frames of reference dominated by nation states. While this transnational turn has longstanding intellectual roots, these recent calls have resulted in an unprecedented outpouring of scholarly debate and research.

The State University of New York at Buffalo (UB) has recognized the increasing maturation of this body of scholarship by founding North America’s first Department of Transnational Studies. This new department brings together faculty from several interdisciplinary departments and programs which have long pioneered investigations in transnational studies: African and African American Studies, Gender Studies, American Studies, Native American Studies, Latino Studies, and Caribbean Studies.

To mark this event, the Humanities Institute at UB will sponsor a conference which will be organized by faculty from the Department of Transnational Studies and which will take place March 22-23, 2013. In addition, the department will also organize a speakers series, entitled Transnational Mondays during the academic year 2012-13.

The goals of the conference are to assess the transnational turn on a broad interdisciplinary scale, to highlight ongoing research projects in transnational studies across the humanities, to re-interrogate the theoretical bases of transnational inquiry, to critically explore the intellectual history of transnational studies, to learn lessons that have arisen in scholarly practice, and to provide insight and inspiration to scholars and students interested in pursuing new projects of transnational inquiry. While its wide focus is upon transnational work within the humanities as traditionally defined the conference organizers also welcome humanities-inspired scholarship from the social sciences.

The conference is intended as showcase for ongoing projects of empirical research in this field. However, we hope that they can also open up discussion upon broader or more theoretical matters. Some of the questions that might inform individual presentations include:

1) Critical intellectual histories of the transnational turn. Do today’s proclamations of transnationality further obscure or help celebrate historically underappreciated and path-breaking scholarship on such matters? How have earlier discussions of nation-transcending phenomena such as race, class, gender, capital, modernity, slavery, immigration, diasporas, borderlands, globalization, “global systems,” empire, popular culture, and the Atlantic world prefigured, strengthened, or perhaps limited the transnational turn? How about the precedents of comparative history and literature, area studies and international studies? What is the role of critiques of national exceptionalism, and is it possible such critiques limit the scope of transnational inquiry? How has the transnational turn intersected with other important “turns” in recent scholarship, towards culture, the body, performance, and questions of space? How has the transnational turn varied by discipline, and what can scholars in the humanities learn from the experience of their colleagues across disciplinary lines?

2) Inquiries about the relationship between the transnational, the national, and other geographic/political/cultural spaces. Is engaging in transnational inquiry equivalent to a contention that nation states are losing relevance, or even that the world has become irrevocably “post-national”? If not, is there nonetheless a risk to over-emphasizing the transnational at the expense of human activity largely confined to spaces such as nations but also within hemispheres, oceanic worlds, nations, regions, metropolitan areas, towns, neighborhoods, households, or within individual psyches? How should we assess the continuing centrality of nationality to liberation movements in many parts of the world? Studies that explore historical contingencies in the relationship between the transnational and the national, or which investigate the multiplicities of transnational geographies are especially welcome.

3) Inquiries about transnational studies as research practice. As the conference hopes to highlight, primary research projects have multiplied in this field in recent years, making it increasingly difficult to reproach transnational studies for remaining solely a theoretical proposition. However, real challenges remain, including the disparity of sources, language barriers, the enormity of costs in money and time involved, the professional risks of trespassing on sub-fields far from one’s training, the special difficulties involved in training graduate students in multiple fields and methods. How have practitioners overcome these obstacles? What successful models of transnational research and training can we identify?

The State University of New York at Buffalo, in the city of Buffalo, New York, lies at the heart of the Niagara River region. This region straddles the border between the United States and Canada, corresponds to the western reaches of the historic homeland of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, and is home to diasporic populations from across the world.


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