A Colonial History of the Present

In this interdisciplinary seminar, Professor Lowe resumes themes from her book, The Intimacies of Four Continents, in order to elaborate how links between colonialism, slavery, imperial trades, and Western liberalism might be extrapolated to the study of other settings, including the United States. Reading across archives, canons, and continents, Lowe will connect the liberal narrative of freedom overcoming slavery to the expansion of Anglo-American empire, observing that abstract promises of freedom often obscure their embeddedness within colonial conditions. Race and social difference, Lowe contends, are enduring remainders of colonial processes through which “the human” is universalized and “freed” by liberal forms, while the peoples who create the conditions of possibility for that freedom are assimilated or forgotten. Lowe applies methods to the interpretation of the historical past, examining events well documented in archives, and those matters absent, whether actively suppressed or merely deemed insignificant. Lowe continues to elaborate a mode of reading intimately, which defies accepted national boundaries and disrupts given chronologies, complicating our conceptions of history, politics, economics, and culture, and ultimately, knowledge itself.

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