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World Literatures, Global Histories: Using the Literary for Rethinking Historiography

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Organizer: Lauren Parker

Co-Organizer: Sarah Emily Duff

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In the midst of scholarly debates on the boundaries and limitations of both world literature and global history, how can we understand literature as historiography? If societies past and present experience the historical through various literary modes – be they visual, written, or oral – then how do we understand the methods by which those modes produce and shape historiography over time and place? Since the archival turn of the 1990s, historians have become acutely aware of how their methodologies overlap with and borrow from the techniques of literary production, and have engaged in an often fraught debate over history’s inability to escape its own narrativity. If history has increasingly explored its own literariness over time, literary studies has confronted its historical contingencies in time - most explicitly in World Literature’s debates on the possibilities and limitations of aesthetic-linguistic systems.  We aim to bring into conversation disparate historically and regionally embedded ways of using literature to think about the past. We therefore seek to explore the ways in which history is informed by the literary possibilities of the present. This seminar invites scholars working across regions and temporalities, to join an interdisciplinary discussion about how the historiographical is produced through the literary. How might these discussions reconfigure our notions or boundaries or cultural imaginaries of a shared global history? In what ways does literature disturb conventional ways of thinking about temporality, contingency, and alterity in history? How has literature shaped historical thinking? How is the vision of the global in itself part of a pattern of historical processes of representation? Moreover, how does this thinking reposition the notion of world literature as an “historical” field?    Possible directions of inquiry include, but are not limited to: In which particular places and times do we see an ascendancy of literature’s claim to historiographic authority?  How do questions of literary patterns, processes, and points of cultural rupture shape the methods and assumptions of historiographic writing? How does literature reconfigure cultural epistemologies for understanding and entextualizing historical events? Do changing conceptions of the literary over time shape the methodological boundaries of historiography? How do regional literatures produce and interrogate notions of global history? In what ways are the contingencies of the past made comprehensible by the possibilities provided by the literary form?   Please submit your abstracts of ~300 words and a brief biographical note online via the ACLA website by September 23, 2019.  

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