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Spring 2014 CURRENTS

Monday, March 24th

Set in Stone? Posthumous Accounts, Epitaphs, and the Writing of
Mid-Tang Literati Biographies

Anna M. Shields, Modern Languages, Linguistics, and Intercultural Communication

I am in the early stages of a new project on constructions of Tang dynasty (617-907) literary culture that were written during the Five Dynasties (907-976) and Northern Song (976-1127) eras in China. In this project I will explore key works about Tang writers and literature from the tenth through early twelfth centuries — focusing on historical biographies, poetry anthologies, and anecdote collections. As the earliest, most influential portraits of Tang literary culture for later Chinese readers these texts represent the Tang as the ultimate “literary” dynasty, reading Tang literature and writers through an increasingly narrow lens that frequently excluded the social and political dimensions of Tang writing. I will present a case study of funerary texts for the mid-Tang literatus Han Yu (768-824) that were used by tenth- and eleventh-century historians to write Han’s biography, showing the ways that later writers selected and erased certain components of the texts to construct a “Han Yu” that suited their broader view of the mid-Tang era.


‘Pleading the Belly’: Convict Transportation and Motherhood

Teresa Foster, Language, Literacy and Culture

Women adjudged guilty of a felony and condemned to death could avoid the hangman’s noose by “pleading the belly” in eighteenth-century Britain. The respite of precious months offered by pregnancy was sufficient to receive a conditional pardon for transportation to the American colonies. The desirability of convict transportation as an alternative punishment to public hanging may appear obvious. However, much less obvious is the maternal sacrifice required of postpartum women forced to abandon their newborns to an uncertain fate. Removed by prison or parish officials, the children of convict mothers became fictive orphans. I argue that an examination of familial relations within the system of convict transportation reveals a codified pattern of gendered dehumanization through an abrogation of natal ties.

Friday, April 11th

Leah’s Dybbuk: A Feminist Adaptation of a Classic Yiddish Play

Susan McCully, Theatre; Eve Muson, Theatre; and Michele Osherow, English

We are collaborating on the production of a new play to be staged at UMBC in spring 2015. Our collaboration began as an adaptation of S. Ansky’s The Dybbuk, or Between Two Worlds (1915) with the aim of recovering the voice of the young woman possessed by the dybbuk of her dead lover. As the project progressed, we became increasingly interested in hauntings of various kinds involving ancestral ghosts, cultural identity and beliefs regarding personal destiny. The romantic love at the center of Ansky’s play is replaced in Leah’s Dybbuk with the relationships of mothers and daughters whose complicated possessions of one another cross time and space. The characters move between worlds speaking English, Chinese, Yiddish and Hebrew. In turns realistic and expressionistic, Leah’s engagement with the supernatural frees her to explore her potential for self-possession and expression, echoing the rich history of young women who gained a rare cultural agency through the performance of a mystical experience.

Monday, April 21st

Explosive Figures: Population Projections and the Pill

Carole McCann, Gender + Women’s Studies

This talk offers a close reading of Ansley Coale and Edgar Hoover’s analysis of the 1951 All-India census, which is said to have proved that rapid population growth in the “third world” would inevitably outstrip economic modernization efforts. The paper illuminated the complex process by which scant data were extrapolated into a vivid portrait of explosive population growth. It highlights the cultural work performed by Coale and Hoover’s statistical figurations that fueled popular images of the world population explosion and the rapid global distribution of the pill in the 1960s.