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Spring 2015 CURRENTS

April 6th

“Freedom Marooned: An Atlantic Slave Rebellion in the Eighteenth-Century Dutch Caribbean.”

Marjoleine Kars, History

In the years 1763-1764 nearly all five thousand slaves in the Dutch colony of Berbice rose up in rebellion. Although this rebellion in what is now the Republic of Guyana in South America was extensive and long lasting, it is virtually unknown. To date, only two books have been written about it: one in 1770, the other in 1888, both in Dutch. During my fellowship I intend to complete the third, in English. But I am attracted to this rebellion not just for its scope and relative obscurity. Rather, the unusually rich documentation it has generated offers an opportunity to redefine our understanding of the nature of slave insurgency and to study the internal politics of rebellion. The project also raises interesting issues about evidence and narrative history.

April 13th

Design, Desire and Consumption

Peggy Re, Visual Arts

Between 1951 and 1952 twelve exhibits that presented American culture were prepared by the Traveling Exhibition Service for the United States Department of State and circulated through West Germany and Austria in order to construct cultural and political authority and combat Communism. Three of these exhibits showcased consumer goods organized by industry: Contemporary American Textiles designed by Florence Knoll & the Knoll Planning Unit, Contemporary American Wallpapers designed by Tom Lee, and Containers and Packaging designed by Will Burton. My research examines how these three exhibits were intentionally used to transform political discourse by presenting economic productivity in the form of aesthetic choices, new technologies and materials, and ideals to create consumer awareness and demand. I discuss the European influences on and of the program’s curators and designers who as cultural interpreters helped introduce, mediate, and form American modernism. I then examine how these newly interpreted forms were reintroduced into and received by postwar Germany as a representation of American identity and as a means to transfer democratic ideals and knowledge of the United States, its citizens, and system of government as the State Department strove to promote the growth of democratic government.

April 20th

“We’ve Done Beautiful Work Here”
Resource Conservation as Intercultural Process in Mojanda, Ecuador

John Stolle-McAllister, MLLI

While it might be common to think of natural resource conservation as a primarily technical endeavor, people’s relationships to nature and to their communities facilitate and constrain not only what policies might or might not be effective, but also what might or might not even be considered a resource. In the late 1990s highland Kichwa-Otavalo and Kichwa-Kayambi communities in Northern Ecuador realized that their water supplies were decreasing alarmingly in terms of both reliability and quality. Community leaders turned to local yachaks, university-educated community members, and regional NGOs to explain what was happening and what they could do to restore their water and the functional viability of their communities. This process resulted in a highly successful and innovative process that combined technical knowledge, community-building skills and local epistemology to collectively reforest and preserve damaged areas of the high grasslands, and strengthen community ties. At a broader level, it represented an attempt to enact intercultural ideals by providing these communities with ways to reinvent themselves as distinct and viable parts of larger networks.


Making Time for Carbon: Understanding the Value of Nature and the Instability of Capital

David Lansing, Geography and Environmental Systems

This paper examines how markets for ecosystem services come to manage and incorporate the unpredictability of nature by considering the precarious assemblages needed to mark time, and their role in the realization of value. Among scholars studying the ongoing commodification of natural processes, the uncertainty of nature is often posited as a barrier to accumulation that capital tries to overcome through the development of forms of “fictitious capital”. Through an example of how carbon offset markets have come to deal with the unpredictability of forests, this paper offers an alternative reading of the role of financialization and nature’s qualities in market-based approaches to natural resource conservation. It argues that the difficulties of commodifying ecosystems arise from the contradictory processes of exchange and production. The relationship between the two processes is one of structural instability that is never fully resolved. And it is in the ongoing attempts to resolve this instability that the value of ecosystem services is realized.