2008-09: Water

The focal theme for 2008-2009 is Water: A Critical Concept for the Humanities.  Our Senior Scholars in Residence will be Verena Andermatt Conley (Master of Kirkland House and Visiting Professor of Comparative Literature and Romance Languages and Literatures, Harvard University) and Marcus Rediker (Professor of History, University of Pittsburgh).

The Society for the Humanities calls for scholarly reflection on critical concepts of water from a broad range of disciplinary and inter-disciplinary perspectives. While well-established as a subject of literary, historical, political, and aesthetic analysis, water also traverses emergent fields of inquiry such as ecopoetics and ecopolitics, ancient studies, critical geography, mapping and cartography, environmental humanities, oceanic studies, indigenous studies, and studies of diasporic arts and cultures. Scholars have considered water as an object of conflict and contest, as boundary, and as divider of regions and cultures, but also as a source of life and wealth, and as a medium of communication, migration, transport, commerce, and redistribution.

As access to fresh water becomes one of the most contentious issues of the twenty-first century, the study of water as well as disputes over water rights, especially those involving indigenous peoples and minorities, have increasingly become a focus of inquiry from many different disciplines.  While the classical themes of water travel and the healing properties of water are richly elaborated in literary, visual, and ethnographic texts, scholars also investigate the ideological connection between voyages of exploration, colonization, and scientific inquiry.  From the complexities of ecopolitics or theorizations of chaos and sexual fluids to natural events such as floods, droughts, tsunami, and hurricanes, frameworks of water pose complex poetic, ethical, aesthetic, political, cultural, technological, and scientific challenges to the humanities. Critical reflection on water, ecology, and migration evokes current and future crises, extending from Australia to the Mediterranean Basin, from sub-Saharan Africa to India. While the Mediterranean is now being rethought as a distinctive unity across time and space, from prehistory to the present, involving encounters between African, Arab, and European worlds, the Indian Ocean is acknowledged as a center of exchange in early modern times. Trans-oceanic movement is studied in relation to the slave trade, to imperial expansion, exploration, and exploitation, as well as a feature of global cosmopolitanism. Thus powerful metaphors like the “Black Atlantic” and the “Pacific Rim” have emphasized continuous trans-oceanic dialogue and inter-continental exchange, allowing for reassessment of cultural products as hybrid forms transcending cultural and ethnic boundaries. Finally the enigmatic nature of water and corollary fluids has catalyzed exciting experiments in the arts, music, and performance while dialoguing with challenging work in theory and philosophy for which water has been an important referent. The Society for the Humanities welcomes applications from scholars and artists who theorize, research, and perform water as a critical concept for the humanities.

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