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‘Transnational turn’ in humanities topic of UB conference


Published March 14, 2013

Over the past few decades, scholars in all disciplines of the humanities have sought to question, critique and transcend frames of reference dominated by nation states.

“A critical mass of academics has expressed dissatisfaction with these categories of knowledge,” notes Carl Nightingale, associate professor in the Department of Transnational Studies, College of Arts and Sciences. “Most of the subjects they teach about—such as the New Deal, or modern fiction, or slavery, or immigration, or avant-garde filmmaking, or the feminist movement—are all subjects that transcend national or regional borders: They are “transnational,” he explains. 

UB recognized the evolution of this body of scholarship by founding the Department of Transnational Studies, the first such department in North America. The new department brings together faculty from several interdisciplinary departments and programs that have long pioneered investigations in transnational studies: African and African American Studies, Gender Studies, American Studies, Native American Studies, Latino Studies and Caribbean Studies.

To mark this occasion, the Humanities Institute and the Department of Transnational Studies are presenting a conference, “The Transnational Turn in the Humanities,” March 22 and March 23 in the Grand Marquis Ballroom at the Hotel @ The Lafayette in downtown Buffalo. Nightingale is conference organizer.

The goals of the conference are:

  • To assess the transnational turn on a broad, interdisciplinary scale.
  • To highlight ongoing research projects in transnational studies across the humanities.
  • To reinterrogate the theoretical bases of transnational inquiry.

To critically explore the intellectual history of transnational studies.

  • To learn lessons arising in scholarly practice.
  • To provide insight and inspiration to scholars and students interested in pursuing new projects of transnational inquiry.

While the wide focus of the conference is upon transnational work within the humanities as traditionally defined, organizers also welcome humanities-inspired scholarship from the social sciences.

The conference is unique in that it is not only transnational, but also “transdisciplinary.” Most conversations about the transnational turn occur within separate disciplines. The speakers at this conference include many of the most prominent North American scholars in transnational studies from across the humanities disciplines. Speakers and their topics are:

  • Richa Nagar, professor of gender, women and sexuality studies, University of Minnesota, “Five Truths of Storytelling, Co-authorship and Alliance Work.
  • Aims McGuinness, associate professor of history, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, “Tramping Across History: Transnational History’s Temporality Problem.”
  • Daniel T. Rodgers, Henry Lea Professor of History, Princeton University, “Cultures in Motion.”
  • Audra Simpson, assistant professor of anthropology, Columbia University, “Haudenosaunee Territory, the Racialized Life of Treaty and Settler Sovereignty.”
  • Rinaldo Walcott, associate professor and chair, Department of Sociology and Equity Studies, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, “After Settler Colonialism: Diaspora, Transnationalism and the Decolonial Project.”
  • Paul Kramer, associate professor of history, Vanderbilt University, “Itinerant Histories: Mobilities, Networks and Transfers in the Making of Connected Pasts.”
  • Ato Quayson, professor of English and director of the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies, University of Toronto, “Postcolonialism and the Diasporic Imaginary.”

The conference will be held from 9-5 p.m. Friday and 9-11:45 a.m. Saturday.

A copy of the conference schedule can be found on the conference website. While the conference lunches are free to all conference attendees, attendees must RSVP to to be guaranteed a meal.

In addition to the conference, the Humanities Institute and the Department of Transnational Studies have organized a lecture series, “Transnational Tuesdays.” Visit the website for the remaining lectures this semester.