Vanessa Ohlraun, M.A.
Research Staff
Address
Im Moore 21
30167 Hannover
Building
Room
Vanessa Ohlraun, M.A.
Research Staff
Address
Im Moore 21
30167 Hannover
Building
Room

Research areas

  • Colonial past in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Legacies of slavery and cultures of remembrance
  • Political concepts of representation and identity in postcolonial societies of the 20th century (especially Cuba and Indonesia)
  • Poststructuralist theories in cultural anthropology and history
  • Decolonizing education

Current Resarch Project

I am currently working on a transatlantic history of the emergence of Black Studies in Latin America as viewed through the work of African American anthropologist Ellen Irene Diggs. One of the first scholars to focus on African-derived culture in Latin America, Diggs was influenced by and in turn had an impact on her close collaborators W.E.B. Du Bois and Fernando Ortiz, Cuban anthropologist and founder of Afro-Cuban Studies, among others. Focussing on her writings from the 1930s and 1940s, especially on those published in the journals Crisis and Phylon of which she was co-founder and editor, I aim to trace the intellectual exchanges which propelled a transatlantic circulation of ideas on issues of race in the African diaspora.

Curriculum Vitae

  • Academic education

    2000 - Master of Arts in Cultural Anthropology, Art History and Gender Studies at Humboldt University and Free University, Berlin, Germany

    1997-2000 - Graduate studies in Cultural Anthropology, Art History and Gender Studies at Humboldt University and Free University, Berlin, Germany

    1996-1997 - Graduate studies in Cultural Anthropology, Art History and Gender Studies at University of Washington - Graduate College, Seattle, USA         

    1993-1996 - Undergraduate studies in Cultural Anthropology and Art History at Albert-Ludwigs-University, Freiburg, Germany

  • Memberships and posts

    Since 2021 - Member of the Caribbean Philosophical Association

    Since 2021 - Member of the general advisory board of the Braunschweigische Stiftung

    Since 2019 - Member of the administrative committee and representative of the management committee of the COST action "European Forum for Advanced Practices" within the framework of the European Cooperation in Science and Technology of the EU funding line Horizon 2020

    Since 2018 - Member of the board of trustees of the Herzog August Library, Wolfenbüttel, Germany

    From 2017-2021 - Member of the administrative board of the State Theatre Braunschweig, Germany

    Since 2006 - Member of the International Council of Museums

Courses

  • Winter Semester 2022/23 - Violence in the Archive

    Historical research into traumatic events such as the Transatlantic slave trade, the lynching of African Americans in the southern US or the genocide of indigenous peoples in the Americas requires working with the archive. This inevitably means looking at sales records, court documents, photographs and other materials which function as proof of these events.

    The archive is undeniably an important informational reservoir, the collective assortment of written records, testimonies, oral accounts and other historical traces. However, the conflicts and brutality of occurences documented in the archive entail that the traces of their history are themselves marked by violence. While the archive can function as evidence of injustice and atrocity, it can also repeat or replay such violence to a certain degree for those who have suffered from its original force.

    This seminar engages with the double-edged nature of the archive, focusing on the legacy of colonialism, the tensions of positionality, the discomfort of speaking for the dead, and the demands for proof and for reparation.

    This seminar is held in English, but the final term paper can be written in either German or English.

     

  • Winter Semester 2022/23 - Race and Citizenship in Modern Cuba

    Having fought successfully in the War of Independence, Cuban men of African descent were claiming their share in the political representation of the new republic, founded in 1902 after a brief period of U.S. American occupation. Women, meanwhile, were aligning themselves across racial barriers to fight for the right to vote which they obtained in 1934. In this period, debates about race and citizenship were central to the formation of Cuban nationhood. Following Cuba’s national hero José Martí, the young republic aspired to be a “raceless nation”, but this visibly clashed with the political reality of race-based discrimination in fields such as education and access to jobs and government positions.

    This seminar will trace the social and political developments in the new Cuban republic with a focus on the situation of its Black population. It will consider the intersections of race, class and gender in discourses of citizenship and look at international influences on these debates as ideas from the African continent and diaspora circulated across the globe.

    This seminar is held in English, but the final term paper can be written in either German or English.

  • Summer Semester 2022 - Slave Narratives - A Cuban Case Study

    Esteban Montejo was a self-emancipated, formerly enslaved man who hid in the mountainous forests of central Cuba for many years until the abolition of slavery in 1886. Thereafter, he lived under the harsh conditions of wage labour on the central Cuban sugar plantations. During the third Cuban War of Independence from 1895-1898, he joined the Liberation Army and fought against Spanish colonial rule under the leadership of two prominent Cuban generals of African descent, Antonio Maceo and Quintín Banderas. In Biografía de un cimarrón, Montejo recounts his experiences during this formative period for the Cuban nation.

    In close readings we will trace the voice of this figure and, through his biography, learn about important events in the Cuban history of slavery, emancipation and the struggle for independence. We will take up the debate on Latin American testimonio literature, which discusses issues of truthfulness and authenticity, and examine historiographical approaches informed by critical archival studies. Our discussions will be accompanied by current theorists of critical race theory and African American Studies such as, for example, Saidiye Hartman.

  • Summer Semester 2022 - Scientific Racism and the Social Sciences in Latin America

    One of the darkest legacies of the late 19th century was the advent of scientific racism – the attempt to use the methods of the natural sciences in order to justify preexisting racial biases, stereotypes and hierarchies. This manifested in the form of biometrics (attempting to measure bodies and populations), eugenics (misappropriating pre- and post-Darwinian theories of evolution to advocate for selective breeding) and various other abuses of the social sciences, especially in the fields of anthropology and criminology.

    The forms and effects of scientific racism in Latin America are particularly complex given the legacy of colonialism. These societies are shaped by slavery and genocide, as well as post-liberation processes of modern nationbuilding in which discourses of race and mestizaje were central. Hence, scientific racism in Latin America operated in ways quite different from its European forms yet remained heavily indebted to them.

    In this seminar, we will engage in comparative analysis of the effects of scientific racism in different Latin American countries and across various fields, focussing on the first half of the 20th century, in particular the Cuban context. Scientists working in such diverse fields as anthropology, biology, criminology, legal studies, medical science and literary studies collaborated as social actors and public intellectuals in the so-called social advancement of the body politic. The impact which scientific theories can have in times of social crisis, bringing about social justice or perpetuating inequality, is one of the many issues we will discuss, a topic of great importance also today.

    This seminar is held in English, but the final term paper can be written in either German or English.

  • Winter Semester 2021/22 - Afrocubanismo and Transatlantic Exchange in the 1920s-1950s

    The artistic movement of Afrocubanismo in the late 1920s and 1930s was central to debates on the Cuban nation and questions of inclusion and exclusion. An unprecedented interest in Afro-Cuban forms of expression emerged in this period, especially in the fields of literature, music and the visual arts. These cultural forms were seen to express what one of its most prominent advocates, Fernando Ortiz, defined as “Cubanidad”, the essence of Cubanness that was to unite the island. However, the celebration of Afro-Cuban cultural forms was fraught with ambivalence and contradictions, as racist discourses permeated most of the writings on Afrocubanismo published in magazines such as Estudios Afrocubanos.

    Afrocubanismo was a movement with wide-ranging networks in the transatlantic world, most significantly with artists and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance in New York. This seminar will deal with the cultural movement and its political implications, both in the context of Cuban republican nation building and the transnational dialogues it sparked on black culture and identity.

    The artistic movement of Afrocubanismo in the late 1920s and 1930s was central to debates on the Cuban nation and questions of inclusion and exclusion. An unprecedented interest in Afro-Cuban forms of expression emerged in this period, especially in the fields of literature, music and the visual arts. These cultural forms were seen to express what one of its most prominent advocates, Fernando Ortiz, defined as “Cubanidad”, the essence of Cubanness that was to unite the island. However, the celebration of Afro-Cuban cultural forms was fraught with ambivalence and contradictions, as racist discourses permeated most of the writings on Afrocubanismo published in magazines such as Estudios Afrocubanos.

    Afrocubanismo was a movement with wide-ranging networks in the transatlantic world, most significantly with artists and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance in New York. This seminar will deal with the cultural movement and its political implications, both in the context of Cuban republican nation building and the transnational dialogues it sparked on black culture and identity.

  • Winter Semester 2021/22 - Republican Cuba from 1902-1959

    After the end of the so-called Spanish-American war in Cuba and formal independence, Cuba sought to become a modern nation. However, a series of occupations by the U.S. military strongly limited its possibilities of self-determination. The Republic of Cuba was founded in 1902 after the end of the first U.S. occupation, but the U.S. continued to exert power and influence over the island, both through further military occupations and through other forms of interventions into the political and economic realm (Platt Amendment, Cuban-American Treaty of Relations, etc.). Cuba’s national discourse of the “raceless nation”, developed during the war for independence by figures such as José Martí, clashed with the political reality of race-based segregation and widespread discrimination.

    This seminar traces the historical developments of the new Republic until the revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959, its discourses on the raceless nation and the discriminatory practices that were put in place by the U.S. forces in conjunction with the Cuban elite. It will cover central events and periods such as the 1912 massacre of Afro-Cubans, the revolution of 1933, the coup staged by Fulgencia Batista in 1952 and the ensuing military dictatorship which was overthrown in the Cuban revolution of 1959.

    After the end of the so-called Spanish-American war in Cuba and formal independence, Cuba sought to become a modern nation. However, a series of occupations by the U.S. military strongly limited its possibilities of self-determination. The Republic of Cuba was founded in 1902 after the end of the first U.S. occupation, but the U.S. continued to exert power and influence over the island, both through further military occupations and through other forms of interventions into the political and economic realm (Platt Amendment, Cuban-American Treaty of Relations, etc.). Cuba’s national discourse of the “raceless nation”, developed during the war for independence by figures such as José Martí, clashed with the political reality of race-based segregation and widespread discrimination.

    This seminar traces the historical developments of the new Republic until the revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959, its discourses on the raceless nation and the discriminatory practices that were put in place by the U.S. forces in conjunction with the Cuban elite. It will cover central events and periods such as the 1912 massacre of Afro-Cubans, the protests of the Directorio Estudiantil Universitario, the revolution of 1933, the coup staged by Fulgencia Batista in 1952 and the ensuing military dictatorship which was overthrown in the Cuban revolution of 1959.

  • Summer Semester 2021 - Colonial History and Postcolonial Theory

    This seminar aims to give an overview over the work of central authors of postcolonial theory as they have reflected on colonial histories and their aftermath. Beginning with 20th century classics by authors such as Franz Fanon and Aimé Césaire, we will look at works which have shaped the postcolonial debates of the 20th and 21st century. Influential concepts of postcolonial theory such as "créolité", "mimicry", "orientalism" and "subalternity" will be analyzed alongside contemporary critiques of these terms and the introduction of others such as, for example, "decoloniality".

    While a large body of recognized work within the field originated in former English or French colonies, significant contributions to the debates have also been made from the viewpoint of Latin America. As these works are becoming more widely acknowledged, the historic specificities of coloniality in the Americas and their relevance to postcolonial theory become apparent. Indigenous scholars have added further perspectives to the debates, revealing the Eurocentric underpinnings of some of the theoretical approaches. The seminar attempts to cover this expanding field of research by focusing on some of its core concepts, reflecting them through the lens of a diversity of positions.

  • Summer Semester 2021 - Fact and Fiction in Historical and Anthropological Writing

    The idea that narrative form is central to Cultural Anthropology and History sparked pivotal debates in the 1980s. Influenced by poststructuralist approaches to linguistic and literary theory, anthropologists and historians began to look at their own textual productions in terms of authorship, difference and the limits of representation. Anthropologists questioned their position as neutral observers in the field, while historians examined their perspectives as objective researchers in the archive. The European subject in its relation to the "Other" became a central element of their analyses. Anthropological and historical writings were shown often to be reliant on literary modes of representation as a means of persuasion.

    In this seminar, some of the key authors of this debate, including the anthropologist George Marcus, the literary scholar Stephen Greenblatt and the historian Hayden White, and their relevance for today's scholars in these fields will be analyzed. Furthermore, experimental forms of writings which have emerged in response will be discussed.

    While the self-reflexivity of these discussions showed the limits of dominant modernist paradigms in the humanities, they tended to emphasize critique rather than focusing on underrepresented subjects and populations. Attending to local and historical particularities, this seminar will also attempt to give room to voices of Indigenous peoples, especially in the Americas, as well as representations of slavery in the Atlantic world in anthropological and historical writings.