Courses 2023-2024

Summer Semester 2024 - Heroines of the 20th Century: Black Women in the Americas

History is often told through the lives of well-known figures, frequently men of European descent from the upper classes. This seminar highlights the biographies of Black women who, through their achievements, have left a mark on the societies they lived in. We will focus on the work of Ana Echegoyen, Ellen Irene Diggs, Zora Neale Hurston and Rosa Parks in the period from 1930-1960, but also make connections to today. Ana Echegoyen, the first Black female professor at the University of Havana, taught in the Faculty of Education and is known for her engagement in the Cuban literacy campaign. The anthropologist Ellen Irene Diggs, who studied at the University of Havana, also focused on education and taught at a Historically Black College for over thirty years, an institution that played a critical role in the education of African Americans. Zora Neale Hurston was a pioneer in anthropology and a prominent writer of the Harlem Renaissance. While all three women made important political contributions to their fields, Rosa Parks' political cause is the best known. As a civil rights activist, she played a key role in shaping the development of US society.

In this seminar, we will attempt to produce a podcast that presents the extraordinary biographies of these figures in collaboration with the international guests María del Rosario Díaz and Sandra Heidl/Negracubana.

The literature for this seminar includes Carole Davies Boyce: "Left of Marx: The political life of black communist Claudia Jones" (2007), Saidiya Hartman: "Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments" (2019),  and Alison Parker: "Black Women and the Power of Biography" (2022), among others. 

Winter Semester 2023/24 - What's the Mouse Doing in the Museum? Critical Archival Studies and Museology

This seminar asks how African-descendant societies are represented in the museum and through which archival and museological practices these representations are constructed. Archives and museums are institutions that have documented, shaped and supported European colonialism. To this day, colonialist and racist forms of representation can be found in the images and objects collected and presented in these institutions. These representational forms are particularly visible in the categorizations and documentation of these materials, revealing more about the European view on the societies studied, than about the knowledge of the people from these societies and their own systems of classification.

In this seminar, we will analyze exclusions, hierarchies and the social effects of representations of the 'Other' in museums and archives. We will discuss challenges and opportunities that arise when portraying African-descendant societies. Furthermore, we will investigate participatory approaches that attempt to reshape the museum and the archive as a place of anti-imperial, decolonial memory and empowerment.

This seminar will be held in collaboration with Dr. Mareike Späth, curator of the anthropological collection of the Niedersächsischen Landesmuseums Hannover. Students will gain insight into critical archival practice and museology and actively engage with the museum's objects and documentation.

The literature for this seminar includes Ariella Aïsha Azoulay: “Imagine Going on Strike: Museum Workers and Historians" (2019), Brigitta Kuster, Britta Lange und Petra Löffler: “Archive der Zukunft?” (2019), Margareta von Oswald und Jonas Tinius (Hg.): "Awkward Archives", Stephan Palmié: "The Cooking of History: How Not to Study Afro-Cuban Religion" (2013),  und Ann Laura Stoler: "Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance" (2002).

Courses 2022-2023

Summer Semester 2023 - (Re)Collecting Africa in Caribbean Anthropology

In the first half of the 20th century, Western educated scholars were „discovering“ the history and culture of peoples of African descent across the American continents and compiling materials to better understand the influence Africa had on their societies. Their recordings of music, photographs of rituals and collections of objects served to construct an idea of Africa and its supposed “cultural survivals” in the Americas. Among these anthropologists were the African American anthropologists Ellen Irene Diggs and Zora Neale Hurston from the U.S. as well as Lydia Cabrera and Fernando Ortiz from Cuba. Writing in the 1930s-1950s, these scholars were among the pioneers of Afro-Caribbean Studies and reflected critically the methods of their time, engaging in a positive reevaluation of the traditions, religious practices, dance and music of people of African descent in the Caribbean.

This seminar will look at anthropological accounts of the Caribbean in the larger framework of the politics of cultural recollection in the Americas. An overarching aim will be to deconstruct Eurocentric epistemologies in historical and anthropological constructions of Black culture. The seminar will include discussions on research methodology and questions of race, class and gender, the politics of authorship and authenticity, as well as issues of terminology when working on the African diaspora.

The literature for this seminar includes Lila Abu-Lughod (ed.): “Writing Against Culture” (1991); Johnnetta B. Cole: “Africanisms in the Americas: A Brief History of the Concept” (1985), Emily A. Maguire: "Racial Experiments in Cuban Literature and Ethnography" (2011), Valentin-Yves Mudimbe: "The Invention of Africa (1988), Stephan Palmié (ed.) "Africas of the Americas: Beyond the Search for Origins in the Study of Afro-Atlantic Religions" (2008), Kevin A. Yelvington: “Constituting Paradigms in the Study of the African Diaspora, 1900–1950" (2011).

Summer Semester 2023 - Kolonialität und Gender in der Afro-Lateinamerikanischen Welt

Das Blockseminar hat zum Ziel, das Zusammenwirken von kolonialen und geschlechterspezifischen Diskursen, die bis heute Vorstellungen von Geschlechterrollen und sozialen Hierarchien bestimmen, in den Amerikas und der Karibik kritisch zu beleuchten. Anhand ausgewählter Beispiele wird betrachtet, wie sich unterschiedliche Akteur*innen afrodeszendenter und lateinamerikanischer bzw. karibischer Herkunft mit dem Paradigma Afro-Lateinamerika und der damit einhergehenden Diversität der Amerikas auseinandersetzen, aber auch mit kollektivem Trauma und Marginalisierung. Im Fokus stehen intellektuelle Interventionen und Textproduktionen, die kolonial bedingte patriarchale Machtasymmetrien und Vorurteile hinterfragen und dekonstruieren. Dabei wird auf das Ineinandergreifen von race, class und gender aufmerksam gemacht. Auf Grundlage theoretischer und literarischer Texte und anhand Bildender Kunst soll erarbeitet werden, wie sich unterschiedliche Schwarze lateinamerikanische und karibische Stimmen im 20. und 21. Jahrhundert mit der kolonialen Vergangenheit Lateinamerikas auseinandersetzen. Neben kulturellen Bewegungen wird afrodeszendentes und weibliches Schreiben unterschiedlicher spanischsprachiger Regionen Gegenstand des Seminardialogs sein. Das Seminar versucht, die Teilnehmer*innen für die Diversität hispanischer (Text-)Welten aus interdisziplinärer Perspektive zu sensibilisieren, dabei auch einzelnen nationalen Kulturkonzepten und ihrer Praxis kritisch zu begegnen.  

Winter Semester 2022/2023 - 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.

The literature for this seminar includes John A. Aarons, et al. (ed.): "Archiving Caribbean Identity: Records, Community, and Memory" (2022), Ariella Aïsha Azoulay: “Imagine Going on Strike: Museum Workers and Historians" (2019), Jeannette A. Bastian, et al. (ed.): "Decolonizing the Caribbean Record: An Archives Reader" (2018), Mari N. Crabtree: “The Ethics of Writing History in the Traumatic Afterlife of Lynching" (2020), Saidiya Hartman: “Venus in Two Acts” (2008), Brian Connolly and Marisa Fuentes: “Introduction: From Archives of Slavery to Liberated Futures?” (2016), and Ann Laura Stoler: "Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance" (2002).

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.

Courses 2021-2022

Summer Semester 2022 - Slave Narratives - Eine kubanische Fallstudie

Esteban Montejo war ein entflohener Versklavter, der sich viele Jahre, bis zur Abschaffung der Sklaverei in 1886, in den gebirgigen Wäldern Zentralkubas versteckt hielt. Danach lebte er unter harten Bedingungen der Lohnarbeit auf den dortigen Zuckerplantagen. Während des dritten kubanischen Unabhängigkeitskrieges von 1895-1898 schloss er sich der Befreiungsarmee an und kämpfte unter der Führung zweier prominenter afrokubanischer Generäle, Antonio Maceo und Quintín Banderas, gegen die Kolonialherrschaft Spaniens. In Biografía de un cimarrón erzählt Montejo von seinen Erlebnissen während dieser für die kubanische Nationenbildung prägenden Epoche.

Mit der Methode des close readings werden wir der Stimme dieser Persönlichkeit nachspüren  und anhand seiner Biografie einige wichtige Ereignisse der kubanischen Geschichte der Sklaverei, der Postemanzipation und des Unabhängigkeitskampfes kennenlernen. Dabei werden wir die Debatte über die lateinamerikanische Testimonio-Literatur aufgreifen, in der über Wahrheitsgehalt und Authentizitätsanspruch gestritten wird, sowie historiographische Ansätze besprechen, die von der critical archival studies geprägt sind. Unsere Diskussionen werden von aktuellen Theoretiker*innen der critical race theory und African American Studies wie z.B. Saidiye Hartman begleitet.

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.

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.

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 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.

Courses 2020-2021

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.

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.