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NACBS Rights Task Force Town Hall Meeting, Friday, September 25

Posted by rdaily under Rights Task Force, RTF | Tags: Town Hall, zoom | 0 Comments

The NACBS Rights Task Force was created in August 2016 to address LGBT, voting rights, and race and religious freedom issues as they pertain (and if they pertain) to NACBS, and to consider the increasing issues surrounding visas and freedom of movement that confront researchers working internationally. In addition, the Rights Task Force is concerned with the ways that the NACBS can be more inclusive and accessible for graduate students, adjuncts, and people without traditional academic jobs.

To help meet these goals, the Rights Task Force will hold a Town Hall meeting over Zoom on Friday, September 25, from 11:00AM to 12:45PM, Eastern Standard Time.
The purpose of the meeting is to gather information from NACBS members over concerns that they might have related to these issues in advance of the NACBS Conference in November. We are also concerned to hear from the membership about ways to make the online conference to be held in November as diverse, accessible, and inclusive as possible. Come and share your thoughts. In addition, members of the RTF will inform attendees of the results of previous meetings and the status of ongoing projects.
If you would like to attend, please email [email protected] and a Zoom link will be sent to you shortly before the event.
Joy Dixon and Chuck Upchurch,
Current co-chairs, NACBS Rights Task Force


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MA Essay Prize 2020 -- Deadline Extended

Posted by rdaily under deadline extension, MA essay prize | Tags: 2020 | 0 Comments

The MA Prize committee has extended the call for this years NACBS MA Essay Prize to September 15. More information can be found here.

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Museums, Missions, Microfilm, and More

by Morgan Wilson

Last summer, I received a Pre-Dissertation Grant from NACBS that funded a one-month archival research trip to London. Much of my time was spent at the British Library and the Royal Asiatic Society, though this trip also facilitated my first-ever visit to a major museum’s institutional archives. Thanks to this grant, I was able to embark on a new phase of turning my dissertation idea into a reality by confirming the existence of a body of primary sources that could support a full-length project. 

My research uses the acquisition of Korean artifacts by London’s largest museums to explore the cultural relationships between Britain and Korea in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This was a time of change and conflict as new ties were forged between this peninsular kingdom and other parts of the world. This key period included early diplomatic relations between Britain and Korea, the establishment of the Anglican English Church Mission in Korea, and Japan’s annexation of Korea as a colony. Korea was positioned between other regional powers like Russia and China, and becoming more accessible to increasingly global powers like France, the United States, and Britain through treaties, Christian missions, and fledging trading ties.

Despite a sizeable British presence on the peninsula, and widespread interest in other East Asian artifacts and culture in Britain itself, historians of the British Empire have paid little attention to Korea, instead focusing on the political, economic, and cultural relationships with China and Japan. While Korea’s smaller profile suggests a formidable research challenge, it also provides an opportunity to reexamine familiar threads from British historiography within a different context.

Starting in the 1880s, the British Museum and other institutions began acquiring Korean art and artifacts through British travelers to East Asia, introducing Korean culture to many local observers. London museums soon held an array of objects, such as centuries-old coins, ancient earthenware dishes, contemporary painted scrolls, and colorful silk clothing. These were joined by bamboo fans, bronze spoons, and gold jewelry, though it is ceramics that have since become representative of Korean artifact collections.

Missionaries, diplomats, and other travelers sold or donated artifacts from abroad to British museums throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries. Their ability to acquire these items was facilitated by imperialism in the form of wide-reaching political and commercial networks. Relationships between imperialism and artifact acquisition have been explored to a remarkable degree with regard to Britons in places like India and Egypt that became colonies or protectorates, with missionaries, diplomats, and travel writers as early key players in possessing and analyzing both historical artifacts and contemporary materials produced in the areas where they worked and explored.

My project highlights such figures from Britain who traveled and worked across the Korean peninsula in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Korean context has the potential to challenge assumptions underlying previous studies set in British-dominated territories. The British presence was smaller than in many other places, and was established as the Korean kingdom became the colony of another empire, continuing well into Korea’s colonial period (1910-45). Consequently, missionaries, diplomats, and other British travelers to Korea did not become the forerunners of British imperial control that they have been in other regions. This outcome presents an opportunity to rethink assumptions about the relationship between the British Empire and an array of individuals that have been associated with imperialism within British studies. 

The Pre-Dissertation Grant enabled me to locate a range of valuable sources, but I am currently focusing my research efforts on the English Church Mission’s early activities in Korea, and how the missionaries interacted with Korean people, history, and culture. While this group was primarily concerned with evangelism, it also produced early British scholars of Korea like Bishop Mark Napier Trollope (1862-1930), who led the ECM for two decades and donated Korean books, manuscripts, and intricately drawn maps created in the eighteenth century to the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Thanks to years of living in Korea and forming ties to local people, missionaries were well-positioned to acquire items for themselves, and Trollope’s example suggests they may have contributed Korean objects to other major British collections. 

Before my journey to London, I worried that there would not be enough readily available primary material on this group. Fortunately, my fears were largely allayed by the realization that the British Library alone holds dozens of microfilm reels of the Mission’s documents and images from my chosen time period and beyond. Despite knowing of its prevalence in archives around the world, finding these reels brought further excitement since it brought my first-ever experience of working directly with microfilm. Over time, this may turn out to be only a minor milestone in my scholarly pursuits, but I was excited to locate so much material. The Pre-Dissertation Grant not only helped me solidify the groundwork for my dissertation, but also gave me practical research experience that I hope to carry well beyond this project.  

Morgan Wilson is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was awarded the NACBS Pre-Dissertation Grant in 2019.

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8 July 2020
Deputy Director Matthew W. Albence
Immigration and Customs Enforcement
By email to [email protected]

Dear Deputy Director Albence,

The higher education community represented by the undersigned disciplinary societies urges Immigration and Customs Enforcement to revisit its decision to end temporary visa exemptions for international students whose upcoming coursework will be entirely online. Colleges and universities alike depend on the presence, physical and online, of international visa holders, and many undergraduate and, especially, graduate students cannot complete their work without access to the archival, library, laboratory, and technical resources of their institutions, whether classes are being held entirely online or not. 

International students are an important element of our institutions’ vitality and diversity, and the exemptions that were in place for spring and summer under the Student Exchange and Visitor Program allowed many students to remain connected to their US institutions during this unsettled time. Revoking those exemptions now will end the possibility of US study for international students, affecting both their futures and the futures of the institutions that have depended on and benefited from their contributions. These new restrictions will affect the futures of international students and will as profoundly affect the futures of the colleges and universities that depend on and benefit from their contributions. The increased financial burdens on US universities will be significant.

Please reinstate the temporary visa exemptions for international students and faculty members while we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, including at least the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters. The U.S. system of higher education has long attracted students from all over the world, and for good reason. Please do not refuse access to our colleges and universities for the estimated one million international students who would be affected by this change in policy.

Thank you.


African Studies Association
American Academy of Religion
American Anthropological Association 
American Comparative Literature Association Executive Committee
American Conference for Irish Studies
American Folklore Society
American Historical Association
American Musicological Society 
American Numismatic Society 
American Philosophical Association
American Political Science Association
American Schools of Oriental Research
American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies
American Society for Environmental History
American Sociological Association 
American Studies Association
Archaeological Institute of America
Association for Asian Studies
Association for Jewish Studies Executive Committee
Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies
Association of Research Libraries
Bibliographical Society of America
International Center of Medieval Art
Latin American Studies Association
Linguistic Society of America 
Medieval Academy of America
Middle East Studies Association
Modern Language Association
National Communication Association 
National Council of Teachers of English
National Council on Public History
North American Conference on British Studies
Organization of American Historians
Phi Beta Kappa Society 
Renaissance Society of America
Shakespeare Association of America
Sixteenth Century Society and Conference
Society for Biblical Literature 
Society for Cinema and Media Studies 
Society for Classical Studies
Society for Ethnomusicology
Society for Music Theory
Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study
Society of Architectural Historians
Society of Sinophone Studies
World History Association

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Dear NACBS community,

Access to research materials has become more difficult than ever in these unusual times. Given this, NACBS has worked with Adam Matthew to make their research databases available to all of our members who are PhD candidates. They will also provide access to thirty more of our members who do not have access through their employers; this group will be helped on a first come, first served basis. We are extremely grateful to Adam Matthew for allowing us to make use of these materials.

For access information, please contact Executive Director Laura Beers at [email protected]

With best wishes for your research,

The NACBS Executive Committee
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NACBS 2020 Will Now Take Place Online

Posted by rdaily under annual conference, COVID19 | 0 Comments

Dear NACBS Members,

In light of continuing concerns about Covid-19, the NACBS Executive and Council have decided to move this year's conference online rather than meet in Chicago. 

We are excited about the new conference model that Kate Staples and the program committee have begun to build. They will be in touch soon with those who submitted paper, panel, and workshop proposals. All other NACBS activities—our prize competitions, production of the Journal of British Studies, our mentorship and other programs—continue uninterrupted. Admission to this year’s conference will be free to all NACBS members.

We look forward to seeing you online this fall, and to gathering again in person in the not-too-distant future.

With best wishes,

NACBS Executive Committee
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“Dr. Short and Global Environmental History”

Ruma Chopra, Professor of History at San José State and winner of the 2019 NACBS-Folger Fellowship, on researching at the Folger Shakespeare Library for her forthcoming book, “Before Darwin: Early Modern Transitions in the Understanding of Climate”

Dr. Thomas Short’s nearly 1000-page assessment of the relationship between climates and diseases stands out as a gem in the Folger Shakespeare Library collection. Published in 1749, his two-volume history, A general chronological history of the air, weather, seasons, meteors, &c. in sundry places and different times, correlates astronomical and climatic conditions to a variety of diseases in the world by placing hundreds of scattered episodes in one chronological sequence. Dr. Short’s spatial orientation – akin to map-making -  adds a critical dimension to our understanding about the process of globalization, the focus of my book project, “Before Darwin: Early Modern Transitions in the Understanding of Climate.”

We associate the eighteenth and nineteenth century West with plantation slavery, revolutionary upheaval, industrialization, and European colonization across the globe. But this era, which ended with a second European wave of colony-grabbing in Africa and Asia, shared another critical dimension, one that complicates the picture of our typical cast of industrialists and the imperialists. This dimension of empire was so fundamental and obvious as to have passed unnoticed. Put simply, European colonizers in India and Africa, in the Caribbean islands, as well as in Canada, waged a silent war with diseases in unfamiliar climates. In an age before central heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, and other amenities that remove people from the natural world’s direct and immediate influence, people were literally “surrounded” by the natural elements in ways that seem alien to most of us today. Widely-held beliefs about climate’s effects on bodies created worries: Heat and cold could “invade” bodies; they could cause diseases and influence behavior in ways that appeared entirely possible. In the words of  the French hygienist Jean-Christian Boudin, bodies could only adapt by turning “Hottentot in Southern Africa and Eskimo in Antarctica.” This price of acclimatization was too high. Dr. Short’s work, an eighteen-year project which placed diseases as well as earthquakes, hurricanes, and meteors in the same chronological and spatial framework, suggests an exhaustive effort at planetary order, an attempt to impose an intellectual system on inherently untidy phenomenon. 

Thomas Short's table pulls the world into one chronological frame

Ironically, the environment’s central relationship to empire and to early modern thought structures requires excavation and not merely explication. Illuminating this history poses formidable challenges because no records have been preserved with the convenient keyword of “nature” or “climate.” Yet, climate is ubiquitous in documents relating to exploration, nationalisms, missionary expeditions, transplantations of people, military recruitment, and longevity. It appears in personal documents such as love letters and diaries, in shared correspondence such as missionary records, and in widely circulated natural histories. “Before Darwin” involves a creative and exhaustive filtering, a retrieval and an analysis that exposes moments in which climate played an essential role.

Thomas Short describes environmental extremes in Jamaica and Germany for 1688 

This project has taken me to various archives in the Caribbean, as well as in London and Oxford. The collections at the Folger stand out as especially important for conceptualizing the framework of “Before Darwin.” First, because the sources range from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries, they allowed me to explore hard-to-prove shifts in cultural emphasis. Second, the variety of sources on hand ­– almanacs, travelogues, calendars, essays on natural history and longevity as well as physicians’ comprehensive histories – provided an avenue to consider climatic metaphors from vantage points not readily available in other archives. Curators, fellows, onsite presentations, and regular tea-and-cookie breaks created a wonderfully rich and collaborative experience.

In a recent review of Alexander von Humboldt’s Selected Writings, Joyce Chaplin rightly notes that  environmental history is not “thrillingly new.” Early modern historians have deeply investigated how ideas about the climate, and the environment generally, shaped the West’s encounters with the world. Charles J. Glacken’s Traces on the Rhodian Shore: Nature and Culture in Western Thought from Ancient Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century (1967) established why theories of “airs, waters and places” need to be considered in their own right. “Before Darwin” draws upon these foundational efforts to explore how conceptions of human fallibility and even death interconnected with ideas about global climate. Dr. Short’s work points to one of the reigning paradigms used to imagine peoples and places in faraway places: what connected us globally was our frailty to diseases and our vulnerability to catastrophe. 

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The NABCS has extended the deadlines for its Dissertation and Pre-Dissertation grants to June 1, in the hopes that graduate student applicants will be better equipped to make informed plans about travel and research.  Nonetheless, the selection committee understands that applicants' proposed plans may necessarily be provisional.  Please visit the pre-dissertation grant  or dissertation fellowship prize pages for further application guidelines.  

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Captivity, Confinement and Incarceration

NACBS Workshop Call for Proposals

“British Liberty” has never precluded confinement. This workshop explores forms of captivity and unfreedom in the British Isles and British Empire. We invite papers that consider slavery, hostage-taking, war captivity, debt imprisonment, medical quarantine, the detention of political suspects, sanctuary, the confinement of refugees and social outsiders, and punitive incarceration. We will ask how to conceptualize the relationship between different forms of confinement, and how practices of holding persons in a state of captivity were reconciled with the “birthrights of Englishmen.” Other questions include: How were confinement and captivity mediated by race, gender, social class, and geography? How was captivity institutionalized at different historical moments? Is Foucault’s paradigm of a “great confinement” or a modern “carceral archipelago” still useful? How do histories of confinement shed light on incarceration in the world today?

Participants will be chosen with a view to the complementarity of their research topics and strong preference will be given to graduate students and early career scholars.

The session will include 6-8 pre-circulated papers of 6,000-8,000 words each. Participants must be prepared to submit their papers by 1 October 2020. Each participant will be required to read all papers for the session, and to share written comments on two of the papers, prior to the conference. The session itself will include brief presentations and discussions of each paper, followed by a more extensive conversation between participants and the audience around common questions and themes.

Those interested must submit a CV and a one-page abstract to Rachel Weil ([email protected]) and Aidan Forth ([email protected]) by April 30th. The organizers will endeavor to announce results by the middle of May. Please title your email “NACBS Workshop Proposal.”

Note: Some financial assistance will be available for graduate students (up to US$500) and for a limited number of under/unemployed NACBS members within ten years of their terminal degree (US$300). Details of these travel grants will be posted to and emailed to members once the 2020 meeting program is prepared.

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Interview with Tiraana Bains

Posted by rdaily under Interview | Tags: imperialism, South Asia | 0 Comments

Tiraana Bains, PhD candidate at Yale and winner of a 2019 NACBS Dissertation Travel Grant, shares some of her research on “Making and Debating Imperial Transitions in South Asia, circa 1756-1799”

Muhammad Ali Khan Walajah (r. 1749-1795), the Nawab of Arcot, a principality on the southeast coast of the Indian subcontinent, was an inveterate composer of lengthy missives, in Persian and in translation, to a range of British figures. It may hardly be surprising that he wrote to prominent English East India Company officials such as Robert Clive, whose own rise to prominence was inextricable from his successful seizure of Arcot from the French-supported Chanda Sahib. What might appear to be more surprising is that the Nawab did not restrict his petitions, complaints, and diplomatic overtures to members of the Company hierarchy in South Asia. Rather, he actively undermined the Company’s claims to authority in the East Indies by maintaining correspondences with prominent figures in metropolitan Britain, including Lord North, Lord Shelburne, and George III. These letters reveal the shrewd political machinations of the Nawab. Equally, they demonstrate that the Nawab was not merely acting pragmatically; he was also deploying his knowledge of British political institutions to put forward a particular vision of what British imperium in South Asia could resemble, not to mention the reconfiguration of Mughal imperium. The Nawab of Arcot not only wrote letters; he also dispatched carefully selected gifts. If one were to visit the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, or the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, one would find the painted likeness of the Nawab, portraits being one of the many objects he regularly gifted his addressees. The range of the Nawab’s correspondents, the substance of his letters and indeed, the spread of the archives and museums in which one might find the Nawab’s imprint all point to the crux of my dissertation: that the formation of a British imperial state in eighteenth century South Asia was shaped by multiple actors, British and South Asian, many of whom were located outside the political centers of London and Calcutta.

With the support of the NACBS Travel Grant, I have been able to study the ways in which diverse eighteenth century actors, from the Nawab of Arcot to humble salt workers, articulated and debated their own conceptions of British imperial rule in South Asia. Through the process of tracing both mundane and more momentous musings on how imperial authority ought to operate, I was struck anew by the sheer variety of materials housed across multiple British archives that could be brought to bear on such a study of imperial state formation. While the India Office Records held by the British Library are undoubtedly the most exhaustive collection for any study of the East India Company (EIC) and British governance in South Asia, even relatively smaller, seemingly provincial archives and libraries possess a wealth of material associated with the evolving British presence in eighteenth century South Asia. The Nawab of Arcot’s letters and papers, sometimes accompanied by the original seal, have found their way into multiple collections and archives, from Edinburgh to Maidstone. Pamphlets, notices, songs, analyses of faux epic poems, and caricatures in many such archives attest to everyday discussions of a British state-in-formation in South Asia.

The pervasive presence of materials from and about South Asia demonstrates that the subject of “East India” politics was a dominant and pressing concern for many Britons in the second half of the eighteenth century. It did not simply erupt into prominence in moments of spectacle such as the impeachment trial of Warren Hastings. The lives and livelihoods of tradesman and merchants were inextricably linked to the commercial policies and currents governing the East India trade. Indeed, the clamor over the right and freedom to trade with the East Indies had long framed debates about the future of the EIC across the British Empire, from England itself to Ireland and North America. Moreover, politicians and parliamentarians of all stripes recognized that the transformation of British governance in South Asia was not a matter extraneous to the fortunes of the British Isles. In other words, they believed and often argued that there could be no neat boundary drawn between ostensibly local or domestic affairs and imperial or foreign affairs. Accordingly, in the midst of especially quarrelsome parliamentary sessions dedicated to debate over so called “East India bills,” multiple parliamentarians made the case that the remaking of British governance in South Asia was a matter of far-reaching constitutional importance.

Researching plans and schemes for the government of India, some more fanciful than others, I discovered interlinked discussions surrounding other imperial spaces. The desk of William Pitt the Younger was covered with intelligence and proposals from agents in Ireland, Jamaica, and India. Such volumes of official correspondence that swerve swiftly between discussions of trade in the Indian ocean and the question of abolishing slavery in the Atlantic world encompass the possibilities for studying the making, unmaking, and remaking of the British Empire in the late eighteenth century as a truly interconnected and global phenomenon. I am grateful for the NACBS’s generosity in facilitating this opportunity to visit multiple archives in Britain and work my way through this array of diverse materials.

Portrait of Nawab Muhammad Ali Khan Walajah by George Willison. Displayed in the Asia and Africa Studies Reading Room at the British Library, London. Photo Credit: British Library

Tiraana Bains


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