Brigham Young University

Provo, Utah

October 6–7, 2016

Symposium Description (Print Version)

The geographical form of the continent has had a long-established—and nearly constitutive—relationship to prominent notions of America. In 1776, Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense framed the continent as providing the geographical logic for US American sovereignty, observing that there was “something very absurd, in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island.” During the early twentieth century, the United States still seemed both new and continental, as Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed, “This is a new nation, based on a mighty continent, of boundless possibilities.” Since 2007, Roosevelt’s continental quotation has appeared among the visa pages of the US Passport.

American Studies has mirrored the US’s political investments in the geographical form of the continent. Indeed, among Americanist cultural critics, the continent has been king among geographical forms in long-running ways, ranging from Henry Nash Smith’s 1950 Virgin Land, which takes the US’s continental frontier as central to the notion of America, through Wai Chee Dimock’s influential 2006 book Through Other Continents, which bears a title marking up the centrality of the continental model to a general practice of Americanist transnational analysis.

Yet recent work in US American and hemispheric American contexts has showcased the continental narrative’s erosion when faced with the materiality of oceanic and archipelagic spaces. Americanist Hester Blum, for instance, was a leading figure in PMLA’s May 2010 theories and methodologies cluster on “Oceanic Studies.” Related Americanist work in oceanic studies has included monographs by Blum (The View from the Masthead, North Carolina 2008), Jason Berger (Antebellum at Sea, Minnesota 2012), and Monique Allewaert (Ariel’s Ecology, Minnesota 2013). Similarly directed along postcontinental lines, other Americanists have gravitated toward analyses oriented around islands and archipelagoes. They have asked how the Americas have not only been affiliated with the islands and archipelagoes of the Caribbean and the Pacific, but how the Americas have been unexpectedly constituted by archipelagic spaces in these and other oceans. Americanist work in this stream is highlighted in the forthcoming essay collection Archipelagic American Studies (Duke, 2017).

Bringing together the voices of intellectuals and artists who have been working in dialogue with these postcontinental frameworks, the BYU Humanities Center’s Archipelagoes/Oceans/Americas Symposium offers a critical opportunity to reflect on contemporary currents in archipelagic and oceanic thought within the humanities, inviting participants to imagine a variety of terraqueous futures.

See symposium schedule.