CFP: Contesting Transoceanic Natural Histories (11/1/06; ACLA, 4/19/07-4/22/07)

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Contesting Transoceanic Natural Histories

Seminar Organizers: Adam Miyashiro and Oscar Fernandez
Affiliations: The Pennsylvania State University and Portland State University

The American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA)
Annual Meeting 2007: Puebla, Mexico

April 19-22, 2007
Submission Deadline: November 1, 2006

Description: This interdisciplinary panel seeks to address
critical issues in the theory and practice of “natural history,” a formal
mode of encyclopedic writing that described everything perceived as
“natural” from the perspective of their writers.

We seek to situate natural history more broadly in global
geographies and texts (transoceanic includes the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean,
Indian Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and the North Sea). We are particularly
interested in the intersections of natural history, science, and humanism and
the ways in which “natural history,” as an intellectual enterprise, has been
critiqued by writers of all periods and all locations. We are interested in
looking at a wide range of cultural productions that utilize the discourses of
natural history. Texts may include (but are not limited to) natural histories
and encyclopedias, travel narratives, medical treatises and scientific texts,
and maritime narratives. We are also seeking papers on topics relating to other
manifestations of natural history, such as museums, libraries, exhibitions, and
the visual arts. This panel aims to articulate the project of natural history
as fundamental in understanding competing models of alterity in its broadest
conceivable range.

We are casting our net widely to investigate the temporal
and geographical range presented by this topic. In the ancient world, Pliny the
Elder’s first-century Historia Naturalis (Natural History), the first formal
western natural history, imparted cultural information - much of it fabricated
and derived from his Greek predecessors Ctesias and Megasthenes, among others -
as well as descriptions of “natural” geographies, spectacles, marvels, and
foreign populations. The orderings of natural history have bequeathed to us the
western ideas of biological and scientific taxonomies and contained the
emergence of European anthropology, ethnography, and the human and natural
sciences. Description, the modus operandi of natural history, and not
experimentation, marks the systematic work of natural historians. Visions,
spectacles, and speculations thus frame both natural history and European
theories on “otherworldly” flora, fauna, and culture, which especially
follows the classical etymology of “theory” as a visual account rendered by
eyewitness “theoroi” of the Greek city-states.

Such European visions and theories of distant locations
were contested, however, by many authors throughout the centuries. The Mexican
writer Francisco Clavijero (1731-1787), for example, who spent part of his
youth in Puebla studying grammar at the college of San Jerónimo and philosophy
at the college of San Ignacio, disputes the model of New World enervation so
prevalent during the Enlightenment in his Ancient History of Mexico, written in
exile after the suppression and expulsion of Jesuits (1767).

This panel asks a few questions about natural history’s overall project: what
is the relationship between natural history and empire? What are the political
and cultural aims of describing the natural surroundings of distant
populations? What spectacles are encountered and how are they constructed as
cultural knowledge?

Possible topics may include, but are not limited to, the

-Cultural geographies in modern and pre-modern texts
and theories
- Anthropology, ethnology/ethnography, and cartography
- Cultural and natural history
- Flora and fauna, and the human orderings of “natural”
- Natural history: sources, contexts, and its relation to philosophy and science
- Epistemologies of nature in critical contexts, ancient and modern
- Encyclopedias: their support for, and their critique of, imperial knowledge
- The “natural sciences” and humanisms
- The politics of natural history - gender, race, ethnicity, and
- Natural histories of Polynesia, Micronesia, and the South Pacific by European,
American, and Asian writers
- Pre-modern natural history: Pliny the Elder, Isidore of Seville, medieval
bestiaries and encyclopedias
- Early modern natural historical texts: e.g., Jose de Acosta’s Natural and
Moral History of the Indies, Andre Thevet’s Les Singularitez de la France
Antarctique, the Comte de Buffon’s Histoire Naturelle

Papers in Spanish or English are welcomed.

Submit abstracts by November 1, 2006 at

For questions on submission, email Adam Miyashiro
<> or Oscar Fernandez <>

For general questions about the ACLA 2007 Conference, visit
the conference home page at <>

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Received on Thu Oct 05 2006 - 01:55:46 EDT