"Island Chains, Insularity, and the American Archipelago"--Deadline: 18 January 2010

full name / name of organization: 
Brian Russell Roberts

2010 American Studies Association Convention
Convention Theme--"Crisis, Chains, and Change: American Studies for the 21st Century"
Convention Date: November 18–21, 2010
Call for Abstracts for a Session-in-Formation
Deadline for Abstracts: 18 January 2010

Island Chains, Insularity, and the American Archipelago

In a campaign advertisement aired before Puerto Rico's 2008 Democratic Primary, Barack Obama sought to promote his message of change by drawing attention to the insular heritage he shared with his Puerto Rican audience. "Nací en una isla," he announced: I was born on an island. Obama's reference to his birth on the Hawai'ian island of O'ahu was a formal and cultural appeal. Birth on the geoformal structure of an island--and specifically on an island with imperial connections to the US--was supposed to bring America's insular citizens into an archipelagic cultural relationality that could effect "change" on the US mainland. Even if Obama did not carry Puerto Rico in the Democratic Primary, his campaign advertisement is intriguing in relation to the US's historical intersections with insular forms and cultures. His effort to mobilize island consciousness to effect change on the US mainland bears an antipodal relationship to America's founding Revolution, which was precipitated in part by Thomas Paine's pro-continental and anti-insular axiom: "there is something very absurd in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island."

From Thomas Paine to Barack Obama, the US's multivalent relationship with the space called the islands of the sea has operated by (to borrow a phrase from Antonio Benítez-Rojo) the logic of a meta-archipelago: even as US neo/colonial interests have consistently disregarded purportedly manifest continental boundaries, and even as waves of immigration from the US's insular possessions have established immigrant archipelagos within the continental United States, the United States' imperial disavowal has resulted in the continent's always imperfect elision from the center of what is a chaotically repeating American archipelago.

This session-in-formation is interested in mapping the crossroads and crises through which a decentered American archipelago has been generated and repeatedly reconfigured. How have the US's various insular nodes--the Philippines, Hawai'i, Puerto Rico, for instance--renegotiated from below the meta-archipelagic relationality imposed upon them from above? How has the island's traditional status as a geoformal tabula rasa precipitated both unprecedented environmental degradation and a prehistory of US environmentalism? Beyond the US's officially claimed insular possessions, what is the American archipelago's outer limit? To what degree and under what conditions has this outer limit assumed influence within the continental US? How have insular structures and cultures conditioned the continental US's negotiations of race-, gender-, or class-based dynamics? In what contexts, and in the service of what agendas, has the US mainland found representation as less continental and more insular? What have been the implications of such representations for the planetary lives of the insular form? How has the field of American Studies relied upon insular cultures and insular forms? What new relationships toward insularity might American Studies assume during the twenty-first century? Abstracts addressing these and other interrogations of the American archipelago are welcome. By 18 January 2010, please send a 300–500 word abstract with brief CV to Brian Russell Roberts at brianrussellroberts@byu.edu.