Conference Reports

‘Peculiar Modernities’: Settler Colonial Identity and Its Entanglements

by Nicolas Haisell

Meeting on July 24-25 2017 at the UCD Humanities Institute, the inaugural Settler Social Identities Conference brought together a diverse cast of literary scholars, historians, and art historians (among others). Participants discussed various formations and articulations of nineteenth-century settler colonial identity through the lens of ‘rational recreation.’ As conference organizers noted, public education forums including voluntary associations, clubs, and libraries ‘reinforced notions of “respectability” and “improvement” that both projected an image of coherent community in nascent settler colonies, and defined who was included and excluded from these new colonial formations.’

In addition to complicating the metropolitan/colonial binary and recognizing the influence of intra-colonial relationships and networks, a key point that emerged from the conference is that is important for scholars of British settler colonialism to note the importance of the colonized ‘other’ to the processes of defining settler identity. The presence of the colonized did not simply compel settlers to define and police a recognizable identity; rather they quite often served as a useful foil that facilitated such articulations.

Perhaps the clearest example of this is the study, classification, and discussion of indigenous peoples that took place in intellectual societies throughout the colonial Victorian world. Established in numerous colonial centers (including Halifax and Ottawa, as noted at the conference) such institutions served as a public demonstration of the scientific modernity of the educated colonial elite (who by this point were firmly entrenched in local positions of leadership and power). In addition, indigenous customs, cosmology, and material culture were presented as ahistoric curiosities that sharply contrasted with the ceaseless onward trajectory of settler identity.

And while the conference focused specially on settler identity, the importance of the colonizer/colonized relationship to group identity has also been noted by numerous postcolonial scholars over the years. In The Nation and its Fragments (1993), Partha Chaterjee argues that Anticolonial nationalist movements were contingent upon the establishment of a unique and freestanding domain of sovereignty within colonial society, which was achieved by dividing social institutions and practice into distinct spiritual and material domains.  The material domain, which included science, statecraft, economics, and technology, (those very same markers of modernity crucial to articulations of settler identity) is where ‘the west’ was understood to be superior and thus should be emulated. What is contextual, unique, and original was the spiritual domain: the distinctiveness of which needed to be preserved in order to facilitate the sovereignty essential to a nationalist project within this nonsettler society. Recognizably unique markers of colonized difference needed not to be overcome or developed but highlighted and made recognizable.

Similarly, in the highly influential work Provincializing Europe (2000), Dipesh Chakrabarty notes the inescapable, lasting influence of the west in the formation and subsequent study of capitalist modernity in the third world. Chakrabarty, a founding member of the subaltern studies group, critiques the now-assumed primacy of western modernity (which also pervades academia). Instead the author argues for a recognition of multiple modernities (hence the call to ‘provincialize Europe’). All transitions to capitalist modernity are translations. In other words, the transition from colony to nationhood (‘modernity’) is unique in each situation: it is the result of various interactions between local realities and broader forces of global capitalism. Chaterjee has referred to this historical reality as ‘our modernity.,’ that is the modernities produced in post-colonial nation states via the interaction of local ‘particularities’ and European colonial governmentality. Therefore capitalist modernity is not a pre-constructed western ‘product’ and equally importantly, the west could not have produced its modernity without colonialism.

Obviously, by presenting these broad, distinct cases I am not suggesting that they are mirror processes- one must always account for the unequal power structure inherent in any discussion of colonizer/colonised relationship. For the colonized, the other is inescapable. For the colonizers, the other in this context is simply a useful tool/hegemonic device.

Taken together, these brief examples illustrate how group identity in a colonial context is often formed in relation to the other- colonizer or colonized. It is clear that an important pillar of settler identity is a pretension to modernity, and the scientific marshaling of the colonized was a useful illustration of this that played out across the long nineteenth century. Likewise, postcolonial scholarship illustrates how colonized subjects grappled with the same modernity in their various attempts to discern freestanding and unique subaltern identity (quite often national in scope).

A key theme that emerged from the two-day workshop was the ‘relational’ nature of settler identity construction. Similarly, as several influential postcolonial scholars have demonstrated, subaltern and postcolonial nationalist identities are products of colonizer/colonized interaction. If we centre power dynamics in our analysis, expanding the scope of ‘relational’ influence to include the colonized in settler identity formation is an exciting, potentially fruitful site of inquiry for members of the settler social identity group.

Nicolas Haisellis a doctoral candidate at Queen’s University Kingston. Focused on the intellectual and legal history of Nova Scotia, his work examines settler liberalism, whiteness, and the framing of ‘modernity’ in the Canadian national context. Specifically, he is interested in processes through which Indigenous, Acadian and other so-called ‘problematic’ groups were reckoned with in local printed material (history, anthropology, etc.) as competing regional and national identities coalesced in the mid to late nineteenth century. He is currently preparing a chapter provisionally titled ‘True Sons of the North: Confederation, Regional Identity, and the Useable Past in Nova Scotia, 1857-1871’ for the forthcoming volume Firsting and Lasting in the Early Modern Transatlantic World.

Settler Social Identities Conference Report

by Sarah Sharp

This summer saw an international cohort of scholars from Ireland, the UK, United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia gather at University College Dublin’s Humanities Institute on the leafy south side of the city thanks to the generous support of the Humanities Institute and the UCD College of Arts and Humanities.  July’s two day conference brought together key thinkers in the growing field of nineteenth-century settler studies to discuss the role of rational recreation in the creation of colonial identity. Featuring keynote papers from Professor Natasha Eaton (University College London) and Professor Clara Tuite (University of Melbourne), Settler Social Identities aimed to examine the role that popular entertainments, associational life, and literary culture played in defining and disseminating new forms of national and trans-national belonging in the British settler colonies of Africa, Asia, North America, and Australasia.

Opening with a hearty welcome to the Humanities Institute from UCD’s Dr. Emily Mark Fitzgerald, the first half day of papers featured panels on clubs and intellectual societies, and imperial networks of print and publication, and concluded with our first keynote. Peter Hodgins’ (Carleton University) and Nicholas Haisell’s (Queen’s University) respective papers on Victorian Ottawa and the Nova Scotia Historical Society opened up a productive conversation about the role of clubs and associational life in nineteenth century Canada. A panel featuring Honor Rieley (Glasgow University) and conference organisers Sarah Sharp (UCD) and Lara Atkin (UCD) raised questions about the possible meanings of colonial literary reprints. The day ended with a stimulating keynote from Natasha Eaton which examined the role of photographic technologies within systems of indenture in colonial Mauritius. The day was characterized not just by the way in which the research presented interacted across papers and panels, but by the valuable and vibrant dialogue between delegates during breaks and over dinner that evening.

This spirit of discussion and generous participation continued into the second day of the conference. The morning’s first panel featured papers by Karen Dovell (Suffolk County Community College) and Deidre Osbourne (Goldsmith’s, University of London) whose observations on representations of race in nineteenth century Texas and Australia interacted in fascinating and unexpected ways. The conference’s second keynote by Clara Tuite explored the legacy of Regency flash culture in the Australian colonial context and its influence on constructions of the Australian figure of the male convict. The afternoon’s panels on women, exhibitions and social life, and performing settler identities, were again full of parallels, contrasts and connections. Fariha Shaikh (University of Birmingham), Shahmima Akhtar (University of Birmingham) and Renate Dohmen’s (Open University) papers foregrounded the gendered nature of colonial settlement. Our final panel, featuring papers by Erica Mukherjee (Stony Brook University), Nathan Garvey (UCD) and Paola Colleoni (University of Melbourne), in its discussion of tropical engineers, transportation lectures and Catholic cultural patronage was perhaps emblematic of the incredible range of topics which the focused conference topic generated. We concluded with a roundtable where organisers Kathryn Milligan (UCD), Sarah Comyn (UCD) and Sarah Sharp (UCD) shared possible take-aways from the event, and a discussion which allowed participants to engage with the many issues and questions which two days of panels and keynotes had raised. Following on from the conference, Social Settler Identities will continue to have an active web presence and we will be soliciting contributions for our blog in the future.

Sarah Sharp is a current Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow affiliated with the ERC-funded SouthHem Project at University College Dublin. She holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh and has previously held positions in New Zealand and the USA.

Her research project ‘In Foreign Soil: Death Abroad in Scottish Literature and Travel Narratives 1790-1900’ looks at the ways in which death abroad informs ideas of national identity in Scottish writing of the Romantic and Victorian periods. 

Image: From ‘Conversazione at the Royal Society’, print/wood engraving by  Alfred May and Alfred Martin Ebsworth, 1880. Courtesy of State Library of Victoria.

Podcast: A/Prof Clara Tuite – ‘Flash Culture, the Moon’s Late Minions and Gentlemen of the Shade in Colonial Australia’

You can listen to Prof Tuite’s keynote from the Settler Social Identities Conference here:

 

Abstract: This talk engages the rich social, linguistic and aesthetic repertoire of the flash (originally a cant language of thieves and convicts), taking the convict phenomenon of “lag fever” as my starting point, in order to complicate the idea of colonial belatedness. My discussion encompasses the flash lexicons of Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) and the New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language (1819) that accompanied the convict Memoirs of James Hardy Vaux, as well as the popular Romanticism of Pierce Egan’s Life in London (1820), in order to explore Regency flash — simultaneously classical and new — as an example of the transformative capacity of the lag, a retroactive celebration of the disjunctive and anachronistic powers of quoting and recirculating in a new time and place.

I focus this discussion through a consideration of how the flash mediates a range of masculine social identities in Regency London and colonial Australia. Tracing the Byron-D’Orsay dandy type inaugurated in Regency Mayfair — that iconic silhouette of modern urban masculinity — alongside other identities such as swell, flash man, and wild colonial, my talk connects genealogies of masculine style and self-fashioning, and print-visual form, with the social arenas of fashionability, respectability, exile, convictism and settler culture, across Britain, Ireland, Europe and Australia. As well as Vaux, my colonial protagonists include William Romaine Govett and Thomas Griffiths Wainewright.

My exploration of the interpenetration of flash cultures in colonial Australia and Regency London — across print culture, visual media and social processes — hopes to throw new light on the liminal yet transformative Regency cultures of scandalous celebrity, exile and convictism.

 

Clara Tuite teaches at the University of Melbourne, where she is a member of the Research Unit in Enlightenment, Romanticism and Contemporary Culture. Her most recent book Lord Byron and Scandalous Celebrity (Cambridge University Press, 2015) was awarded the Elma Dangerfield Prize. Current projects include a study of trans-European literary Romanticism and the media of romantic love, and, with Gillian Russell, a project on Regency Romanticism in Ireland, Britain and Australia, entitled ‘Flash Regency’, supported by the Australian Research Council.




Conference Programme

 

SETTLER SOCIAL IDENTITIES

24-25 July 2018

Humanities Institute, University College Dublin

 Please find the link to the conference programme here: Settler Social Identities Programme

 

For any enquiries please contact: settlersocialidentity@gmail.com.

 

The conference is generously supported by the Humanities Institute and UCD College of Arts and Humanities.

 

 

Image: ‘Conversazione at the new Congregational Hall’, wood engraving by Samuel Calvert, 1879. Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria.

 




Conference Keynote Day 2: Wednesday 25 July 11:30am

 

Lag Fever: Flash Culture, the Moon’s Late Minions and Gentlemen of the Shade in Colonial Australia 

A/Prof. Clara Tuite (University of Melbourne)

Wednesday 25 July 2018

11:30am

Humanities Institute of Ireland (UCD)

 

LAG FEVER. A term of ridicule applied to men who being under sentence of transportation, pretend illness, to avoid being sent from the gaol to the hulks.

Francis Grose, Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811)

 

This talk engages the rich social, linguistic and aesthetic repertoire of the flash (originally a cant language of thieves and convicts), taking the convict phenomenon of “lag fever” as my starting point, in order to complicate the idea of colonial belatedness. My discussion encompasses the flash lexicons of Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) and the New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language (1819) that accompanied the convict Memoirs of James Hardy Vaux, as well as the popular Romanticism of Pierce Egan’s Life in London (1820), in order to explore Regency flash — simultaneously classical and new — as an example of the transformative capacity of the lag, a retroactive celebration of the disjunctive and anachronistic powers of quoting and recirculating in a new time and place.

I focus this discussion through a consideration of how the flash mediates a range of masculine social identities in Regency London and colonial Australia. Tracing the Byron-D’Orsay dandy type inaugurated in Regency Mayfair — that iconic silhouette of modern urban masculinity — alongside other identities such as swell, flash man, and wild colonial, my talk connects genealogies of masculine style and self-fashioning, and print-visual form, with the social arenas of fashionability, respectability, exile, convictism and settler culture, across Britain, Ireland, Europe and Australia. As well as Vaux, my colonial protagonists include William Romaine Govett and Thomas Griffiths Wainewright.

My exploration of the interpenetration of flash cultures in colonial Australia and Regency London — across print culture, visual media and social processes — hopes to throw new light on the liminal yet transformative Regency cultures of scandalous celebrity, exile and convictism.

 

Clara Tuite teaches at the University of Melbourne, where she is a member of the Research Unit in Enlightenment, Romanticism and Contemporary Culture. Her most recent book Lord Byron and Scandalous Celebrity (Cambridge University Press, 2015) was awarded the Elma Dangerfield Prize. Current projects include a study of trans-European literary Romanticism and the media of romantic love, and, with Gillian Russell, a project on Regency Romanticism in Ireland, Britain and Australia, entitled “Flash Regency,” supported by the Australian Research Council.

For any enquiries please contact: settlersocialidentity@gmail.com. The conference is generously supported by the Humanities Institute and UCD College of Arts and Humanities.

      




Call For Papers

Confirmed keynotes:

Dr Natasha Eaton (University College London)

A/Professor Clara Tuite (University of Melbourne)

This two-day conference, to be held at the Humanities’ Institute, University College Dublin, will bring together an international network of scholars in the interdisciplinary field of settler colonial studies to consider the role that settler literary and social institutions played in the formation of colonial and imperial identities in the long nineteenth century.  Historian James Belich’s influential exploration of the economic history of the ‘settler explosion’ that created what Belich terms the ‘Anglo World’ between 1815 and 1920 inaugurated a reassessment of the political, economic and cultural influence of Anglophone settler colonies. Over the past decade, scholars in the interdisciplinary field of nineteenth-century settler studies have begun to argue that, far from simply replicating a series of ‘little Britains’ across the globe, the ‘empire migrants’ of the Anglophone settler colonies developed new forms of national and trans-national identification independent of (albeit in relation to) British national and imperial identities (Harper and Constantine). Interdisciplinary in nature, this conference aims to analyse the role popular entertainments, associational life and literary culture have played in defining and disseminating these new forms of national and trans-national belonging in the British settler colonies of Africa, Asia, North America and Australasia.

Responding to Russell and Tuite’s call to consider sociability as ‘a text in its own right’, this conference will examine the role literary sociability and associational life performed in defining and regulating the ideologies of citizenship in the settler colonies. Focusing on a broad definition of rational recreation this conference will explore how popular reading practices, circulating libraries, public lectures, soirées, exhibitions, clubs, societies and other associations created and reinforced notions of ‘respectability’ and ‘improvement’ that both projected an image of coherent community in nascent settler colonies, and defined who was included and excluded from these new colonial formations. Focusing on the popular and recreational, we encourage papers which engage with understudied facets of colonial experience including the experiences of women, working-class settlers, and indigenous and minority groups. In considering webs of cultural association we also create space for approaches to the field which privilege intra-colonial and trans-peripheral networks of influence, complicating the traditional periphery/metropole binary.

We welcome proposals for individual twenty-minute papers or three paper panels on the following themes:

  • Settler literary and cultural institutions and associational life
  • Intra-imperial or trans-regional intellectual networks in which settler literary and cultural institutions proved important ‘nodes’
  • Colonial print, visual and material culture
  • Popular lecturing and popular reading in the colonies
  • Methodological papers about approaches to the study of settler cultures and societies
  • Colonial exhibitions and Worlds’ Fairs
  • The relationship between literary culture and the (trans)formation of national, colonial and imperial identities
  • The relationship between cultures of intellectual ‘improvement’ and ideologies of exclusion based on class, race, gender in the colonial context
  • The ways minority groups used sociability to gain influence across these intra-colonial and trans-peripheral networks.

Guide for submissions:

Please send 250-word abstracts with a short biography to the conferenced email address: settlersocialidentity@gmail.com.

If you are submitting a proposal for a panel, please include an abstract for each paper (250 words) and a summary of the panel theme (300 words). Please include short biographies for all the speakers on the panel.

All proposals should include your name, email address, and academic affiliation (if applicable).

Deadline for submissions: Tuesday 1 May 2018

Organising Committee:

Dr. Sarah Comyn

Dr. Lara Atkin

Dr. Sarah Sharp

Dr. Kathryn Milligan

For any enquiries please contact: settlersocialidentity@gmail.com

The conference is generously supported by the Humanities Institute and UCD College of Arts and Humanities.