Spatialization Processes in the Americas: Configurations and Narratives
On 5 and 6 April 2017 an interdisciplinary workshop about “Spatialization Processes in the Americas: Configurations and Narratives” took place at the University of Leipzig. It was held by the SFB 1199 project “Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition”. Organized by Heidrun Zinecker, Gabriele Pisarz-Ramirez, and Hannes Warnecke-Berger, the workshop focused on the Americas as a particularly relevant area for spatial constructions. As an interdisciplinary event, it portrayed the diversity of the topic by involving geostrategical, cultural, historical, philosophical, geographical, and political perspectives.
The first day focused on spaces and places. The first panel Gesa Mackenthun and Michael Zeuske presented their research on how colonization influenced spatialization. Mackenthun analysed the differences and common ground between colonial and decolonial inscription of land and stressed the importance of native oral traditions as a counterpart to the colonists’ perspectives of landscapes. Zeuske described how colonization and slavery caused the appropriation of space, not just in North and South America but also in Africa and Europe, which were engaged in slave trade and supply as well.
In the second panel, Megan Maruschke and Peter Birle talked about the fragmentation and integration of spaces within the Americas. Maruschke described the divergence from empires by examining the respective independence of the US and Haiti. Birle analysed challenges and obstacles of regional cooperation and integration, which is often confronted with national interests.
The last panel of the day was dedicated to symbolizing and representing spaces. Heinz Peter Brogiato contributed with a presentation about the travel photography of German tourists in the New World at the end of the nineteenth century. He showed how American professional photographers created national images for foreigners by taking selective pictures of their journeys. Ute Wardenga and Stefan Pietsch analysed how the National Geographic Society opened its definition of “national space” during the first years of its formation in order to reach a broader audience and to network internationllly.
Boundaries and borders were discussed on the second day of the workshop. Antje Dietze and Heike Paul began the day with a panel about setting and transgressing boundaries. The focus of Dietze’s presentation was shifting territories of theatrical entertainment in North America at the turn of the twentieth century. She talked about how performance groups had to control their own territories while being integrated in a transregional actor network. Paul presented abolitionist utopias produced by black writers in Chatham, Canada in the mid-nineteenth century. Black people created their spaces of freedom in writing while living in a precarious state in North America, thereby creating a spatial temporal paradox.
The second panel of the day was about managing and mapping transnational spaces. Hannes Warnecke-Berger presented on how Salvadorian workers in the US create a transnational remittances economy. He demonstrated how the phenomenon itself remains transnational only to the countries’ elites, while the social conflict between sender and recipient remains in a local frame. The presentation of Jana Moser focused on the spatialization of border regions as portrayed by maps. In particular, she referred to the US-Mexican border, showing how movement like border crossing can be reflected in a map.
The last panel of the day and of the workshop was dedicated to borderlands and rimlands. Josef Raab talked about the US-Mexican border and explained the spatial images created around it in the media, including books, films, and political speeches. Gabriele Pisarz-Ramírez used texts by two authors in the nineteenth century to analyse Florida as a hemispheric region between the US and the Caribbean.
Every panel was completed by a discussion introduced by a commentator who responded to the contributions and was followed by questions from the audience. There was a lively discussion about the use of concepts such as border, boundary, frontier, or territory and the participants agreed on the need to further define these terms. Because of the diversity of contributions, the concept of spatialization in the Americas was treated on many different levels. This underlined the importance to differentiate, or rather clarify, the scales one is talking about. The mixture of micro and macro analysis as well as of short-term and long-term perspectives would lead to confusion and inconsistency otherwise. The discussion also pointed out that spatial concepts must not be analysed as separate phenomena, but always in the context of how they influence living conditions. Otherwise, investigation would lose its relevance. There was a general support of the idea to internationalize local findings and to compare them to findings from other parts of the world in order to further generalize the spatial concepts developed for the Americas in this workshop. Concluding remarks were given by Matthias Middell in his function as spokesperson of the SFB. The contributions of the workshop will be published in a collection of essays by the organizers in 2018.
More information and the program of the event are located here.