2018-2019 taft center fellows
Project Title: Out of the Mire of the Past: Reviving Cultural Narratives from a Vanished Wetland Landscape in South Albania
Dr. Allen’s research integrates humanistic and natural scientific approaches in order to reconstruct human experience of the vanished landscape of the Maliq wetland in southern Albania, a focus of settlement in the area for more than 7,000 years. Its drainage in the 1940’s provides an especially compelling example of the coupled physical and social effects of radical landscape transformations, which are often exacerbated when power inequalities are entwined with landscape change.
Immediately following World War II, the dictator Enver Hoxha hailed the eradication of this wetland as a great political triumph over nature. This rhetoric, grounded in the notion of field reclamation, effectively silenced narratives of loss among the disempowered rural communities most affected by the drainage and the drastic shifts in land-tenure policies associated with it.
Although the place-based narratives of human experience of the wetland were deliberately suppressed, fragments of them persist in ethnohistorical, ethnoecological, archaeological, and palaeoenvironmental evidence. Together, these provide the framework for a long-term landscape history that highlights the enduring cultural saliency of this vanished wetland, despite its silencing under dictatorship. Although focused on illuminating such hidden histories and ecologies in a Southern European case study, this research contributes to the understanding of suppressed historical and ecological realities more broadly.
Project Title: Wink's Lodge: The West’s Hidden African American Jazz Club and Literary Salon
This book project explores the story of a little-known historic African American mountain community near Nederland, Colorado. At a time of segregation in Denver, when the governor of Colorado, Clarence Joseph Morley, was a leading member of the KKK, Wink's Panorama was the only resort west of the Mississippi open to African Americans. Built by "Winks" Hamlet and his partner William Pitts in 1922, what came to be known as the “Lincoln Hills Country Club” offered land lots and cabins to African Americans from around the country and included a summer camp for African American girls. But it was Wink’s Lodge, the jazz club and cultural center of the community, that became famous. When the KKK was a potent force in Colorado politics, singers and musicians such as Lena Horne, Billy Eckstein, Duke Ellington, and others who performed in Denver's jazz clubs regularly stayed and performed at Wink's Lodge. Writers Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston were also frequent guests. As a satellite to the literary salons of the Harlem renaissance, Wink’s Lodge is a remarkable story hidden in the Colorado Rockies.
Project Title: Dark Agoras: Insurgent Black Social Life and the Politics of Place in Philadelphia
Under contract with NYU Press, “Dark Agoras: Insurgent Black Social Life and the Politics of Place in Philadelphia,” historicizes multiple modes of insurgent spatial assemblage and queer social formation—or dark agoras—from within which Philadelphia’s Black communities articulated disparaged forms of knowledge about the city. Taken together, the heterodox epistemologies, alternative cartographies, and distinctive spatial practices of Black working-class communities constituted what I describe as Black queer urbanism. Rather than simply attending to Black or queer experiences of the city, Black queer urbanism refers to a critical approach that views non-normative forms of Black social-geographic life and the distinctive and often discredited knowledge produced in dark agoras as the conceptual resources and bases for an alternate vision for the future of urban life outside the rubrics of gendered individualism, heteronormative familialism, and reproductive futurity. Drawing together a rich tapestry of sources, “Dark Agoras” recovers counter-intuitive historical connections between various progenitors of Black queer urbanism including Father Divine’s esoteric spiritualist movement, the International Peace Mission, the followers of John Africa’s radical “law of life,” MOVE, and Philadelphia’s unsanctioned frontline queer HIV-AIDS and harm reduction organization, Prevention Point. To the historiography of twentieth century urban social movements, the book contributes an account of a six-decade tradition whereby ordinary Black city dwellers challenged key aspects of the pro-growth paradigm governing the City.
Project Title: The Uses of ‘Blackness’ in Yugoslavia: Dimensions and Legacies of an Idea
In this project I trace the incorporation of “Blacks” into the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (1945-1991), and two of its successor states, Serbia and Montenegro, to understand the position of individuals coded as “Black” over time. I include in this study various local minority groups as well as foreign students who came to Yugoslavia as part of the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM), a bloc of states that formed a middle way between the communist East and capitalist West. International students from NAM countries, many of whom were coded as “Black,” helped to expand the expression of Yugoslav global and multi-ethnic solidarities; these students provided a broad narrative to undergird “Black” and Blackness in Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav contexts. This project focuses on the post-WWII (1945-1991) and post-Yugoslav period (2010-), when in defiance to Yugoslav norms, ethnic and racial difference came to represent a counterpoint to the normative ethnic value of “whiteness,” which is regularly positioned as an inalienable, exclusive feature of belonging in both Eastern and Western Europe.
Project Title: The Obsolete Empire: Untimely Belonging in Twentieth-Century British Literature
This project examines a lineage of twentieth-century
novelists who share a persistent effort to imagine the British empire as
obsolete. This aesthetic investment in obsolescence invokes what I call
“untimeliness,” a distinct experience of time that disrupts chronology and
synchronicity. The writers in question – Henry James, James Joyce, Doris
Lessing, and V. S. Naipaul – all grew up outside England. Yet thanks to their
voracious reading of English fiction and poetry in childhood, they experienced
a richly textured world with which they deeply identified but to which they
were not admitted. This literarily constructed England, frozen in time and out of sync with
contemporary ideas, fashions an untimely aesthetics that arrests the
teleological progression from colonial subjecthood to national citizenship. In
the wake of imperial decline, many peripheral writers, including those who
voiced anti-colonial claims, viewed the obsolete empire as a repository of
unconsummated attachments, contradictory desires, and asynchronous exchanges.
By uncovering in their works a range of affects and temporalities that seem
unprogressive and aberrant, Tsang makes a case for the ethical affordances
of untimeliness in our theorization of community and belonging.