Art in World History

By Sonal Khullar, author of Worldly Affiliations 

This guest post is published in advance of The World History Association conference in Savannah, Georgia. UC Press authors share their research and stories that reflect on this year’s two conference themes, Art in World History and Revolutions, Rebellions, and Revolts. Check back often for new posts. 

The purpose of art, Amrita Sher-Gil wrote in 1936, was to “create the forms of the future.” Art was not limited by existing social and political conditions. Indeed it aimed to transform notions of nation and world. Unlike her counterparts in India, notably in Bengal, during this period, Sher-Gil did not believe there was an Eastern alternative to modernism, modernity, and the West. Indian artists would have to embrace oil painting, material conditions, and the historical present, and not look back to an idealized, spiritual, and premodern past. Sher-Gil’s model of making art and identity that resisted colonialist and nationalist norms proved influential in twentieth-century India.

Worldly AffiliationsWorldly Affiliations excavates a distinctive trajectory of modernism in the visual arts in India and emphasizes its cosmopolitan aims and achievements. It focuses on four artists —Sher-Gil, M.F. Husain, K.G. Subramanyan, and Bhupen Khakhar—who challenged the canons, disciplines, schools, and institutions of British colonialism and Indian nationalism. For these artists, cosmopolitanism was a critical response to colonialism, a way of asserting citizenship in national and international community that had been impossible under colonialism. This cosmopolitanism entailed a thoroughgoing investigation of categories such as East and West that propelled globalizing processes such as capitalism and colonialism. For the period I discuss in the book, the East was associated with the village, crafts, tradition, and nationalism, while the West was associated with the city, art, modernity, and colonialism. Artists challenged these associations, but the terms East and West remained active in various forms during the twentieth century.

Reflecting on the discipline of art history in the twentieth century, Subramanyan wrote: “Most histories of World Art emanating from European centres of culture present Europe as their main scene. . . . The arts of the rest of the world are side scenes that hook on to some point or other of this historical structure, or ladder of evolution: the arts of Africa, Pre-Columbian America, Oceania to the early stages; of Asia, to the middle (I still remember that when I visited the Edinburgh Museum in the mid-fifties all Asia was marked on a large cultural map displayed in its lobby as the Medieval world).” Subramanyan, like the other visual artists examined in Worldly Affiliations, deployed cosmopolitanism as a means to challenge logics that divided the world into East and West, medieval and modern, primitive and cultivated. This cosmopolitanism was a hallmark of modernism as it came to be practiced by artists in twentieth-century India, who explored worldly affiliations through unlikely—if ingenious—visual connections, synthetic gestures, and diverse archives of Eastern and Western cultural practice.

Sonal Khullar is Assistant Professor of South Asian art at the University of Washington. Her research interests include global histories of modern and contemporary art, feminist theory, and postcolonial studies. She is writing a book, The Art of Dislocation, on artistic collaboration as a critical response to globalization in South Asia since the 1990s.

Breaching the Frame

By Pedro R. Erber, author of Breaching the Frame

This guest post is published in advance of The World History Association conference in Savannah, Georgia. UC Press authors share their research and stories that reflect on this year’s two conference themes, Art in World History and Revolutions, Rebellions, and Revolts. Check back often for new posts.

The late Hariu Ichirō, one of the “three greats” of Japanese postwar art criticism, once told me that his most resilient memory of a trip to Brazil as commissioner to the 1977 São Paulo Biennale was of a book by the Brazilian poet and art critic Ferreira Gullar. Hariu claimed to have read this book, Vanguarda e subdesenvolvimento (Avant-garde and Underdevelopment) looking up word by word in a Portuguese dictionary. Almost thirty years later, he was still able to summarize the main argument of the book, according to which the very concept of the avant-garde art contradicts the condition of supposedly peripheral cultures, condemned, as they are, to lag behind the cultural capitals of the West.

Not only in narratives of twentieth-century art but whenever we talk about world history, the old notion that Europe and North America constitute the centers from which modernity spreads centrifugally throughout the rest of the world, although much criticized, is still hard to shed. Pascale Casanova’s conception of a “world republic of letters,” structured around a capital and its peripheral dependencies, is symptomatic in this regard.

breaching the frameBreaching the Frame: The Rise of Contemporary Art in Brazil and Japan examines the emergence of avant-garde movements in two supposedly peripheral locales. In investigating the apparent paradox of avant-garde art in the periphery, it disrupts our understanding of the belated, the advanced, and the contemporary. It tells a story of the emergence of contemporary art that goes beyond the local and particular, while refraining from representing world history as a single, unified narrative.

Pedro R. Erber teaches in the Department of Romance Studies at Cornell University. He holds a Ph.D. in Asian Studies from Cornell University, M.A. in philosophy from Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro, and B.A. in philosophy from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. Erber is the author of Política e verdade no pensamento de Martin Heidegger and articles on intellectual history, art, literature, and aesthetics.

Istanbul Exchanges in a Global Context

By Mary Roberts, author of Istanbul Exchanges

This guest post is published in advance of The World History Association conference in Savannah, Georgia. UC Press authors share their research and stories that reflect on this year’s two conference themes, Art in World History and Revolutions, Rebellions, and Revolts. Check back often for new posts. 

There has been much talk in recent years about expanding the discipline to create a global history of art, but what precisely are the new methods and protocols for writing these more encompassing transcultural histories? I have long thought that Istanbul and its cross-cultural webs of art patronage in the nineteenth century have much to tell us about what a global history of nineteenth-century art might look like. The capital of the Ottoman Empire had a particularly vibrant art scene in this period. European artists were working alongside Muslim and non-Muslim Ottomans with many artistic initiatives receiving patronage from both foreign diplomatic communities and the Ottoman court. Webs of art patronage connected Istanbul to Western Europe; they operated between the capital and other cities within the empire and also encompassed links between communities in Istanbul and the Russian Empire in the Caucasus. In Istanbul Exchanges I have mapped these networks to gain a better insight into the visual culture produced for such diverse audiences.

Istanbul ExchangesThis is a history of art attuned to patterns of artistic exchange that accounts for the movement of art works in and out of Istanbul and its changing meaning on the move. Art produced in this context was created, apprehended and interpreted within a cross-cultural web of meanings. Sometimes this web was a battlefield of competing representations, at other times it was a negotiated matrix of divergent positions. Such cross-cultural transmission in nineteenth-century Istanbul was also entangled within patterns of misinterpretation, as visual forms were created reshaped, censored or productively misunderstood. By tracking these multi-sited and multidirectional art connections, I wanted to disclose the nodes and vectors that register the particularities of Istanbul as a place of cross-cultural contact while also situating Istanbul’s exchanges within a global history of nineteenth-century art.

Mary Roberts is John Schaeffer Associate Professor in British Art at the University of Sydney and the author of Intimate Outsiders: The Harem in Ottoman and Orientalist Art and Travel Literature.

Ana Elizabeth Rosas interviewed on the New Books Network

Ana Elizabeth Rosas, author of Abrazando el Espiritu: Bracero Families Confront the US-Mexico Border, spoke to David-James Gonzoles of New Books in American Studies this weekend. Ana Rosas is Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the departments of History and Chicano-Latino Studies at the University of California, Irvine

Listen to the full interview at the New Books Network’s website, where you can also read David-James Gonzoles’ full review.

Abrazando el Espíritu: Bracero Families Confront the US-Mexico Border
Abrazando el Espíritu: Bracero Families Confront the US-Mexico Border

Abrazando el Espiritu (“embracing the spirit”), a study of the 1942 Bracero Program established between the U.S. and Mexican governments, navigates the deep impact that it had upon transnational Mexican immigrant families. Rosas’ book draws both from official government archives and family histories such as photographs, love letters, popular music, and oral histories in order to provide a closer, more personal understanding of the lives of these Bracero families and the challenges that they faced.

In this lengthy interview, she speaks about how she came to study her field, the link between the lives of Bracero families and those of contemporary migrant workers, the process of acquiring interviews and bringing the personal histories of families into her work, and the important role that love and connection play in understanding the historical moment of her study.

“A truly landmark study,” says Gonzoles, “Abrazando el Espiritu deepens our understanding of the costs of transnational labor migration on families and the efforts undertaken by women, children, men, and the elderly to preserve familial bonds amidst government surveillance and abandonment.”

Visit us at the American Library Association (ALA) 2015


Stop by and see the University of California Press at the American Library Association Annual 2015, held in San Francisco’s Moscone Center! We’ll have a booth on-site with some surprise goodies, but you can also find us taking part in some of ALA’s great events.

We invite you to join UC Press for the following ALA sessions:

Alison Muddit, Director of the University of California Press, will be speaking at the Chief Collection Development Officers of Large Research Libraries Interest Group. Hear her at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square on Saturday, June 27, from 8:30 AM to 11:30 AM. See the schedule for more information.

Eric Schmidt, Classics and Religion Editor, will be participating in the Open Access Monograph Publishing session. This session, a part of the Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance Discussion Groups (ACRL WESS), will focus on topics related to Classical, Medieval and Renaissance studies librarianship. This panel will be held in the Hilton San Francisco Union Square, Union Square 23 & 24, on Saturday, June 27, from 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM. See the schedule for more information.

And finally, Neil Christensen, Director of Digital Business Development, will be a panelist at The University Press: Navigating the Digital Publishing Landscape. This panel will hold a discussion of the future challenges and opportunities facing University Presses within the digital publishing environment. This panel will be held in the Moscone Convention Center on Saturday, June 27, from 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM. See ALA’s schedule for more information.



Srimati Basu at the United Nations International Day of Families 2015

Every year, the United Nations dedicates May 15th, the International Day of Families, to bringing attention to the rights of families across the world and society as a whole, with a particular focus on women and children. This year’s commemoration of the day centered upon “the role of men, gender equality and children’s rights in contemporary families”–  a theme discussed in depth during a panel held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.

The Trouble with Marriage: Feminists Confront Law and Violence in India
The Trouble with Marriage: Feminists Confront Law and Violence in India

Among the many insightful panelists and speakers present that day was our own Srimati Basu, Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Anthropology at the University of Kentucky and author of The Trouble with Marriage: Feminists Confront Law and Violence in India.

BasuIn line with her new book, she spoke of the inequality still present in South Asian family law, especially pertaining to those surrounding family violence:

“I wanted to make a push for us to talk more about ideas of gender-based violence in terms of notions of affirmative consent of the people concerned and in terms of notions of violence as violations of bodily integrity, for example,” says Basu in a post-panel interview, “instead of violations of honor and violations of kinship.” Basu also touches upon the conflicting role of families as sources of both care and economic sustenance, as well as how to address these differences while guarding against family violence.

Read more about the Day of Families panel session at the UNDESA Division for Social Policy and Development’s website, which also features a link to the full webcast of the event.


Whose Child Am I? author interviewed on WAMU 88.5

Susan TerrioSusan Terrio, Professor of Anthropology at Georgetown University and author of the recently released Whose Child Am I?: Unaccompanied, Undocumented Children in U.S. Immigration Custody, appeared on WAMU 88.5 American University Radio. In her book, Terrio delves deeper into the workings of this vast, yet rarely explored system: “What were their motivations for leaving their home country? What happened to them on the journey? What happened to them crossing the border? Who did they belong to? What were their family stories? And who has the ultimate responsibility for them?”

To the full interview and read the full text of the article, follow the link to WAMU 88.5’s website.

Whose Child Am I?: Unaccompanied, Undocumented Children in U.S. Immigration Custody
Whose Child Am I?: Unaccompanied, Undocumented Children in U.S. Immigration Custody

Terrio, speaking with WAMU’s Armando Trull, says of the closed, prison-like organization of these detention centers:

“[The facilities] are institutionalized settings that are organized by security level on a penal model. There are controlled entry and exits, there is monitored movement within the premises, there are stipulated line of sight checks, there is camera surveillance, there is constant supervision.”

“And once the kids go into these facilities, they don’t leave except for appearances in court proceedings and occasional mental and medical health appointments outside. That means that they go to school inside, they play sports within fenced areas. To insist that this system, because it involves civil violations in an administrative court proceeding is not incarceration I think is a fiction that can no longer be sustained.”

Concluding, Terrio argues, “… there is no humane way to incarcerate families and children. It should not be a first response; it should be a last resort.”

Kevin O’Neill interviewed on New Books in Latin American Studies

Kevin O’Neill, author of recently released Secure the Soul: Christian Piety and Gang Prevention in Guatemala, spoke to Alejandra Bronfman on the New Books in Latin American Studies podcast last week.

New Books in Latin American Studies is part of the New Books Network, a collection of podcasts hosted by the Amherst College Library dedicated to public discourse and the discussion of new books by their authors.

Listen to the full interview here or on the New Books Network’s website, which also features Alejandra’s full review of the book.

9780520278493-1In their in-depth conversation, Kevin O’Neill touches upon a number of topics, from his path to the field of anthropology and his his research in Guatemala to his thoughts on the larger relationship between Christian institutions and gang violence and the role of “Mateo” as presented in his book.

“This is a finely hewn multi-sited ethnography as well as a moving account of the life of a single former gang member,” says Alejandra Bronfman on Secure the Soul. “At its core is a tension between the critique of programs that range from the absurd to the tragic, and a recognition that without those programs, former gang members in Guatemala would be relegated to the barest of bare lives.”

In Memoriam: Ronnie Gilbert

UC Press is proud to have published many books by women whose lives and convictions made the world a better place—Grace Lee Boggs and Jody Williams, among others. Ronnie Gilbert, who died this past week, stood tall in that company as a peerless artist and activist.

Ronnie Gilbert

If anybody’s life story deserved to be written it was Ronnie Gilbert’s. She was a singer and an actress, a worker and a mother, a therapist, a writer, and an activist, working with groups like Women in Black to fight against injustice. And who better than Ronnie herself to tell the tale? Anyone who has heard her rich contralto or seen her on stage knows that she had a gift for conveying a wealth of meaning in just a few words.

Ronnie Gilbert cover
Ronnie Gilbert: A Radical Life in Song (October 2015)

Ronnie was strong-willed and outspoken and funny, but what I remember most about working with her to shape her memoir was how humble she was about her life and career. She didn’t make outsized claims for what she had accomplished as an activist: she kept coming back to simply having done what she thought was right. She wasn’t interested in creating a Hollywood narrative about her trajectory as an artist, despite the great influence she had on so many others. She knew better than anyone the dedication and hard work it took, and she acknowledged being fortunate (this from someone who had been blacklisted, her career nearly ended), in the right places at the right times, willing to offer her music where it would help a cause, compel people to recognize injustice, and act.

I am a music editor, and it was the music Ronnie made that drew me to her memoir.  Ronnie was a bold woman with a voice to match, one that could ride over the voices of the other Weavers any time she needed it to. Listening to their live album, The Weavers at Carnegie Hall, it is easy to hear why their sound influenced so many. Justly famous numbers like “Goodnight Irene,” are simply beautiful, showcasing their distinctive harmonic arrangements. Their fire and raw conviction are in every note of “Sixteen Tons,” their sass and humor in “Rock Island Line.” Their virtuosic arrangement of “When the Saints Go Marching In” gives the spotlight to each voice in turn, using the utopian verses that reach their peak with Ronnie’s passionate evocation of ”when the new world is revealed.” In that verse I can hear her calling out confidently for the justice they all believed in and worked so fervently for.

Ronnie’s voice on its own was as moving as anything the Weavers ever sang together. Her rendition of “I Know Where I’m Going” shows how she could gentle her clarion tones, though the simple confidence of the song leaves no doubt of her underlying strength. The combination of strength and sweetness endures decades later in her rendition of “The Water is Wide,” from 1984. A profoundly sad song is not a fair way to recall Ronnie’s rich and rewarding life. But all of us at UC Press who were privileged to work with her share the sadness of her family and friends at losing such a great lady.

Author Spotlight: Joachim Savelsberg

Meeting with our authors is always a pleasure, and last month, it was wonderful to welcome Joachim Savelsberg to UCP’s offices in Oakland. Joachim Savelsberg, a world-renowned expert on mass atrocities, is author of the upcoming title Representing Mass Violenceset to release this August.

Left to right: Jack Young, Elena McAnespie, Maura Roessner, and Joachim Savelsberg.
Left to right: Jack Young, Elena McAnespie, Maura Roessner, and Joachim Savelsberg.

“You look at countries like my own home country Germany in the way they memorialize the Holocaust, the way they live up to the responsibilities of the past. It does not do them any harm in the international community. To the opposite, it has increased acceptance in the international community,” says Savelsberg in his recent feature in the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s op-ed.

Be sure to listen to his interview with John Hines on WCCO Radio for more of Savelsberg’s profound analyses of the history of genocide.

Representing Mass Violence:  Conflicting Responses to Human Rights Violations in Darfur
Representing Mass Violence: Conflicting Responses to Human Rights Violations in Darfur

Representing Mass Violence uncovers competing narratives of international justice in the ways in which human rights crimes in Darfur (and also Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Cambodia) are represented around the world, particularly through the lens of the International Criminal Court.

This work stands apart from other accounts of genocide by focusing not on the crimes themselves or the immediate legal or political responses but on the distinct meta-narratives that develop in Western industrialized nations about the possibility of justice as administered through international judicial forces. Ireland, for instance, with its collective memory of extreme poverty, may officially support the ICC’s efforts but express strong skepticism about any judicial intervention that would interfere with food and aid delivery. And Germany, with its own history of genocide, is slow to apply the term elsewhere, recently making global news by acknowledging the Armenian genocide as such on its 100th anniversary.

These local, social, and political forces profoundly shape the ways in which mass crimes in Darfur and elsewhere are perceived and addressed. Only by understanding how they shape collective memories and representations of human rights crimes, Savelsberg argues, can we better respond to, and prevent, future atrocities.