Volume 11, Issue 2, 2020
Issue Introduction by the Editor-in-Chief
Special Forum: Covid-19 Commentary
This essay combines a note on the difficulties of doing research in West Asia before and during the Covid-19 pandemic with observations on the shift in the tone of international aid efforts. The author identifies a public "viciousness" to the publicity surrounding the aid sent and received internationally during the pandemic.
Internationalism Beyond the “Yellow Peril”: On the Possibility of Transnational Asian American Solidarity
The pandemic has rearticulated racial discourses in unprecedented ways and at an accelerating pace. The resurgent protests of Black Lives Matter demand fundamental changes in the criminal (in)justice system and racial relations in the US beyond the Black–white dichotomy. In this paper, I argue that our current shared struggles require a new form of internationalism against the rapid right-wing turn of global hegemonies that does not draw lines between the simple binaries of “East vs. West,” “white vs. Black,” or “authoritarianism vs. democracy,” but in the interconnected fights against the militarized police state, neoliberal capitalist order, Han supremacy, and the continued impacts of Euro-American coloniality.
The article asks why we cannot now more actively work to imagine and construct a transnational American studies that allows people to work from where they are. This has been a desirable goal for some time but the Covid crisis is an occasion to ask this question anew.
Although Australia has (so far) contained the spread of Covid-19 within its population relatively successfully, its universities and academic life have suffered greatly as a result of the pandemic. This has been the result of campus shutdowns, unsympathetic government policy, and the collapse of the previously lucrative supply of international students. The result has been financial stringency throughout the Australian university sector, significant job losses, and the cancellation and inhibition of the international collaboration and interaction that is vital to our common global academic and research endeavours.
Special Forum: Transnational Nuclear Imperialisms
Editors' Introduction to the Special Forum on Transnational Nuclear Imperialisms
Runit Dome is an eighteen-inch thick concrete dome covering the buried nuclear waste from twenty-three atomic tests conducted by the US military in the 1940s and ’50s in Pikinni Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Known to locals as “The Tomb,” it is leaking into the Pacific Ocean, in part because of the rising sea levels produced by global warming. Runit Dome brings climate change into direct relation with the legacies of nuclear imperialism in the Marshall Islands. This essay examines how Cold War securitization paradigms problematically inform the ecological management strategies developed by international policy-making entities such as the United Nations in the mid-twentieth century. While much literary and cultural scholarship on the rise of the nuclear age has focused on the concomitant rise of insecurities about body and environment under the duress of wartime, this essay crafts a different but intertwined history, showing how the transformation of the Pacific Ocean into a nuclear testing ground was parlayed into governmental projects for the remaking of life itself under the auspices of risk management. Military-backed and government-funded scientific experiments with nuclear and other weapons throughout the Pacific suggest a new phase in US imperial world-making, as the ecologies of waters, islands, sea creatures, and Pacific Islanders were turned into experimental materials for modeling shifts in social and ecological forms of governance. When environmental protections take for granted concepts such as enclosure, risk management, and Enlightenment formulations of property-owning and rights-bearing subjects, they manifest a settler environmentalism that too easily paves the way for capitalist regeneration under the aegis of eco-development projects rather than systemic change that understands human, nonhuman, and environment to be always already in relation. To break from perpetually extractive relations to land, sea, and life, Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner’s video poem “Anointed” models how environmental futures must reckon with the causes of past and ongoing harm, and this essay concludes with a brief reflection on this poet-activist’s work.
“Indigenous Antinuclear Literary Resistance: Jim Northrup’s Satire and Anishinaabe Trans/nationalism” examines the way Jim Northrup (1943–2016), an Anishinaabe writer from the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in northern Minnesota, engages Anishinaabe trans/nationalism as he combats nuclear colonialism in his satirical columns. The fundamental nature of Anishinaabe trans/nationalism, described by Joseph Bauerkemper and Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark in “Trans/National Terrain of Anishinaabe Law and Diplomacy,” forms the basis of Northrup’s resistance to nuclear colonialism as he critiques the nuclear power plant and radioactive waste threatening the Mdewakanton Dakota residents of the Prairie Island Indian Community. He adds another layer to the politics of Indigenous trans/nationalism when he ridicules plans to send the radioactive waste from Prairie Island to be stored on the land of other Indigenous nations such as the Western Shoshone and Mescalero Apache. On another level, by emphasizing the bonds between Anishinaabe people in the United States and Canada, Northrup implies that Anishinaabe nationhood precedes the borders of nation states, defying the ideology of “transnational” in a conventional sense. With Indigenous trans/nationalism at the center of its argument, this essay considers Northrup’s use of satire and humor as an atomic age strategy to manifest Anishinaabe nationhood as well as to establish transnational Indigenous alliances to combat nuclear colonialism. Northrup situates his antinuclear opposition as part of an enduring multilateral Indigenous resistance to settler colonialism, and, in so doing, he emphasizes the importance of exercising treaty rights and insisting on the inherent sovereignty of the Anishinaabe people.
Corbin Harney, Western Shoshone elder and spiritual leader, rises in prayer. He lights a ceremonial pipe and upon inhaling offers it to Olzhas Suleimenov, Kazakh national poet and leader of the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement, who smokes it in turn. After completing the Western Shoshone Pipe Ceremony, the two reach down into the earth, each pulling up a stone, which they then proceed—in accordance with Kazakh custom—to throw at the face of evil—in this case, the face of nuclear fallout. This face is everywhere at the Nevada Test Site, and yet, nowhere to be seen. Guidelines for direct action campaigns at the test site caution would-be activists to be afraid of it—to be afraid of the dust. Contaminated from decades of nuclear weapons testing, this dust kills—just one more thing the Western Shoshone share with the Kazakhs, who, nearly a year-and-a-half earlier and halfway across the globe, gathered at Semipalatinsk, the Soviet counterpart to the Nevada Test Site, to hurl their own stones at the face of this very same evil. In 1989, inspired by Western Shoshone attempts to end nuclear weapons testing on their ancestral homeland, the Kazakhs rose up to demand an immediate cessation of Soviet testing at Semipalatinsk. They not only named their nascent movement Nevada, but they also took as their logo a Kazakh nomad sharing a pipe with a Western Shoshone. Over the next two years, Western Shoshone and Nevada activists engaged in cultural and political exchanges that sent delegates to protest in each other’s respective homeland. Soviet officials have repeatedly credited the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement in their decision to halt their nuclear weapons testing program. By August 1991 Semipalatinsk closed. And without a credible Soviet threat the United States halted its own nuclear weapons testing program the following year. This essay documents the origins of this historic trans-Indigenous activism, as well as the joint strategies, tactics, and discourses employed by both movements in their bid to end nuclear weapons testing in their respective homelands.
Questions of visibility, witnessing, and agency are particularly pertinent to post-1945 US and French nuclear testing across Oceania. Images of enormous hovering atomic mushroom clouds have become familiar icons of this testing, while images of the effects of colonial–imperial occupation and ideology in the Pacific are rendered invisible within government-controlled imagery. Alternative forms of visualization are required to be able to (re)see the human experiences that remain central to contemporary Pacific militarization and the legacies of nuclear weapons testing. Images, be they from social media and online platforms, archives, or public exhibitions, have the political potential to make visible Indigenous experiences of nuclear testing and ongoing militarization. Here, our work expands the concept of transnational studies by centering Oceanic, archipelagic, and island thinking. This article explores how contemporary photographic imagery politicizes what has been rendered (in)visible through state-produced imagery, archiving practices, and US national park recognition. Focusing on American-born Chinese visual artist Jane Chang Mi’s series (See Reverse Side.) (2017) and Marshallese photojournalist and filmmaker Leonard Leon’s (@pacific_aesthetics) series of Instagram posts (2019), we argue that their methods of image-making can enable alternative forms of socioethical witnessing and visibility of not only state-produced archival images but also of the Indigenous Pacific communities who are deeply affected by nuclear testing and ongoing militarization. Through close readings of their works, we question how photographic practices communicate the humanity of nuclear military conduct while bringing their viewers closer to the human experience of living in a highly militarized and nuclear context.
This article listens to Marshallese radiation songs to hear how singers subject to US nuclear colonial practices—including US nuclear testing (1946–1958), extant displacement, and human radiation experimentation—continue to be ignored in official capacities, even after nuclear colonialism officially ended with the Republic of the Marshall Islands’s sovereignty through the Compact of Free Association (1986). US nuclear imperialism is persistent given the establishment of these official spaces where the Marshall Islands and United States governments are allowed to interact, politically, and the radiation communities, particularly women subject to disproportionate impacts from nuclear colonialism, are denied entrance or, (literally and metaphorically), voice. Radiation songs, which detail the ongoing and systemic violences of US nuclear imperialism, are ways that singers subversively make their petitions to US citizens and governmental representatives heard. Songs challenge the exclusionary modern systems (law, politics, mass media, biomedicine) that continue to claim specialized knowledge by advancing Marshallese epistemologies, sensibilities, and embodied, or lived experiences of nuclear violence. As a matter of the health humanities in transnational context, the uneven development of the global working class through constitutive colonial conditions and durative imperial networks are matters this essay points up.
Framing American History: A Symposium in Honor of Thomas Bender
This essay reflects on Baick’s efforts to occupy what is often an unsteady position of a historian in the rough waters of the public sphere. From teaching teachers to talking to civic groups to media interviews, he has spent most of his academic career pursuing the role of a public intellectual. Providing nuance and complexity to the political and cultural issues of the day has become as important as traditional academic areas such as scholarship, teaching, and professional service.
This essay explores the special challenges of “transnationalizing” a half-semester history survey course designed for nonhistorians in a graduate journalism school. The course has just seven weeks to address a huge array of material. Many of the students have not taken a single history course since high school. And while many of them, both US citizens and international students, have been pleasantly surprised to find that the course includes material they find relevant to their own experience, in the time we have it is not possible to validate everyone’s lives through inclusion. Navigating the dilemmas of identity in a diverse and fragmented public sphere is, of course, not a new challenge for people who do history for a living, but it may be instructive for journalists as well, whose everyday work also involves constituting meaningful narratives that satisfactorily explain why things happen.
This essay, originally written to celebrate Thomas Bender’s retirement from New York University in 2015, explores topics related to integrating transnational approaches in the US history curriculum and in the education of graduate students. The author finds that transnationalizing the general education course on the US since 1945 engages students from diverse backgrounds and, rather than “leaving out” significant historical content, simply offers a different framing of the American past. Graduate student research on transnational topics, on the other hand, poses financial, linguistic, and archival challenges to all students, but especially to those not enrolled in elite doctoral programs.
As a US-born and -educated Americanist teaching in a French-language institution outside the United States, I have learned that United States historians have much to learn from foreign colleagues, both because they explore less-studied aspects of America and because their distance from their subject of study affords them a broader field of vision.
This essay outlines a number of daunting obstructions to a transnational historical approach in the Kindergarten to Grade Twelve Social Studies curriculum including a hyperlocal focus during elementary school, an inflexible national approach in middle and high school, and political pressure on national testing organizations to emphasize “American exceptionalism.” Yet it argues that there are countervailing currents, including the rise of public schools that use the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, pressure on elite schools to prepare students for global futures, and the opportunities for high school teachers to experiment with crosscurricular themes.
Key publications by Bender.