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Issue Editors' Note

Introduction: Transnational American Studies in the "Age of Trump"

Introduction by issue editors.

This issue represents our journal’s first appearance after the onset of what multiple Americanists have referred to, and not in overly positive fashion, as the “Age of Trump.” A central theme of Trump administration discourse is its strident defense of physical borders  manifested in harshly exclusionary policies, most notably the administration’s abandoning of the existing DACA program, as well as fostering increased visibility of white nationalist groups and openly racist discourse. At the same time, the White House, led by the president, has distinguished itself by its nationalist attacks on international trade and multilateral diplomacy. As scholars of American Studies based outside the United States, we both feel a special responsibility to make use of our position to investigate and discuss the larger forces at play here. One thing that larger transnational approaches can help reveal is the complex interface between national identity, domestic politics, and state policy, especially in regard to international relations.

Editor-in-Chief's Note

Note from the Editor-in-Chief

Introduction by JTAS's new Editor-in-Chief


The Curious Case of Sick Keesar: Tracing the Roots of South Asian Presence in the Early Republic

This article is part of a larger monograph on India in the American imaginary that seeks to trace Indo-American interactions as mediated by the triangulated relationship between India, Britain, and the US. In this article I perform a symptomatic reading of a petition for redress by a Bengali lascar, Sick Keesar, to Benjamin Franklin in 1785. Whilst most scholarship on lascars and their integral role in the transoceanic trade in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has focused on Britain and Europe, Keesar’s petition illumines South Asian histories of mobility and labor formations forged against global networks of colonial capital and a maritime economy in the little-known context of the United States in the Early Republic. Read in conjunction with the many advertisements for runaway “East Indian” slaves found in newspapers of the times, Keesar’s petition presents an alternative genealogy of South Asian presence in America dating back to the colonial era. The petition sheds light on the unacknowledged and little-known presence and contributions of early South Asian settlers, as indentured servants, slaves, and lascars, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Mapping this hitherto little-known history not only radically reshapes the history of South Asian presence in America, but also illumines a tumultuous period in the making of the American nation that, as yet, was just beginning to define itself and how it related to its racial others.

Beyond the Black Atlantic: Pacific Rebellions and the Gothic in Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno”

While previous investigations of the black-white racial dichotomy in Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” have taught us an incalculable amount, paying attention to the complex modalities of Orientalism, rebellion, and transpacific migration in the novella makes even more relevant previous analyses of the story’s engagement with transatlantic slavery and the Haitian Revolution in a global arena. This study proposes that Melville’s narrative of a transatlantic slave mutiny—punctuated by phantom Orientalist references to East Asia and the South Pacific—suggests the indispensable role that the Atlantic revolutions played in framing European and American imaginings of East Asia and the South Pacific. Melville’s employment of the gothic as an expression of incipient racial and cosmopolitan anxieties, along with his unique adaptation of the travelogue’s “prolonged promise” and temporality, expresses East Asia and the South Pacific as a foreboding source of racial alterity and links his East Asian–Pacific and African populations through an Orientalist frame. Conversely, Melville’s comparative juxtapositions of West African slaves and villainous Malay characters—figures associated in the antebellum US with Muslim origins—craft an alternative, cross-Islamic community identification for imperial resistance in his “strange history” of the Pacific. While postcolonial critics positively read Melville’s pluralistic collectivity in Moby Dick, Melville’s rebellious Malay phantoms in “Benito Cereno” and Moby Dick betray moments of Islamic racialism and the problems of a republic built on slavery and the imperialism of the Asia Pacific, as seen in the Philippine–American War and other future imperial endeavors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


“Suppose for a moment, that Keanu had reasoned thus”: Contagious Debts and Prisoner–Patient Consent in Nineteenth-Century Hawai‘i

This article considers the 1884 criminal case and medical archive of Keanu, a Native Hawaiian prisoner sentenced to death in the Hawaiian courts for murder. Keanu’s sentence was commuted to “life in prison” after he consented to experimental leprosy (Hansen’s disease) inoculations. The article examines the tensions between Keanu’s prisoner–patient value and US imperialism as a discourse of social debt in nineteenth-century Hawai‘i. It argues that the figure of the prisoner–patient raises broad questions about the historical function of racialization, criminalization, and disease across medical discourse at that time. More specifically, it interrogates how those discourses were constructed around the figure of Keanu and reveals a transformation in his status from devalued social death to that of valuable social debt.

Governable Travelers: International Comparison in American Tramp Ethnography

Near the end of the nineteenth century, the “tramp” embodied the most extreme aspects of the boom-and-bust economy in the US. More than any other writer of his day, the ethnographer Josiah Flynt assisted both the public and government officials in visualizing the lives of tramps with the intent of rehabilitating this population. The key text in this effort, Flynt’s Tramping with Tramps (1899) hinges on a comparison between US and European vagrancy. For reform-minded authors like Flynt, tramping in Europe provides a point of comparison for evaluating key areas of concern in the US—namely, the problem of idleness among sectors of the American population. The depiction of tramping abroad in Flynt’s work—as well as in accounts by writers like Mark Twain—ultimately reflects the international nexus shaping both the discourse surrounding vagrancy as well as antitramp legislation.



Red Turbans in the Trinity Alps: Violence, Popular Religion, and Diasporic Memory in Nineteenth-Century Chinese America

This article shows how social violence among Chinese in the mining districts of California during the 1850s was an extension of the Red Turban Rebellion and subsequent ethnic civil war between “local” and “guest peoples” in the Pearl River Delta of South China.  In that context, I read a popular religious text, a secret society manual, and temple carvings to argue that Chinese workingmen in the Gold Rush imagined a moral economy that enabled the construction of a heroic diasporic identity.

Fictions and Frictions of the "Panama Roughneck": Literary Depictions of White, US Labor in the Canal Zone

This essay expands the critical conversation on race, labor, and literature in the Panama Canal Zone by foregrounding the portrayal of white, U.S. workers in two popular texts, Harry A. Franck’s Zone Policeman (1913) and John Hall’s Panama Roughneck Ballads (1912). While existing scholarship has detailed the legal and economic policies that shaped the United States’ racialized form of labor management, the “gold and silver system,” in the Zone, it has largely ignored the literary discourse that emerged in response to the system’s incongruous values. This essay argues that literary depictions of white, American canal workers as hyper-masculine and hyper-productive “Panama roughnecks” rhetorically rationalized the gold and silver system’s privileging of white, US workers, while also producing narratives that destabilized its hierarchies of race, nationality, and skill set. These narratives also engendered new forms of identification that evaded or reimagined normative American understandings of race, genealogy, and national affiliation.

"Strengthen the Bonds": The United States on Display in 1938 France

In 1938, curators from the Museum of Modern Art installed their first international exhibition, Three Centuries of American Art, in Paris. This article examines the powerful role that museums played in constructing national art-historical narratives during the 1930s. It argues that the intertwining of art, political diplomacy, and canon formation uncovered by an analysis of the exhibition reveals American art’s unique role in supporting shared 1930s cultural ideologies. It questions how Three Centuries of American Art located and presented the heterogeneity of American culture in the 1930s to an international audience grappling with political instability. MoMA’s curators created the most comprehensive exhibition to date of the history of American art with works from 1590 through 1938, and with over five hundred architectural models, drawings, films, paintings, photographs, prints, sculptures, and vernacular artworks. It argues that each of these successive actions—borrowing, display, canonization, publication, and reception—vested this artwork with additional, and at times, contradictory meanings that problematize our understanding of not just this exhibition’s artworks but also other exhibitions that create histories of American art. With World War II on the horizon, these artworks took on new meaning as the embodiment of the United States.

Interzone’s a Riot: William S. Burroughs and Writing the Moroccan Revolution

Naked Lunch, Burroughs’ breakthrough work, was written in scraps and fragments and is a hallucinatory tour through a realm he calls Interzone, closely modeled on the international zone of Tangier and that corresponds with Tangier in many ways: geographically, culturally, and politically. Much of the book’s content is inspired by or a direct transcription of events he witnessed there. Burroughs developed a fascination with Morocco’s anticolonial revolution and the violence surrounding the movement for independence.  Scenes in Naked Lunch involving Islam Inc. and lengthy descriptions of Interzone’s political factions serve as satirical representations of the revolutionary organizations operating inside Morocco during the writing of the novel, many of which had a tendency to fight each other as often as they fought the French. With the publication of Naked Lunch in 1958, William S. Burroughs expressed both his admiration for the transformative potential of revolutionary violence and his dismay that this potential went unrealized in Morocco.

Dangerous Playgrounds: Hemispheric Imaginaries and Domestic Insecurity in Contemporary US Tourism Narratives

This article explores a network of “dangerous playgrounds” narratives amid the backdrop of then President George W. Bush’s “War on Terror” and the revitalization of the “self-deportation movement” following the passage of SB1070. Tracing the journeys of young, white US American tourists traveling to Latin America to release their inhibitions, stories working in the dangerous playgrounds mode use figurations of insurrectionary violence to wed the narrative arc of the bildungsroman to the generic conventions of melodrama and horror, and so cast the Americas south of the US border as a source of danger to US American youth. By reading these narrative negotiations in relation to the legacies of US American hemispheric interventionism, post-9/11 immigration policy, and US American travel narratives, this article unpacks the ways Jessica Abel’s critically acclaimed comic La Perdida (2006) and the films Turistas (2006), Borderland (2007), The Ruins (2008), and Indigenous (2014) create slippages in meaning that project anxieties about terrorism and domestic security onto Latinx bodies and Latin American nations through figurations of imperiled white femininity. By using literary and cultural analysis to explore how popular sentiment, generic convention, and policy negotiations draw on, shape, and extend neo-Monroeist structures of feeling, this article ultimately finds that the emergence of domestic policies aimed at institutionalizing the surveillance of Latinx subjects arises in popular culture as a remarkably predictable narrative mode, which uses the conventions of adventure, melodrama, and horror to frame the nativist project of securing domestic borders and incarcerating and expelling undocumented Latinx subjects as one of the necessary compromises of a mature nation.


SPECIAL FORUM: La Floride française: Florida, France, and the Francophone World

A Staged Encounter: French Meeting Timucua in Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues

A quarter of a century after the destruction of the French settlements in Florida in 1565, there appeared in Frankfurt the second volume of Théodore de Bry’s Great Voyages, the Brevis Narratio of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues that included a series of copperplates depicting the Timucua Native Americans engaged in a variety of everyday activities. Lestringant focuses on plate VIII which depicts the Timucua, in the presence of Laudonnière, prostrating themselves before the column that had been erected three years earlier by Jean Ribault and analyzes the space represented in it as a “theater,” in the sense the word often held in the sixteenth century—that is, a kind of visualization device—linking the world of the Amerindian idolaters and that of the Huguenots.

Rereading the “Écriteau”: Protestant Myths, Native Alliances, and the Histories of French Florida

The écriteaux or public signs that may have been hung around the necks of French colonists in Florida in 1565 by Menéndez de Avilés and his Spanish comrades indicate that the Spanish were motivated to destroy a “Lutheran” colony. Beginning with this Spanish “reading” of the French settlement, this essay explores the long history of understanding French Florida as an exclusively Protestant colony. This emphasis, I argue, obscures another interpretation that can be traced back to Jean Ribault and René de Laudonnière. Rather than focusing upon the colony as a Huguenot refuge, Ribault and Laudonnière, and others after them including Richard Hakluyt and Marc Lescarbot, argue instead for the colony as a “French” project built upon effective alliances with the Timucuan populations of the St. John’s River region. At the same time, Laudonnière’s account demonstrates how the French prove unable to maintain stable relations with Timucuan allies. The French failure to communicate with and comprehend their Native allies explains the colony’s demise and its destruction. Despite the power of religion and its rhetoric in the colony’s existence and aftermath, this essay argues that we cannot ignore Native power and Native rhetoric in understanding the beginnings and ends of la floride française.

“People of bad disposition”: The Failed French Colony at Fort Caroline as a Site of Local Conflict within a Transimperial System

Focusing on European colonial rivalry in Florida during the 1560s, including the massacre of French Huguenots there by Spanish forces, the article argues that our understanding of these events and of the texts that record the brief life of Fort Caroline should be situated within a broader network of imperial rivalry and religious conflict that connects Florida to Europe. It looks closely at two first-hand accounts—by René Goulaine de Laudonnière and by Nicolas Challeux.

Franco/Spanish Entanglements in Florida and the Circumatlantic

This essay analyzes the entangled histories of France and Spain in Florida and the circum-Atlantic and is based on little-utilized primary sources from Spain, Florida, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. The French and the Spaniards crossed paths, often violently, through war, piracy and revolutions, from the period when the French contested the Spanish territorial claims in the New World in the 16th century to the late 18th century when the French through Genêt, tried to revolutionize Florida. It also explores the impact of black royalists like Georges and French revolutionary leaders from Saint-Domingue in Florida. Biassou and his men fought for Spain in Florida, battling Georgia Patriots and risen Seminoles, while Luis Aury, established a short-lived Republic of the Floridas at Fernandina.

Becoming Spanish in Florida: Georges Biassou and his “Family” in St. Augustine

Historian Jane Landers has conducted extensive research on Georges Biassou and black society in Spanish Florida, and her various historical works provide most of what is known about Biassou's experiences there and the perceptions Spanish officials and Anglo American planters had of him. Alternatively, Erica Johnson approaches Biassou as a free man of color from a French colony adapting to life in a Spanish colony to further expand historical understanding of him and others like him.

Science/Fiction/Politics: Jules Verne’s Floridas

In From the Earth to the Moon (1865), Jules Verne imagined a fictional Floridian site, a high desert plateau on which to build the gigantic space gun that would send astronauts to the moon. In North Against South (1886), the liquid, labyrinthine eco-system of the Everglades served as a backdrop to the Civil War. Both texts produced contradictory and complementary figurations of the Sunshine State, ancient and modern, arid and watery, traversed by history as well as myth.

A Tour de Force: Sarah Bernhardt and her 1906 Florida Tour

This article examines the role that Sarah Bernhardt played in shaping Floridians’ vision of themselves during her 1905-1906 American tour. In spite of her suspect position as a foreigner, a Jew, and an actress, local news reports emphasized her industriousness, independence, and urbanity. This article highlights how Bernhardt’s visit coincided with a period of dramatic growth and reflected a desire of its inhabitants to break with their agrarian past in favor of a cosmopolitan identity.

Québec French in Florida: North American Francophone Language Practices on the Road

This article explores the language practices of a group of speakers who experience a high degree of mobility and regular backand-forth contact between Francophone Canada and the US, namely Francophones speakers of Québécois origin who move in and out of South Florida. Using a case study approach, the analysis of interviews collected during fieldwork sheds light on the language practices from the point of view of both language use and language representations.

Images of Florida in the Haitian Novel of Exile

This article examines how Florida is depicted in Passages (1991) by Émile Ollivier and in Cette grenade dans la main du jeune nègre est-elle une arme ou un fruit? (2002) by Dany Laferrière. The theoretical framework for this examination is “imagology,” which Jean-Marc Mourra describes as the study of the literary representation of Otherness. According to Mourra, this representation can be utopian or ideological. In the first category, Otherness is portrayed in a positive way, while in the second category, the portrayal is negative. The representation of Florida in the above novels swings between the two.


Forward Editor's Note

JTAS presents excerpts from forthcoming and recent monographs and journal articles in the field of Transnational American Studies.

Excerpt from Environmental Justice in Contemporary US Narratives

Excerpt from Yanoula Athanassakis, Environmental Justice in Contemporary US Narratives (Abingdon, UK, and New York: Routledge, 2017), 1-30.

Before Nation, Beyond Nation: The Place of "Early" in Transnational American Studies

Kristina Bross and Laura M. Stevens, “Before Nation, Beyond Nation: The Place of ‘Early’ in Transnational American Studies,” in Obama and Transnational American Studies, ed. Alfred Hornung (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2016), 313–34.

Introduction to American Literature in the World

Wai Chee Dimock, introduction to American Literature in the World: An Anthology from Anne Bradstreet to Octavia Butler, ed. Wai Chee Dimock et al. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 1–18.

"Introduction: The Transnational Turn, " in the Cambridge Companion to Transnational American Literature

Yogita Goyal, "Introduction: The Transnational Turn," in the Cambridge Companion to Transnational American Literature, ed. Yogita Goyal, 1–17 (New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

Introduction to The Limits of Westernization: A Cultural History of America in Turkey

Perin E. Gürel, introduction to The Limits of Westernization: A Cultural History of America in Turkey (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 1–15.

A History That "Dares Not Speak Its Name"? Atlantic History, Global History and the Modern Atlantic Space

Marco Mariano, “A History That ‘Dares Not Speak Its Name’? Atlantic History, Global History and the Modern Atlantic Space,” originally published as “Lo spazio atlantico contemporaneo: una storia ‘che non osa pronunciare il suo nome’?” in the journal Passato e Presente 100 (2017).

Excerpt from Famine Irish and the American Racial State

Peter O'Neill, "Black and Green Atlantic Crossings in the Famine Era," in Famine Irish and the American Racial State (New York: Routledge, 2017), 32-54.

Excerpt from Migrating the Black Body: The African Diaspora and Visual Culture

Leigh Raiford, "The Here and Now of Eslanda Robeson's African Journey," in Migrating the Black Body: The African Diaspora and Visual Culture, edited by Leigh Raiford and Heike Raphael-Hernandez (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017), 134-52.

Excerpt from Race and the Totalitarian Century: Geopolitics in the Black Literary Imagination

Excerpt from Vaughn Rasberry, Race and the Totalitarian Century: Geopolitics in the Black Literary Imagination (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016), 241-44.

Introduction to Southwest Asia: The Transpacific Geographies of Chicana/o Literature

Jayson Gonzales Sae-Saue, introduction to Southwest Asia: The Transpacific Geographies of Chicana/o Literature (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2016), 1–22.

Excerpt from Strange Fruit of the Black Pacific: Imperialism's Racial Justice and Its Fugitives

Vince Schleitwiler, "The Violence and the Music, April– December 1899," in Strange Fruit of the Black Pacific: Imperialism's Racial Justice and Its Fugitives (New York: New York University Press, 2017), 37-71, 264-67.

Introduction to African American Travel Narratives from Abroad: Mobility and Cultural Work in the Age of Jim Crow

Gary Totten, Introduction to African American Travel Narratives from Abroad: Mobility and Cultural Work in the Age of Jim Crow (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2015), 1-15.

Excerpt from Haunted by Hitler: Liberals, the Left, and the Fight against Fascism in the United States

Christopher Vials, Haunted by Hitler: Liberals, the Left, and the Fight against Fascism in the United States (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2017), 17-24, 239-40.


Reprise Editor's Note

Reprise Editor’s Note for JTAS 8.1

Outside Looking In: Donna Summer's Sound of Munich and David Bowie's Berlin Trilogy

Ulrich Adelt, "Outside Looking In: Donna Summer's Sound of Munich and David Bowie's Berlin Trilogy," in Krautrock: German Music in the Seventies (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016), 129-60, 209-13.

An American in Tangier: Interview with Paul Bowles

Karim Bejjit. "An American in Tangier: Interview with Paul Bowles." Originally published in the Moroccan Cultural Studies Journal (Spring 1999). 

Chapter Two from Global Families: A History of Asian International Adoption in America

Catherine Ceniza Choy, "The Hong Kong Project: Chinese Adoption in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s," in Global Families: A History of Asian International Adoption in the United States (New York and London: New York University Press, 2013), 47-73, notes 190-95.