CANCELED: Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism
In her book, Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism (Verso Books, 2019), Ariella Aïsha Azoulay asks the reader to recognize the imperial foundations of knowledge and to refuse its strictures and its many violences. She argues that the institutions that make our world, from archives and museums to ideas of sovereignty and human rights to history itself, are all dependent on imperial modes of thinking. Imperialism has segmented populations into differentially governed groups, continually emphasizes the possibility of progress while it tries to destroy what came before, and voraciously seeks out the new by sealing the past away in dusty archival boxes and the glass vitrines of museums.
By practicing what she calls potential history, Azoulay argues that we can still refuse the original imperial violence that shattered communities, lives, and worlds, from native peoples in the Americas at the moment of conquest to the Congo ruled by Belgium's brutal King Léopold II; from dispossessed Palestinians in 1948 to displaced refugees in our own day. In Potential History, Azoulay travels alongside historical companions — an old Palestinian man who refused to leave his village in 1948, an anonymous woman in war-ravaged Berlin, looted objects and documents torn from their worlds and now housed in archives and museums — to chart the ways imperialism has sought to order time, space, and politics.
Azoulay is a professor of comparative literature and modern culture and media at Brown University, as well as a curator and documentary filmmaker. Her recent books include Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism (2019); Civil Imagination: The Political Ontology of Photography (2012); From Palestine to Israel: A Photographic Record of Destruction and State Formation, 1947—1950 (2011); and The Civil Contract of Photography (2008). She is the curator of the exhibitions Errata (Fundació Antoni Tàpies, 2019); Act of State 1967—2007 (Centre Pompidou, 2016); Enough! The Natural Violence of the New World Order (F/Stop festival, Leipzig, 2016); and The Natural History of Rape (Pembroke Hall, Brown University, 2016).
This event is organized by Assistant Professor Samia Henni, history of architecture, and cosponsored by the Central New York Humanities Corridor Working Group "Urban Humanities," The Department of Architecture, The Department of History of Art and Visual Studies, and The Department of Comparative Literature.
Ariella Azoulay, Brown University