The first-year cohort of doctoral students recently presented their research at the History Department’s annual Hi-Five gathering. Adapted from the University of Queensland’s Three Minute Thesis model, the Hi-Five charges students to put forth a sound, compelling, and accessible distillation of their research. Five first-year History Department students presented their work:
In the fall of 2023 the Emory College of Arts and Sciences will launch the new Center for Native and Indigenous Studies. Cahoon Professor of American History Dr. Malinda Maynor Lowery will serve as the director of the new center, which will also receive support from Emory’s James Weldon Johnson Center for the Study of Race and Difference. The center emerges from – and aims to deepen – a unique collaborative partnership between Emory and the College of the Muscogee Nation (CMN) in Oklahoma centered on the advancement of Native and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) and the preservation of the Mvskoke language. Lowery, who is a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, is the author, most recently, of The Lumbee Indians: An American Struggle (UNC Press, 2018). Read a quote from Dr. Lowery about the new center below, and learn more via the Emory News Center article “New Center for Native and Indigenous Studies set to launch in fall 2023.”
“The launch of the Center for Native and Indigenous Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences will further our partnership with the College of the Muscogee Nation,” says Lowery. “Emory has an incredible opportunity to learn from CMN’s degree program in Native American studies as we develop a new approach for scholarship, teaching and collaboration that centers Indigenous knowledge and values. This approach will advance cutting-edge scholarship and pedagogy in ways that will also promote an education that heals the trauma of dispossession and forced assimilation.”
The Fundação Luso-Americana para o Desenvolvimento (FLAD) (Luso-American Development Foundation) recently awarded 4th-year doctoral candidate Anjuli Webster a research grant. The award will support one month in Lisbon, where Webster will conduct archival research to inform her dissertation, “Fluid Empires: Histories of Environment and Sovereignty in southern Africa, 1750-1900.” Webster’s faculty advisers include Clifton Crais, Mariana P. Candido, Yanna Yannakakis, and Thomas D. Rogers.
Dr. Carol Anderson, Charles Howard Candler Professor of African-American Studies and Associated Faculty in the History Department, was recently the featured guest on ‘One Big Question,’ a podcast hosted by Emory University President Gregory L. Fenves. Anderson and Fenves discuss the production of history, including in the context of Anderson’s multiple award-winning books, along with contemporary developments relating to issues of racial inequity and education. Listen to their full conversation, “An Acclaimed Scholar and Author Defines ‘History,'” and browse previous episodes at the following link: ‘One Big Question.’
Carol Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies at Emory. With scholarly precision as well as an undeniable urgency, she has authored acclaimed and best-selling books that have transformed perceptions by focusing boldly on systemic racism and its influence on voter suppression, gun rights, and much more.
As a historian, she has shed light on episodes of injustice that have been hidden in darkness, amplified voices that had long been silenced, and rewritten chapters on discrimination, disenfranchisement, and destruction that had been torn out of the historical record.
In this episode, Emory University President Gregory L. Fenves talks with Anderson about history—who writes it, how we understand it, and the ways in which it shapes our society today.
Dr. Yanna Yannakakis, Associate Professor of History, recently published her second single-authored monograph, Since Time Immemorial: Native Custom and Law in Colonial Mexico, with Duke University Press. In the latest installment of our New Faculty Books series, Dr. Yannakakis offers a glimpse into the making of this book.
Books are produced over years if not decades. Give us a sense for the lifespan of this book, from initial idea to final edits.
Inspiration for this book came from different directions and over a long period of time. My interest in how Indigenous people in Latin America reconstituted their communities, social norms, and lifeways under Spanish colonial rule led me to graduate school, as did my engagement with Indigenous activists through the Central America solidarity movement. I began doctoral studies in History in the 1990’s when many Latin American nation-states reworked their constitutions to include official recognition of Indigenous customary law (norms rooted in longstanding cultural practices). At the time, this puzzled me since many of those same nation-states were simultaneously implementing neoliberal policies that undercut collective landholding and privatized public goods and resources. Those policies ran contrary to the interests of many Indigenous communities and peasant farmers.
Against this backdrop of events in the present, through my doctoral research, I encountered legal cases in which Indigenous communities in colonial Mexico haggled with one another over land, labor, and resources, justifying their claims in Spanish colonial courts through recourse to ancient custom. These cases raised questions for me about the relationship between colonial history and contemporary realities. Did the customs of the colonial past bear any relation to pre-Hispanic practices or to customary laws of the present? What exactly was Indigenous custom, what were its origins, and who did it serve in different historical moments? How were claims to Native customary law supported and justified? Why did Indigenous litigants argue with one another over custom? What were the long-term effects of customary claims to land, labor, and self-governance by Indigenous communities?
Over the years, starting in the late 1990’s, I kept a file of references to custom that I found in the colonial archives, even though Indigenous custom was not the focus of my dissertation or first book. Meanwhile, I finished my degree, got a job, earned tenure, and my research went in new directions. I was fascinated by translation in colonial legal settings, so I dove into Indigenous language materials produced by the Catholic Church and court records produced by Native authorities in Mexico’s Indigenous languages. I thought I would write a book about law, religion, and translation in cross-cultural context. But I kept circling back to my initial interests and discovered that much of my work on translation could be harnessed to a broader project on Indigenous custom and law, and in the end, this turned out to be true. So the lifespan of this book has been long, and the path of researching and writing it, jagged and circuitous. A number of fellowships provided space to research and write shorter pieces and develop my ideas. I wrote most of the book during the pandemic from May 2020-July 2021 when I had a sabbatical. For some reason, the moment of the pandemic catalyzed all of the work I had done along the way. It was not a straight line from initial idea to book, but I would not have changed the process one bit. All of the years of research on language, law, and translation enriched the final product.
What was the research process like?
So much of the research that nourished this book was collaborative. My interest in Indigenous languages and colonial translation led to a fruitful interdisciplinary collaboration with a socio-linguist and old friend, which resulted in several co-authored articles and chapters and a community-engaged public humanities project in Oaxaca (Mexico), my primary research site. I also worked collaboratively with colleagues at Emory’s Center for Digital Studies (ECDS) and with a talented and dedicated group of graduate research assistants to produce a digital humanities website on law, imperial space, and Indigenous social networks in colonial Mexico, a project that also nourished the book. Alongside my collaborative work, I continued to collect material from archives, libraries, and special collections in the United States, Europe, and Mexico. Serendipity played a role in my research process as well. A few years ago, the judicial archive in Oaxaca began to catalog and make available the notarial records for one of the regions that figures centrally in my book. This was a great boon to the project because it allowed me to research the workings of Indigenous custom at a very local and granular level. And as I discovered new sources, I returned to some older, well known sources — like Mesoamerican pictographic codices and maps – with fresh questions generated by the archives. In sum, my research process was like a spiral of discovery and re-discovery, of pushing beyond my disciplinary boundaries and returning again to the nuts and bolts of history. It also entailed working collaboratively with colleagues and most importantly, with Indigenous communities whose histories feature centrally in my work.
Are you partial to a particular chapter or section?
Each chapter represents a phase in my long and varied research trajectory, so it is hard to decide which I like best. I wrote the last three chapters (five, six, and seven) first, so in many ways they feel like the beating heart of the book. Those chapters draw from notarial and legal records produced in Oaxaca, some of which were written in Indigenous languages and others in Spanish. They treat the most fundamental aspects of customary law and practice in Indigenous communities: self-governance, land tenure, and labor. In each of these chapters, I feature legal cases that unfolded over a long period of time, which allows me to narrate local histories in a sustained way and bring them to life with detailed storytelling. Because of my longstanding connection to Oaxaca, those chapters feel most immediate to me and resonate with my understanding of the region. My interdisciplinary engagement comes to the fore most fully in chapter two, which focuses on language and translation, and chapter three, which engages the Codex Mendoza, one of the most iconic pictographic texts of Mexico’s early colonial period.
How does this project align with your broad research agenda?
In my research, I have worked to complicate overly simplistic understandings of colonial Indigenous histories, which were complex and not given to neat oppositions. Through my research, I have learned that in the context of colonial violence and exploitation, Indigenous individuals and communities developed strategies to protect and pursue varied interests and to secure rights to land and semi-autonomous self-governance. Some of those strategies can be characterized as resistance, others as negotiation, and others as learning to work within colonial systems and institutions, the most important and powerful of which were colonial law and Christianity. Native people adapted these institutions to their needs and objectives and wove them into the fabric of their forms of self-governance, social relations, and everyday lives. Custom – a European juridical category imported by Spanish administrators to the Americas – provides an ideal means through which to explore this process and analyze how Indigenous peoples made legal claims based on the practices of the past to generate new rights for the future.
Dr. Adriana Chira, Assistant Professor of History, published Patchwork Freedoms:Law, Slavery, and Race beyond Cuba’s Plantationswith Cambridge University Press in 2022. The Nineteenth Century Section of the Latin American Studies Association recently recognized Chira`s work with an honorable mention in the category of Premio Mejor Libro (Best Book Prize). Dr. Bianca Premo, Professor of History at Florida International University, described Chira`s work as a “powerful history of claims-making and political identity formation among enslaved and free people of African descent in a key region of the Atlantic world…Chira deftly upturns superficial narratives about the emancipatory nature of liberalism in the nineteenth century.” Chira is among three current or former Emory History Department members recognized by prizes in the 2023 LASA awards cycle.
Congratulations to third-year graduate students Ursula Rall and Ayssa Yamaguti Norek on winning the 2023 Albert J. Beveridge Grant from the American Historical Association. Rall and Norek were among just eleven researchers nationwide to receive the grant, which supports research in the Western hemisphere (the United States, Canada, and Latin America). Emory was the only institution to have two awardees. Rall’s dissertation, advised by Drs. Yanna Yannakakis and Javier Villa-Flores, examines the spatial mobility of Black women within and between Mexico City, Puebla, and Veracruz from roughly 1580 until 1740. Norek’s dissertation, “The incarceration of female political prisoners in Brazil’s Military Dictatorship (1964-1985),” is advised by Drs. Jeffrey Lesser and Thomas D. Rogers.
Despite greater acceptance, Goldstein said Jews in the US didn’t just “become White.” Jewish inclusion into the White mainstream was conditional – accessing the benefits that come with being part of the dominant population often came at the expense of maintaining a distinct ethnic identity. And though society was beginning to see them as White, Jews didn’t necessarily see themselves as that way given their long history of marginalization. So, as they achieved a more secure position in American society, some asserted their differences.
“There was a clash between experiencing this exceptional level of integration and then thinking of yourself as part of an oppressed minority group,” Goldstein added. “There’s always been that contradiction in Jewish identity.”
Books are produced over years if not decades. Give us a sense for the lifespan of this book, from initial idea to final edits.
I found the seeds of this book project when I unexpectedly came across the diaries of an Emory alum, Yun Ch’i-ho ’1893, our first international student. The summer before I began graduate school, I lived with my parents in South Korea. I hoped to use this opportunity to travel and learn more about the country where I had not lived full-time for a decade. I didn’t plan on using that summer to work on any projects. But one day, I read an interesting newspaper article about a late-19th-century Korean reformer who had studied in the United States. Yun is a prominent figure in Korean history, and there was a lot of existing literature, especially in Korean, that explored his career as a reformer in the final years of the Chosun dynasty. But no scholar at the time had paid attention to what made him stand out to me—that he had studied in the American South at the height of Jim Crow (later, in 2014, Professor Andy Urban at Rutgers University would publish the first article focusing on Yun’s student days in the South based on his postdoctoral work with the Transforming Community Project at Emory). I followed the footnotes in existing studies of Yun and learned that a version of his diaries had been published by the National Institute of Korean History (Kuksa Pʻyŏnchʻan Wiwŏnhoe). So I ended up spending much of my summer in Korea reading his diaries, which he kept from 1883 to 1943. After I entered graduate school, I was able to use this source as an entry point to what eventually become the subject of my doctoral dissertation and my book: race, empire, and transpacific encounters between the US and East Asia from the late 19th century to World War II, an era that is often characterized by the American fear of the “Yellow Peril.”
Over the seven years I spent in graduate school, I had many opportunities to make sense of what I read in Yun’s diaries and find other historical figures who had different takes on some of the same problems with which he grappled. This is where coursework proved important. I was extremely lucky to take seminars with Yumi Moon on the problem of collaboration and empire in East Asia, Allyson Hobbs on 20th-century US history, and Vaughn Rasberry on African American literature in the twilight of Jim Crow. Estelle Freedman taught me how to do archival research and write an article-length paper. Shelley Fisher Fishkin did an independent reading course with me and allowed me to closely examine autobiographies, travelogues, and essays written by some of the figures who later ended up in the book.
Serving as a teaching assistant for an Asian American history course taught by my advisor, Gordon H. Chang, was a transformative experience. It enabled me to see, for the first time, that Asian American history was part of a broader history of transpacific relations between the United States and Asian countries. Previously, I had mistakenly thought of Asian American history simply as a history of immigrants navigating the US legal system and making a new home in different parts of the country. Thinking through various issues in Asian American history with my undergraduate students in sections convinced me that a project like mine could make contributions to the fields of Asian American history, immigration history, and political history, in addition to US-East Asia relations. After reading many thought-provoking books for orals, I decided to make the American West, especially California, a central part of my dissertation. I spent many years researching Japanese and Korean American communities in California, as well as the network of white politicians and policymakers who shaped the lives of these communities and US immigration and foreign policies towards East Asia.
Just as I was finishing my dissertation, I was extremely lucky to land the job I have at Emory. But before I started my job, and even before I finished my dissertation, I began to think about how to build on my dissertation to write a more ambitious book, partly because I had a lot of material that I had researched but had no time to incorporate into the dissertation. Thanks to the timely introductions made by two generous scholars in the fields of Asian American history and US political history, I got an opportunity to speak with my editor Susan Ferber at Oxford University Press at a conference, and our hour-long conversation gave me a great road map to making the project simultaneously more ambitious and more focused.
The title—which names the problem of empire’s allure that my book seeks to address from multiple perspectives, from that of US presidents, diplomats, politicians, missionaries, academics, and anti-immigration activists as well as that of American-educated Asian elites in Asia and Asian immigrant community leaders in the United States—came to me quite late, only as I was finishing the version of the manuscript that was sent out to peer reviewers. The title unexpectedly popped up in my head as I was answering a question posed by my students after class. They were curious as to how my time in the South Korean army (which, for better or worse, forced me to take two years off during graduate school) changed my perspective on the world. I explained that I only began to understand during this period that a violent, hierarchical system of governance maintains itself not simply through suppression of dissent. Crucial to its maintenance are various measures that successfully convince those at the bottom of the hierarchy that, as long as they conform to the norms of this system, they can secure their own self-interests within the system. In my opinion, the problem with empires (and other violent systems of hierarchy) isn’t just that they are repressive. They are attractive to both those who profit from the human hierarchy they maintain as well as to those who are trying to climb up the hierarchy. After I finished my mandatory military service, I reinterpreted all the material I had from my dissertation project to figure out why, despite the rich history of anti-colonial movements and anti-racist activism, empires proved so durable during the first half of the 20th century.
Teaching Emory students and living in Atlanta during the first years of the pandemic made me rethink a lot of my core arguments. Revising my dissertation into a book while teaching courses on Asian American history and US-Asian relations helped me place the individual stories constituting my dissertation within historical changes of a larger scale. Working on community events in response to various incidents of anti-Asian violence from 2020 to 2022 pushed me to think more critically about what’s at stake when I speak and write about some of the most painful aspects of history. I finished the final version of my manuscript last summer (copyediting and other parts of the production process occupied much of my attention in the fall), and the book was released, coincidentally, on March 17th, 2023, one day after the second anniversary of the Atlanta Spa Shootings.
What was the research process like?
After encountering Yun Chi’-ho’s diaries, I began to reconstruct the world he navigated, and it was during this process of historical reconstruction that I came to identify other major figures who appear in the book, including (but not limited to) American missionaries and diplomats who shaped US-Japan-Korea relations; American academics and anti-immigration activists who questioned and challenged the nature of this relationship; and Japanese American, Korean American, and African American intellectuals who navigated the same world that Yun encountered but from different positions of power. The archives of these figures were mostly located in California, New England, and Washington D.C., and I had the great fortune of being able to visit the South Korean archives whenever I went to visit my parents over the summer. At a critical juncture during the dissertation writing process, I got to visit Emory’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library to examine Yun Ch’i-ho and Warren Candler’s papers. Little did I know that, years later, I would be getting a job here and that the Rose Library would make the Yun papers available online (https://digital.library.emory.edu/catalog/3655dv42wz-cor) just months before the publication of my book!
Are you partial to a particular chapter or section?
Chapters three and four are special to me because I wrote those two first, and together they anchored the whole project as I developed the book for over a decade. They are also important in that they both exemplify how I address three different areas of historical inquiry that are often treated as separate topics: the lives of Asian immigrants, students, and exiles; the political debates that shaped US immigration policy; and international relations between the United States and Asian countries. It also shows how I ambitiously try to shed new light on topics that have been well covered in existing literature, including the March 1st Movement in Korea that animated a nationwide anti-colonial moment against the Japanese empire in 1919 and the institution of the Immigration Act of 1924 in the United States that barred Japanese immigrants as “aliens ineligible to citizenship.”
Chapter 3 explains why, despite the anti-Japanese immigration movements in the American West from 1905 and on, the United States government worked so hard to maintain a cordial inter-imperial relationship with Japan, especially regarding Korea. American policymakers, diplomats, and academics believed that Koreans were not capable of self-government and needed to be under Japan’s control, just like the Filipinos under US colonial rule and African Americans in the Jim Crow South. So did American missionaries and Woodrow Wilson, the “missionary president” who reshaped US foreign policy based on his faith. When Koreans attempted to reclaim their national independence by appealing to American missionaries and Wilson during the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, their strategy proved unsuccessful. While the United States continued to rule over Filipinos, Japan subdued the anticolonial movement in Korea and deployed stories of white-on-black violence from the United States to discourage Koreans from looking up to the United States as their savior.
Chapter 4 examines how, after World War I, a California nativist lobby led by V. S. McClatchy secured Japanese exclusion in the United States by reframing the immigration debates within an inter-imperial context. Upon returning from his tour of Asia, which included a stop in Korea during the March 1st Movement, McClatchy spread the fear that the Japanese could “colonize” the American West as they had done in places like Korea. His exclusionist lobby then convinced several key members of Congress to see Japan as an exclusionary empire, insisting that Japan was hypocritical to criticize the American desire for exclusion since Japan itself practiced immigration restriction at home, against laborers from Korea and China. Japan’s immigration restriction policy was fundamentally different from what the United States had instituted against various Asians (for example, the Chinese Exclusion Acts and the Immigration Act of 1917). But the existence of Japan’s restrictive immigration policy served as a convenient excuse for Congress to justify the abrogation of the Gentlemen’s Agreement (which had allowed Japan to restrict the outmigration of US-bound working-class immigrants, in exchange for preventing US Congress from passing an immigration law targeting Japanese immigrants as a whole) and the passage of the Immigration Act in 1924 (which allowed the United States to unilaterally prohibit Japanese immigration).
Together, these chapters reveal the intertwined and interdependent nature of “domestic” issues (such as white-on-black violence and anti-Asian immigration movements in the continental United States) and “foreign” issues (such as anti-colonial movements in Asia). By placing empire building and Asian exclusion at the center of its analysis, my book offers a new interpretation of the Progressive Era as well.
How does this project align with your broad research agenda?
This book is part of my larger intellectual journey to think about how ideas about race shape human inequality across the Pacific, and how “domestic” and “foreign” issues influence each other to produce policies that reproduce and reinvent human inequality, both across and within nation states. Everything I write about, in a sense, explores how our limited visions of “progress” have held back our world from becoming more equitable for all and less cruel toward our societies’ most vulnerable populations.
The book also showcases my long interest in intellectuals whose visions of social justice and human progress were animated by their exposure to the world’s different cultures and their own experiences abroad. There is a reason why I begin and end the book with W. E. B. Du Bois and Yun Ch’i-ho. The two had different experiences (the former mostly in the Atlantic World, the latter the Pacific), and the two held different perspectives on the problem of race and empire until World War II. But both approached the struggles that Koreans and African Americans faced as, in Du Bois’ famous phrase, “but a local phase of a global problem.” Probably because I grew up in two different countries, I am drawn to figures who are invested in thinking about problems at the local and national levels within the global context. My nascent second project will follow the lives of several intellectuals who have lived on both sides of the Pacific to understand how they sought to make a difference in their nations and communities by using international comparisons and forming transnational solidarities. I’ve published one article from this project, on the novelist Pearl S. Buck’s campaign to generate popular support for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) during the Great Depression through provocative comparisons between Chinese and white American women (“America’s Gunpowder Women”: Pearl S. Buck and the Struggle for American Feminism, 1937–1941, Pacific Historical Review, 88, no. 2: 175–207.). And I’ve spent this spring working on an article/chapter on Korean Americans who worked as interpreters and advisors to the US military government occupying the southern half of Korea (1945-1948). As I learned through archival research in South Korea this spring, some of them became radicalized by their experiences, criticized the US military violence during the Korean War, and even collaborated with W. E. B. Du Bois on anti-war campaigns during the height of McCarthyism. I hope that, collectively, these individuals’ stories will help us think more critically about our conceptions of “progress” that continue to shape and reshape our world today.