Cultural Histories of the Atlantic World 18th – 21st Centuries
This international collaborative research project is led by a Franco-Brazilian team of scholars in the humanities, social sciences, arts and literature. Its purpose is to produce a Digital Platform for Transatlantic Cultural History, i.e. a digital online encyclopaedia edited in four languages (English, French, Spanish and Portuguese) whose aim is to analyze the cultural dynamics of the Atlantic Area and its central role in the contemporary process of globalization.
The team intends to produce an interconnected history of the contemporary Atlantic Area using the new possibilities offered by the digital support. Led by French and Brazilian teams, in partnership with the University of California-Berkeley, this project will bring together a vast network of researchers in order to analyze the cultural relations between Europe, Africa and the Americas in an interdisciplinary perspective associating historians, anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, specialists of literature, visual arts, theatre and cinema. Reflecting the most recent research and debates, the project engages the question of transatlantic circulations and cultural globalization as well as the process of identification and the role of borders –political, linguistic, cultural, symbolic– which contributed to the creation and the reshaping of major cultural areas since the 18th century.
Transatlantic Cultures is a joint research project involving scholars from universities in France, Brazil, the United States, Mexico, Senegal, and other nations. The Agence Nationale pour la Recherche and the Fundação de Amparo ao Pesquisador do Estado de São Paulo have provided generous funding that has allowed the project to begin its ambitious activities, while the France Berkeley Fund has provided a smaller grant to initiate project activities in the United States.
The project aims to present to the public a connected history of the Atlantic region since 1700 through a series of digitally enhanced analytical essays exploring cultural relations between Europe, Africa, and the Americas. It does so from multidisciplinary perspectives involving historians, anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, musicologists, geographers, as well as specialists in literature, the visual arts, live performance, and cinema. Reflecting current research and debates, the essays will interpret how the circulation of ideas, works, objects, practices, institutions, groups, and individuals across and around the Atlantic World over the past three centuries contributed to the formation of cultural identities, both national and transnational. Contributions explore specific topics that reveal the formation and renewal of major cultural zones as defined by nation states, languages, religions, professional affiliations, and/or ideologies. We pay particular attention to the role of borders and border crossing in shaping transatlantic cultural history.
With a strong emphasis on the historicity of systems of cultural circulation and the many technological and media transformations that have occurred during this period (such as the generalization of print throughout the nineteenth century, the consolidation of mass-media culture in the twentieth century, or the globalization of media cultures at the turn of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries), and taking as its field of investigation the long-established patterns of circulation in the Atlantic World, Transatlantic Cultures will test notions such as “cultural transfer,” “connected history,” “histoire croisée,” “transnational history,” and “cultural zones.” It will offer in-depth investigations of cultural objects and practices gathered into broad thematic categories (visual culture, music, literary movements, performing arts, sports, etc.) and focus on the actors of these exchanges (migrants, exiles, transnational intellectuals, travelers, diplomats, experts, etc.), on the material and immaterial vectors of mediation (books, magazines, journals, plays, movies, songs, blogs, etc.) as well as the impact of cultural industries (production centers, distribution networks, etc.), on public policies and cultural places of transnational cultural sociability (cultural capitals, international exhibitions, scientific conferences, international organizations, festivals of cinema, music or drama, etc.). The project as a whole will be pay special attention to trace the temporal and spatial circumstances shaping the range of appropriations of and/or resistance to the circulation of knowledge, practices and cultural products set in motion.
These elements will allow a deeper analysis of how the spatial circulation of culture has changed since 1700 and has given rise along the way to a wide range of cultural polarities within the Atlantic world. Breaking with the traditional model of a dichotomy between a West European-North American center and African, Caribbean, and Latin American cultural peripheries, the Transatlantic Cultures will focus on the phenomena of circularity and the various (economic, political, symbolic) factors that have contributed to the establishment and renewal of cultural hierarchies between Europe, Africa and the Americas. We will detail the increasing cultural dominance of the North Atlantic and, of course, the issue of the so-called “Americanization” of the region. Yet we will also examine the bonds between African and Latin American countries in the South Atlantic; the intercultural growth of a diasporic Black Atlantic, and the central role of the Caribbean space in connecting a broader transatlantic world, all of which fundamentally affects the way one understands the long history of cultural exchange among Europe, North America, Africa and Latin America. The dissemination and circulation patterns will be debated from a deliberately open-ended perspective that gives priority to the on-going contest of interpretations rather than attempting to present a body of settled, authoritative information.
Transatlantic Cultures will reach the public as an open-access, interactive, online publication. The digital medium makes cross-referencing a crucial tool for scholarship production, communication and access, linking thematic and structural discussions to individual entries. It allows for a more systematic connection of entries often separated by temporal and spatial boundaries. The project will therefore give rise to very different modes and types of writing, from entries on individual countries (e.g., Argentina as a focal point in transatlantic cultural movements since the late eighteenth century) to entries on periods (the 1920s throughout the Atlantic world) through a multiplicity of thematic entries by broad categories (literature, science, religion, sports, music, theater, ports) and detailed entries (Faulkner, the Mormons, soccer, football, telenovelas, etc.) and many other possible combinations. Accessibility and sustainability of data are crucial goals of the project, as well as innovative technical solutions such as a collaborative and preserved Virtual Research Environment (VRE) or “open digital notebook” for development of content and experiments in interlinked essays, connections between primary sources and project productions, and other possibilities for digitally enhanced discovery and historical learning.
Topics in Transatlantic Cultures will play on temporal as well as spatial scales for analyses of the cultural and intercultural making up of the Atlantic area that are both concrete (case studies) and general (comparisons, connections, statistical analysis of exchanges). The project will reflect on crucial structural bonds (political domination, economic dependency, cultural hierarchies) as well as borders (geographical, political, symbolic) that define the Atlantic area. A constant concern with historical evolutions from the age of American revolutions to the present day gives the project temporal scope as spatial scope. The project is also interested in exploring a cross-history of representations and imaginations among regions and aims to promote a far less ethnocentric outlook on remote works through a critical review of how some work has been considered “marginal” to the “main line” of cultural development (including work that “Orientalizes” or exoticizes important production from countries and regions defined as “peripheral”). The project intends to revisit existing research and also to promote further investigations by involving a combination of European, American and African scholars. The approach of international scholarly collaboration achieved through digital innovation offers an important opportunity to break through the academic Eurocentrism that has long governed the study of the Atlantic area.
The project’s longer case studies will offer extended essays on transatlantic cultural circulation. These multi-authored, multimedia, longer-form essays will focus on topics that may be well-known and important in some countries but often overlooked in others. Even with topics that are relatively familiar, such as the internationalization of jazz, a transatlantic approach can foster a debate between strongly contrasting interpretations, from multiple perspectives, using the capacities of digital publishing to emphasize commonalities and differences of approach depending on where scholars are situated and what stories and vantage points they choose to emphasize. For instance, reconceptualizing the internationalization of jazz requires taking stock of how massmedia companies and the African diaspora connected, changed each other, and in the process helped create a new global culture. The variety of connections accessible in a digital framework will enable readers to rethink assumptions about centers and peripheries of cultural “empires.”
In making culture and cultural history the focus of the project, we hope to raiseimportant issues about the way culture speaks to power, justice, democracy, equality, and history itself when it is approached transnationally and globally. We attend both to the persistence of nation-state boundaries and to the moments when nation-state formations have become permeable or their structures have been transcended. Overall, we ask how the many aspects of the “transatlantic” add up. We explore what can be learned about cross-cultural comparison, particularly dynamics of divergence and convergence. And we attend to factors often overlooked in efforts to define difference and similarity both within and across locations, nations, regions, and settings.
The digital platform allows for the project to emerge and change over time in a sustainable, accessible, flexible, and responsive way. It makes it possible to combine various lengths of contributions, allowing writers to develop arguments without artificial limitations of word count. The digital framework also enables the integration of primary sources into analytic essays and narratives in new ways. So too, it can harness the power of multimedia presentation of interpretation in visual, sonic, and interactive modes as well as through traditional written forms, expanding what it means to communicate historical interpretation and, indeed, what writing actually means in the new context of the digital medium. Finally, the database form of the project unleashes the power of machine-driven association, algorithmic exploration, and AI investigation to potentially reveal new and surprising leads, questions, and findings. As the project’s essays, data, metadata, and interconnections build up, we can achieve a scale of contents that brings the capacities of the digital to bear on new findings in cultural material.
Another innovation of the project, in accordance with its subject, is to insist on creating amultilingual platform. All the material published on the project’s website will be available in English and in the original language the author used. As funding permits, the contents will be translated into French, Portuguese, and Spanish as well, creating a rich resource readily available to students and the general public in the countries the project covers. Technical work for the project is centered in France through the support of the French government’s digital humanities research infrastructure Huma-Num (http://www.huma-num.fr/).
Transatlantic Cultures will contribute to scholarly understanding of how intellectual, literary, and artistic work have circulated among Europe, Africa, and the Americas, contributing to cultural diversity as well as the broader processes of economic and political globalization. Innovating in format and digital approaches to research and publication, the project also ambitions, ultimately, to contribute in its turn to the circulation of ideas that has shaped the Atlantic region in the last two centuries.