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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Transnational Port Cultures: A Useful Reframing?

Jack Tchen, George Chauncey.

A generation of scholarship on subaltern publics has left us with a keener sense of how dominant historical narratives of the nation need to be rewritten from a subaltern perspective. But it has also left us at a standstill. How do we explore the complex interactions among subaltern groups and the transcommunal circulation of cultural practices and politics that have shaped and even helped constitute these "groups" as surely as their interactions with the dominant culture? And how do we come to terms analytically with the consequences of globalization? How do we reconceptualize localities normally studied as discrete and stable entities as nodes in the transnational circulation of identities, cultural forms, political ideologies, and state forms?
Can these sites of earlier and present day lived locations of globalizations become useful places to cultivate critical awareness and coalitions for a more democratic, human, and sustainable international vision? What impact might such shared communities of memory and interest have on local coalitions and international activism? Can those working with communities of color, women, immigrants, workers, or gays develop their local port culture history to useful effect? Furthermore, how can a variety of port culture experiences be identified, problematized, compared, and related?
This workshop will explore these issues with an initial focus on New York City as a historical and post 9-11 case study. However, the goal of the session will be to ask participants to think with us about how their and our work on multiple sites can be productively -- and with all due specificity -- considered within a port/border culture perspective.


Jack Tchen  (United States)

New York University

John Kuo Wei Tchen is a historian and cultural activist. Tchen is the founding director of the A/P/A (Asian/Pacific/American) Studies Program and Institute at New York University. He is an Associate Professor of the Gallatin School for Individualized Study and the History Department of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences. In 1980, he co-founded the New York Chinatown History Project. Recently renamed the Museum of Chinese in the Americas, the museum has broadened its scope to document, analyze, and compare the diaspora of settlers and sojourners in the Caribbean, along with north, central and south America.
Dr. Tchen’s most recent book is the award-winning New York before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776-1882(Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999). He has authored Genthe's Photographs of San Francisco's Old Chinatown (1984) that won an American Book Award and he has edited and introduced Paul C. P. Siu's classic study The Chinese Laundryman: A Study of Social Isolation (1987). He is currently writing a book on New York City as a port culture.

George Chauncey  (United States)

History Department
The University of Chicago

George Chauncey is Professor of History at the University of Chicago and the author of Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (Basic, 1994), which won the Organization of American Historians’ Turner and Curti Awards, as well as the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and Lambda Literary Award. He is also the coeditor of Hidden From History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past; Thinking Sexuality Transnationally; and Gender Histories and Heresies, and is currently completing The Strange Career of the Closet: Gay Culture, Consciousness, and Politics from the Second World War to the Gay Liberation Era.

  • Subaltern
  • Publics
  • Cosmopolitan
  • Port culture
  • Maritime culture
  • Border culture
  • Globalization
  • Translocal
  • Transnational
  • Hybrid subjectivities
  • Post-colonial
  • Racialization
  • Sexuality

(60 min Workshop, English)