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CfH Lectures


To ask about the legacies of the Treaty of Utrecht and the abolition of slavery is to ask what it means to inherit a history. How has the contemporary world inherited the histories of slavery and colonialism as well as those of abolition and decolonization? In what ways are contemporary subjects descendants of these histories? Michael Rothberg propose to explore such questions in this talk through the notion of the implicated subject. This deliberately open-ended term is meant to extend beyond the participants generally discussed in discourses on violence, trauma, and restitution: namely, victims and perpetrators. Instead, the notion of implication encompasses a range of differentially situated subjects, including bystanders, beneficiaries, latecomers, and others connected to pasts they did not directly experience and to contemporary contexts that might seem distant. A focus on implicated subjects opens up a broad and murky terrain in which we can locate many dilemmas of remembrance, responsibility, and reparation. This talk considers the challenge of thinking redress at a (temporal) distance by reflecting on the legacies of Atlantic slavery. What can the history and memory of slavery teach us about problems of transnational memory and restitution? What kinds of implication in the history of slavery define contemporary subjects in the Americas, Europe, and Africa? How can we align the differentiated forms of implication of contemporary subjects with claims for justice emanating from the past? Rothberg considers these questions with reference to a variety of materials, including debates about reparations and apologies for slavery and fictional and non-fictional explorations of the history of slavery by Black Atlantic writers such as Octavia Butler, Saidiya Hartman, Jamaica Kincaid, and Caryl Phillips.

The Colonial Legacy Conference examined the colonial and post-colonial heritage of the Treaty of Utrecht and assessed its legacy in contemporary scholarship on human trafficking, in the study of cultural memories of historical traumas, in practices of reconciliation and in popular culture.