Keynote Speakers

The CALLIOPE International Conference will include keynote sessions with 4 talks by invited international scholars.
Arthur Asseraf

Arthur Asseraf is Lecturer in the History of France and the Francophone World at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Pembroke College. His research focuses on the history of colonialism and media in North Africa and the Mediterranean. His research has been supported by an Examination Fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford, and from 2021-24 he will be ProFutura Scientia Fellow at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Studies. He is the author of Electric News in Colonial Algeria (2019), as well as several academic and non-academic articles and essays, and is currently working on a history of race in contemporary France.

Arthur Asseraf's keynote speech at CIC2021 is entitled "Nafissa Sid Cara, or, the End of Representation."

Tuesday, May 11, 17:00-18:00 EET


In 1959, Nafissa Sid Cara became the first woman in a government of the French Fifth Republic. For the first time, a woman from the colonies, in this case Algeria, sat it on meetings in the Elysée Palace. Her rise to power, announced with great fanfare in the media, occurred in the middle of the Algerian War, at a time when the French government was attempting to defend its legitimacy. By 1962, Sid Cara was ejected from government and from her parliamentary seat, and sunk into obscurity. Was her brief passage in government just a case of tokenism, an illusion designed to mask the end of colonialism? Or was it a major upheaval in the shape of the French Republic? Paying close attention to the case of Nafissa Sid Cara reveals a wider crisis with the very notion of representation in European politics that went well beyond the history of Algerian women. If we pay close attention to how men saw and heard Sid Cara as well as silenced her and made her invisible, we may begin to use the history of decolonization not to remake representation, but to break it entirely.

Barnita Bagchi

Barnita Bagchi is a feminist translator, literary and cultural critic, and cultural historian. She is an Associate Professor in Comparative Literature at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Educated at Jadavpur University, India, and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, she has published widely on utopia, histories of transnational and women’s education, and women’s writing in western Europe and south Asia. Her publications include a part-translation with introduction, Sultana’s Dream and Padmarag: Two Feminist Utopias, by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (Penguin Classics, 2005), an edited volume, The Politics of the (Im)possible: Utopia and Dystopia Reconsidered (SAGE, 2012),  and an edited volume, Urban Utopias: Memory, Rights, and Speculation (Jadavpur University Press, 2020). She is a Life Member of Clare Hall, at the University of Cambridge, and a member of the Executive Board of the Stichting Praemium Erasmianum, which awards the Erasmus Prize, the Netherlands’ foremost prize for humanistic and social thought.

Barnita Bagchi's keynote speech at CIC2021 is entitled "An Unfinished Song: Listening to Less Heard Voices of Utopia."

Wednesday, May 12, 14:40-16:10 EET


I speak from the 2021 horizon of a feminist Dutch-Indian academic, analysing voices from the archive of colonial-era Indian women’s (and men’s) utopian imagination in entangled perspective with worlds such as Suriname. The transcultural, transnational, and entangled histories approach - relational approaches, examining transmissions, interactions, circulations, and interweaving between nations and cultures, relativizing the national perspective without banishing the category of the nation, and eschewing a view of cultures as sutured and monoclonal - are vital to my talk. The social dreaming of utopia appears in M.K. Gandhi’s ideal of the oceanic circle of villages, while Rabindranath Tagore was titled The Great Utopian by G. Lowes Dickinson. I analyse in my talk i.a. lyrical, musical, spiritual, and poetic dimensions of  the utopias built, not least through writing, by figures, women and men, invested in gender and other kinds of social equity, such as Jyotirao and Savitribai Phule, Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, and Swarnakumari Devi. I juxtapose such utopias to aspects of the work of anti-colonial utopians such as Gandhi, whom I analyse as an important transnational utopian bridge to another extraordinary voice, that of Anton de Kom (who alludes to Gandhi powerfully in his writing) - revolutionary, social dreamer, and poetic narrator of history, important for the histories of Suriname and of the Netherlands, who is, in the 21st century, reimagined in fiction by Surinamese-Dutch women writers like Karin Amatmoekrim, 1976- (De Man van Veel, 2013). I thus attempt to listen to less heard notes in the voices of the gendered subaltern, both male and female, and their utopias.

Ananya Jahanara Kabir

Ananya Jahanara Kabir is Professor of English Literature at King’s College London, focusing on the intersection of the written text with other forms of cultural expression. For her innovative work in the Humanities, she received the Infosys Humanities Prize (2018) and the Humboldt Research Prize, awarded by the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung, Germany.  She is the author of Territory of Desire: Representing the Valley of Kashmir (2009), Partition’s Post-Amnesias: 1947, 1971, and Modern South Asia (2013), and is currently writing ‘Alegropolitics: connecting on the Afromodern Dance Floor.’ Her new research project, ‘Creole Indias’, develops the concept of transoceanic creolization through memory work across the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds. With the author Ari Gautier, she has co-founded the cultural platform, Le Thinnai Kreyol.

Ananya Jahanara Kabir's keynote speech at CIC2021 is entitled "The Song, the Ship, the Dance (and the Text): Indentured Labour’s Alegropolitical Body."

Wednesday, May 12, 14:40-16:10 EET


My keynote lecture will draw on two responses to the system of indentured labour that incited Indians from villages of the peninsular Indian heartland to travel for months by ship across the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans to power the global Plantation economy after the abolition of slavery. The first response is a book of songs for the festival of Holi, composed and compiled by one Lallbihari Sharma who travelled from India to Demerara, British Guyana and recently translated, edited and published by two contemporary Guyanese writers under the title, I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara. The second is a dance piece, Lalla Rookh choreographed by the Dutch hip hop dancer Shailesh Bahoran for a multi-ethnic cast of six who dance into being a kinetic memory of the journey by the first Indian indentured labourers from Calcutta to Surinam, on the ship Lalla Rookh. One cannot flee the Plantation in search of utopia, I argue from my reading of these works; because to be haunted by the Plantation is a condition of modernity. Instead, I use my concept of ‘Alegropolitics’ to suggest that from the conjunction of the ship, the song, and the dance, radical new possibilities arise in and through the body itself. Whether these possibilities are enhanced or hampered by textuality is what my talk intends ultimately to explore.

Sophie White

Sophie White is Professor of American Studies and concurrent Professor in the departments of Africana Studies, History, and Gender Studies at the University of Notre Dame. A native of Mauritius, she is an historian of early America and of the French empire, with an interdisciplinary focus on cultural encounters between Europeans, Africans and Native Americans, and a commitment to Atlantic and global research perspectives.

She is the recipient of seven book prizes for her recent book, Voices of the Enslaved: Love, Labor, and Longing in French Louisiana, including the prestigious Frederick Douglass Book Prize for the most outstanding non-fiction book on slavery published in 2019 and the American Historical Association’s James A. Rawley Book Prize for the best book in Atlantic History. Her other publications include a volume co-edited with Trevor Burnard, Hearing Enslaved Voices: African and Indian Slave Testimony in British and French America, 1700–1848 (2020), a monograph, Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana (2012), as well as 15 essays and articles. She is writing a new book on the genomic and global history of red hair and completing a Digital Humanities Project for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture on “Hearing Slaves Speak in Early America: A Database of Voices of the Voiceless.”

Sophie White's keynote speech at CIC2021 is entitled "Testifying While Black: Recovering Voices of the Enslaved."

Monday, May 10, 17:00-18:00 EET


In eighteenth-century New Orleans, the legal testimony of some 150 enslaved women and men was meticulously recorded and preserved, down to the inclusion of dialogue, of turns of speech, of metaphors, sometimes even passages in creole. Interrogated in criminal trials as defendants, victims, and witnesses, they moved beyond the questions posed and answered instead with stories about themselves, charting their movement between West African, indigenous, and colonial cultures; pronouncing their moral and religious values; and registering their responses to labour, to violence, and, above all, to the intimate romantic and familial bonds they sought to create and protect. Their words created riveting narratives that constitute a precious repository of voices of enslaved individuals in colonial America, testimony that was anchored in the deponent's own experiences and ways of knowing, that was autobiographical because it expressed how individuals looked at their world and how they evaluated it and made sense of it.

Image: Chinese Locksmith, Batavia, C. 1870

Photographs by Isidore van Kinsbergen