Do you have a flag?

I had not planned to write a post this week, but I feel that I need to highlight something very central to the way I approached these readings that I could not organically insert in a comment, and also share this important video.

As someone interested in nationalism and how national identity is created, I am forever investigating the idea of a “national government” or “nation state”, how borders are drawn, by whom, and how they define and change the group(s) contained within or those excluded. The questions I continued to ask as I was reading Mapping the Caribbean were: Whose sovereignty? What do we mean by sovereignty here? 

The project “seeks to foreground the analytical importance and predominance of nonindependent societies while also rethinking how sovereignty itself can be imagined, conceptualized, theorized, and visualized beyond the constraints of Western cartography”, but it only directly addresses sovereignty in the end, as part of the challenges of this process. This is not by accident. The authors’ aim is to represent sovereignty as a “historically contingent claim” and not as an ontological value, but this is not really possible to present on a map that must rely on independence as a “solid and equivalent state.” 

One of the most satisfying moments in the piece was reading that “In her previous research about Guadeloupe, Yarimar found that local activists viewed the search for sovereignty not as the attainment of nation-state status but as the ability to exert control over elements that impacted daily life…”This reminded me of conversations had in this course about the open and experimental nature of DH projects, and how much is learned from failure during experimentation. This bit of information speaks to the historic and cultural nature of sovereignty, that challenges the frame of the nation state, in a way that the outcome of the project (the map) cannot (for now).

The map is a tremendous tool, and it helped me acquire a general understanding of the political timeline of a region I know very little about, but also to realize the potential that this and similar projects hold in challenging and enriching a conversation about nationalism and national identity.

4 thoughts on “Do you have a flag?

  1. Asma N.

    This was an interesting clip because it centers the irrationality behind conquest, sovereignty (when thinking about the former as a system), and white supremacy. I’m wondering how this really landed with the audience after the show.

    I felt Yarimar’s observation here to be important, too, but more poignant because it speaks to negotiations Caribbeans are forced to make with sovereignty. And it’s conceivable. It’s no mistake that many independences occurred in the late 60s onward, as globalization gradually increased with each decade that followed. It forced many Caribbeans out of their newer contexts for work, goods, etc. given the political and economic constraints deliberately placed on newly-independent countries of the region.

    I’m wondering if you could expand on what you mean when you draw the parallel between Yarimar’s observations and class discussion, and state it is connected to the “nature” of sovereignty.

  2. Maggi Delgado

    Lola, I really enjoyed your piece and the video you provided. In my Digital Pedagogy class we just a lesson on teaching decolonization and post colonial style of teaching. It reminded me of how we are taught about “conquests” vs. “invasions”. Due to who gets to draw the maps, who gets to teach it, and how this information gets taught, it determines our definition of sovereignty. Check out this resource from my Pedagogy course on how this DH mapping project help Puerto Rico during hurricane Maria:

  3. Lola Shehu Post author

    A big problem they faced in this project is that they must rely on defined political entities in the Caribbean, which are predicated on the idea of nation states. This inevitably reproduces the “normative understandings of political sovereignty” that they are out to challenge. But, it was through limitations like this one and others they encountered in the process of creating the map, that some direction on how and where to look for a retheorizing of sovereignty emerged.
    I was immediately reminded of the Torn Apart/Separados project and (I think) Brianna’s post where she wrote about the value of failure. It seems to me that in this very collaborative DH projects we consistently learn as much from the process and the failures that we do from the finished product.

  4. Bianca F.-C. Calabresi (she/they)

    Lola, I love this post! I had a similar reaction to the site, which I thought was remarkable for its openness to its failures but limited by starting with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 as an origin point of the modern nation-state. I wish the authors could create a “prequel” to this project: that would map the simultaneous imagining of nation-states and the shifting borders, definitions, and communities of the Caribbean starting with Hispaniola in 1492. That clichéd but still foundational original moment marks not just the arrival of Europeans in what would become the Americas, but the end to Al Andaluz as a means to the creation of a centralized Iberian monarchy, the death of one of the stronger pseudo-republican leaders of an Italian city state (Lorenzo de Medici) which led directly to the “Italian Wars” between emergent French and Spanish nations, and the expulsion from all “Spanish” territories (including those in “Italy”–south of Rome) of all non-Christians (“heretics”). Is there a way to map contemporaneously the formation of the imagined communities of what becomes “Europe” and the shifting configurations of the Caribbeans: including the Taino/Arawak divide that figures so largely in the early accounts of the “Encounter” between “Europe” and the “Americas”? (Sorry for all the scare quotes but–as you pointed out–how does one even visualize or speak of such entities without giving them ontological reality?)

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