Research Projects & Collaborations

At the center of this project is the controversy about the “Indian lid,” a phrase that emerged from the lexicon of Minnesota’s Progressive temperance reformers in the United States around 1905. It referred to prohibitionist efforts to enforce the anti-liquor provisions contained in the land cession treaties between the federal government and the largest indigenous group in Minnesota, the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe), from the 1850s and 1860s. The “Indian lid” controversy has received scant scholarly attention. In the very few existing studies, it has been framed as a legal strategy and set of efforts pursued by white, Anglo-American Progressive reformers to suppress alcohol among Minnesota’s settlers and Anishinaabeg. In these studies, the latter are portrayed as objects of reform and passive bystanders in a controversy fought among white people.

The project sets out to explore the complex ways in which the campaigns and debates about the “Indian lid” in Minnesota between 1905 and 1916intersected with efforts to work through the massive legal uncertainties the 1887 General Allotment Act and ensuing laws and litigation had produced. These uncertainties largely centered on: 1. the question of “Indian citizenship,” 2. the definition of “Indian country/territory,” 3. issues of jurisdiction: the rights of the state versus the rights of the U.S. government to regulate the sale of intoxicating liquor on the territory covered by the land cession treaties. The “Indian lid” controversy functioned as a burning glass in that it concentrated various strands of opinions held by a multitude of Native and non-Native actors in Minnesota and all over the nation onto a single issue (the sale and consumption of alcohol) in a clearly bounded locale (the area covered by the land cession treaties).

The project contributes to American Studies and related fields engaged in the study of history and its theorization in two ways. First, it unearths the pivotal role of the “Indian lid” for local and national debates about how to incorporate Native lands and lives into settler colonial legal and political frameworks and modes of territoriality. Second, the central objective and particular challenge of this project is the restoring, amplifying, and centering of Native voices in their complexity and heterogeneity. The heuristic value of the project thus lies not only in its production of historical knowledge, but also in its objective to develop a new transdisciplinary apparatus of theories, methods, and research strategies that supports scholars in their efforts to give voice to historical actors who have largely been silenced, or even excluded from, the settler-generated and -dominated archive. Articulating an intensely interdisciplinary approach, the project combines methods and insights from Literary and Cultural Studies (esp. American Studies, Native Studies, Critical Indigenous Studies), Historical Studies, with perspectives from Critical and Cultural Legal Studies.


Project Funding:

German Research Foundation (2024-2027), ME 4712/2-1

Prof. Dr. Sabine N. Meyer

Sonic Colonialism and Indigenous Resistance in American and Anglophone Caribbean Literature

The project seeks to shed light on the ways in which sound can be considered a central instrument of empire and colonial governance. Based on Mary Louise Pratt's idea of “seeing-man” “whose imperial eyes passively look out and possess,” it is to reflect on the significance of the “hearing-man” for the colonization of North America and the Anglophone Caribbean. Representations of sound in colonial travel narratives, ethnographic depictions, and colonial histories provide insights into the colonial categorization of ‘New World’ “sounds” into “structured sounds” and “unstructured sounds”; into agreeable, civilized vs. disagreeable, “primitive” sounds. As a second step, the project sets out to explore the mechanisms through which these sonic categorizations became the basis of colonial orders and hierarchies and implemented inequalities between colonizer and colonized. And thirdly, it seeks to investigate the function of sound as a mode of resistance to imperial hegemony. The project thus contributes to the theorization of the inextricable intertwinement of coloniality, constructions of race and ethnicity, and colonial identities with sound and practices of hearing/listening.

Prof. Dr. Sabine N. Meyer

Entangled Lives, Entangled Freedom(s): The Transformative Potential of Contemporary Black Indigenous Expression

This project engages with the rapidly growing, diverse body of work produced since the turn of the 21st century by writers, artists, activists identifying as African Native American/Black Indigenous. The corpus of materials examined includes: literature across the genres; artwork and museum exhibitions; films/documentaries; various forms of online content. This corpus of materials will be approached with a particular eye to how it negotiates dominant legal discourses that have defined Black and Indigenous as two mutually exclusive categories of classification/identification and have hence written Black Indigenous subjectivities out of existence. However, the project also shows that by creating a wide array of textual, artistic, and online productions, Black Indigenous artists and activists have set out to create alternative forms of subjectivity that challenge, subvert, or even reject the dominant subject positions imposed upon them via law.

The proposed project operates at the intersection of the disciplines of Native and Indigenous Studies, Black Studies/African American Studies, as well as Critical Legal Studies. It critically interrogates the theories developed by scholars in these fields – theories engaging with Blackness, indigeneity, fungibility/(in)alienability of body/land, recognition, sovereignty – and places them into conversation with critical legal understandings of the law as indeterminate, as facilitating structures of domination and oppression, and as a discourse creating sets of subjectivities for marginalized groups that serve the interests of those in power.

Project Funding:

Feodor Lynen Research Fellowhsip for Experienced Researchers (2023-2025), Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, host institution: University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

Prof. Dr. Sabine Sielke

"Memory, Mediation, Seriality: Re-cognizing Literary and Cultural Studies, Re-membering the Subject":

Taking off from three central concepts of cultural analysis – memory, mediation, and seriality – the project interfaces methods and research questions of cultural studies and the cognitive sciences and explores the potential of such transdisciplinary dialogue for our sense of cultural practice. What issues relevant to current cultural studies can be interrogated at the crossroads with the cognitive sciences? And in what ways can cultural analysis and cognition research be mutually instrumental?
Since both constructivism (which relegates the materiality of the body and cognition to the periphery of its perspectives) and current brain research (which cannot adequately account for consciousness and individual experience by way of neurophysiology) position the subject as nodal point and blind spot of their inquiries conceptions of subjectivity are central to my study. After all, both the subject and modes of perception are continuously being redesigned by a complex ever-shifting media ecology. My analyses therefore focus on phenomena such as cinematic adaptations of literary texts, advertisements, and computer tomography which, as transformations of canonized late 19th- and early 20th-century cultural practices, mediate new processes of perception rather than modes of cultural memory. What, however, would it mean for cultural studies to acknowledge and “re-member” the subject as an agent whose main faculty is to transform fragmented experiences into coherence?

The project is funded by the German Research Council.

Prof. Dr. Sabine Sielke

"Science into Narrative"

"Science into Narrative" explores how contemporary US-American fiction, including novels by Michael Crichton, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Richard Powers, among others, translates science into narrative and thereby foregrounds how some scientific endeavors are continuous with literary discourse while others, clearly resisting narrative, are not. In this way American literature calls for more radically transdisciplinary readings while also exposing the limits of transdisciplinarity.

Coordinators: Dr. Katharina Fackler and Dr. Nathalie Aghoro

The research network “The Cultural Politics of Reconciliation'' investigates literary and artistic engagements with reconciliation in the USA and Canada. It proceeds from the observation that “reconciliation” has become a frequently used key term in North American public discourse. The network’s goal is a first stocktaking of the ways in which reconciliation is imagined and critiqued in cultural representations in Canada and the United States. While reconciliation efforts have traditionally been aimed at so-called transitional countries, whose political, legal, and social institutions are fundamentally transformed, this network focuses on nontransitional societies in North America where institutional structures persist as social and political actors are trying to find ways to overcome the legacies of historical injustice and institutionalized inequality. The network’s aim is to break new ground for American Studies by exploring the aesthetics and poetics of reconciliation and its discontents with respect to slavery, abolition, imperialism, settler colonialism, and decolonization. The network examines how literary and cultural interventions complement institutional, economic, and legal approaches to reconciliation and seeks out critical debates about the meaning of and possibility for reconciliation as a comprehensive project for civil society. Members place these representations and debates in conversation with theories from critical ethnic studies, Black-Indigenous studies, and decolonial studies to gauge the depth and meaning of their engagement with the structural production of social inequality.

The Zentrum für Kulturwissenschaft/Cultural Studies is one of the research centers of the University of Bonn and aims at interdisciplinary dialogues and scholarly joint ventures – in both teaching and research – between the fields of literary and cultural studies, political science, sociology, history, ethnography, and media studies.

From 2012-18, Prof. Dr. Sabine Sielke acted as the center's spokesperson. Under her directorship, the focus was mainly on the project "Nostalgie: Zeit-Räume, Affekte, Warenkultur".

Before it was terminated in the summer of 2012, the Forum initiated and promoted interdisciplinary dialogues on central issues and research areas of current women and gender studies. Under the directorship of Prof. Dr. Sabine Sielke, it organized panel discussions, lectures, conferences, symposia, and exhibitions and engaged in publication projects, thus making accessible trends in women and gender studies to both academic audiences and a wider public.

The North American Studies Program supported the work of the research network “The Futures of (European) American Studies.” The network was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) from June 2005 to January 2008. Its fifteen members, young American Studies scholars and cultural historians from various German and international universities, set out to explore the ongoing repositioning of the field as well as the institutional challenges and opportunities that accompany its paradigmatic shifts.

Situating itself within the prominent debate over the futures of American Studies as it had been promoted by scholars in the U.S. and in Europe, the name of the network drew on the title of Donald Pease and Robyn Wiegman’s volume The Futures of American Studies (2002). It also adopted the thematic framework of the symposium annually hosted by Pease at Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH. At the same time, the network sought to recontextualize and critically assess this markedly U.S. American debate from ‘the outside,’ asking how it may be translated into European contexts of research and teaching.

The network organized conferences on “Positioning American Studies” (July 2005), “The New Americanists” (January 2006), “Internationalizing American Studies” (July 2006), and “American Studies as Media Studies” (February 2007), "Inter/Transdisciplinarity" (June 2007), and "American Studies in Germany" (January 2008). Among the guests at these conferences were Winfried Siemerling, Paul Lauter, Walter Benn Michaels, Robyn Wiegman, and Joseph Tabbi.

Established in October 1995, the German-Canadian Centre is the result of a successful collaboration of the North American Studies Program at the University of Bonn, the German-Canadian Association (DKG), and the Canadian Embassy which has generously supported the centre ever since. The German-Canadian Centre acts as a forum for the discussion of current cultural, political, and economic issues involved in German-Canadian relations while at the same time aiming to intensify German-Canadian relations through its contacts to a variety of Canadian institutions and partner universities. In part by way of its cooperation with the German-Canadian Association we encourage an interested public from outside the university to engage in this particular intercultural and transatlantic exchange.

As part of a joint venture, the North American Studies Program and the German-Canadian Centre define North American studies at the University of Bonn as comparative studies. The continuity of Canadian and Comparative North American studies in Bonn is ascertained by having a Visiting Assistant Professor join the faculty each year. This position rotates among the disciplines engaged in the North American Studies Program and has in recent years been reserved for young Canadian academics. So far we have enjoyed the expertise of, among others, Hugh Thorburn (Political Science, Queen's University), David G. Haglund (Political Science, Queen's University), Eva-Marie Kröller (English & Canadian Literature, University of British Columbia), Robert MacKinnon (Geography, University College of the Cariboo), Dawn Farrow (Sociology, University College of the Cariboo), Meghan McKinnie (Linguistics, Grant McEwan University), Anne Gagnon (History, University College of the Cariboo), Christine Straehle (Political Science, McGill University), Christine Hantel-Fraser (University of Victoria), Oliver Schmittke (Political Science, University of Victoria), Ian Rae (English, McGill University), Mark McCutcheon (English, University of Guelph, Ottawa), Timothy Kaposy (Cultural Studies, McMaster University), Katherine Verhagen Rodis (English, University of Toronto), Andrew Pendakis (Cultural Studies, McMaster University), and Justin Sully (Cultural Studies, Queen's University).

We also invite authors, among them Yann Martel, and experts from various public institutions and private businesses for lectures and events and organise symposia which are open to the public. The symposia have so far focused on "Competitiveness in Germany and Canada: Wages and Indirect Labour Costs" (1996), "Canadian Investments in Germany and German Investments in Canada" (1997), "Margaret Atwood" (1998), "Regionalism" (1999), "First Nations: Cultures and Literatures" (2000), "Ecology and Sustainability: Canadian Perspectives" (2002), "Film Across the Borders: Zooming in on Canadian Cinema" (2004), "Canadian Popular Cultures: Tune in on Canadian Music" (2004), "Canada and Cultures of Innovation" (2005), "Attention! Provocations on the Culture of Canadian Visual Forms" (2008), "Organic Material: the Many Threads of Canadian Book History" (2009), and "Complicating Canada" (2010).

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