Commodity Histories Workshop, 6-7 September

I recently presented a paper about the Liberalism in the Americas project at a workshop at the Open University entitled, ‘AHRC Commodity Histories Project: Networking Workshop 1. Designing a Collaborative Research Web Space: Aims, Plans and Challenges of the Commodity Histories Project’. This workshop was part of a larger AHRC-funded project, Commodity Histories: An Online Space for Collaborative Research, which itself grew out of a collaborative network, Commodities of Empire, led by Dr Sandip Hazareesingh of the Open University and Dr Jonathan Curry-Machado and Professor Jean Stubbs, both Associate Fellows at the Institute for the Study of the Americas.

The workshop brought together digital humanities experts, people leading various kinds of digitisation projects, and those with experience of creating and participating in virtual collaborative research spaces. The aim was to share experiences and discuss challenges in the establishment, maintenance, and success of these digital enterprises to support the development of the Commodity Histories project.

My paper, ‘Liberalism in the Americas: Building an International Network, Digital Library, and Virtual Research Community‘, focused on how to engage the wider academic community in digital projects, and how the Liberalism project, and several other digital projects underway at ISA, have sought to incorporate feedback from projected users of the resources into their design. This helped to stimulate some broader discussion about the merits of different methods of obtaining this feedback. In the early stages of the Liberalism project, we sought advice from our Steering Committee and Advisory Groups - all experts in the field – about which thematic topics, types of documents, and regions of the Americas should be prioritised in the construction of our digital library. So this was very much an expert-led consultation process. Our workshop and lecture series helped to provide additional ongoing feedback from scholars on the content of the digital resources during the academic year 2012-13, and these events also went some way towards incorporating the views of a broader spectrum of potential users of the library, including graduate students.

However, Dr Matthew Alan Hill, who leads the digital project Atlantic Archive: US-UK Relations in an Age of Global War, 1939-1945 at the Institute for the Study of the Americas, took a more open and democratic approach in garnering feedback on the development of his resources. Through an online survey, which is currently open on the Atlantic Archive research hub, anyone can give their views on what themes and document types should be prioritised for the next phase of digitisation. This method has the advantage of casting the net wider in terms of the range of users that would potentially provide feedback for shaping the content of digital resources.

The Commodity Histories workshop participants agreed that considerations of audience were paramount in making the decision as to appropriate methods of feedback and engagement. The Atlantic Archive project, for instance, aims to serve the needs of history school teachers and pupils, as well as undergraduates, graduate students, and scholars working in the field. Due to the vast majority of the documents in the Liberalism in the Americas Digital Archive being available only in the Spanish language, UK secondary schools were not considered a realistic audience for these resources. Consequently, seeking feedback from a more limited audience of graduate students and more advanced scholars seemed quite appropriate in the case of the Liberalism resources. But clearly both approaches could have strengths and weaknesses.

Please do share your thoughts below in the comments section!

The Multiple Faces of Republicanism, University of Warwick, 20 Jan 2012

As our recent workshop on “Liberalism, Monarchy and Empire: Ambiguous Relationships” showed, liberalism did not always, nor necessarily, go hand in hand with republicanism in the Americas in the 19th century. Nevertheless, it was extremely interesting to explore how republican governments, in various different guises, did develop in tandem with liberalism across the continent in a recent symposium at the University of Warwick: “The Multiple Faces of Republicanism: Democracy, Constitutionalism and
Popular Politics in the Hispanic world, 1824-1873″.

Organised by Jordi Roca Vernet, Guy Thomson and Francisco Eissa-Barroso, all members of the Department of History at Warwick, this symposium took place on 20 January 2012 and featured a packed programme and vibrant discussion. As suggested by the participation of several members of the “Liberalism in the Americas” network–including Guy Thomson, Will Fowler, Gregorio Alonso, and Alan Knight–there were numerous points of intersection with our interests in the Liberalism project. In particular,  Thomson and Anthony McFarlane both explored the continued appeal of monarchism, reflecting on many of the same issues that were explored in our workshop on 10 February. Moreover, Gregorio Alonso and Manuel Suárez Cortina both discussed the relationship between Church and State, and tensions between religion and politics in the public sphere, issues that we also intend to assess in our 18 April workshop, “Liberalism and Religion: Secularisation and the Public Sphere in the Americas”. Indeed, we look forward to Alonso’s participation in this event!

Jordi Roca Vernet, meanwhile, discussed the transformation of public space and the public sphere at the turn of the nineteenth century in a transatlantic context, and José Antonio Aguilar Rivera outlined how political thought in Spanish America was part of a broader transatlantic and transnational exchange of ideas. Again, this interest in the transnational dimension of political culture intersected with one of the major research themes of the Liberalism in the Americas project. Tentatively planned to take place in 2013 or 2014, we are designing an international conference on the theme of “Travelling and Translated Liberalisms” with a particular interest in how ideas circulated between North America and Latin America, and how ideas circulated between different parts of Latin America.

Also pointing to one of the research themes central to the future development of the Liberalism project was Will Fowler’s paper on “Popular Liberalism and the Nineteenth-Century Mexican pronunciamiento“. Growing out of his extended research project on Mexican pronunciamientos (which has yielded an extremely useful digital database, as well as numerous publications), this paper challenged the traditional view that this form of protest or petition was centred in elite politicking, by showing how local and popular concerns could be incorporated into some pronunciamientos. The Liberalism project is similarly interested in how non-elite actors engaged with liberal ideas and institutions, such as citizenship, the constitution, elections and so on. Some of these “popular” engagements with liberalism will be addressed in our next workshop on 21 March, “Liberal Constitutionalism in the Americas: Theory and Practice”, and our future programme of events also includes an international conference on “Indigenous and Popular Liberalisms in the Americas,” (to take place in 2013/2014) examining the similarities and differences in the political strategies and identities developed by a range of non-elite actors.

There’s plenty of other related projects and conferences going on in the near future, many of which come out of the bicentennial anniversary of the Cádiz constitution of 1812, which had a major influence on political cultures across the Hispanic World. Visit our useful links page for more information!