New colonialism studies minor to debut this fall

Professor Kamran Rastegar, Professor Lisa Lowe, middle, and Professor Kris Manjapra will spearhead the new colonialism studies minor. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

Expansion. Militarism. Invasion. Occupation. Settlement. Domination. Global displacement and migration. Modes of resistance. According to Associate Professor of History Kris Manjapra, these themes throughout different spaces and times will make up the new colonialism studies minor.

Diverse academic departments have offered courses on the impacts of colonialism, but until now they have never been organized into one coherent program. Starting this fall, Tufts will unite the studies of worldwide colonialism under the new interdisciplinary program.

Manjapra, a faculty leader who helped gain support for the minor, has been tapped as the new program’s director. Manjapra was supported by a coalition of students who petitioned the university for the minor’s creation.

To complete the minor, students are required to complete five courses chosen from a list, each from a different category. In order to gain a strong foundation in understanding the processes and effects of colonialism, students must choose a foundations course — either Decolonization and Postcolonial Thought, co-taught by Manjapra and Professor of English Lisa Lowe, or Viewing the Colonial and the Postcolonial, taught by Kamran Rastegar, the director of the Arabic program.

Both courses are cross-listed — the former under the English and History departments; the latter under Arabic and International Literary and Visual Studies (ILVS).

Junior Dirayati Djaya served as a student liaison during the efforts to get the minor established. A student in Manjapra and Lowe’s course, Djaya organized students who were interested in having the minor at Tufts.

“It was very fascinating to me,” she said. “I’ve had really great classes and professors with really talented and brilliant students, but [Manjapra and Lowe’s] class … really opened up new intellectual horizons for people in the way you critically engage with texts.”

Within one category of the minor, students are able to choose two courses that focus on the same region, along with an additional course of their choice for further study of power relations through cultural, historical,and political realms. The final requirement is a senior capstone project, which can be substituted with an option course.

“[The senior capstone project] could be a written essay, a performance, it could be a website,” Manjapra said. “It could be something interactive, something creative, a piece of music, that allows students to both bring together and incorporate the different directions of their trajectory within colonialism studies, and then also reflect on what they have learned and what it means for, in some ways, both the student and their audience for our contemporary world.”

According to Manjapra, the support behind the minor was a collaborative effort between faculty and students. In December 2013, students organized a petition, which gained approximately 150 signatures in three days. Eventually, the official request for the minor listed about 300 signatures. The program was then unanimously passed in a faculty meeting last year, allowing for its official establishment.

“It’s really important to highlight that getting the minor passed wasn’t so hard for us because of the work so many students did in the past,” Sophia Goodfriend, a junior, said. “I think that paved the way for students like us now to have an easier time to get studies that wouldn’t have passed 20 years ago to be passed.”

The colonialism studies minor’s home, the Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism and Diaspora, will also be new to the university this semester, Manjapra said. This umbrella organization consists of American studies, Africana studies, Latino studies, Asian American studies and colonialism studies, and its goal is to critically study race, migration and settlement throughout the world.

“The International Relations Program, one of the flagship programs at Tufts, has a history of helping students explain how things come together,” Manjapra said. “What we needed was a course of study to complement that, to expose and reveal how inequality came to be systematically produced, especially through ideas about race, gender and culture.”

Because of the minor’s interdisciplinary nature, courses come from a range of departments, including history, English, religion, anthropology, sociology and political science. According to Goodfriend, while it was previously difficult for students to unite their interests under one academic banner, the new minor gives them a greater ability to explore the complexities of their choice of focus.

Djaya agreed that the addition of this minor will be an important part of the Tufts academic experience.

“Everyone is so savvy at Tufts, but students should really take these classes because they contextualize our experience,” Djaya said. “We live in a bubble, in a certain area of time where democracy and capitalism are pretty set, whereas a couple of decades ago these philosophers had discussion[s] that were very much alive and thriving. I think that all Tufts students should be up to date with the forefront of these theories.”

The colonialism studies minor will also utilize more innovative ways of teaching. Manjapra expressed excitement about the prospect of co-teaching these courses in the future with international universities through video chatting. This would not only connect Tufts students to other areas of the world, but also would allow for the exchange of ideas on colonialism’s impact, enhancing students’ understanding of the issues.

Currently, Manjapra’s class has been working with BRAC University in Dhaka, Bangladesh and he hopes to co-teach classes with universities in South Africa, Tanzania, Singapore, Hong Kong, Latin America and Europe in the future.

“It does make a lot of sense when we are studying a phenomenon that is global, that has touched different societies around the world in ways that are different but related, to bring students from these locations together, and to study together,” Manjapra said. “But they are also studying themselves and their locations. They are studying with an understanding of the legacies that have created their own locations.”

According to Manjapra, students can attend two upcoming events for more information. There will be an information session for the colonialism studies minor on Sept. 23, and on Oct. 4, the Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism and Diaspora will hold an inaugural workshop titled “Comparative Colonialisms: Approaches to the Global Humanities.”

Manjapra is looking forward to the opportunities to broaden the student perspective that the new minor will bring.

“By looking through this lens of colonialism we immediately see the Americas, Africa, Asia and the experiences of indigenous peoples in different parts of the world as speaking to each other,” he said. “That is the beginning of a really exciting way of bringing something to the center which has normally been left on the margins … it makes it a more coherent course of study, and we understand what is going on in a more profound way.”