Institute of Historical Studies
Institute of Historical Studies

"Agency and Action” Series Highlights New Research on Socialism and Collectivism

Wed, October 30, 2019
Background image: Detail of “Our Lady” courtesy of Ladies Fancywork Society, Denver, CO, for “Collectivism” exhibit at Center for Visual Art at the Metropolitan State University of Denver. Info below.

Story by Tiana Wilson, Graduate Research Assistant, Institute for Historical Studies, and Doctoral Candidate in History, University of Texas at Austin.

From the time the term was coined in the nineteenth century, “socialism” has been a protean concept, and remains so today. As part of our “Collectives and Commons” theme this year, the Institute will present a five-part series titled “Agency and Action: Chapters in Socialist and Collectivist History.” The series examines socialist activity and practice in widely different twentieth-century contexts across the globe. Institute director Miriam Bodian notes that there are important implications for the present. “Especially at a time when ‘socialism’ has been reduced to an abstraction for so many, this series aims to illustrate the variety of forms socialist activity has taken in response to particular historical circumstances.”

Dr. Ali Nabours, instructor at McNeese State University launched the series with a workshop to discuss her new project. Building on her dissertation, “The Jeffersonian Huey Long: The Rise of Southern Socialism” under the supervision of Nancy Isenberg of Louisiana State University, Dr. Nabours argues that Huey Long used sources of authority associated with Southern conservatism to advocate for an inherently socialistic program.

Coming up is a panel discussion on events in the year 1919 by UT Austin faculty members. Jonathan Brown, Sabine Hake, Minkah Makalani, Petre Petrov, and moderator Benjamin Claude Brower will discuss “1919: Four Key Moments in Radical History,” examining different sites of struggle, including Germany, Russia, the Afro-Atlantic world, and Argentina. The panel will analyze how, across the globe, the forces of revolution and counter-revolution competed in the wake of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution.

The series continues next semester with a talk on “Libertarian Noir: Oceans, Islands, and Exit from Decolonization to the Digital Age” by Dr. Raymond Craib, Professor of History at Cornell University. Dr. Craib’s presentation is part of a book-in-progress on the history of efforts, dating from roughly 1960 to the present, to create libertarian autonomous zones and territorialized forms of private governance in a world still structured around nation-state sovereignty.

From the 1940s to the 1970s, as part of the project of decolonization, leaders and thinkers in late colonial or postcolonial states developed strikingly new conceptions of socialism – conceptions that were distinct and often at odds with European ones. A panel on “Postcolonial Socialisms in Perspective” will explore this phenomenon as it emerged in three contexts: the Arab world, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa. Presenters include Yoav Di-Capua, Professor of History at UT Austin, Joshua Frens-String, Assistant Professor of History at UT-Austin and Priya Lal, Associate Professor of History at Boston College. Dr. Frens-String notes that “over the last decade or so, there has been a resurgent popular interest in socialist ideas in many parts of the world, including in the US. As such, now is an especially relevant moment for scholars to revisit concrete historical experiences with different socialist practices. Many countries in the Global South offer important examples to consider given socialism's long and varied history there.”  

The series concludes on March 11, 2020 with the panel discussion, “Socialism in Practice: Three Twentieth-Century Cases.” UT Austin faculty members Nicole Burrowes, Assistant Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies, Karen Grumberg, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, and Julia Mickenberg, Professor of American Studies, will explore socialist activity and practice in three widely different twentieth-century historical contexts.

“I’m looking forward to the seminar on comparative socialisms because I’m excited about putting some of my own research into conversation with that of other scholars working on this topic from different perspectives,” says Dr. Mickenberg. “Much of my work has dealt with socialism in the broadest sense of the effort to distribute wealth and privilege more equitably. But a recurring theme within that rubric is a contrast between the ideal of socialism and the realities when there is an attempt to put socialism into practice, especially as that played out in the Communist Party. Are there moments, however, fleeting, of reality living up to the ideal?”  

Several of the talks and panel presentations will be recorded and posted on the IHS Media page in the coming academic year. View a full line of the Fall and Spring programs at the Institute for Historical Studies on the calendar page and follow IHS on Twitter and Facebook to learn more about the “Agency and Action” series and other events.

Background image above: Detail of “Our Lady” courtesy of Ladies Fancywork Society, Denver, CO. Large-scale crocheted sculptural intervention on display at the Center for Visual Art, Metropolitan State University of Denver, as part of the CVA's “Collectivism” exhibit.

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