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The Andrew W. Mellon Workshops

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With generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the American Academy in Berlin established the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities to advance the research capacity of the Academy and to strengthen collaboration between the US and Germany at both individual and institutional levels.

The Mellon Foundation is funding two fellowships each year, in an initial three-year commitment, for projects on the topics of migration and social integration, race in comparative perspective, and exile and return. In addition to the public lecture or other events offered by the Mellon Fellow while in residence, the Academy also convenes a weeklong, interdisciplinary workshop in January (for the fall fellow) and in June (for the spring fellow), thereby enhancing transatlantic dialogue and networks. Approximately a dozen workshop participants also take part in a public event, hosted in cooperation with an institutional partner. We are grateful for the myriad contributions from the Institute of Cultural Inquiry and the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, who hosted the public workshop events in our inaugural year of Mellon Foundation funding.

Workshop I: "Double Exposures" (January 2019)

The inaugural Andrew W. Mellon Workshop, “Double Exposures: Resource Extraction, Labor, and Migration in Africa, Germany, and the United States,” organized by fall 2018 Andrew W. Mellon Fellow Rosalind Morris, a professor of anthropology at Columbia University, took place during the week of January 7, 2019. The workshop explored the realities and representations of work and migration associated with mining and natural resource extraction in Africa. (Morris delivered a lecture on this subject during the fall 2018 semester and published a photo-essay in the Berlin Journal.) Participants included interdisciplinary scholars, artists, and critics with a range of regional expertise focused on southern Africa, Germany, and the US.

The workshop explored the idea of the extraction of natural resources—from precious metals to fossil fuels—which resides at the core of a global drive to “recolonize” Africa. Although the organization of migrant labor within Africa was the keystone of much colonial administrative theory and practice, the displacement and radical unsettlement that they induced is rarely discussed in relation to the over-arching question of movement out of Africa today. Once again, Africa is the terrain on which new developments in the idea of the extractive economy are being elaborated—and once again this extraction pertains both to resources and persons, encompassing not only what some scholars term “accumulation via dispossession,” but also the reification of bodies and the commodification of labor. Migration and conditions of prolonged displacement (and opposition to them) have emerged as the most significant components of political discourse almost everywhere in the world, particularly in Europe and the United States, with Africa often imagined as a source of especially illegitimate migratory ambition.

This Mellon workshop thus sought to engage these three regions comparatively but also according to the histories of their triangulation, from the deep history in which Africa has figured as a source of value and scene for the elaboration of Euro-American race discourse to the current global economy with its flows of materials and persons. With regard to contemporary tensions, the workshop sought as well to move beyond the crisis-paradigm grounded in the opposition of involuntary refugees to willful migrants.

On the evening of January 7, 2019, ICI Berlin hosted a screening of Rosalind Morris’s film The Gamblers, which was followed by a conversation between the Morris and Philippe Leonard, the film’s video editor and 16-mm film artist.

Workshop II: "Phonographic Knowledge and the African Past" (June 2019)

From June 3 to 7, 2019, the Academy’s second Mellon Fellow, Ronald Radano, a professor of African cultural studies and music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, chaired the workshop “Phonographic Knowledge and the African Past: Sonic Afterlives of Slavery and Colonialism.” (He delivered a lecture on this topic during the spring 2019 semester and wrote an essay for the Berlin Journal.) The interdisciplinary group examined the role of phonographic archives today in how we remember our past, how we think about African history, and how the topic is addressed in a transatlantic context. During visits to the Phonogram Archive at the Ethnological Museum and the Sound Archive of the Humboldt-Universität, the group also met with German counterparts.

On June 6, 2019, Radano moderated an evening public event, “Scratching against the Kaboom and Blare of Trumpets,” held at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. South African composers Philip Miller and Thuthuka Sibisi as well as Rosalind Morris explored the music and sonic landscape created in collaboration with William Kentridge for the multimedia performance “The Head and the Load,” about the participation of African countries in the First World War.

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