Goffe: Collaboration is key to major humanities grants

Two grants, from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Mellon Foundation, are supporting a web of collaborative, public-facing humanities projects initiated by Tao Leigh Goffe, assistant professor of Africana studies and feminist, gender and sexuality studies (FGSS) in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The grants with collaborators, totaling more than $2 million, support Goffe’s goal of making humanities research on digital and in-person channels accessible to both scholars and the public.

Goffe received a $50,000 NEH/AHRC New Directions for Digital Scholarship in Cultural Institutions grant, a joint initiative with matching funds between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), in collaboration with Eddie Bruce-Jones, executive dean in the Birkbeck School of Law, University of London.

During a two-year project on colonialism and indentureship, they will create an interactive website bringing together collections in the United Kingdom and the United States – including some from Cornell University Library – and design programming to introduce scholars and the public to the various digital and physical holdings.

The integrated humanities, law and social science archive is expected to launch by 2024; Goffe and Bruce-Jones hope it will generate new multifaceted scholarship on indentureship and colonialism and increase public knowledge about the topics. The collection will include a wide variety of artifacts, including maps, contracts, ship logs, music, oral histories and even recipes.

An imaginative "map" featuring branch-like figures and bubbles with text
Provided A mangrove-inspired map of South Asian diaspora in the distant future, created by a Cornell Summer Institute seminar led by Tao Leigh Goffe, will be the basis of the home website, designed by Trinidadian Agyei Archer, for an NEH-AHRC archive on the history of British indentureship.

The project relates directly to Goffe’s book project “Black Capital, Chinese Debt,” an examination of the history, culture, and economics of indentureship. Bruce-Jones is also writing a book on the history of indentureship.

“Even though debt has existed as a concept for thousands of years, it was never used to racialize until the 19th century when Asian people were brought often under false pretenses to the Americas to labor on plantations because racial slavery had ended,” Goffe said. “It is a hidden chapter in the history of labor and capital in the Americas.”

Under a $2 million Mellon Foundation grant, Goffe heads two collaborative projects.

Kitchen Marronage is a virtual test kitchen dedicated to helping people understand global foodways, land sovereignty for farmers, nutrition, public health and culinary histories, “an inclusive way for people to consider deeper colonial histories of food plantation production,” Goffe said.

The Kitchen Marronage lab includes chef-in-residence Celestial Peach (British community organizer and cook Jenny Lau) and a terroir specialist-in-residence Patricia Powell (an American novelist). Two doctoral students, Aree Worawongwasu (University of Hawai’i) and Arianna James (University of Pennsylvania), are sous chefs as part of the virtual test kitchen that falls under the umbrella of Afro-Asia Group, which began in 2019 supported by Cornell FGSS and Africana Studies. They are building and producing an archive of food demonstrations and curating an exhibition for 2024 at the gallery Tiger Strikes Asteroid in New York City.

Digital Junkanoo is a curatorial and design studio for researching Carnival cultures, such as those in Brazil, Trinidad and New York, and exploring African-derived rituals. “We have two artists in residence each year, art and tech residencies going to people living in regions severely impacted by climate crisis,” Goffe said.

The two inaugural Digital Junkanoo artists are Nadia Huggins from St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Abigail Hadeed from Trinidad and Tobago. The region has been affected by volcanic eruptions and increasing severity in hurricanes. With Tatyana Tandanpolie, who is the managing editor of Digital Junkanoo and a former student of Goffe’s, the studio will be curating art exhibition on the urgency of climate crisis and how carnival season is a space of intergenerational healing.

A portion of the Mellon grant is earmarked to support graduate fellows financially, intellectually and professionally.

“It is meaningful considering how dire the situation has been with the academic job market in the humanities and to ask, what is our responsibility to these students regarding gainful employment,” Goffe said. “How can we model for future students, that we have much to learn with them as co-creators and collaborators and elevate the work for a broader audience, through the public humanities and digital humanities? We need to incentivize collaboration in the humanities with more funding.”

In spring 2021, Goffe taught a Mellon Collaborative Studies seminar in Architecture, Urbanism and the Humanities in collaboration with the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, which was, she said, “an inspiring space to experiment.” So, too, was the Cornell Migrations Summer Institute, part of the Mellon Just Futures grant led by Shannon Gleeson and others at Cornell.

The research and collaboration supported by Mellon relates to Goffe’s book project “After Eden.” Set to publish in 2024 with Doubleday and Hamish Hamilton, this trade book focuses on the natural, racial and colonial histories of the Caribbean. “The racial crisis and the climate crisis are one and the same. One can’t be solved without the other,” Goffe said.

Read the story in the Cornell Chronicle.

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