Students Explore Discourses and Practices of Militarization in the Global South

Working group meeting

Are there trends in the types of sociopolitical violence that have characterized social movements after the Arab Spring? How has this violence been represented in the media and in popular culture? What are the legal and political consequences of such representations?

Renee Michelle Ragin and Giulia RiccòThese questions fascinated Duke University doctoral students Renée Michelle Ragin (Literature) and Giulia Riccò (Romance Studies). Inviting other graduate students to join them in an interdisciplinary exploration, they created a working group called The Global South after 2010: Epistemologies of Militarization. Guided by their faculty sponsors Deborah Jenson and miriam cooke, Ragin and Riccò received a Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks (D-SIGN) grant for use in 2017-2018. Here are excerpts from their year-end report.

We began the activities of our working group with an outreach meeting in September 2017. During this session, we selected the themes for the group’s workshops. We also began coordinating with the codirectors of the Global South Lab at the Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures at the University of Virginia (UVA). Our introduction came as a result of our participation in the Academy of Global Humanities’ summer school program, hosted by the University of Bologna and cosponsored by Duke and UVA.

The Extravagance of Drones

drones workshop flyerThanks to our outreach, we secured UVA Professor Camilla Fojas as the presenter and facilitator of our October 2017 workshop on the use of drone surveillance on the US-Mexico border. We realized that having a subject-matter expert assign the reading and moderate the workshop yielded more productive conversations than when we simply structured the workshop around readings we selected. After this event, we took Professor Fojas to dinner, at which time she extended an invitation to come to UVA and organize a workshop on epistemologies of militarization.

In November, we began circulating the call for papers for our colloquium and reaching out to possible keynote speakers. We contacted a Duke alumnus, Professor Paul Amar at UC Santa Barbara, who is the director of graduate studies in the Department of Global Studies. He accepted enthusiastically; his areas of study, which encompass both Brazil and the Middle East, speak to our combined interests, and his current research on new forms of militarism and paramilitarism in Brazil aligned with the working group’s mission.

Militarization, Statelessness, and Refugees in the Global South

The third meeting of the working group took place during the first week of December. We invited two Duke professors, Ranjana Khanna (English, Literature, and Women’s Studies) and Robin Kirk (Human Rights Center and Cultural Anthropology), to speak about refugees and the space of the refugee camp.

Their different disciplinary backgrounds allowed us to work toward an interdisciplinary understanding of issues surrounding militarization in the contemporary world. Indeed, as the working group progressed, we realized how important it was to focus on ensuring that our understanding and interpretation of militarization encompassed its myriad forms in the contemporary moment. Through these workshops we were able to identify what militarization looks like today, and where we encounter it.

Translation and Publishing in the Global South

January workshop In January 2018, we collaborated with Sylvia Miller, director of the Publishing Humanities Initiative at the Franklin Humanities Institute, to organize a day-long symposium dedicated to publishing and translating in the Global South. This symposium shifted the focus of our working group on to questions of who produces knowledge in and about the Global South. It also offered Duke graduate students working on the Global South the opportunity to find out more about career options available to them as a result of a panel that included representatives of the three major academic presses in the area (UNC Press, Duke University Press, and Oxford University Press).

Giulia Riccò and Renee Michelle Ragin at UVAThe keynote speaker, Professor Juan Obarrio from John Hopkins University, introduced the new Duke University Press journal series he launched with Professor Achille Mbembe, which is dedicated to highlighting critical thinkers from the Global South. Professor Obarrio is now a contributing author to a special issue of a journal, which we are editing and will be released in summer 2019.

Our February 2018 trip to UVA pushed us to reflect on our findings, while giving us a receptive forum in which to test our ideas. We used our talk at UVA as an opportunity to pilot ideas for a cowritten research article, and the positive response we received encourage us to expand our ambitions and find a journal willing to allow us to serve as coeditors for a special issue on contemporary militarization.

Also in February, we supported Duke Professor Shai Ginsburg’s conference Emergency Legal Cultures: British Imperial Cultures. The working group was officially listed as a sponsor and we served as the respondents for the two panels.

Re-Membering Torture

The last workshop took place in March 2018 and featured Professor Shahla Talebi from Arizona State University and her graduate student, Diana Coleman. We discussed the role of the torturers in black sites such as Guantanamo, and read excerpts from Darius Rejali’s Torture and Democracy.

Epistemologies of Militarization in the Global South After 2010

colloquium flyerOn April 12 and 13 we hosted our colloquium. We chose a seminar-style format with precirculated papers in order to give us ample time to discuss participants’ research throughout the day. It was an intellectually stimulating experience and left us with provocative questions that we are addressing in our cowriting.

One of the colloquium respondents, Duke Professor Michaeline Crichlow, offered us the opportunity to curate a special issue of Cultural Dynamics: Insurgent Scholarship on Culture, Politics, and Power. The title of the issue is “Epistemologies of Militarization in the Global South,” and is forthcoming in June 2019.

It includes two papers from the colloquium, and contributions from several working group collaborators, including Camilla Fojas (UVA), Juan Obarrio (John Hopkins), and Diana Coleman (Arizona State). The article that we are cowriting is going to be the introduction for the issue.

About D-SIGN

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages graduate students to explore beyond disciplinary lines, both in research and coursework. The goal is to enable graduate students to build or extend their networks and to integrate collaborative, cross-school experiences into their programs, thereby increasing the number of individuals whose graduate training reflects Duke’s commitment to interdisciplinarity and knowledge in the service of society.

  • See who else received D-SIGN grants in 2017-2018.


Photos: Working group meeting; Renée Michelle Ragin and Giulia Riccò; drones workshop flyer; Translation and Publishing in the Global South event; Riccò and Ragin at UVA; colloquium flyer

Two Perspectives on How Bass Connections Benefits Graduate Students

Bass Connections team in Brazil

In a new video from The Graduate School, two Ph.D. students discuss how participating in a Bass Connections project, The Cost of Opportunity? Higher Education in the Baixada Fluminense, has helped them with their own research.

“I originally conceived of my own research as being a separate project from Bass Connections,” said Gray Kidd, a Ph.D. student in History. “The more that I’ve worked with this project, looking at access to higher education on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, I realize that being involved with this project and then having my own dissertation work, they’re actually coming together in unanticipated but really fascinating ways.”

Stephanie Reist is pursuing a Ph.D. in Romance Studies and a master’s in Public Policy. “As someone who’s interested in romance studies and Portuguese and Latin American culture and public policy, I have very broad interests,” she said. “So picking a dissertation project, I could go anywhere. Bass Connections helped me focus and recognize that I already have this body of knowledge, and now I’m currently participating in a research project that lets me build on that and integrate it into my own research.” Her work looks at center-periphery dynamics, urban belonging, and Black cultural production in Rio’s Baixada Fluminense suburbs.

Kidd noted that his participation has given him valuable experience as an instructor. “Often times it’s not until the fourth, fifth, sixth, or even seventh year that people have the ability to pilot a course and have a trial run with students. I think it’s helped me grow quite a bit in terms of communicating expectations, coming up with research questions, piloting assignments that are a bit different—not research papers, not exams. As a third-year [student], this has given me a set of experiences that others do not have.”

Graduate students play pivotal roles within Bass Connections projects, in which students at all levels collaborate with faculty, postdocs, and outside experts on interdisciplinary research that tackles complex societal challenges. Because the teams include faculty and undergraduates, who are often most familiar with a lecturer-learner model, graduate students often become facilitators who serve as project managers and additional mentors for undergraduate students.

“The ongoing mentoring relationship has been very rewarding,” Reist noted. She won the Bass Connections Award for Outstanding Mentorship last year.

For graduate and professional students, benefits of participating in Bass Connections include:

  • Enhancing dissertation or master’s thesis research (see examples)
  • Co-authoring publications
  • Deepening relationships with key faculty
  • Gaining project management experience and opportunities for funding
  • Accessing professional development resources
  • Honing career-enhancing skills to stand out on the job market
  • Networking with colleagues in diverse fields
  • Getting experience mentoring others, particularly undergraduates.

Browse stories from Ph.D. and master’s students on their Bass Connections experiences.

Eight Doctoral Students Receive Internships through Versatile Humanists

Eight Duke Ph.D. students have been selected for internships in Summer or Fall 2017 through Versatile Humanists at Duke (VH@Duke), an initiative to prepare Duke doctoral students in the humanities and interpretive social sciences for transformative roles in higher education and beyond.

The VH@Duke internship program provides Ph.D. students with exposure to work experiences, organizations and professions relevant to their scholarly interests. The internship experiences are designed to enrich students’ dissertations and further prepare them for both academic and nonacademic jobs. Students can apply for internships at preidentified partner organizations or propose their own internship.

VH@Duke is funded by a three-year Next Generation Ph.D. Implementation Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition to internships, VH@Duke also provides opportunities and resources such as innovation grants for curriculum enhancement, collaborative research experiences and one-to-one advising for Ph.D. students.

The application period for the next cycle of VH@Duke internships will open in Fall 2017. Students who are considering proposing their own internships are encouraged to contact Maria LaMonaca Wisdom ( for preliminary feedback.

The 2017 VH@Duke interns are:

BanellaLaura Banella, Romance Studies (Summer)

Banella is interning with the International Society for the Study of Medieval Culture (SISMEL), a nonprofit research and cultural institute located in Florence, Italy. SISMEL’s mission is to promote and support the study of medieval culture. In her role at SISMEL, Banella will help build research and bibliographic databases and organize programs and events.

GoldsmithWilliam Goldsmith, History (Summer)

Goldsmith will be interning with RTI International, an independent nonprofit institute dedicated to improving the human condition by applying interdisciplinary research to complex scientific and social challenges. In his role, Goldsmith will work with RTI’s Innovation Led Economic Growth team, engaging in research, writing and policy analysis.

LazarYael Lazar, Religion (Fall)

Lazar is interning with the National Humanities Center (NHC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to advanced study in all areas of the humanities. She will be curating a digital online resource for the NHC’s “Humanities Moments” campaign and helping to support local and national outreach components of the initiative.

NunnNora Nunn, English (Summer)

Nunn is also interning with the National Humanities Center.  She will be working with researchers in the NHC’s Trans-Pacific Teacher-Scholars Program to develop interactive, inquiry-based classroom materials to align with the upcoming commemorations and anniversaries of the American Vietnam War.

SmithNathan Smith, Literature (Summer)

Smith is interning with Mono No Aware, a nonprofit community film organization based in Brooklyn, New York. Mono No Aware’s mission is to build community through the experience of the moving image. In his internship, Smith will be setting up and facilitating film workshops, supporting fundraising activities and creating a film of his own.

StadlerJohn Stadler, Literature (Summer)

Stadler will be interning with The Cupboard Pamphlet, a micropublisher of creative prose based in Littleton, Colorado. In his role at The Cupboard Pamphlet, Stadler will cultivate the publication’s expanding catalogue and engage in research of new literary markets and opportunities.

VenturaRafael Ventura, Philosophy (Fall)

Ventura will be interning with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. During his internship, he will work closely with the museum’s Community Engagement team, supporting outreach efforts through event management, program development and public relations.

YoungAshley Rose Young, History (Summer)

Young will be interning with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. She will be curating an update to one of the museum’s exhibits—Food: Transforming the American Table—and working in the Archives Center.

Originally posted on Versatile Humanists at Duke

Duke Professor Takes an Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding the History of a Musical Instrument


From its origins in Africa to its evolutions in the Caribbean and US, the banjo has a long and rich history—but one that’s “frustratingly hard to get at,” says Laurent Dubois, professor of romance studies and history at Duke.

“When you get into what we call black music or Afro-Atlantic music, it’s 600 years of currents of exchange,” Dubois says, “and for most of the history it was never written down. It’s extremely rare before the 19th century that’s there’s any written music.”

Dubois, who specializes in the history and culture of the Atlantic world and who also plays the banjo, set out to produce a book about the history of the instrument. Recognizing that formal training in music and ethnomusicology would enrich his work, he applied for a New Directions Fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

dubois_cmsThese prestigious fellowships assist humanities faculty who seek training in areas outside their specialties. About a dozen scholars are selected annually and can spend up to three years pursuing new areas of knowledge.

The first Duke faculty member to be selected, Dubois received the fellowship in 2010 and began taking classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke. “It allowed me to slow down and become a student again,” he says.

It wasn’t easy. At Duke “I took a music theory class and found it extremely challenging,” he laughs. “It was an undergraduate course and I was by far the slowest student, but I learned a ton.” He participated in graduate seminars at UNC with David Garcia and at Duke with Louise Meintjes and Paul Berliner. “Those were really interesting departures for me,” he says, pointing to one class that bridged the pra

ctice of music—he learned to play the mbira, an African thumb piano—with “highly theoretical questions of how we think about music across cultures.”

When he began his book project, Dubois planned to use written archives to write about discourses around music. “Being able to take these classes really reconfigured that,” he notes, “so that the music itself became much more central.”

He also spent time working with instrument makers. “A couple of the biggest insights in the book came out of that dialogue and helped me understand big historical things like why instruments were made in certain ways at certain times.”

Yet writing about music is a strange thing, he says, since music transcends the limits of language. “The reconfiguration of thinking that I went through because of the fellowship made me realize I could only do certain things in the digital form, precisely because I wanted to move beyond just using words.”

Therefore he capitalized on the fellowship’s flexibility to expand into digital projects, which he hadn’t planned. This time he sought out Duke students rather than faculty experts. In partnership with Mary Caton Lingold, a doctoral student in English, and David Garner, a doctoral student in music composition, he created a website called Banjology. The site aims to share research along with musical transcription and analysis and to serve as a resource for musicians.

Most banjo songs had never been written out, Dubois notes, and he relished the rich discussions about how to transcribe them. “That was incredibly interesting. Certainly both of them have taught me probably more than they’ve learned from me.”

banjo-in-african-diaspora30His journey also led to new collaborations with faculty. “I deepened my connections with people in the music department, and I discovered how many people at Duke are musicians or have music as part of their practice. I started collaborating with Mark Anthony Neal, who writes a lot about music, and Cecelia Conway at Appalachian State. I did an event in New Orleans that involved putting African musicians and New Orleans musicians in dialogue with scholars. That was great. It created a set of connections for me that are ongoing.”

New Directions Fellowships are intended to be long-term investments in scholars’ intellectual range and productivity. “What the fellowship encouraged me to do was just slow down,” says Dubois, “to explore areas and to understand the fields of music, music theory, ethnomusicology…and I ended up discovering this whole field called organology, the study of musical instruments. All those sorts of things will probably influence me long term, and I can point students to these resources.”

Dubois earned an interdisciplinary doctorate in history and anthropology and has been “quite interdisciplinary all along,” he says. But the fellowship more deeply anchored his sense of what it means to work across disciplines.

“The prestige and support offered by the fellowship gave me a sense of freedom and space to explore,” he notes, “and helped to embolden me in terms of my approaches and ambitions for my work.”

Dubois’s book on the Afro-Atlantic history of the banjo will be published this Spring by Harvard University Press. “I think my book took longer to write because of the fellowship, and as a result it is a lot better in the end,” he adds.

Looking ahead, he thinks his teaching and research “will be much more musical and cultural than before. I feel much more comfortable doing that kind of work. I was a musician before, but this gave me a much richer spectrum of ways of thinking about it.”

Photo 1: Dubois onstage at an event hosted by Duke University Libraries at Fullsteam Brewery about the history of the banjo; courtesy of Duke University Libraries; Photos 2 and 3 courtesy of Laurent Dubois