IGHERT Project Workshop at the Institute for Humanities Research

Reflections on the first IGHERT Seminar by Eva-Maria Müller and Snežana Vuletić

From University of California, Santa Cruz, 19-20 September 2014

“Going to the mountains is going home”, said John Muir, the American naturalist and author, who has profoundly shaped the categories through which many Americans understand their relationship with the natural world. Muir is the founding figure of the America national park movement and some of the most unique ecosystems in California are named in honour of his intellectual imprint to the environmental movement. Our participation in the IGHERT workshop at the University of California, Santa Cruz, a campus that nestles in the sanctuary of the redwood forests, was not just a physical journey into the wilderness of the American West, but also a journey that explored the depth and breadth of those concepts that have so thoroughly influenced our notions of home, belonging, and being indigenous.

Therefore, going to the California woods for the IGHERT kick-off workshop in September 2014 entailed a valuable reinvestigation of the concept of indigeneity and confronted us with the most critical questions of our research projects. The IGHERT program, a transnational and transdisciplinary network for graduate student training funded by the Andrew W. Mellon foundation, brings together faculty, doctoral students, and postdoctoral scholars from four humanities centres across the globe in order to investigate how the notion ofindigeneity is challenged and has to be (re)defined in the twenty-first century. The GCSC is one of the centres participating in the three-year pilot programme for an innovative international model in Integrative Graduate Humanities Education and Research Training(IGHERT). In addition to a critical investigation of transnationality, migration, and human/non-human belonging in a variety of contexts, the IGHERT programme understands itself as a network that fosters an internationalisation of PhD education in the humanities.


Coming from three different continents and four universities (University of CaliforniaSanta Cruz, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Australian National University in Canberra, and University of Giessen), each of the participating institutions brought with them a particular view on the concept of indigeneity and a certain expertise in graduate student training, thus making the overall discussion in Santa Cruz exceptionally lively and productive. Apart from direct members of the IGHERT project team, the workshop gathered a number of prominent guest lecturers, such as Shelly Errington, Elisabeth Cameron, John Weber, as well as UCSC doctoral students, whose contribution to the discussions on indigeneity was of immense value.

On a conceptual level, a plethora of theoretical and methodological approaches to this highly debated concept was discussed intensively over the two-day workshop. Exemplary discussions of a wide range of contemporary works on indigeneity (e.g., James Clifford’s Returns, Miranda Johnson’s “Making History Public”, Faye Ginsburg’s “Aboriginal Media and the Australian Imaginary”) strived both for the critical analysis of the concept and the examination of the multiplicity of its meanings and definitions that one encounters in different temporal and/or geographical contexts. The great variety in approaches became most apparent in the doctoral student project presentations and discussions, which addressed questions ranging from issues of identity in Nigeria and the commodification of indigeneity in mountain tourism to a critical reflection on Indigenous Australian phrenology.

The following is an overview of highlights of the workshop which echoes the plethora of issues addressed:

The first day of the IGHERT workshop, Friday, September 19th, was dedicated to getting acquainted with the research foci of the respective research institutions, the fields of expertise of faculty members, and the graduate students’ projects. On Friday morning, Tyrus Miller, Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of Santa Cruz, and Nathaniel Deutsch, Director of the Institute for Humanities Research at UCSC, welcomed all network members and opened the workshop with a presentation on the research foci and the kind of infrastructure that the University of Santa Cruz brings to an interdisciplinary and international discussion ofindigeneity. The faculty members from Canberra, Milwaukee, and Giessen followed with similar presentations in which they highlighted their areas of academic expertise and suggested how the centres might work together; not only in rethinking the concept of indigeneity but also in improving graduate student professionalization.

Attention then turned to the graduate students, as they laid out the key arguments of their projects in 3-minute presentations in which questions surrounding ‘belonging’ took shape in the form of totem poles, city maps, and childhood stories. In the afternoon, a collaborative learning exercise brought faculty and graduate students together in a small-group discussion of key texts on indigeneity and narrativity, which served the purpose of establishing a common conceptual basis for the group’s further work. Academic discussions then moved to possible modes of application, when the museum curators, multi-media artists, and professors – Shelly Errington, Elisabeth Cameron, and John Weber – opened ways of thinking differently about indigeneity in a public context during an open plenary discussion. Before the day ended with an informal dinner overlooking Monterey Bay, network members discussed possible and productive methods of continuing conversations virtually.

The IGHERT research project is not only dedicated to promoting research on indigeneity but first and foremost seeks to optimize graduate student training, which is why the individual PhD projects received full attention during much of Saturday, September 20th. In pairs, one faculty member and one graduate student gave a critical response to research prospectuses that were submitted prior to the meeting. This was followed by an extensive Q&A session during which the graduate students discussed possible challenges of the proposed projects with all faculty members and peers. Since the University of Santa Cruz is home to one of the most influential contemporary anthropologists, James Clifford, participants were able to attend an inspiring interview with Clifford on his latest book Returns: How to Become Indigenous in the Twenty-First Century. The workshop closed with a technology panel during which affiliated graduate students Anita Chang and Fabiola Hanna, presented their work, which integrates digital intelligence, indigeneity, and narrativity, and thus shed new light on how indigenous research can receive public attention and involvement. It also suggested ways as to how members can continue conversations online until the next IGHERT workshop.

After two very intense days of stimulating discussions, the IGHERT project team has established a base from which to further explore the concept of indigeneity in and beyond individual projects and in and beyond home institutions. We are already looking forward to continuing conversations in Australia in August 2015.


Originally published by Universitat Giessen Graduate Centre

Posted in Plenary Sessions, Student Reflection and tagged , .