Irina Spector-Marks

  • Fellowship year:2015-2016
  • University: University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: International and Global
  • Dissertation Title: Circuits of Imperial Citizenship: Indian Print Culture and the Politics of Race, 1890-1914
  • My dissertation analyzes the way in which Indian immigrants in South Africa and Canada claimed to be "imperial citizens" as a political and cultural identity in response to anti-Indian legislation in the white settler colonies.  Although imperial citizenship did not exist in British law, it was nonetheless recognized as an identity that carried racial and civilization overtones.  While Europeans attempted to draw a sharp line between black and white, Indians from a variety of political backgrounds challenged that boundary, with the physical movement of their transgressive bodies across national borders and through their assertions of racial and cultural identities (e.g., Aryan or British) that challenged existing racial hierarchies.  Paradoxically, Indians' claims to imperial citizenship rested on disavowing racism while at the same time adroitly maneuvering within existing racial hierarchies.  My dissertation offers a close reading of the discourse of imperial citizenship as it appeared in Indian periodicals, pamphlets, and petitions in South Africa, Canada, India, and Britain.  The discourse of imperial citizenship emerged out of a transnational print sphere; yet despite this shared print culture, imperial citizenship functioned very differently in the racial politics of South Africa and Canada.  Through research that is attentive to the fraught interaction between local and transnational politics, I explore how conditions in the two colonies precluded the possibility of political solidarity even as a transnational print culture encouraged the presence of an ostensibly shared discourse of imperial citizenship.  This approach nuances the recent "transnational turn" in the humanities by emphasizing the role of local factors in shaping larger global politics.  Through an analysis of the complexities and contradictions of Indian activists' assertions of imperial citizenship, my dissertation sheds light on historical trajectories of nationalism, whiteness, and the nature of citizenship in an age of global migration.