Keynote Speakers

Hester Blum (Pennsylvania State University, Associate Professor of English, President C19: The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists)

"Arctic Dead Letters: Polar Circulation and Ecomedia."

What Blum calls "Arctic dead letters" are the cairn messages, notes in bottles, cached documents, mail, and other periodic circuits of delivery or connection in geophysical spaces that would seem otherwise to frustrate human exchange networks. Polar expeditions were required to leave messages in cairns at regular intervals, in multiple copies, often on pre-printed forms in six languages. Even though thousands of bits of paper were distributed throughout the Arctic in the nineteenth century, it was exceptionally rare for one of these messages to be found or received; most remained in circulation for an open-ended period of time, and may yet emerge today, as ice melts and permafrost thaws. In their risk of annihilating dispersion and their potential for ceaseless drift, Arctic dead letters exemplify the unboundedness of polar ecomedia in its attenuated temporality, randomness, and motility.


Heike Paul (University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Professor and Chair of American Studies)

"The Sensation of Rootedness: Mobility Studies meets Affect Studies"

This talk outlines the history of mobility studies in the past decades and looks at some of its major developments. Presently, the range of phenomena addressed by mobility studies is widening immensely as "mobility" (as well as immobility) is/are used in literal as well as more overtly metaphorical ways. Revisiting the "Cultural Mobility Manifesto" (Greenblatt 2010), it seems that many of its propositions and the realities they refer to have received much scholarly attention - ranging from mobility in "contact zones" to "hidden as well as conspicuous movements of people, objects, images, texts, and ideas" - and the field is in the process of branching out still further. Yet, it is "the sensation of rootedness" that Greenblatt includes in his manifesto, which perhaps relates best to our present moment and to its retrotopian imaginaries of spatial immobility. The latter is at the center of various forms of political mobilization as part of "affective economies" (Ahmed) favoring closure and seems to contradict the American mobility narrative as we know it. 


Mimi Sheller (Drexel University, Director of the Center for Mobilities Research and Policy)

"American Im/Mobilities and Movements for Mobility Justice"

Transatlantic slavery fundamentally shaped (and in many ways, continues to shape) American systems of uneven mobility, differentiated belonging, and unequal rights to dwell and to move freely. In this talk I will connect the history of American Im/Mobilities to the emergence of movements for mobility justice. The field of mobilities research draws on Doreen Massey’s work on “uneven geographies of oppression” to think through how power is “evident in people’s differential abilities to move.” Uneven mobilities operate at the scale of bodily relations, taking the form of differences in gender, race, class, sexuality, and ability within regimes of mobility control. These uneven capabilities for both movement and stillness must be situated explicitly within histories of slavery, colonialism, and patriarchy. Differential capacities for movement and dwelling affect what it means to be human. Yet such bodily relations also suggest counter-geographies of subversive corporeal movement. To understand these subversive moves and new spatial possibilities, we must reconnect the discussion of mobility justice to the corporeal struggles over gendered, sexualized, disabling, classed and racialized mobility regimes. Critical geographer Katherine McKittrick crucially calls attention to black women’s geographies not only as spaces of resistance and negotiation of these moves but also as “areas of working toward more just conceptualizations of space and place.” What would be required to arrive at more just mobilities in America?