Rethinking Key History Concepts in 2020: Modernity and Agency - 16.10.2020

Master Class with Prof Lynn M. Thomas (Washington)

In 2009 and 2016, Thomas published two essays on the historical concepts of modernity and agency. This master class will reconsider these essays in light of writings on these two concepts by historians and anthropologists since then and in light of the global provocations posed by COVID-19. How have historians and anthropologists rethought modernity and agency over the past decade? In what ways is that rethinking useful for understanding our current pandemic as a historical episode and trans-regional process? In what ways might our current circumstances underscore the inadequacies of prior historical approaches?

In this class, we will discuss the concepts of modernity and agency, and how those concepts do or don't relate to the research/dissertation projects that class participants are currently undertaking. To frame the discussion, participants will read four texts in advance. Two are essays authored by Lynn M. Thomas: "Modernity's Failings, Political Claims, and Intermediate Concepts" (2011) and "Historicising Agency" (2016). the other two are pieces by Dipesh Chakrabarty: "The Climate of History: Four Theses" (2008) and Saidiya Hartman: "Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheavals (2019) (selection) that engage - either explicitly or implicitly - with concepts of modernity and agency but from different perspectives.

A few days before the class, participants will be asked to share a short reflection (two or so paragraphs) that in some way draws connections or diconnections between their own work and how the assigned authors consider modernity and agency. Those written reflections will help spark and structure our class discussion. 


Lynn M. Thomas is a Professor of History at the University of Washington, Seattle where she is also an adjunct faculty member in Anthropology and Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies. She is the author of Beneath the Surface: A Transnational History of Skin Lighteners (2020), Politics of the Womb: Women, Reproduction, and the State in Kenya (2003), co-editor of The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization (2008) and Love in Africa (2009), and a former co-editor of theJournal of African History (2010-15).

When and where?

Friday, 16 October 2020, 4-7pm

via ZOOM


Please register via this form no lather than 4 October 2020.

For doctoral students of the University of Basel aiming to achieve ECTS points: additionally via MOnA.