Episode 14: Decolonization and Asia


One night in Bangkok makes a hard man tremble.” Weird concept musicals by Abba members aside, Asia is a place that many in the West have a fairly Orientalist relationship with, seeing it as both exotic and primitive. In today’s episode, we explore that relationship; starting with the French “restoration” of Angkor Wat, we move on to the naming of countries and map making. Includes some digressions on CSI, lese-mageste laws, the play Cambodian Rock Band, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. If you’re not a regular reader of the notes, be sure to at least check out note 20 (around 1:10:40) for transcription of a bit that had to be cut because of recording issues.

Notes, Annotations, and Corrections

1/ Jesse: If anyone is wondering, the CSI:Miami episode is “Man Down,” season 5, episode 15 (aired in February 2007).

Em: Sir Archibald Mapsalot III.

2/ Emily: “So, Asia… uh… It’s really big.”

About Mongolia: There’s a lot of China that is farther west than Mongolia, but you could also say the same thing for a lot of South/Southeast Asia–China is very big. Technically, the US Department of State classes it as East Asia, but I don’t believe the UW-Madison Department of East Asian Languages and Literature had anything to do with it (go figure). Arguably it has more in common with a lot of Central Asia owing to having been ruled by various Steppe nomad tribes–although come to that, China was as well, and–

Anyway, enjoy this song by the premiere heavy metal band of Mongolia, the HU. [Great song!–Jesse]

3/ Anthony Reid’s Wikipedia page has a list of his publications. Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce vols. I and II are the ones that I read.

4/ The lese-majeste laws in Thailand basically limit what can be said about the royal family (as well as royal development projects, the royal institution, the entire Chakri dynasty, and any previous Thai king). Every couple of years, there’s a big case of some foreigner being brought up on charges for drunkenly punching a portrait of the king or stepping on a bank note or something. Unclear how this will change under the new king (Rama X), who is not as beloved as his father was. There have been a bunch of higher profile cases recently (a lot more protests recently).

The King Never Smiles, by Paul M. Handley, was an unauthorized biography of Rama IX (Bhumibol) and did not paint him in a good light (I believe it cast some doubt on the official story of how he came to be king as well–although other biographers, including the authorized biographer William Stevenson, have also proposed weird theories and gotten their books banned as a result). If all of this sounds very mysterious, go read Ananda Mahidol’s (Rama VIII) Wikipedia page.

5/ The mysterious book about Thai prisons may have been The Damage Done by Warren Fellows, but “Thai Prison Memoirs” is an entire genre–here’s a list of several. Note that they are disturbing.

QI clip about prison. [Most of QI is hilarious. This clip is not!–Jesse]

6/ Siem Reap, Cambodia. Lovely place. Be careful not to wander through random fields and be careful going out late at night–one of the unfortunate legacies of the various wars Southeast Asia has faced (both the Viet Nam War and the Khmer Rouge takeover) is that there are unexploded mines and other ordinance in many places–I believe Cambodia has the highest ratio of amputees per capita in the world because of this.

Em’s entire shpiel about Angkor is largely drawn from Penny Edwards, Cambodge, University of Hawai’i Press, 2008. Amazon link.

French Indochina was Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

Three major types of Buddhism:

  1. Mahayana Buddhism (e.g., Zen): Anyone can become enlightened through meditation.
  2. Theravada Buddhism: We will support the monks so they can become enlightened. The good karma this generates will allow us to be reborn and become monks to become enlightened.
  3. Vajrayana Buddhism (e.g., Tibetan, like the Dalai Lama): Kind of Mahayana, kind of its own thing. It’s–weird. (Like, intentionally weird stuff–a lot of esoteric rituals.)

In general, you get Mahayana Buddhism in China, the Koreas, and Japan; Theravada Buddhism in mainland SE Asia + Sri Lanka; and Vajrayana Buddhsim in Tibet and its mountainous border regions (Northern India, Nepal, Bhutan), and also in Mongolia, Tuva, and parts of Western China (the Steppes, including, oddly enough, Kalmykia–a Russian federal subject with the population of Madison that is the only place in Europe where Buddhism is the most-practiced religion).

7/ Columbusing: Discovering Things for White People. [Reverse Columbusing is usually just assimilation. 🙁 –Jesse]

Old joke: What did Watson and Crick discover?
Answer: Rosalind Franklin’s research notes. [Love this, glad we could use it here!–Jesse]

8/ “There were Khmer people living in Cambodia…” Worth noting, though Em explains a bit later on that Siem Reap was not part of Cambodia when Mouhout found it, that the capital had been moved from Siem Reap to Oudong (not directly–it moved all over the place), possibly as a result of the war with Thailand that led to Cambodia losing the Siem Reap area in the first place. In 1865, the capital was moved again to Phnom Penh, where it remains to this day.

9/ For more on icons, see episode 10.

10/ The whole Khmer Rouge situation was way more complex than can be summarized here. (And I [Em] didn’t really want to talk about it in the episode, because there’s a TON of legit history in Cambodia, and not everything has to be about the KR.) But I think we talked about it enough that I should provide a few resources…I am trying to think of how I learned about it…and the answer is really when I visited the Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) in Cambodia, that was sort of when I started to find out about it (there was a bar that showed a documentary that I wound up watching too, and the next day I think I went to Tuol Sleng–there are a lot of really well-documented sites in Phnom Penh). But since flying to Phnom Penh is not a great option at the moment, you might want to check out this virtual exhibit by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The cliff notes version is something like:

  • The Khmer Rouge were a radical Communist/Marxist group that took over Cambodia in 1975 and held power until 1979. Saloth Sar, alias Pol Pot, was its leader.
  • Unlike other Communist groups in the region (like the North Vietnamese), the KR had this weird ideology that focused on the rural peasantry and a rejection of technology/intellectualism.
  • The KR was a brutal regime that singled out and killed intellectuals, city residents, religious practitioners (of any religion, I believe), and Cham and Vietnamese minorities. Even wearing glasses was enough to get you sent to one of their prisons, where you would be interrogated, tortured, and killed.
  • In 1979, the Vietnamese government got tired of Cambodian incursions into Vietnam and launched an attack, eventually toppling the regime. Although foreign journalists had been writing about the situation well before that (see, for example, the film The Killing Fields), the international community did nothing, and some intellectuals (like Noam Chomsky) actually denounced refugees, saying they were anti-Communist and therefore clearly lying about their experiences.
  • The KR were largely never brought to justice–Saloth Sar died in 1998, having been imprisoned on house arrest for about nine months, and many KR members continued to serve in the government of Cambodia for a long time. However, relatively recently a few of the surviving members of the regime were convicted by a UN tribunal. Part of the problem was apparently finding a definition of genocide that would include most of the people Cambodia killed (about one to three million people in all, about a fifth of the population of the country), but exclude “the killing of a specific class of people,” which would also have implicated Stalin (and thus made Russia–part of the international court–angry). My former colleague Dr. Michelle Caswell has written a lot about the KR, record keeping, and archiving–I suggest checking out her works.
  • Because a lot of Cambodians don’t like the Vietnamese much, there are still a lot of sympathies in the country for the KR–their legacy has been very politicized and the atrocities (somewhat) forgotten. Which is a weird and terrifying sentence to write. Also I met a woman who was with the Vietnamese army when they rolled in (I think everyone was required to serve–I don’t remember what her position was) and she mentioned how she would always remember the smell in Phnom Penh when they arrived…
  • Sorry, that got dark. Anyway, Cambodia is a nice place to visit now.

Jesse: We can all agree that the definition of genocide should have included Stalin, and that is all I have to say about Russia at the moment.

11/ Lauren Yee, Cambodian Rock Band. The play premiered at South Coast Rep, and the main actor Jesse is discussing is Joe Ngo. Check out this essay he wrote for TheaterMania about how his parents’ stories as survivors of the KR became integral to the play!

Also check out the music of Dengue Fever. This is the one you have possibly heard before if you are into Welcome to Night Vale. But they have a ton of other songs up on YouTube–just be sure to search for “Dengue Fever Band.” [Here’s a Spotify link to the Signature Theatre cast album of Cambodian Rock Band. Their album is also available to buy.–Jesse]

12/ Per the name of Thailand/Siam: Thailand was always known as “muang Thai” to the people who lived there (“muang” means city, but also state! Tricky). The name Siam seems to have a disputed source–possibly Pali, Sanskrit, Mon, or from the Chinese “Xian” (which, so the theory goes, would have been pronounced Shi-an and turned into Siam by Portugese traders). Anyway, “Siam” was the official name from around the time of King Mongkut (Rama IV, ruled during the 1850s-60s) until 1939, and then briefly again from 1946-48.

Officially, the US refers to the country-formerly-known-as-Burma as Burma. The UN uses Myanmar. Both names are related to the majority ethnic group (Barmar), one being a more literary form and one more colloquial. The country’s post-colonial government adopted the name “Myanmar” in 1989 as part of a project to kick British colonial romanizations/spellings out of English.

Jesse: Check out Guy Delisle’s work! Here’s the Burma Chronicles link.

13/ Otzi: the oldest known mummy found in Europe (i.e., the one from longest ago, not the actual oldest at time of death).

14/ I’m not going to link to all the various disputes we mention. The biggest things to remember about borders are: they are always porus; things flow across them, in part because ethnic/tribal/etc. groups tend to extend across them; China has a lot of border disputes.

15/ Les Blancs, by Lorraine Hansbury. Fun fact: Lorraine Hansbury attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. [Yay!!!!–Jesse]

16/ [58ish] Actually, it’s “54°40′[N] or fight.” Incidentally, that is not where the border between the US and Canada wound up, which is more like 49° N (except for Vancouver Island). Also, in the 1840s, Canada was really the British Empire, so it’s not like we were going to fight Canada–we were going to re-litigate the revolution. (Although: that distinction doesn’t prevent (modern day) Canada from claiming credit for burning down the White House during the War of 1812 (different war than referenced in the 1812 overture, but still a good one). [Yes! Same War of 1812 referenced in this song, which is what the Candian version is based on. –Jesse]

17/ McGirt v. Oklahoma is the case.

Jesse: Our poet laureate is Joy Harjo.

18/ Map from June 2016.
Maybe from August 2019.

Jesse: Notice how empty the eastern US is…Trail of Tears, other forced migrations, and so much genocide.

More on map projections here and here.

London Underground map.

Also, true story: the DLR (“docklands light rail”) is on the same map (this is how you would get to Canary Wharf, to give a landmark you may have heard of), but if you’re at King’s Cross St Pancras, there’s no one who will tell you that you can actually change from the Jubilee line to the DLR. Em is apparently carrying a lot of unresolved bitterness about the London Underground. But she does love the Parisian Metro. It’s all about finding a language you understand. [I just want to reiterate how much I love subways and all trains and they are the BEST.–Jesse]

The London Underground is not a political movement.

Map of New York’s subways and burroughs. If you look at Central Park in Manhattan, you’ll see how wonky (“stylized”) the map is.

19/ Thongchai Winichakul, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation, University of Hawai’i Press, 1997. Amazon link. I think he is now professor emeritus.

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso, 1983. Amazon link (to revised ed.). Another classic by a scholar of Southeast Asia (although with a bit more broad application).

20/ At 1:10:40ish, we had a recording issue. Here is a transcription of what Dr. Jesse said:

…and so the maps that the navigator had created and learned showed the swells of the oceans. Right? Because islands have swells. And so you could tell when you were lying in the bottom of the boat, specifically [there were] four different swells and you could tell where you were in the island chain by the swells. Of course, European navigators mostly used the surface of the ocean, and didn’t have landmarks outside of islands. The idea that the swells themselves are landmarks is a sort of wonderful point. And something that it took Europeans a while to realize that this was the way they were navigating. And it’s also, of course, why people from the Pacific islands, those types of navigation are how they manage to travel from island to island and also manage to get to places like California and stuff. You have a sort of ability to recognize features that aren’t on most maps, but are there and recognizable nevertheless. Or if you think of something like an electrocardiogram, right? That’s a map, right?

[I know I have to stop saying “right” so much! I can’t help it–it’s a great way to get students to nod at you to show that they’re paying attention.–Jesse]

Sorry for the remaining buzz I was unable to remove.

21/ See Abel Buell’s 1784 map (with giant states of Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia) here and read up on it and him here.

Compare Buell’s 1784 map to the 1721 Catawba map sent to Francis Nicholson, the royal governor of South Carolina.

Yinka Shonibare. See also episode 11 note 21.

Here is the Hereford Mappa Mundi (World Map).

Here’s a video on Shonibare’s project on the world map.

Here are some articles about Shoibare’s project with good pictures and comments: Article 1, article 2.

22/ T and O Map.

23/ Czechoslovakia, for the young ones in the audience, existed from 1918 to 1993. Subsequently it became the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The USSR ended in 1991.

The story about the fall of the Berlin Wall being reported while I was in the back seat of my mom’s station wagon on I-90 outside of Chicago (I feel like we were stuck in rush hour traffic (probably near O’Hare) and maybe going through one of those awesome Midwestern thunderstorms) is true as far as I remember. Official demolition of the wall began in June of 1990, so I think that is when we had the conversation, rather than when the Brandenburg Gate officially opened in 1989 or when demolition was completed in November of 1990.

The fact that she was upset says a lot about what being Jewish was like in the US after WWII. For more on this, read Maus. [READ MAUS. Just…read it.–Jesse]

Episode 12: The Americas Before Colonization


Welcome to part two of our series on decolonization. This week, Em and Jesse discuss what the Middle Ages looked like in the Americas before the arrival of colonizers. We take brief looks at the Mayan, Aztec, Mississipian, and Moche civilizations and a few of their many achievements. With some fun digressions about the Confederate battle flag, Em’s panic-inducing trip to the Cu Chi tunnels, and the noises that eagles make.

Notes, Annotations, and Corrections

1/ Daily Show from 2001 reminds us that Colbert is a master. [OK, this was 19 years ago! My sense of time during my own life is bad.–Jesse]

Daily Show 2015

Daily Show in 2017 on Confederate Memorial Day

On Bree Newsome’s removal of South Carolina’s Confederate flag.

Jesse: Trevor Noah is amazing, but I miss Jon Stewart soooooooooooo much. Why can’t we have both? (I guess we’ve proven we don’t deserve such bounty.) Many, many sobbing emojis.

2/ Berlin Wall: 1961–1989 (or 1991, depending on how you’re counting).

3/ Madison had statues of Forward (a lady who is kind of our symbol?) and Hans Cristian Heg pulled down. HCH is an interesting case because he was a Norwegian immigrant and an abolitionist, anti-slavery activist (who led Wisconsin’s anti-slave-catcher militia), politician, and prison reformer who died of wounds received at the Battle of Chikamauga. However, just because he was pretty great for his time doesn’t necessarily mean that he would be great by our standards today–I’ve seen some allegations that he wasn’t exactly pro-Black (which aren’t really substantiated in any news article, so I don’t know); he was also a “49er,” meaning he went West to participate in the Gold Rush–incidentally, Wisconsin’s motto, “Forward,” is partially about Westward expansion, which is, you know, a lot about the Federal Government massacring (or permitting the massacre of) various indigenous peoples in order to permit (White) settlers to move in. (Also it feels weird to think about Wisconsin as “West.” Hmm.) So–I get it. I don’t totally believe that the people who pulled down the statues were aware of these things when they were doing the destruction–I think they were just angry. Buuuuuut you know, whatever, seems justified.

Also they (i.e., the same group that pulled down the statues) beat up a state congressperson, but no one was upset about that for some reason. (He is a Democrat, and Republicans control the House and Senate here, so that’s probably why we didn’t hear too much.) He has since co-sponsored legislation with Republicans that would make it a crime to pull down statues. I feel like he might be taking the wrong lesson from this.

I wanted to add a note on the guy who got arrested (Yeshua Musa, who was a local BLM activist), because while I think I gave the story as I understood it at the time, it’s worthy of thinking more about–he has been indicted on federal extortion charges and faces up to 40 years in federal prison. Also, he wasn’t demanding money from local businesses (as I suggest in the podcast discussion), he was demanding a meal. Whatever else I have to say about his behavior, I do pretty much feel like the Justice Department has made the decision to charge the heck out of him in order to use him as an example. I guess I don’t know too much about the situation (my suspicion is that a lot of stuff isn’t really getting covered by the papers), but I’ve noticed that political activist groups, like BLM (and other similar local ones), are not nostalgic or petty, and when they get angry about someone getting arrested there’s probably a real (and strategic) reason behind it. The anger about Mr. Musa’s arrest has persisted, and a few other local activists have also been arrested, which is very suspicious in my opinion.

Jesse: I think that this is an excellent example of why we should spend more money on social services and less on police. Many Americans have been taught to believe that police protect us from crime, and that can absolutely be true, but that is not the main function of the police. As the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) points out, the verb “to police” comes from “Middle French, French policer to administer, govern, control (1461 in Middle French).” **Control** is the operative word in this definition. The noun “police” is best understood today as the OED’s definition 5a: “The civil force of a state responsible for maintaining public order and enforcing the law, including preventing and detecting crime.” We frequently assume that the most important words here are “preventing and detecting crime,” but one of the most important functions of the police has always been “maintaining public order and enforcing the law.” “Maintaining and enforcing” tends to lead directly to the final verb in the OED’s definition of “to police”–i.e., control.

The police are the civil arm of the state, and their main purpose is to control citizens who are seen as in need of “maintaining and enforcing.” This is why African Americans are stopped when driving “nice” (i.e., expensive) cars in “nice” (i.e., white) neighborhoods, or when entering their own houses (in “nice” neighborhoods). The goal is a surveillance state that controls citizens by watching them–i.e., policing them–and, most importantly, by ensuring that those citizens know that they are being policed and have no power to change the system because they lack knowledge of the system and how it works. Meanwhile, white citizens–and particularly white wealthy citizens–have intimate knowledge of the system’s inner workings because they are born into the institutional hierarchy, allowing them to get off with a warning or to receive sentences below the legal minimum for all sorts of crimes including rape–the same crime for which many innocent African American men have been lynched–because these (white) men supposedly have “bright futures.”

The more citizens are controlled, the more they rebel. Until we can solve homelessness and hunger, provide mental and physical health care to all who need it, and ****treat everyone with equal respect**** (instead of making some people feel that they are being watched their entire lives by a civil force just waiting to throw them in jail), we will not solve violent crime. More police do not make us safer. If everything looks like a nail to a hammer, police are similar–they only have the tools to look at people as “criminals” or “not criminals.” Police are not trained or equipped to do anything else. The more police you put into “violent neighborhoods” without social services, the more violence there will be. The more hammers you buy, the more nails you use.

Thanks to Michel Foucault for the theory on knowledge, power, and surveillance. Check out Discipline and Punish.

4/ By the way, if you’re interested in law enforcement spending as a percentage of city or county budget AND you live in Wisconsin, my running buddy Tamarine put together this super useful website.

5/ I have no idea why right around 10 minutes it sounds like Em is speaking from inside a paper bag. Crinkle, crinkle. Sorry about that.

6/ Far Side comic: Didn't Like Dances with Wolves Society

(All credit to the great Gary Larson.)

For the record, I (Em) am opposed to all films with the basic plot of “white man joins a foreign culture and becomes its most awesome member.”

Custard’s Last Stand was in Janesville, WI. They made really good frozen custard (I think custard is a Wisconsin thing? It’s like ice cream but creamier, because they add more egg yolk). And to be fair, General Custar was never portrayed by them as a hero in any sense. [Seems more like they were celebrating his death with delicious desert.–Jesse]

Jesse: The actual traditional (Lakota) name for the Battle of Little Bighorn is the Battle of Greasy Grass. (Little Bighorn is the river nearby.)

7/ Ledger drawings. I had never heard of this but it’s super cool.

Jesse: Here’s the Battle of Greasy Grass (Little Bighorn) as recorded in Lakota ledger art by One Bull: Custer’s War, c. 1900, 39 x 69 inches (irregular), pigments, ink on muslin (Minneapolis Institute of Art)

For a photograph of One Bull (Henry Oscar One Bull/Tȟatȟáŋka Waŋžíla [Hunkpapa Lakota]) see here.

8/ Buffalo Calf Road Woman, also called Brave Woman, is credited with knocking Custer off his horse. Moving Robe Woman is credited with stabbing him. There were actually a lot of women warriors present at the battle.

9/ [18:25] The locals, by the way, do not pronounce it fon du lac.

Is “Mendota” a fake Indian name? Sort of. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, it was suggested by surveyor Frank Hudson around 1850ish, claiming it comes from the Dakota language, mde (lake) ota (great). He also suggested “Monona” for our other lake, claiming it meant “wild rice” in Potawatomi–of this one, the WHS adds,

The word Monona I have sought in a good many Indian vocabularies without success, yet I trust Mr. Hudson had reason to say that its import is beautiful

(James Davie Butler)
Later scholars have reason to doubt all of his etymologies. The names (and those of several of our other lakes, Wingra, Waubesa, and Kegonsa) were basically chosen because they sound Native American and were easier to pronounce than the actual Native names. The original Ho-Chunk name for the area was Dejope (sometimes romanized as Taychopera), meaning “Four Lakes.”

And as a palate cleanser, here’s Alice Cooper schooling us all about the source of the name Milwaukee. [Yes, for about a decade after the movie came out everyone repeated this speech constantly!–Jesse]

Various etymologies of the name Chicago.

10/ I mean, when you live in a world where Maxwell House sponsors Passover Haggadot, it seems plausible that Colombian coffee would sponsor a World’s Fair in Chicago. Maybe. Anyway, the country of Colombia, by the way, does take its name from Christopher Columbus–it was named by a Venezuelan revolutionary named Francisco de Miranda who had originally envisioned liberating all the Spanish New World colonies and creating an independent empire that would be named that. (How did things work out for him? Badly. Died in prison in Spain, buried in a mass grave there. So it goes.)

11/ The exhibition Em was thinking of is probably the Paris Colonial Exposition, which was held in 1931. Although there were a lot of similar exhibitions, for example the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, aka the Crystal Palace Exhibition, held in London in 1851, or the Japanese Village in Knightsbridge (also London) in 1885, whose denizens were involved with the creation of The Mikado.

Also I want to point out these cards that the Singer Sewing Machine company printed for the Colombian Exposition! They’re actually pretty interesting, in that often they depict people from around the world posed in their native costumes with sewing machines–sometimes they are sewing what look like native textiles, and sometimes not (e.g., Japan). Anyway in grad school I (Em) worked for a professor who was obsessed with these, so I did a bunch of research on them (all of Singer’s records are held at the Wisconsin State Historical Society). Some of them have pretty awful text (like one that implies that the aboriginals in India–meaning, like, Indian people–have no literature–WHAT?), but the artwork is often pretty interesting. Anyway, sewing machines are actually really an important part of women’s liberation!

Erik Larson wrote a book about the Chicago World’s Fair called The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, but I think it is mostly famous for the parts about H.H. Holmes.

The tribe that left was the Labrador Inuit.

Jesse: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition actually took place in 1893 (not 1892) because…you know, these things take time. Here are some pictures.

Also, Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Peña created a performance piece in 1992 called The Couple in the Cage: Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West. The piece critiqued colonialism and the Columbian Exposition (which reinforced Columbus’s colonialism by displaying people as exhibits). Fusco and Gomez-Peña performed their piece around the world, particularly in museums and other locations linked to colonialism. Audiences/visitors were never explicitly told that it was a performance art piece, and many people apparently thought it was real. Fusco and Gomez-Peña performed at the Field Museum, and some people canceled their memberships (believing that the Field Museum was once again displaying human beings as exhibits). Being from Chicago, I remember the controversy incredibly well. Probably my first real introduction to performance art! Here’s the video that Fusco and Gomez-Peña made of their performance piece.

12/ Scott Joplin’s 1911 opera is called Treemonisha, and it actually sounds like a pretty interesting piece–Joplin was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer for it. For those with shorter attention spans, the overture is here, and for those with longer ones, here’s an entire production (runtime is 1:40).

Jesse: Treemonisha is a gorgeous opera–here’s a video of Houston Grand Opera’s full production.

13/ The Field Museum’s website is here.

Here is the Field Museum’s original announcement about the renovation of the American Hall (to open in 2021, hopefully). Here is the website for the new exhibit Apsáalooke Women and Warriors that was supposed to open in March 2020. Here is the exhibit announcement.

14/ Franz Boas. Somewhat weirdly, he died suddenly in the arms of Claude Levi-Strauss, another major anthropologist.

Zora Neale Hurston. He taught her in New York, by the way, not Chicago (she was a student at Barnard College, he was a professor at Columbia University, which at the time did not admit women). [Jesse: Hurston’s book Mules and Men is an extremely important ethnographic study (and really interesting read, obviously). Amazon link.

Em: Weirdly, a lot of fiction writers have degrees in anthropology, including Kurt Vonnegut.

15/ [32:xx] “When people go look in the Yucatan…” Meaning, probably, when anthropologists go and look… There’s a non-zero chance that for every news article announcing the finding of a new “lost” city, there’s a group of indigenous people going, “What do you mean, lost?”

16/ For those interested, you can click here to read about the Cu Chi tunnels. They have set up a few for visit by Westerners–meaning they made them wider for us. I remember very little of the visit beyond the centipedes, and also discovering that pitch black tunnels that may somewhere contain very large bugs will give me a panic attack. There are also a lot of short stories by Vietnam vets that are assigned ad nauseum in English classes that feature them. With no slight intended, if I never have to read “The Things They Carried” again I will be a happy revolutionary.

17/ If you’re interested in the history of the Mexica, Tenochtitlan, this is one of the videos I saw about it that gives an exciting view of how cool the city was.

For reference, Skara Brae is the Neolithic settlement in the Orkney islands Em was referring to. Built around 3180 BCE.

18/ Patricia Seed, Ceremonies of Possession in Europe’s Conquest of the New World, 1492–1640. I won’t recap it here, but if you are interested in how the various powers perceived the worlds they came to, this website has a pretty decent summary. And of course, Eddie Izzard also reminds us of the importance of flags in claiming things.

Jesse: Planting a flag is purposefully phallic. Colonialism involves rape in both the metaphoric and very, very literal senses.

19/ From Ulysses, end of section 2:

—Mr Dedalus!
Running after me. No more letters, I hope.
—Just one moment.
—Yes, sir, Stephen said, turning back at the gate.
Mr Deasy halted, breathing hard and swallowing his breath.
—I just wanted to say, he said. Ireland, they say, has the honour of being the only country which never persecuted the jews. Do you know that? No. And do you know why?
He frowned sternly on the bright air.
—Why, sir? Stephen asked, beginning to smile.
—Because she never let them in, Mr Deasy said solemnly.
A coughball of laughter leaped from his throat dragging after it a rattling chain of phlegm. He turned back quickly, coughing, laughing, his lifted arms waving to the air.
—She never let them in, he cried again through his laughter as he stamped on gaitered feet over the gravel of the path. That’s why.

I rest my case.

20/ Cryptojews in New Mexico? (This is a minor but incredibly cool plot point that comes up in Neal Stephenson’s The Confusion (book 2 of the Baroque Cycle), IIRC.)

21/ In a lot of places that aren’t Canada/the US/Europe, racism still involves skin tone, with lighter skin tones being favored over darker ones–so racism does exist but as an echo of the way it exists in majority White countries. [Colorism is a huge issue everywhere, and we’ll probably talk about it on a future episode.–Jesse]

22/ Cahokia.

The interesting thing about the size of cities is that you have to work out ways to deal with things like waste removal as the population gets more dense, or else you will get a lot of disease. You have to figure out really good farming methods, because in general people in cities aren’t doing farming, so you need surplus calories for them. Big cities are complex cities.

Jesse: Images of the North American (Mississipian) copper plates I’m talking about vs an image of an Old English copper bird.

23/ I forgot to ask–would slaves have been counted in the 1790 census? (Em)

Jesse: Here’s the info: Essentially, enslaved people were counted as members of their owner’s household (but only statistically, not defined in any way by name, age, sex, or birthplace, which is why it’s so difficult for African Americans to trace their ancestry). The infamous Constitutional decree (Article I section 2) that enslaved persons count as 3/5ths of a person is specifically for taxation and representation (in the House of Representatives). These purposes (taxes and representation) are the real reason the Census exists, not to learn just for funsies how many people live in the USA. The point was to keep the South from benefiting (through tax revenue and representation) from a huge population of people who lived in the South but did not themselves benefit from tax revenue or representation. The problem is that even though egregious issues (like the 3/5ths rule) have been discarded, many of the compromises that were made between free states and slave states (and big states and little states) still cause immense harm and deny full representation to many people.

24/ Here are some various Colbert clips about eagles. Not really relevant but hilarious. [LOVE.–Jesse]

25/ Long-nosed god maskettes.

Jesse: See the copper bird comparison above in Note 22.

Here is the website for the brilliant, wonderful exhibit at the Cycladic Museum in Athens Picasso and Antiquity.

Em: Impressionists and ukiyo-e art.

Jesse: Albert C. Barnes (1872–1951) was a chemist who became incredibly wealthy and had a fundamental belief in a humanities education. The workers at his factory spent two hours a day discussing subjects like philosophy and aesthetics. Barnes viewed his art collection as educational, displaying it in groups he called “ensembles” that emphasized the influence of (for example) African art on the Modernist movement in European art.

Barnes was definitely not perfect, but the Barnes Foundation did some things that were extraordinary for an art museum at the time (and even today). In fact, most articles about the Barnes Foundation mainly (or even solely) discuss the European art in the collection. Christa Clarke’s 2015 book African Art in the Barnes Foundation: The Triumph of L’Art nègre and the Harlem Renaissance is one of the first to discuss the incredible importance of African art to Barnes’s collection and to his own philosophy of art. As this review states: “Aside from collecting African objects, Barnes instructed architect Paul Cret to implement African motifs into the plans for the original Barnes Foundation building in Merion, Pennsylvania. The entrance to the facility featured designs replicated from African masks and other sculptures in the collection, thus making a strong visual statement that African art has a place among other great art. It is noteworthy that Barnes chose to emphasize African decorative patterning over European examples in his collection. Once inside the building, Barnes specially arranged his collection into what he called “ensembles,” arranging disparate works of art in relationship to others to provoke formal connections for greater aesthetic appreciation. He displayed African and European artworks alongside each other to emphasize the relationship of modernist painting to African sculpture. In the collection’s current location in downtown Philadelphia, the artworks are displayed in Barnes’s original ensembles. However, the new building does not invoke explicit connections to African art like its predecessor, although a few visible references remain.”

The Barnes Foundation’s move to a new building (amidst lawsuits and such) is a conversation for another time. However, we applaud his desire to shift the way Americans thought about art, starting with the Foundation’s building (unlike most art museums that attempt to look like ancient Greek temples, thus whitewashing and appropriating ancient Greek culture for the West).

26/ Em: I remember having a discussion about art in college based on an article in the NYT Magazine, and I think the upshot was basically, “Things that are art are art because they’re in an art museum”–that is, that the things that can actually constitute art are now so weird and varied that it takes the legitimizing gaze of the art museum (well, probably the curator) to discern what is and isn’t art. Along with some snobbery about artist versus artisan, which I guess was maybe once upon a time a distinction that made sense, but now “artisan” refers to how people bake bread or make ice cream, the people formerly referred to as artisans are now makers of folk art, and artists usually don’t make art in the sense by which the word “art” is typically meant–like for example Judy Chicago sets colored smoke bombs in different landscapes, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped buildings in colorful cloth, and Ai Weiwei just raised $1.4 million for charity by selling surgical masks with a woodcut of a middle finger silk screened onto them. So WHO EVEN KNOWS is what I’m saying. Dada dada dada dada dada.

Okay, let me try this again now that I have had a night’s sleep. What is the difference between this quilt and this quilt? Answer: one is held by an art museum and one is held by a history museum.

Jesse: Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party can be seen in person at the Brooklyn Museum when it reopens and also here. Feminist art is fun.

Also, art and performance are both nebulous concepts in many ways, but that doesn’t mean that they’re unimportant. Not everything is Art (or Performance), but it’s important that we’re starting to realize that the supposedly legitimizing gaze of a museum is NOT necessary for something to be Art. Museums are–like many institutions–inherently bigoted, and it will be some time before that changes in any meaningful sense. The bigotry of such institutions not only keeps out certain artists but also certain audiences. Thus, we widen our definitions to include things that are more accessible to both artists and viewers, like graffiti and outdoor murals. Like cave paintings, these have always been art because they require talent, self-expression, an ability to create, and a desire to converse and/or critique. However, the very fact of their inclusivity probably reinforced the “vandalism” label that they so often received. Only now, when artists who were inspired by street artists (or who used to be street artists) are selling for very exclusive amounts of money has everyone decided that it’s art. (No, I’m not just talking about Banksy. Check out the links.)

27/ The Moche people of Peru–100–700 CE. Check out their art on that Wikipedia page–be forewarned not all of it is safe for work.

28/ Phallus tree.

Jesse: I just watched the National Theatre’s 2017 production of Amadeus (first performed in 1979), in which Peter Shaffer portrays Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as an astonishingly childish human being–someone who never matured emotionally past the age of 6, when kids repeat swear words and scatological phrases with glee and gusto because the words and phrases are “naughty.” Amadeus is a great play, and it’s very, very fictional. Nonetheless, watching it reminded me that the representation of Mozart is based on the modern (Puritanic) concept that “real” adults don’t enjoy scatological or sexual humor and that Mozart’s enjoyment of same (seen here) is somehow the result of a stunted emotional maturity instead of excellent evidence that Mozart had an awesome sense of humor and probably would have enjoyed movies like Bridesmaids or TV shows like South Park (or, you know, any one of a million other movies and TV shows with similar sensibilities). Apparently his whole family wrote to each other in this vein, and his wife (Constanze Weber) thought the letters were extremely witty. (The Wikipedia article linked above includes a quote from Hermann Abert’s book W.A.Mozart (translated by Stewart Spencer): “Although in dubious taste, the letters to his cousin are full of wit and deserve mentioning, although they cannot of course be published in their entirety.

29/ Jesse: Neanderthals may also have marked stones in purposeful (possibly symbolic or artistic) ways.

30/ Note that when Jesse starts talking about the four-character dance drama (around 1:10:10), she means Sor Juana’s Loa, i.e., the prologue, not the full play that came after the Loa (i.e., The Auto Sacramental of the Divine Narcissus).

Jesse: Yes, we’ll talk more about both of these in our Decolonizing Medieval Theatre discussion! The Mayan K’iche’ dance drama is the Rabinal Achi. Here’s a fun UNESCO heritage video. Here is Dennis Tedlock’s book about Rabinal Achi (including a translation). Also, the Wikipedia article.

This excellent collection includes a translation of both Rabinal Achi and Sor Juana de la Cruz’s Loa for the Divine Narcissus (the four-character dance drama). [Quick note that the translation of Rabinal Achi in this collection has been Christianized, so the two warrior characters known as “Thirteen Yellow Jaguars” and “Thirteen Yellow Eagles” have become “Twelve Yellow Jaguars” and “Twelve Yellow Eagles” instead (for example). In addition, the translation of this play ends with the defeated warrior being executed via sacrifice, with his chest opened on a sacrificial stone, even though the performance tradition simply executes him via beheading. Presumably this death was too European (while the “13” in the warriors’ names was too pagan). Can’t win for losing. Anyway, Tedlock has some great things to say about this in his book.]

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648–1695) was of Spanish descent but was born, lived, and died in Mexico Despite her position as a colonizer, she was also an educated woman in a society that did not necessarily value educated women (or any women). She seems to have recognized the similarities between her own position and that of the colonial subjugation of the Aztecs, and she knew Nahuatl well enough to incorporate it into some of her work.

Cruz’s Loa for the Auto Sacramental of the Divine Narcissus (a Loa is essentially a prologue) is a fascinating work. Cruz constructs the Loa in many ways as an Aztec dance drama melded with a European morality play, theatrically representing her premise that Catholicism was syncretically aligned with Aztec religion.

As promised, we will discuss both Cruz’s Loa and the K’iche’ Rabinal Achi further in a future episode.

Episode 11: Decolonization: Theory and Practice


“Pulling down statues isn’t erasing history….erasing history is the fact that you live on land stolen from a people you can’t name.” Em and Jesse dive into  the theory and practice of decolonization–what does it mean, what are post-colonial studies, and how can we put this knowledge into practice, reforming our views of our modern American lives as well as the Middle Ages? This episode has a lot of the decolonization theory, and coming episodes will have a lot more of the practice part, but this episode does have some fun discussions of pulling down statues, weird characters in Thomas Pynchon novels, non-English versions of Shakespearean plays, and various forms of Orientalism in fine art, like the odalisque and the picturesque.

Notes, Annotations, and Corrections

Continue reading “Episode 11: Decolonization: Theory and Practice”