The Heist
The Heist

The Heist: Community, Identity, and Meaning in the New Millennium

A learning collective from the Africa and African-American Studies Program
Spring 2013

Exploring the tension between community, identity, and meaning in the modern experience, The Heist is a thematic program designed to stimulate discussion and prompt reflection on the ways the U.S. experience blends, sometime effortlessly, sometime with trauma, myriad voices to create a diverse whole. The strength of our diverse experience serves as the foundation of national success, yet those differences also cause conflict.   At the edge of a fundamental demographic shift to a majority minority society, the United States nonetheless struggles to reconcile the many voices that form the whole.  This program will weave together activities in and out of class in an exploration of community, identity, and meaning with the goal of creating a greater understanding of the dynamic tensions shaping contemporary society.  

Continuing the Africa and African-American Studies Program emphasis on interdisciplinary practice, this program borrows from an observation made by historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. that film’s aesthetic distance from history reveals the aesthetic nature of historical discourse.  The cinematic tropes of the U.S. film industry are not separate from history and culture; they provide a common language that can be used to learn more about those subjects. In adopting the heist film as a thematic trope, these events provide the public a mode of communication and tool for dialogue about the larger issues we seek to explore.   Thus, every event in The Heist will correspond to a trope of the crime film genre.  These headings represent stylistic cues that the programmatic content may reflect, reform, or refute in a search for a broader meaning.

The Diversion 

Walter Greason, Monmouth University
Thomas P. Johnson Visiting Scholar
Tuesday February 5, 2013 @ 7:00pm in Suntrust Auditorium
“Everyday I'm Hustlin': Crime, Music, and Violence after Racial Integration in the United States, 1950-2000"   

From Stagolee and John Henry to the Huxtables and Murder, Inc., the images of African Americans have received serious scholarly attention as metaphors for the evolution of the Black Freedom Movement throughout the twentieth century.  Juxtaposing these analyses with the evolution of white Americans' representations in the media from Walt Whitman and Woody Guthrie to the Simpsons and the High School Musical series reveals deeply entrenched patterns of Protestantism, heteronormativity, and global capital accumulation.  Walter Greason documents the ways these forces affected metropolitan development around the world and the fragmentation of the historical project in the Western tradition.

The Getaway

Julian C. Chambliss, Rollins College
February 19th @ 7:00pm in Suntrust Auditorium
“In a Mirror Darkly: The Black Superhero and the Struggle for Justice in Marvel Comics, 1970-1985”

In 1968 Larry Neal proclaimed the Black Arts Movement the “aesthetic and spiritual sister to the Black Power concept. As such, it envisions an art that speaks directly to the needs and aspirations of Black America.” With such assertions driving a new awareness of African-American desire for affirmation, depictions of blackness in U.S. popular culture were forced to negotiate changing social realities while reconciling conflicting expectations. Superhero comic books highlight this complexity.  At times as much distortion as affirmation, the depiction of black superheroes in Marvel Comics demonstrates the aspirations and frustrations that defined race relations after 1970.

The Robbery

Dan Kerr, American University
Thomas P. Johnson Visiting Scholar
Tuesday, March 12th @ 7:00pm in Suntrust Auditorium
“Lifting the Community or Lifting from It:  The Ethics of Doing Research at the Margins”

Reflecting on his own research with the Cleveland Homeless Oral History Project, Dr. Dan Kerr will address how and why he developed an oral history methodology that could go beyond gathering source materials to answer his research questions.   His approach allowed the project participants to analyze their own surroundings, answer their own questions, and define and meet their own ends. 

The Dry Run

Robert Vander Poppen, Rollins College
Tuesday, March 19th @ 7:00pm in Suntrust Auditorium
“Constrained Status: The Roman Dining Room as a Space for Exploring Identity among Roman Freedmen”
Roman slavery was different in many ways from its modern counterparts tied to narratives of colonialism and racial exploitation.  The chances for manumission were high in ancient Rome, and a significant number of former slaves managed to acquire wealth and prominence within their local communities.  Nevertheless, freedmen faced legal limitations on their participation in politics and their public adoption of symbols of elite status.  Such legal constraints were largely absent from the private sphere, where freedmen were free to perform dry-runs of their identity within the company of a friendly audience of invited guests.  Perhaps the most famous of these freedmen was the boisterous and overbearing Trimalchio depicted in Petronius’ Satyricon.  This talk will immerse participants into the world of the Roman banquet, and explore the self-representation of Trimalchio and his historical counterparts within the context of the Roman villa.

Dividing the Loot

S. Ashley Kistler, Rollins College
Tuesday April 2nd @ 7:00pm in Suntrust Auditorium
“Discovering the Past: Collaboration, Community, and the Creation of Identity”

Recent studies explore the relationship between ethnography and service-learning. This talk will explore how recent trends in ethnography assist scholars of many academic disciplines in conceptualizing, designing, and implementing community-based research. Kistler argues that the principles of engaged ethnography allows scholars to better satisfy the needs of the communities they serve and enhance learning beyond the classroom. In particular, the emerging sub-discipline of collaborative ethnography provides an ideal model for service-learning. Collaborative ethnography strives to overcome the power imbalance inherent in classic ethnography by including local communities in the research process. This paper uses three case studies to examine how the dynamics of engaged ethnography can inform more culturally relevant community-based research. I use my collaborative ethnographic research among the Q'eqchi' of San Juan Chamelco, Guatemala, as a case study to explore how the principles of engaged anthropology empower community members involved in the research process. The comparison of two service-learning projects conducted by Rollins College anthropology students at senior care facilities highlights the impact of collaborative ethnographic methods on service-learning. By involving community partners in the planning and implementation of community-based learning, scholars create transformative learning experiences. Collaborative ethnography and service-learning transcend the borders of traditional learning to engage both students and local communities in the production of knowledge and the process of social change.

When there is a HEIST, there is always a WITNESS…

Project Mosaic: WITNESS
A Companion Digital Humanities Project

Developed as a vehicle to expose Rollins College students to the complexity linked to the Africa and African-American experience, Project Mosaic fosters a synergistic dialogue across academic disciplines. By including a module linked to Project Mosaic’s orienting theme, participating faculty have the opportunity to achieve greater depth within the disciplinary core of their course, while highlighting a link to the African Diaspora. Project Mosaic is inspired by Rollins’ mission to educate students to be global citizens and responsible leaders. Ultimately, Project Mosaic works to provide students with the tools to understand the complexity linked to ethnicity in a modern global context. 

During the Spring 2013 semester, Project Mosaic: WITNESS asks participating faculty to incorporate an assignment that considers the impact of narrative in creating our world.  The stories we tell act as powerful tools to orient people and institutions.  For too long the canonical record has provided stories of systemic disorder about the Africa Diaspora. In recent time narratives reflecting individual and communal betterment have emerged to bring a multidimensional vision to the black experience.  Incorporating lost voices clarifies events, uncovers hidden stories, and energizes marginalized people facilitating their engagement with the broader world.  Project Mosaic: WITNESS is motivated by an understanding that the stories we tell ourselves help us value the past, appraise the present, and construct a vision for future.

Exploring the importance of story, a shared event for Project Mosaic: WITNESS is a lecture by Thomas P. Johnson visiting scholar Dr. Shannon Mariotti, Associate Professor of Political Science, Southwestern University on April 16, 2013 at 7:00pm in the Suntrust Auditorium. 

The Housekeeper of Homelessness: The Democratic Ethos of Marilynne Robinson’s Novels and Essays
This paper explores how Marilynne Robinson’s novels and essays productively intervene in contemporary debates regarding the ideological space of home and the ethos of homelessness. Her writings illuminate a democratic value in the paradoxical position of the housekeeper of homelessness: in different ways her writings argue for the political value of taking on an air of homelessness while never fully leaving the familiar places and spaces of home. She values the attunement to wonder and mystery and openness to possibility that can come from the small, near, local, and mundane acts of housekeeping, understood literally and figuratively. As she notes in her most recent book of essays titled When I Was a Child, I Read Books, “To identify sacred mystery with every individual experience, every life, giving the word its largest sense, is to arrive at democracy as an ideal, and to accept the difficult obligation to honor others and oneself with something wholly approaching due reverence.” As I will show, her three works of fiction and three volumes of essays work in different ways and in different registers to articulate and demonstrate the democratic value found in the paradoxical position of acting as a housekeeper of homelessness.