top of page

Lectures: Cross Atlantic Themes 


Atlantic Crossings: Knowledge networks and circulations of culture

The way the dynamic between Old World/ New World and the Middle Passage has been taught in the United States and in Africa frequently brings about the assumption that people crossed the Atlantic from East to West, i.e. that it was a one-way road. This lecture revisits critical ideas around the understanding that people moved into all directions, and for many different reasons, during the various crossings of the Atlantic. Not only did people cross the Atlantic, but also (revolutionary) ideas, values, beliefs, practices, art forms, and more. This lecture specifically looks at the contested definitions of ‘Americanisms’ and ‘Africanisms.’


Representations and Imaginations: Africans imagining America, Americans imagining Africa

This lecture pairs well with the Atlantic Crossings lecture as it builds on the concepts of Americanism and Africanism. To understand how people on both continents imagine each other we have to unfortunately study and critically examine the history of stereotypes, how/ why/ where they originated and how they continue to have a lasting impact on the relationship between Africans and Americans. The second part of this lecture, however, focuses on how artists on both sides of the Atlantic have contributed to exposing and exploding stereotypical thinking.


A Parallel Study of The Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-Apartheid Movement

This lecture revisits the frequently underestimated relationship between the Civil Rights era in the United States and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. While there are significant differences between the historical circumstances and cultural contexts of the two movements, it is integral to appreciate how many (South) Africans fought for equality and civil rights in the United States, and how many Americans played critical roles in bringing apartheid to its end. After the lecture component, this presentation facilitates a discussion about the extent to which both movements changed world history, and yet there remains unfinished business.


Seasons of Protest: The Hashtag Revolutions (#RMF, #FMF, #BLM, #MeToo)

This lecture is a sequel to The Parallel Study of the Civil Rights and Anti-Apartheid Movement in the sense that it looks at the Fallist movements and Black Lives Matter as a continuation of anti-apartheid and Civil Rights movements respectively. To complicate the conversation about race and racism, but also to appreciate different strategies of protest action, I add the #MeToo movement to the analysis. In an overarching way, this lecture also examines how technology has permanently altered protest tactics and the very fabric of social movements.


A Parallel Study of Overcoming Internalized Oppression in American First Nations and African Literature

One of the most devastating effects of colonial conquest and oppression are the various manifestations of internalized oppression. This lecture focuses on how authors of fiction have identified a range of internalized oppressions and how their works offer perspectives on how to remedy or liberate the individual from this colonization of the soul/ mind. Basing the lecture on three African and three Native American novels, the discussion component hopes to elicit new understandings about similarities and differences on both continents.


White characters on Black stages: The performance and performativity of whiteness in Africa

Under construction.


Tribes, Tributes and Tribulations: Revisiting the Native and the Nation from the Global South

The word ‘Native’ is an interesting semantic stumbling block when one studies Native American and African literature in tandem. This lecture begins with some word play activities that bring to light the different meanings the word has in America vs Africa. It then provides an overview of the related concept of ‘nation’ to show how, again, ideas around nation and nationalism differ on the two continents.


Feminist Tensions around Big Bottoms: From Sarah Baartman to Beyoncé via Human Zoos

Debates around the representation of black women are ongoing and don’t show signs of resolving or abating. This lecture offers a perspective from the South African vantage point by revisiting what we know about the life of Sarah Baartman who was exhibited in various cities in France and England during the early 19th century. While there is only so much we can know about Baartman’s life, there is a lot we can learn about her spectators and the horrific history of Baartman’s post-mortem. Maintaining this focus on the psychology of the European spectator, I then trace the history of exhibiting black bodies in human zoos and exhibitions, which lasted until the mid 1950s. I argue that this legacy of exhibition did not really end in the 1950s, but rather that it shifted format and forum during the decade that television became popular. With the rise of media cultures, we still face the fundamental problem of the human zoo on screen. The question is how to talk about agency, the emancipatory power of self-expression and ways of subverting the (internalized) colonial gaze. This question sets the stage for a productive comparison between black feminisms in Africa and the United States.

Aika Swai's Books, Cross Atlantic Themes
bottom of page