Goffe: Collaboration is the key to large grants in the humanities


Two grants, from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Mellon Foundation, support a network of collaborative and public humanities projects initiated by Tao Leigh Goffe, assistant professor of African studies and feminist, gender and sexuality studies (FGSS) at the College of Arts and Sciences.

Grants with collaborators, totaling more than $2 million, support Goffe’s goal of making humanities research in digital and in-person channels accessible to scholars and the public.

Goffe was awarded a $50,000 NEH/AHRC New Directions for Digital Scholarship in Cultural Institutions grant, a joint initiative with matching funds between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), in collaboration with Eddie BruceJonesExecutive Dean of Birkbeck School of Law, University of London.

During a two-year project on colonialism and engagement, they will create an interactive website bringing together collections in the UK and the US – including some from the Cornell University Library – and design programs to introduce researchers and the public to the various digital and physical collections.

The integrated archive of humanities, law and social sciences should be launched by 2024; Goffe and Bruce-Jones hope this will generate new, multi-faceted research on engagement and colonialism and increase public knowledge of the topics. The collection will include a wide variety of artifacts, including maps, contracts, logbooks, music, oral histories, and even recipes.

The project is directly related to Goffe’s book project “Black Capital, Chinese Debt”, an examination of the history, culture and economics of engagement. Bruce-Jones is also writing a book on the history of engagement.

“Even though debt has been around as a concept for thousands of years, it was never used to racialize until the 19th century, when Asians were often brought under false pretences to the Americas to work on the plantations. because racial slavery had ended,” Goffe said. “It is a hidden chapter in the history of labor and capital in the Americas.”

With a $2 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, Goffe is leading two collaborative projects.

Kitchen Marronage is a virtual test kitchen dedicated to helping people understand global food habits, farmer land sovereignty, nutrition, public health and culinary histories, “an inclusive way for people to consider colonial histories more depths of food plantation production,” said Goffe.

The Kitchen Marronage Lab includes a Chef-in-Residence Celestial peach (British community organizer and cook Jenny Lau) and resident land specialist Patricia Powell (an American novelist). Two doctoral students, Aree Worawongwasu (University of Hawai’i) and Arianna James (University of Pennsylvania), are sous chefs in the virtual test kitchen under the Afro-Asian Group, which began in 2019 with support from Cornell FGSS and Africana Studies. They are building and producing an archive of food demonstrations and curating an exhibition for 2024 at the Tiger Strikes Asteroid Gallery in New York.

Digital Junkanoo is a curatorial and design studio to research carnival cultures, such as those of Brazil, Trinidad and New York, and explore African-derived rituals. “We have two artist-in-residences each year, art and technology residencies for people living in areas severely affected by the climate crisis,” Goffe said.

The two inaugural artists of Digital Junkanoo are Nadia Huggins from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Abigail Hadeed from Trinidad and Tobago. The region has been affected by volcanic eruptions and increasing severity of hurricanes. With Tatyana Tandanpolie, editor-in-chief of Digital Junkanoo and former student of Goffe, the studio will organize an art exhibition on the urgency of the climate crisis and how the carnival season is a space for intergenerational healing.

A portion of the Mellon Grant is intended to financially, intellectually, and professionally support graduate scholars.

“It’s significant given the seriousness of the university labor market situation in the humanities and to ask what our responsibility is to these students when it comes to gainful employment,” Goffe said. “How can we model for future students, that we have a lot to learn with them as co-creators and collaborators and elevate the work for a wider audience, through public humanities and digital humanities? We need to encourage collaboration in the humanities with more funding.

In the spring of 2021, Goffe taught a Mellon Collaborative Studies Seminar in Architecture, Urbanism and Humanities in collaboration with the College of Architecture, Art and Urbanism, which she calls “an inspiring space to experience”. So, too, has the Cornell Summer Institute on Migrationas part of the Mellon Just Futures grant led by Shannon Gleeson and others at Cornell.

The research and collaboration supported by Mellon relates to Goffe’s book project “After Eden”. Scheduled for publication in 2024 with Doubleday and Hamish Hamilton, this trade book focuses on the natural, racial and colonial histories of the Caribbean. “The race crisis and the climate crisis are one and the same thing. One cannot be solved without the other,” Goffe said.

Kate Blackwood is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.


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