In Honor of Halloween: International Ghost Stories

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In this field, we often have to address dark topics, from  the indigenous experience of colonialism in the Americas, to the threat of emerging infectious diseases. But in my class and in my writing I always try also to touch on art, culture, music and literature. After some of my more recent posts (such as the recent ones on highly pathogenic avian influenza and the Mexican drug war) I wanted to touch on something less serious. So, in honor of Halloween’s approach, I’ll discuss international ghost stories.

My favorite short story writer is M.R. James. Although not prolific, he wrote a rich collection of late Victorian and Edwardian English ghost stories. As a successful academic, who wrote extensively on medieval and biblical history, his stories have an antiquarian touch. They are often set in libraries, or deal with archaeology, so that the past defines the story in a deep way. For any Anglophiles out there, they capture the social reality of Britain before World War Two, and an academic culture now long gone. I thought of him while at Oxford a few weeks ago (although he taught at Cambridge), and thought that physically there are still many places that don’t look very different from the England he knew. A gay man in an oppressive culture, he was Victorian in his character, but there are hints of his struggles in his stories. Perhaps his most famous story is “Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,” but my favorite is “Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook.” …

The Zetas: a Flawed Victory in Mexico’s War on Drugs

Earlier in this blog, I’ve discussed the Mexican drug war and the narco-blogs that have covered it. Calderon will leave Mexico’s presidency at the end of the year, but the drug war appears to continue unabated. As someone who began his career studying the Latin American military I have followed events closely. One of the aspects of the conflict that has struck me has been the extent to which the Mexican armed forces have relied upon the navy in the conflict, likely because the drug cartels have extensively infiltrated the army. Indeed, perhaps the most powerful cartel, the Zetas, emerged from within the armed forces itself. Now we have truly remarkable news coming out of the Mexico, that marines managed to kill the head of the Zeta cartel, Heriberto Lazcano. If true, this represents a striking victory for the government. Or it would, except that heavily armed members of the cartel promptly stole the body from the funeral home. If the armed forces cannot even provide security for this body, how can they impose order on society? Still, despite this strange loss, the Zetas have suffered from a series of deadly blows over the last year, and their power is waning. Lazcano’s death would surely accelerate this process. Still, this victory seems unlikely to change fundamentally the dynamic of the drug war, which grinds on. In the meanwhile, check out this excellent piece by the New York Times on Lazcano’s death, and the disappearance of his body.

Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies: Exam Questions

I am teaching a class “Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies” this quarter. It’s a challenging course for the students, and my class is currently wrestling with Dipesh Chakrabarty’s book, Provincializing Europe. I’ve chosen the book so that students think about such questions as: How do we understand modernity in a non-Western context? How applicable are social science theories developed in Europe or North America to other world regions? To what extent do Western social sciences implicitly accept models based on historicism, in which other cultures and societies are expected to pass through the same stages as Europe? What is the meaning of modernity? How do the social sciences approach the study of religion? Next quarter I am teaching the same class, but plan to use Edward Said’s Orientalism, which I think most students will find to be a more accessible text. Still, I think that Chakrabarty is a key text to any conversation about the meaning of modernity. …

Avian Influenza and the new SARS

I’ve just returned from a conference at Oxford entitled “Influenza 2012: One Influenza, One World.” The reference to “One World” in the

Avian influenza virus courtesy of dream designs at freedigitalphotos.net

title makes the point that human and animal health are intimately interlinked. While at the conference there was discussion of the current avian influenza outbreak in Jalisco, Mexico, and since returning there is now news about the discovery of a new corona virus in Saudi Arabia (this family of viruses covers a diversity of diseases from the common cold to SARS), which has killed one person and gravely sickened another. In this context, it makes sense to talk about the global ethical and scientific problems raised at the conference. …

Syllabus for “Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies”

I am writing this from Oaxaca, Mexico, a beautiful colonial center in southern Mexico. Because of Oaxaca’s altitude, it’s never too hot here, it’s far from the drug violence in the north, and it’s known for outstanding archeological sites (including Monte Alban, Mitla and the lesser-known Yagul). While my wife does fieldwork on Pentecostal healing, with endless church services and interviews, I am sampling the cuisine, bookstores, and pool. I’m also planning for my fall quarter, when I will be teaching a course, “Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies,” for the first time. …

Introduction to International Studies Syllabus

One of our goals for this website is make as many resources as possible available for faculty teaching an “Introduction to Global Studies” or “Introduction to International Studies” course. Here is the syllabus for the course that I taught this spring. If you click on the teaching tag on the word cloud to the right, you’ll also find earlier posts that related to the class, such as the rubric I used, the chocolate tasting assignment (very popular as you might expect), a map on security, and the first day quiz. I’ve also posted on free video resources for the class, and useful websites. …

Global Amazonia

It is ironic that a location with deep global connections -the Amazon- has long been thought of as a pristine refuge, ecologically and culturally, from the rest of the world. Over the last two decades, people have come to realize however, that the Amazon was always managed forest, with a significant population that shaped their environment to meet their needs. A recent BBC program entitled “Unnatural Histories- the Amazon” captures the evidence that has changed how we thought about the Amazon’s prehistory. We now know that the Amazon was not always isolated from neighboring regions in its prehistory. The Tupi people spread from the Amazon to the Brazilian coast, replacing the existing population. The Inca employed Amazonian forces as archers, while Guarani raided as far as the Andes. The Caribs spread out into the islands of the Caribbean, where they later met Columbus. The region was integrated with neighboring peoples throughout South America. …

Video Resources for Global/International Studies

This summer I am teaching one of my favorite classes on the Amazon Rainforest. The class covers ecology, cultural globalization, native peoples, film, urban development, history and economics. One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed teaching it is to be able to talk about the Amazon in film and literature. But I’ve also found a great video resource. The website Top Documentary Films contains free films for either class or personal use. I’m planning to use clips from the Fight for the Amazon series, which looks at environmental and social issues in the Amazon. “Raids in the Rainforest” follows the young director of Brazil’s national park system as she tries to protect her parks.  This would be a great choice for an environmental section of an introductory class. “The Justice Boat” looks at a traveling judge, who travels on boat to remote areas of the Amazon to bring the state to the riverdwellers. It would be a good choice for a class that dealt with the role of the state in the developing world. Finally, “The Internet Indians” examines how indigenous peoples (the Ashaninka) are using the internet to defend their interests. It would be a good choice for a class dealing with either the environment or cultural globalization. Another great choice on that topic would be the Youtube video on Google’s collaboration with the Surui, called “Trading Bows and Arrows for Laptops.” This brief (around seven minute) clip is a pick me up that tends to cheer up students during classes that can sometimes cover very dark topics. …

Drug Resistant Tuberculosis in China

I’ve talked about multi-drug resistant tuberculosis on this site before, but I want to return to the topic because of some recent articles on the topic covered on NPR. Last year there was some good news about tuberculosis globally, as researchers found that the total number of cases was declining, particularly in China. A new national tuberculosis survey in China this year, however, reveals that 10% of all new cases of tuberculosis diagnosed that country are multi-drug resistant, while 8% of these cases were infected with XDR, or extensively drug resistant tuberculosis. For these people, the treatment options are limited, and may not be successful. The article in the New England Journal of Medicine described the problems within the Chinese health care system that are driving this problem. But these challenges sound very similar to difficulties in other nations, including India and South Africa …

Pal Ahluwalia’s Out of Africa

I am teaching a new course “Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies Theory,” so I am reading broadly right now, particularly in the area of postcolonialism and critical theory. One of the best books that I have read has been Pal Ahluwalia’s Out of Africa, which argues that the roots of French postcolonialism lie in that nation’s long and tortured history in Algeria. He makes the argument by tracing the lives of key thinkers -Camus, Sartre, Cixous, Lyotard, Fanon, Derrida and Bourdieau- to show how their Algerian experience shaped their writings. In Algeria, the key question that people faced was “What is my identity?” Europeans from many nations adopted a persona of being more French than the French, in order to distinguish themselves from the Arab population. But this identity was contingent. For example, Algeria’s Jews first received citizenship, then lost it under Vichy France, and did not have it reinstated until six months after the war. This context shaped, for example, the experience of Helene Cixous, the famous feminist scholar. As the war forced people to take sides and decide on their identity -did they really belong in their homeland?- multiple academics experienced exile. …

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