Visiting Fellow Monique Allewaert on Colonial Insectophilia

March 15, 2018

Monique Allewaert, author of Ariel’s Ecology: Personhood and Colonialism in the American Tropics, 1760-1820, visited the Department as a Humanities Council Short-Term Fellow. Allewaert, who specializes in 18th and 19th century American literature, colonialism, New World plantations, ecocriticism, and political philosophy, presented work from her new book project Cut Up: Colonial Insectophilia and Enlightenment from Below.

An Associate Professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Allewaert’s first talk, “Insect Light: Knowledges from the Plantationocene,” demonstrated how the central role played by entomology on a colonial plantation in Haiti might help us rethink the Enlightenment. She suggested that this minoritarian Enlightenment tradition, originating on the periphery and focused on the micro, might provide interesting possibilities for understanding our contemporary environmentalism.

Allewaert later spoke to The Environmental Humanities Colloquium on the topic of “Colonial Semiotics.” Focusing specifically on indexical signs at play in artifacts, Allewaert offered the case of Francois Makandal. A Kongo-born slave-turned-maroon, Makandal’s fetish artifacts, which he produced in 1750’s Haiti, testify to the important “interfaces between the physical world and language.”

Allewaert, who engaged with students and faculty throughout her visit, also conducted a graduate workshop. Focused on the question “What does the Enlightenment hold for us today?” Allewaert continued the conversation on whether or not “radical and detoured enlightenments can be useful in addressing the conjoined ecological and economic problems of our time.”