F20 Black Atlantic: Resources, Pedagogy, and Scholarship on the 18th Century Black Atlantic

Fashion, Hatian Literature, & Digital Humanities

This week’s class session featured a guest speaker, Siobhan Mei, a current doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her research focuses women’s studies, fashion theory, and translation studies, all of which she incorporates in the article “Feminist Translation Matters: Reading Fashion, Materiality, and Revolution in the English-Language Translations of Chauvet’s Le danse sur le volcan.” The article is taken from her in-progress dissertation, entitled “Refashioning History: Women as Sartorial Storytellers.” The article discusses the similarities between fashion and translation as sites of inquiry, stating that both are relegated to the realm of women’s work, which is often reviewed as “derivative, shallow, or intellectually disengaged” (159). The article thus uses a transdisciplinary framework of translation and fashion studies to explore the role of the history, production, and materiality of dress in two English language translations of Haitian author Marie Chauvet’s Le danse sur le volcan, first published in 1957. I had never heard of Chauvet before this class, but having read the article and discussed Mei’s work, I’m now compelled to read the text in translation. I’m also compelled to think about the politics of translation, which is something that I have not considered in depth before. Mei’s article considers the impact of translation of Chauvet’s work on the reception of the writer’s oeuvre and on the legacy of the writer herself. Furthermore, she examines descriptions of women’s dress and appearance in translations of Chauvet’s work as indicative of strategies of self-fashioning used by Haitian women to navigate expectations of racialized gender and to disorder colonial social hierarchies. She ultimately argues that Chauvet’s descriptions of women’s dress in colonial Haiti during the years leading up to the Revolution show how citizenship and women’s fashion were linked and reveal how varying understandings of femininity, womanhood, and beauty related to struggles political struggles in late 18th-century Haiti.

Mei’s work is quite fascinating, and it was refreshing to speak with someone who is fairly close to where we are in the process of developing from graduate students into scholars in our chosen fields. I appreciated her openness and willingness to discuss her experiences with navigating the intricacies of the process. I also enjoyed seeing some of the online work that she is involved with, especially the social media project called Rendering Revolution. Her work provides an instructive example of how we, as graduate students, can begin to carve out places for ourselves within our fields and also how we can use digital tools and platforms to reach audiences beyond academia.

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