Irish Association for American Studies
Evolutions and Involutions of Human Rights in the Americas
Trinity College Dublin – Trinity Long Room Hub
18th November 2023
Organizers: Ginevra Bianchini and Midia Mohammadi, IAAS PG Caucus co-chairs
For the 2023 IAAS Postgraduate Symposium we invite scholars across all disciplines of American Studies to reflect on the interlocked themes of ‘Evolutions and Involutions of Human Rights in the Americas.’ We seek to understand how, throughout history, backlashes have occurred in cyclical patterns and how thinkers, authors, human rights activists, and scholars have responded to these challenges.
There are many examples indicating these cyclical recurrences in the United States. For instance, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (1789) initially pledged equal treatment for all Americans regardless of gender, race, or social class; however, it took seventy-four years, many lives, and a destructive Civil War for the 13th Amendment to be ratified. Even after legal emancipation, Black people have endured persistent racism and injustice. The arduous struggle for justice found expression through the Civil Rights and Black Power movements in the 1960s and 70s, an ongoing pursuit that still persists. As a part of systematic, racialized police violence, the brutal murder of George Floyd aggravated the backlashes against the revindication of Black people’s rights. It returned the ongoing activism of the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront, proving once again that continual, political, and cultural work is necessary to preserve fundamental human rights in America.
The backlashes against human rights go beyond the streets and are taking place in the legal arena too, as several of the rights gained during the 20th century are being revoked. The overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court in 2022 and the anti-LGBTQ laws passed in the same year – which add to the ongoing challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals in numerous states – serve as crisis-level reminders of the erosion of hard-won, established rights within the US. These contemporary examples repeat and revise a long history of backlashes against fundamental human rights. Margaret Jay Jessee’s Female Physicians in American Literature (2022), for example, illuminates how late 19th-century America witnessed backlashes against the advancement of women’s rights and how abortion was made illegal under the pressures of heteropatriarchy, xenophobia, and racism. Throughout the 20th century, researchers and activists have continued to draw attention to the ongoing backlashes against women’s rights, as seen in Susan Faludi’s influential work Backlash (1991), which explores the historical challenges faced by women’s rights in the US. In short, these are just two representative examples of how the US has long proven to be prone to backlashes against fundamental human rights, and this symposium is interested in examining the reasons for it.
Delegates are encouraged to reflect on the contexts and significance of these evolutions and involutions and how they have been narrated and represented in the cultural imaginary. When and why do backlashes occur? How have diverse constituencies in the US responded to them in given historical moments? How have political and social backlashes been represented, debated, or silenced in American cultural productions? How are these impacting contemporary society?
Paper and panel topics may include but are by no means limited to:
- Investigations of the causes and origins of backlashes against fundamental human rights/judicial decisions concerning human rights and flouting and/or breaking of human rights’ legislations throughout the Americas and/or within the USA.
- Analysis of the portrayal of backlashes against human rights in cultural productions (literature, film, TV series, visual arts, music).
- Comparative analysis of parallels and connections between current backlashes and historical incidents.
- Examinations of the impact of legal decisions and policy changes on the perpetuation or mitigation of backlashes against human rights.
- Analysis of the depiction of backlashes in the mainstream media and popular culture.
- Explorations of the influences of colonialism and decolonialism on the development of backlashes.
- Impacts of capitalism and consumer culture on the perception of freedom and fundamental human rights.
- Relations between gun control, domestic terrorism, and ideas of freedom and human rights.
- Impacts on marginalized communities of human rights’ backlashes, including women’s rights, LGBTQIA+’ rights, and the rights of people of color, immigrants, and religious minorities.
The symposium is scheduled as an in-person event and will be hosted by Trinity College Dublin and the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts & Humanities Research Institute. The Trinity Long Room Hub can be reached by public transport to city center and is fully accessible.
The IAAS and the Postgraduate Symposium are dedicated to diversity, equality, and inclusion, and we welcome papers from under-represented groups. You can read our code of conduct at this link: https://iaas.ie/blog/iaas-annual-conference-code-of-conduct/.
All presenters must be members of the IAAS to register for and attend the symposium. More information is available here: https://iaas.ie/memberships/.
The IAAS is an all-island scholarly association dedicated to promoting interdisciplinary American Studies in Ireland. The annual Postgraduate Symposium, run by Postgraduates, aims at fostering a supportive and discursive environment for more junior scholars to share their research, exchange ideas, and create lasting connections and networks.
For more information, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or join the IAAS Postgraduate Discord: https://discord.gg/jasEAMKJ4b.
The IAAS offers two bursaries of €50 each for attendance at the Postgraduate Symposium. Applicants must be presenting a paper in person at the symposium and should express their interest and reasons when submitting their paper proposal. The bursary recipients will be delegates without additional funding who are traveling the farthest distance to attend the symposium.
We welcome 300-word proposals for fifteen-minute papers or 500-word proposals for three-person panels, along with a short academic biography (150 words) in the same document, from postgraduate and early career researchers across all disciplines of American Studies, including literature, history, film, politics, music, art, media, geopolitics, geography, and more.
The deadline for submissions, to be sent to email@example.com, is Monday 9th, October 2023.
 The word Americas in this context refers to the countries of North and South America, considered together. (Cambridge Dictionary, s.v. “Americas,” accessed September 08, 2023, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/americas)