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About Us

The Institute for Comparative Modernities (ICM) addresses a key problem in the study of modern culture and society: the transnational history of modernity and its global scope. A broad range of scholarship over the last few decades has contested and complicated the two primary dimensions of the received narrative of modernity: that it arose strictly within the confines of Europe; and that its extension outside Europe was a matter of simple diffusion and imitation. What is emerging instead is an account of modernity as a global process in which deep and multifarious interconnections have created complementary cultural formations.

The Institute is dedicated to the study of modernity in such a transnational and comparative perspective. Its primary emphasis will fall on neglected or under-studied articulations of modernity outside of the historically constituted hegemonic spaces of Europe and the United States, but it will also give serious attention to conflicts and complexities within the West. Inadequate understandings of the complex history of modernity have led to simplistic and untenable positions that unknowingly repeat colonialism’s ideological juxtapositions of “us” and “them,” with modernity (and all the positive connotations of historical progress that accrue to the term) all on one side and inscrutable backwardness all on the other. This results in ghettoized scholarship that is damaging to all.

The standard equation of modernity with the West needs to be problematized and opened up to comparative examination. The Institute hopes to galvanize work in this direction by encouraging cross-disciplinary collaborative research that advances a genuinely global analysis of modernity that is also empirically faithful to geographical and historical specificity. By bringing attention to less frequently studied aesthetic and social practices from non-Western and immigrant communities, the Institute hopes to correct accounts of modernity as primarily Western in origin and dynamics.
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Our Mission and Goals

The Institute brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars from the humanities and the social sciences who are interested in the issue of comparative/global modernities. It aims to contribute to the intellectual environment at Cornell through seminars, lecture series, symposia, and publications, and by encouraging related on-going initiatives and research projects. While the Institute’s programming will, on the whole, engage the entire Cornell community, the Institute has also developed more focused initiatives directed toward two constituencies in particular—faculty at an early stage of their careers at Cornell, and graduate students. 

The Institute hopes to both foster new scholarship in the area of comparative modernities, and help faculty advance in their academic development by providing them with forms of intellectual and institutional support for their respective research endeavors. For example, each year, the Institute will invite a not-yet tenured faculty member to propose and to develop a theme for a project that will then become a focal point (whether in the form of a conference, symposium, or workshop) for the Institute in the following year. 

Working to further advance the intellectual energies and scholarly  research trajectories generated by projects such as those mentioned above, the Institute will develop a publication series with an academic press that will provide a venue for the publication of the proceedings of a givenlecture series or of conferences initiated and sponsored by the Institute.

The Institute also seeks to provide greater opportunities for graduate students from across the campus to engage each other through interdisciplinary and collaborativeresearch working groups.  To that end, the Institute will provide meeting space as well as seed money for the establishment and the maintenance of up to three graduate student research working groups a year.  Graduate students will be encouraged to organize research working groups that will include a minimum of six participants, and that will comprise participants from at least two different disciplines.  The funding provided by the Institute is meant to sustain a year-long project (renewal for a second year may be possible in some instances).  The project will culminate in a public presentation of the group’s research (the form of such a presentation will be determined in large part by the group itself).

The Institute will host international scholars and artists in an effort to foster greater international intellectual and artistic exchange.  Scholars and artists will be brought to campus to engage with the Cornell community either as part of an in-residence program, or as participants in conferences, workshops, collaborative projects, or formal and informal interaction with students.

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