Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

GRAD WORKSHOP - Claiming Citizenship: Race and Caste in the U.S. and India

Wednesday, January 20, 2021 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Online: Zoom Link To Be Announced


Brian T. Cannon / Penn History and South Asia Studies

CONTRARY TO THE IDEA OF A HISTORICAL RUPTURE that some scholars have employed to characterize the partition of British India, the decades framing Indian independence in the mid-twentieth century reflect clear links to colonial mentalities and institutions, as much as a visible commitment to the ideals of a young democracy. The social institution of caste has proved especially indicative of this fractured political mentality. As the Indian government uniquely politicized caste with the drafting and adoption of a republican constitution, particular communities sought to shape, unify, and give public voice to their caste histories in the hope of securing social legitimacy, high standing, and particular rights and privileges. Later iterations of caste politicization further catalyzed community mobilization, from the implementation of affirmative action schemes in the late twentieth century, to the 2011 re-introduction of caste enumeration in the decennial Indian census. With an eye to this rapidly shifting history pocked by legacies of the past as much as promises of the future, this paper will employ primarily Hindi and British colonial records to chart the consequences of such self-fashioning, in which these groups attempted to craft stable narratives of lineage to ensure social security. In particular, it highlights the divergent trajectories of a host of socio-occupationally related communities of genealogists, praise poets, and performers, who publicly claimed social prestige on the basis of historical association with royal patrons. Though an eventual legal branding of “backwards” caste status marked every one of these groups, some shunned that government label – despite the promise of economic benefits in educational and job security it afforded – while others embraced it. This paper seeks to question why, by more broadly situating its empirical findings against theories on the construction, interpretation, and maintenance of social categories, democratic schemes of social inclusion and exclusion, and the political consequences of bureaucratic control. 



Emily Yankowitz / Yale University, History

BEFORE DRED SCOTT V. STANFORD (1857), WHICH DENIED citizenship to free African Americans, the U.S. Department of State’s issuance of passports to African Americans was an important controversy over the boundaries of citizenship. Because there were neither laws explicitly linking passports to citizenship nor federal rulings on African Americans’ citizenship status before 1857, passports offered African Americans unique opportunities to claim status as citizens and to receive federal recognition of that status. This paper analyzes efforts by three African American men, William Purvis, Peter Williams, and Henry Hambleton, to obtain passports between 1834 and 1849. I argue that these men attempted to use passports to stake claim to national citizenship—and in doing so challenged the boundaries of citizenship in pre–Dred Scott America. This essay contributes to literatures on federal policies towards free American Americans before Dred Scott, free African Americans’ efforts to claim mobility as a citizenship right, and scholarship on U.S. citizenship more broadly. By considering the Department of State’s inconsistent responses to Purvis, Williams, and Hambleton’s passport applications, this essay highlights both the federal government’s inconsistent legal treatment of African Americans and citizenship’s ambiguous boundaries before 1857. Moreover, while historians of African American mobility mention passport disputes, they tend to use them as evidence of restrictions on African Americans’ movements rather than as efforts to document or claim citizenship. This study, by contrast, resituates passports within discussions of African Americans’ efforts to obtain citizenship, and in doing so illuminates how many African Americans directly linked mobility to citizenship before 1857. Finally, this paper contributes to scholarship on U.S. citizenship more broadly. None of the leading historical and political science works on citizenship consider passports before World War Two. By analyzing mid-nineteenth-century passport applications, this study directly addresses this chronological gap.