Home“For the World’s Benefit” : Transnational Perspectives on the First Century of the Panama Canal

“For the World’s Benefit” : Transnational Perspectives on the First Century of the Panama Canal

« Au service du monde » : perspectives transnationales sur le premier siècle du canal de Panama

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Published on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 by Céline Guilleux

Summary

The centennial of the canal’s inauguration provides an opportunity to renew inquiry about Panama’s mission of “service to the world”, as the country’s national motto states. The colloquium approaches the history of the canal in light of recent efforts to promote “global”, “connected” or “transnational” history. It aims both to reassess the geopolitics of the canal’s control and to explore a broad range of social and cultural phenomena that have taken shape through the canal’s construction and use. Alongside diplomats, soldiers and journalists, who figured prominently in international relations, engineers and juristsput forward the professional dimension of international cooperation. Last but not least, the colloquium seeks to shed light on how travellers and laborers appropriated the canal and interpreted the “service of the world”.

Announcement

One hundred years ago, on August 15, 1914, the U.S. steamship Ancon made its first official crossing of the Panama Canal. As part of the U.S. War Department’s fleet, the ship was rented at the time to the Panama Railroad Company and flew, among other flags, one bearing the emblem of the American Peace Society, a pacifist organization founded in the early 19th century. For the New York Times, the opening of the canal marked a new era of trade, prosperity and cooperation.[1] Four years later, the ship was purchased by the U.S. Navy and mobilized to bring 6000 U.S. soldiers back from the world war in Europe. After being converted into a cruise ship in the 1930s, it was used, among other purposes, to transport Australian war brides to the U.S. at the end of World War II.

The journeys and metamorphoses of the Ancon illustrate all at once the strategic and economic stakes and the highly charged imaginaries associated with the Panama Canal. The nation-state of Panama was brought into existence in 1903 via a nationalist revolution accompanied by the diplomatic and military manipulations of the United States and a French engineer.[2] It sports the nickname “Bridge of the World, Heart of the Universe” (Puente del Mundo, Corazón del Universo)[3]and continues to proclaim, over a century later, that its destiny is to work “for the world’s benefit”.[4]Panama’s ambition to play such a role remains of contemporary interest, at a time when a major expansion project has been undertaken to adapt the canal to 21st century maritime transport.

The centennial of the canal’s inauguration provides an opportunity to renew inquiry about Panama’s mission of “service to the world”. The objective is to approach the history of the canal in light of recent efforts to promote “global”, “connected” or “transnational” histories whose objects include not only the strategic relations among states and economic exchanges, but also a broad range of other transnational relations among social actors of all sorts.

In the centennial year of the canal’s opening, this conference aims thus to revisit and assess the history of the past century. Its ambition is to study the projects and social networks of all types that have taken shape through the canal’s construction and use. Historians have studied the canal in part as a privileged space of technical innovation and economic strategies and manoeuvres. The completion of its construction is associated with the emergence of a major world power and indeed a new form of imperialism, promoted by its dominant actors as fulfilling progressive and universal goals. Without excluding the politics and geopolitics of the canal’s control, we seek to shed light as well on actors, forms and cultures of international cooperation. Alongside businessmen, diplomats and soldiers, the canal has focused the attention of engineers, jurists, and journalists. The users of the canal and visitors to the zone are also worthy of attention, including laborers, tourists, missionaries and writers who have appropriated the canal in their own ways.

To explore these questions, we seek to bring together specialists from different disciplines and different parts of the world in order to take stock, via Panama, of different approaches to globalization and to transnational phenomena.

Bibliography

[1] “The Panama Canal Officially Opened,” The New York Times, 16 août 1914, p. 14.
[2] LaFeber, Walter, The Panama Canal: The Crisis in Historical Perspective, Oxford University Press, 1979, ch. 2.
[3] Millan, Claudia & Ifeoma Kiddoe Nwankwo, “Interoceanic Diasporas and The Panama Canal’s Centennial,” The Global South, 6: 2 (Fall 2012), p. 2.
[4]Its official motto is “Pro Mundi Beneficio”.

Submission guidelines

Paper proposals (500 words) must be sent to the organizers, Didier Aubert: didier.aubert@univ-paris3.fr, Jim Cohen: james.cohen@univ-paris3.fr andEvelyne Payen-Variéras: evelyne.payen@univ-paris3.fr

by Sept. 5, 2014.

Scientific committee

  • Didier Aubert (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3)
  • James Cohen (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3)
  • Olivier Compagnon (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3)
  • Evelyne Payen-Variéras (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3) 

Practical informations

This event is organized by members of three interdisciplinary research teams of the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle- Paris 3: the Centre de recherches sur l’Amérique du Nord (CRAN), division of the Center for Research on the English-Speaking World (CREW), the Centre de recherches et de documentation sur les Amériques (CREDA) and Théorie et histoire des arts et des littératures de la modernité (THALIM).

It will take place on November 28, 2014 in Paris.

Places

  • Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris 3, Site de Censier - 13 rue de Santeuil
    Paris, France (75)

Date(s)

  • Friday, September 05, 2014

Keywords

  • canal de Panama, coopération internationale, diplomatie, histoire globale

Contact(s)

  • Evelyne Payen-Variéras
    courriel : evelyne [dot] payen [at] univ-paris3 [dot] fr
  • Didier Aubert
    courriel : didier [dot] aubert [at] sorbonne-nouvelle [dot] fr
  • James Cohen
    courriel : james [dot] cohen [at] univ-paris3 [dot] fr

Information source

  • Evelyne Payen-Variéras
    courriel : evelyne [dot] payen [at] univ-paris3 [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« “For the World’s Benefit” : Transnational Perspectives on the First Century of the Panama Canal », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, July 15, 2014, https://calenda.org/292397

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