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  • Tracing the Settler's Tools:A Forum on Patrick Wolfe's Life and Legacy
  • Cynthia G. Franklin (bio), Njoroge Njoroge (bio), and Suzanna Reiss (bio)

In loving memory of Patrick Wolfe (June 12, 1949–February 18, 2016). As his work lives on, may he rest in power.


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Figure 1.

Patrick Wolfe in Honolulu on April 29, 2009, after his lecture "Race and the Trace of History."

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In this forum, scholars from different disciplinary locations take up Patrick Wolfe's 2016 book, Traces of History: Elementary Structures of Race, and consider its importance for the field of American studies. Contributors discuss challenges that Traces of History poses and the possibilities it opens that are of value to American studies and its approaches to racial formation and settler colonialism. They approach Wolfe's book as experts in one or more of the racial discourses and histories it takes up, and from different disciplinary homes.

Having this forum in American Quarterly challenges interdisciplinary scholars across fields to explore how and why the study of geographies of settler colonialism has and has not found a home in American studies. Taken together, and in dialogue with the comparative approach Wolfe himself takes, the essays in this forum invite readers to consider the importance of a comparative approach to racialization and settler colonialism that extends beyond US borders. This can enable new and necessary understandings of the articulations among racisms as they take place in disparate sites linked through circuits of imperialism.

The three of us editing this forum have spent many an evening together in the wonderful company of Patrick. With his sudden passing from a heart condition in February 2016, soon after the publication of Traces of History, his work, his brilliance, and his antics have continued to make him a sorely missed absence, yet a felt presence during our times together. After Haunani-Kay Trask, David Stannard, Eiko Kosasa, Karen Kosasa, Laura Lyons, and Candace Fujikane met Patrick when he delivered a keynote at the Fifth Galway Conference on Colonialism, focused on settler colonialism, and invited him to Hawai'i in 2009 to give a weeklong series of lectures, Hawai'i became one of his homes. During his visits, students, faculty, and other community members benefited from the impact his presence and work had on encouraging deeper engagement with the multifaceted ways his analysis of settler colonialism converges and diverges with local indigenous struggles and scholarship. After spending time with him together and apart, we only wish these essays, which [End Page 237] offer such tribute and challenges to his many propositions, could be met with both his laughter and his serious engagement with the generative questions his comrades raise.

Part 1: "Body and Soul"

Njoroge Njoroge

You already know enough. So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions.

—Sven Lindqvist, Exterminate All the Brutes

Race compresses colonialism's cumulative history. … Race is colonialism speaking.

—Patrick Wolfe, Traces of History

Early in Traces of History: Elementary Structures of Race, Patrick Wolfe makes the succinct (admittedly banal) observation: "Race is not a static ontology. As its name suggests it is an ongoing, ever-shifting contest."1 While pointing out that using "race" as a metaphor for the socially constructed hierarchies of human phenotypical diversity is not particularly novel, Patrick pushes us to understand its historical motions and legacies. Traces of History is not an attempt to create a definitive or (w)holistic accounting of "racialization processes" or the "racializing practices" undertaken in the making of the modern world. Instead, he offers us a discrete analysis of the historical development and deployment of specific "regimes of race"—historically constructed, contextually situated, and always in ongoing contestation. By examining relations between colonizer, colonized, native, enslaved, and settler in the United States, Australia, Brazil, and Palestine, Wolfe uses his case studies to map the traces of race that both outline and delineate the spaces of exploitation, "underdevelopment," and ongoing struggle. Race is a construct, certainly, but it is also a productive force. By itself, it explains little, but viewed through...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6490
Print ISSN
0003-0678
Pages
pp. 235-247
Launched on MUSE
2017-06-26
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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