Calendar of Events

Spring 2012

Friday, February 24, 2012
Siobhan Somerville (English, Illinois)
Image for Siobhan Somerville talk
Unsettling Citizenship: Queer Indigenous Studies, U.S. Empire, and the Racial State
2:00 pm Curtin 175

Responding to recent work in queer indigenous studies, Siobhan Somerville asks how histories and theories of settler colonialism have shaped discourses of sexuality and race in U.S. state practices, particularly the production of federal citizenship through naturalization. She focuses on the Dawes Act (1887), a federal law that transformed collectively held lands into private property and simultaneously converted many native people into U.S. citizens. It is clear that the Dawes Act profoundly reorganized—and continues to influence—the material and ideological relationship between American Indians and the U.S. federal state.

The Dawes Act is also crucial part of the broader history of naturalization and acquired citizenship in the U.S., which otherwise tends to be dominated by immigrant histories. Drawing on archival material about citizenship ceremonies performed under the Dawes Act, Somerville demonstrates not only how discourses of race and sexuality have been central to the federal state’s fantasies of national belonging and territorial expansion, but also how a queer approach to the Dawes Act significantly revises our understanding of the history of naturalization, exposing it as an integral practice of U.S. empire-building. This talk is drawn from research for her current book project, “A Queer Genealogy of Naturalization in the U.S.”

Siobhan Somerville is an associate professor of English and Gender & Women's Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her expertise includes feminist theory, queer studies, and American literature. She has written extensively on the intersection of race and sexuality in U.S. literature and history, and is currently studying immigration law and U.S. citizenship. She is the author of Queering the Color Line: Race and the Invention of Homosexuality in American Culture (Duke, 2000).

Photo: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD

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