Williamsburg in the 19th Century: “As Lifeless as the Goddess of Dullness Could Wish”

As I began to research the effects of the Panic of 1819 on the City of Williamsburg, I thought it was a good idea to first get an idea of what exactly the city looked like in the 1810’s and 1820’s (using the term “city” to describe Williamsburg may be a bit of misnomer- the population had decreased considerably since the 18th century; it could easily be described as a village).  Anyone who has ever been to Williamsburg already has a pretty good idea of what the city looked like in the 1770s of course, thanks to the efforts of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. But what did the city look like forty years after independence? To answer this question, I turned to a collection of contemporary descriptions of the city put together by Jane Carson and the Colonial Williamsburg Department of Research and Record entitled We Were There and put together in 1961, as well as an architectural history of the city written by Lyon Gardiner Tyler, who had served as the College of William and Mary’s president during the early twentieth century. As it turns out, these readings show that the forty years after the capital moved to Richmond were not very kind to Williamsburg.

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Cusco, Quechua, and the Incan Myth

Prior to my arrival in Peru, I spent seven weeks as part of an informal independent study in order to gather background information on my project.   This initial research allowed me to explore various facets of the issue at hand, such as Quechua linguistics, language and power dynamics, the Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua, and the Peruvian nation’s often self-contradictory relationship with its Incan heritage and the present indigenous, Quechua-speaking population.  After spending more than two weeks in Peru thus far, it has become apparent that “Peru” is equated in the national imaginary with the glory of the Incan Empire; that Cusco, as the former seat of this empire, represents the preservation and incarnation of “Peruvianness”; and that Quechua, as the so-called “language of the Incas”, is strategically appropriated to lend a sense of authenticity to a nationalist, regionalist, and class-based project of identity construction.  Streets named after Incan rulers, signs in Spanish and Quechua, corporations such as Inca Kola and InkaFarma, murals and statues suggesting a historical continuity between the Incan past and the present, actors in Incan dress guarding major landmarks, etc. – all of these things point to an acute awareness of the past and a deliberate reconstruction of this past as a means of resolving identity conflicts in a heterogeneous society.  Even in Lima, most tourist shops sell products with the names of Cusco and Machu Picchu emblazoned across them alongside products bearing the name of Peru, clearly juxtaposing the idea of the nation with that of one particular element of Peruvian history and society which by no means provides an accurate representation of the more subaltern populations in Peru.  As Alberto Flores Galindo states in In Search of an Inca, “the idea of an unchanging, harmonious, and homogeneous Andean person…reflects an invented or desired history, wishful thinking, not the reality of a fragmented world” (5).    Therefore, the myth of Incan inheritance serves to cloak rather than clarify diverse identities and is little more than a culturally constructed narrative of national identity.

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Surprise? My project proposal was just the tip of the iceberg.

After a brutal spring semester finally came to an end, I set to work on my summer research for real. I began, like all well-motivated researchers, by googling the key terms for my research project to see what came up. The first terms to be googled were “Fluxus” and “Free Culture Society” together, to see if any research had been done similar to mine. What a shock it was to see my previous blog post come up as the second search result. My first thoughts were, “the thing I am researching is a figment of my imagination and I am going to have a hell of a time trying to find information about a nonexistent topic.” Fortunately, with the help of my friends (“Congratulations! Your research topic is unique!”) and some more legitimate research sources (I love Swem), I started to sink my teeth into some good information about the nonconformist art scenes in Vilnius and St. Petersburg. It did not come as a surprise, that as I started reading, my project began to take on a life of its own, opening new doors (or, as it were, books) to be read, and twisting the whole project in a new direction. Suddenly, I was up against something a lot bigger than just loose terms like, “free culture” and “art censorship.”

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