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Our annual summer institute immerses early-career scholars in the study of racism, dispossession, and migration in a collaborative space.

The virtual 2021 institute engaged participants in comparative perspectives from African studies, Native American and Indigenous studies, and settler colonial studies. 

Read about the inaugural summer institute, Cartographies of Racial Justice Beyond Borders.

The Ongoing Afterlife of Dispossession in Africa and the Americas

Virtual, July 11–22, 2022

  • Faculty leader: Judith Byfield, professor of history, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Stipend: $2,000 per participant

Exploring the generative spaces created by the advocates and critics of settler colonialism, our discussions and activities were guided by four overarching goals:

  1. Considering how examples from Africa can add to and/or challenge theoretical insights from Native American and Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies
  2. Developing more comparative analyses of the processes of dispossession and its contemporary forms such as resource extraction
  3. Exploring methodologies for creating new knowledge about dispossession and its ongoing consequences
  4. Examining efforts by artists and filmmakers to tell more nuanced stories of dispossession and imagine pathways towards more just futures


Participants compared the structural inequalities created in the wake of European possession of Indigenous lands and the foundational features of settler colonialism that continue to frame political, economic, cultural, and environmental practices, paying particular attention to scholars and activists who challenge efforts to normalize or erase dispossession and the violence that it has and continues to generate.

In addition, they explored the ways in which creative artists, especially filmmakers, work to transform narratives of dispossession and settler colonialism while imagining futures no longer defined by these histories. The institute's outcomes will be:

  • Dialogue with scholars, activists, and creative artists addressing the ongoing consequences of dispossession and settler colonialism
  • Curricular design
  • Digital humanities resources
  • A publication featuring contributions from participants of the summer institute


"I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong hills ... In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be."

-Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa

At the time she wrote these words, Isak Dinesen’s sense of entitlement to the land she occupied in Kenya built on four centuries of dispossession as Europeans created settler colonies around the globe. While settler colonies no longer exist in Africa, Africanist scholars argue that settler colonialism is a useful analytical concept to deploy when studying 20th- and 21st-century Africa. We owe the appreciation of settler colonialism as an analytical concept to scholars in Native American and Indigenous studies. Their critical intervention has proven to be extremely generative to scholars in multiple disciplines as well as scholars of multiple geographies.

This summer institute provides an opportunity to put African studies in conversation with Native American and Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies.

Settler colonialism is a distinctive form of colonialism. It is a specific social formation created out of the structures imposed through the protracted processes of conquest and dispossession. Settler colonialism, however, is not an event or a fleeting stage; it is a persistent set of characteristics that continue to define new world settler societies, whether the descendants of European settlers retained power or lost power as in Africa.

The dispossession of land is at the heart of settler colonialism. Settlers dismissed indigenous sovereignty and rights to land, used violence liberally to enforce their claims, and crafted a discourse that "disappeared" the Indigenous communities whose cultures and practices shaped the landscapes they inhabited. Dispossession also shaped the political economy of settler societies. The control of land operated on the presumption of white possession and cemented structural inequalities between "Natives" and "settlers." The elaboration of racial categories as new populations came to or were forceable brought to settler colonies was inextricably tied to the permanent dispossession of Indigenous communities.

While settler colonial studies brought forward important insights, its critiques are equally generative. Critics called attention to the ways in which some of this scholarship remains entangled in the settler-colonial paradigm. Indigenous peoples have been obscured as some scholars failed to take into account their refusal to be subsumed by the structures of the settler colony.

Indigenous peoples’ resistance, continued insistence on land-care taking, and what Kehaulani Kauanui calls "enduring indigeneity" also shaped settler colonialism’s social formations and their corresponding racial landscapes. Kauanui challenges scholars of settler colonialism to consider indigeneity as a socially constructed category of analysis that is distinct from race, ethnicity, and nationality, though it incorporates elements of all three. This critique is especially productive for African studies because indigeneity has become an increasingly important factor in local and national political mobilization and debate in both former non-settler and settler colonies.


  • Jodi Bird, The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011).
  • Glen Coulthard, Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).
  • Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa (New York: Random House, 1938): 3, 5.

  • Caroline Elkins and Susan Pedersen (eds.), Settler Colonialism in the Twentieth Century: Projects, Practices, Legacies (New York: Routledge, 2005).

  • J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, “A Structure, Not an Event”: Settler Colonialism and Enduring Indigeneity,” Lateral: Journal of the Cultural Studies Association, Issue 5.1 (Spring 2016).

  • Audra Simpson, Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014).
  • Lorenzo Veracini, "Decolonizing Settler Colonialism: Kill the Settler in Him and Save the Man" American Indian Culture and Research Journal vol. 41, no.1(2017): 1–18.

Special thanks to Mishuana Goeman (Tonawanda Band of Seneca, Professor of gender studies and American Indian studies, University of Buffalo) whose insights and suggestions contributed significantly to the formulation of this call.

Cornell University is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ' (the Cayuga Nation). Read Cornell's full land acknowledgment.