Workshop: Frontiers and Empires on Water

Event Date: 
Friday, November 18, 2016 to Saturday, November 19, 2016
001 Robertson Hall

The Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination will convene a workshop, "Frontiers and Empires on Water," November 18-19, 2016, in Bowl 1, Robertson Hall. This workshop is the second of three workshops in the series, "Enduring Frontiers: Geographical, Political, Cultural?" The workshops will be directed by LISD research associate, Michael Barry, assisted by LISD student associate and Princeton University Ph.D. candidate, Benjamin Sacks. To attend, RSVP to Angella Matheney.

Frontiers projected upon maps define limits supposedly dictated by unchanging geographical layout such as rivers and mountains, but often appear founded on imperial strategies or cultural and sectarian divides with sometimes disastrous consequences today: from African and Middle Eastern upheavals to the Yugoslav breakup and tensions around Russian and Chinese territorial waters, to current populist-fueled anxieties over migrant inflow across European and US borders. Participants in three successive round tables with projected maps address the logic, past and future, of world frontiers: 1) on land, 2) on water, and 3) through the air, including in cyberspace. Those who attend and participate in all three workshops during the fall 2016 semester will be invited to take part in a special event during the spring 2017 semester. 

“Frontiers and Empires on Water,” will focus on how the world's main navigable water lines and the repeated efforts of naval powers to dominate these demonstrate how much water connects as well as divides. While far-flung Polynesian navigation proved the tenacity of ancient human waterborne expansion, the maritime commerce of the classical Old World linked Mediterranean ports with the spice trade of the Indian Ocean, which China once dominated but relinquished to Muslim seafarers in the fifteenth century. Iberian discovery of the Americas in 1492 and circumnavigation of Africa by 1498 linked all the world’s oceans and brought them under European then American supremacy now partly challenged, however, by Chinese maritime resurgence. What does this mean for today, and what does this mean below the surface?

The first workshop, "Frontiers and Empires on Land," held in October, focused on how the earliest states grew along river-watered territories where distinct cultures evolved – bordered by natural barriers like deserts, mountains, dense forests, seas. Early empires juxtaposed several river-based cultures but remained vulnerable to attack by impoverished but warlike dwellers of forests or deserts which they attempted to wall out. Later empires and rival political entities became technologically empowered to overcome traditional geographic and ethnic barriers and draw arbitrary zones of influence, jeopardized, however, by late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century, upheavals often reasserting traditional frontiers, while populist politicians in Europe and the United States resurrected notions of walled borders against migrant inflow. The third workshop to be held in December, "Frontiers and Empires through the Air," will address whether lines of influence once marked upon land or through water retain full pertinence since superseded by aircraft or overridden in an age of instant telecommunication, as in the corrosive role of Radio Free Europe and the BBC in the former Soviet Empire, or worldwide propaganda online by state and non-state actors like Da'esh/the Islamic State. The stark reality of environmental degradation however both pulls strategic issues back to the land and water, while also transcending traditional frontiers, like Chernobyl’s cloud through the air or cyber operations and the world wide web which sovereign powers try to reassert in their territories. Likewise, where does outer space fit into the equation and what does it mean for the present and future of space exploration?