This year’s ASCA article award goes to a book chapter, “Medializing Race: Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Colonial South East Asia” by meLê yamomo, published in Uncle Tom’s Cabins: The Transnational History of America’s most Mutable Book, edited by Tracy C. Davis and Stefka Mihaylova (The University of Michigan Press, 2018).
In this article meLê yamomo offers an insightful and rare glimpse into how the 1852 novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, travelled across colonial South East Asia shaping and transforming imperial racial imaginaries and “knowledge formation(s)”. The paper embarks on a rich archival analysis of how 20th century print and entertainment media enabled the novel to cross national, generic and formal boundaries, both helping the spread of colonial ideologies on the one hand, and on the other getting appropriated by anticolonial nationalist movements in the late stages of colonialism.
The article presents a compelling account of the mutability of Uncle Tom’s Cabin on both the theoretical and the archival fronts. Theoretically, it drives home the point about how media constructions were fundamentally constitutive of the imperial imaginaries, hierarchies and discourses of the time. It plays on the word ‘medialization’ to not only mean that which is taken up by and becomes media, but also to refer to how the colonial ideologies were neutralized by the easy availability and widely reiterated performance of the novel. As archival research it takes into account a number of media – newspapers, music, theatre, minstrel shows and circus performances – covering half a century from the time of the book’s publication until the heydays of the anticolonial movements in South East Asia. The article thus offers a compelling double-sided analysis of the novel’s hold on the public imagination and its undeniable hand in forging new “epistemologies of race”. From referring to the ‘proper’ colonial subject as an ‘Uncle Tom’ to demonizing every plantation owner as a ‘Legree’, the paper traces the vast number of ways in which the novel was interpreted, and accounts, materially, for the socio-political impact a literary text can have.