Suvir Kaul's (UPenn) "Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism, and Empire: British Literature in the Eighteenth-century"
Talk one of Mentoring Future Faculty of Color Project. This paper will explore the idea that "Cosmopolitanism," as a term, an idealized state of being, and a cultural and political idea, comes into vogue in historical circumstances where the putative attributes of cosmopolitanism—tolerance of, even ease with, people of different nationalities, cultures, religions, and races—are disabled in practice. Eighteenth-century English and European commentators on cultural difference derived most of their operative sociological and historical categories from the explosion of information produced by commercial and colonial expansion across the globe. Out of this welter of knowledge emerged the theories of kinship and social development that underpinned imperialist ideas of human difference as well as more cosmopolitan arguments that insisted on the recuperative powers of cultural knowledge and human sympathy. Such cosmopolitanism was a forceful, though necessarily compromised, response to the cultural coercions of empire. I will show that eighteenth-century literary texts are a fruitful archive for discussions of the forms and vocabularies of cosmopolitanism, and also venture a larger, more speculative claim: cosmopolitanism, that is, the awareness of the mediated relations between provinces and nations, nations and colonies, and between competitive empires in history and in the contemporary moment, enabled “English Literature” to come into institutional being in the eighteenth century.