Center for Comparative Native and Indigenous Studies founded at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

The aim is to bring the world’s indigenous people into the center of research interest


The newly founded Center for Comparative Native and Indigenous Studies (CCNIS) at the American Studies Division of the Department of English and Linguistics at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) sets its focus on the life, culture, and environment of native peoples around the world. Like no other ethnic group, indigenous people have fascinated the Western imagination: The "Indian," the "Eskimo," or the "Aborigine" populates world literature ranging from the American detective novel and Hollywood productions such as "Dances with Wolves" or "Pocahontas" to Russian derevenskaja proza. All these rather mysterious descriptions in literature and film have coined our modern perspective on indigenous people. It is this mystery on which narrative tension is based, a tension that rests upon the idea that the native represents a counterpart to Western civilization. It is through his presence that civilization can be opposed to wilderness. The Center for Comparative Native and Indigenous Studies at Mainz University aims at breaking up this rigid framework and wants to raise the West's awareness of how indigenous people live.

"We want to show that these myths hardly have anything to do with the real Indian's identities and environments, and, above all, that Indians are not extinct but are an existing people that make an independent contribution to culture," says Professor Dr. Mita Banerjee, head of the CCNIS. The areas which the CCNIS seeks to explore are multifold, ranging from native medical cultures, alternative religion and indigenous life writing to the recent "renaissance" of interest in native cultures which has been sparked off by the movement towards "Ecocriticism." Furthermore, the Center invites work which will explore the institutions that provide indigenous communities with national and international visibility, including museum culture, theater, film and literary festivals. In addition, the CCNIS will critically reflect upon the practice of redress of the national past of each nation state. In this context, the idea of reconciliation is a pivotal field of analysis. Thus, the Center will also examine the actions taken by nation-states to provide for indigenous communities a more potent participation in social, political, and economic spheres.

"Finally, the CCNIS wants to provide synergy effects for research on indigenous studies which is already being conducted at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz," adds Professor Banerjee, "as well as to invite further research by guest researchers both national and international, and writers and artists working in the field of indigenous studies." With her team of researchers, Professor Banerjee will substantially contribute to joint research projects in the humanities and social sciences at Mainz University – such as the Center for Intercultural Studies, the Research Center Social and Cultural Studies Mainz (SOCUM), and the Research Unit Historical Cultural Sciences.

Mita Banerjee is Professor and Chair of American Studies from the 19th to the 21st century with an emphasis on contemporary American literature and culture as well as transnational American Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), Germany. She was a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley from 2000 to 2002. As part of JGU’s program of excellence, she received a call for an American Studies professorship and a five-year research fellowship from the University’s Gutenberg Research College to pursue a number of interdisciplinary projects, including the founding of the Center for Comparative Native and Indigenous Studies at Mainz. Banerjee’s main areas of research are the American Renaissance, Naturalism, ethnic American Literature, Life Writing, Critical Race Theory, Whiteness Studies, South Asian Diasporic Film, and Bollywood Cinema. Her research into postcolonialism, ethnicity, and the extension of the field of American Studies into more distant and international topics have been at the forefront of American Studies for several years.