JHI Alumni Spotlight—Katherine Bruce-Lockhart

Submitted by Sonja Johnston on Thu, 12/10/2020 - 13:58
JHI Alumni Spotlight features past Fellows and their current work
Katherine Bruce-Lockhart

Katherine Bruce-Lockhart—now Assistant Professor in History at the University of Waterloo—was a JHI Fellow twice: first, as an Undergraduate Fellow while doing her BA at U of T, and later returning as a SSHRC/CHCI Postdoctoral Fellow.

Katherine provides an overview of the projects she worked on while at the JHI and some insight into her fellowship experience.

She also updates us about her current work and shares why she thinks the humanities are important.

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The JHI Experience

I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to be a Jackman Fellow twice. As an undergrad, my research focused on the politics of reparations for slavery in Brazil, which was part of the Jackman’s “Location/Dislocation” theme. As a postdoc, I joined the Jackman for the research theme: “Indelible Violence: Shame, Reconciliation, and the Work of Apology.” During my postdoc, I worked on two projects: a book manuscript on the prison system in postcolonial Uganda and new research on the lived experiences and public perceptions of soldiers who served during Idi Amin’s military regime in Uganda. The latter project explored broader questions about how societies deal with the aftermath of state violence, particularly in terms of how blame is apportioned and labels such as “perpetrator” are assigned. Both of these projects considered the ways in which institutions and practices tied to the violence of colonial rule persisted in the aftermath of Uganda’s independence – an ongoing theme of my research.

My time as both an undergrad and postdoctoral fellow was wonderful. The JHI is a unique and nurturing community, bringing together scholars from a range of disciplinary backgrounds and career stages. This opens up many opportunities for friendship, collaboration, dialogue, and mentorship. I have very happy memories of many fellows’ lunches, informal chats in the hallway, reading Tracey Lindberg’s novel Birdie with a number of other fellows, and the weekly writing group that I was a part of – I’m actually still in a writing group with some former fellows! The amazing staff – Monica, Kim, Alison, and Cheryl – play a pivotal role in making the Institute a warm and caring community. I am also grateful for the support and guidance that I received from other fellows as I navigated different chapters of my academic experience, from applying to graduate school to preparing for job interviews.

Overall, the most impactful part of my JHI experience was the year on “Indelible Violence.” We had the opportunity to learn and reflect upon the past and present of settler colonial violence in Canada, and how this connects to the wider work of decolonization here and elsewhere. The work and contributions of the visiting Indigenous fellows – Audra Simpson, Tracey Lindberg, and John Borrows – had a profound impact on these discussions, as did a workshop facilitated by the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres. Such issues were further explored in a global context through a number of groups and events that I encountered through the JHI, including the Afterlives Working Group, the Truth and Reconciliation section of the South-North Dialogue, and the “Humanities Pedagogy Confronting Colonization” workshop. These forums led to me think about White supremacy, colonialism, and decolonization in new ways, as well as encouraging me to reflect upon my own position as a White settler. I am thankful that the JHI created space for these conversations.

Current Work

I am currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of Waterloo, and I am also affiliated with the Balsillie School of International Affairs. Right now, I am in the process of finishing up my book manuscript, which is tentatively entitled Carceral Afterlives: The Prison in Postcolonial Uganda, and is under contract with Ohio University Press in their New African Histories series. Combining both social and political history, this book traces how state actors represented and used the prison, the lived experiences of prison officers and prisoners, and prison’s relationship to other forms and institutions of state violence. It incorporates multiple analytic scales, from the day-to-day experiences within Uganda’s prison sites to the broader global networks in which ideas about the prison were recalibrated and challenged.

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The book also considers wider questions about the relationship between prisons, colonialism, and decolonization. As was the case across much of the Global South, prisons were forcibly introduced into Uganda through colonial rule, and they remained central to state power after independence. The prison’s postcolonial persistence, however, has been largely taken for granted in the current historiography. Rather than analyzing how and why the prison endured – and in the process, became a nearly universal institution – existing representations typically present the prison as either an inevitable inheritance of the postcolonial state or a symbol of its alleged dysfunction. In contrast, Carceral Afterlives insists on the need to more closely examine why and how the prison persisted in the aftermath of colonial rule, linking this history to current discussions on prison abolition and decolonization.

I’m also working on a number of new projects and activities. Some of these are focused specifically on Uganda, such as an edited volume on the politics of knowledge production in Uganda Studies and an article on soldiers’ experiences of the Amin state. Additionally, I have started some new comparative projects that explore how prisons were reimagined and resisted across the Global South following the end of colonial rule. One aspect of this research traces why governments have released prisoners en masse throughout history, a phenomenon that has occured on an unprecedented scale during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, I wrote about this issue in The Conversation. Lastly, I’m working on some new courses – including one on the global history of the prison and another on detention camps – and getting more involved with community and academic organizations that focus on prison abolition, anti-racism, and public history.

Importance of the Humanities

In his recent Presidential Address to the African Studies Association, former U of T professor Ato Quayson reminds us that “stories are the social currency of our everyday lives, and that what we need are more stories, not fewer.” Through the humanities, we can critically examine and create diverse stories, histories, and ideas while also addressing urgent questions around equity, truth, and justice. We learn about how systems of oppression – and the ideas, institutions, and practices that sustain them – are built and how they can be dismantled. Such inquiries and issues are pressing public concerns, and it is important that humanities scholarship and education create spaces for engagement that challenge the elitist notion of the “ivory tower.” There is some great work being done already, such as the Humanities for Humanity program at U of T and the JHI’s new focus on Public Humanities, but there is much more work to do, particularly in terms of connecting the humanities to anti-racism and decolonization.

Humanities institutes such as the JHI not only provide a dynamic community for scholars to gather, but they also create a vital space in which humanities scholarship and education can be celebrated, shared, and reimagined. These institutes can and should find new ways to connect with and include diverse communities within the university setting, as well as demonstrating the varied ways in which the humanities can help foster curiosity, empathy, critical thinking, and a commitment to equity and social justice.