Guidelines, or, Preemptive “FAQ”

What is this project?

This is an experiment in speculative worldbuilding that aims to defamiliarize European colonialism. The intention is for it to be offered as a joint course at Osaka University and the University of Chicago, open to students across disciplines. We are also seeking more universities as partners to offer the project as a course. We are equally happy to have participants who are not affiliated with a course or even with a university. 

This year’s prompt urges participants to explore alternative histories in which European Colonialism did not take place. The prompt takes the Black Plague as the point of divergence. Specifically, it urges participants to imagine that the Black Plague killed off 80% of what we call Europe now, leaving the region in shambles. As a result, the Enlightenment, colonialism, and Modernity as we know it never happened. Participants are thus asked to imagine the non-colonized worlds that might have emerged from this science fictional alternative point of divergence.

The project urges participants to take risk with creative (but appropriate)  submissions, which will be explained further later. These will be exhibited online at the end of the project.

Wait, this is a course? Who is it for?

This can be offered as a course and can be adapted to the student profile. Ph.D. students and those who are familiar with decolonization and speculative fiction may need less guidance. Those who are not familiar with these topics and genres would benefit from lectures explaining the basics of pertinent concepts, which can be fortified with a rather structured group-work.

At the same time, this is not just a course. We are open to participation from those individuals outside academia. For daydreamers who do not know where to start, we can offer help. Please let us know. 

What’s the process?

The project comprises group work and creative work. We call the groups “fragments,” and fragments have a lot of autonomy in how they pursue their group work. Group work is about picking apart the timeline in which we live and understanding the impacts of the colonial world––or world-destroying if you like. Furthermore, discussing what “could-have-been” is an important part of the group work. We recommend weekly online get-togethers until the submission date. 

At the end of December 2020, there is a checkpoint, where we ask the participants to inform us and their professors what they are thinking of submitting. This will be made available to other participants so that people with similar interests can communicate or collaborate. They can then focus on the worldbuilding part of the project, which can be discussed in the same fragments and on the online communities that we aim to roll out. We would like to receive the submissions in February 2021 and open the exhibition in late March 2021.

What’s the purpose?

The purpose of this year’s call is to defamiliarize Colonialism and nurture hope. Decolonization has been an increasingly popular topic in social sciences and humanities, and as European Colonialism had effects that are deeply ingrained in our today, it is not a simple task to dis-entangle the effects of colonialism from our current or historical institutions, societies, even our speech. 

Speculative fiction offers us worlds that could-have-been, which in turn guides us to what can be. World-building requires weaving all sorts of factors together that makes sense in itself. Fully-formed worlds indeed require a long time to build, yet they can teach us a lot about our world and what to do with it. 

What kind of submissions? 

We are seeking for artifacts from the timelines where European Colonialism didn’t take place. The “artifact” in this context is quite loosely defined, hence we encourage the participants to interpret it as they will. Some examples would be a language map of your timeline, a diagram for a device, a short film, a song, a recipe for a popular dish at a certain city of your timeline, a “university” structure diagram, a drawing or photograph depicting clothes, an epic poem, a mundane tool, et cetera. 

All submissions must be accompanied by an acquisition form, which will help the visitors of the exhibition understand basic information about the artifact and its origins. If language is involved in the artifact (e.g. a document, a letter, etc.) it can be in any language, but an English translation must be attached to the acquisition form. 

Contextualizing the artifact is an important aspect of this project. We are not just interested in the item, but also in the timeline in which it belongs. Hence, we ask the participants to write a 1500-word essay in English to make the world accessible to all of us. We recommend an ethnographic style of writing for those who are familiar with it, but we are open to different forms of description for those who are from other disciplines.

Submissions can be made individually or collaboratively. Participants also can collaborate in the world-building yet submit artifacts individually. 

There are no limits to what sort of world the participants can build. However, since the submissions will be exhibited in our timeline, we’d request that participants demonstrate caution, compassion, and consideration toward their fellow participants and readers. (Submissions that are deemed unsuitable or inappropriate will not be exhibited.) 

How to proceed, an example:

Let us say that you are interested in time, and artifacts about time. Discuss with your fragment, and online with others, what kinds of timekeeping there would have been if we weren’t using the 24hr clock. Read about what was used in the lands you’re from, and explain it to others. Maybe, you would like to submit a “clock” from your timeline. You have to keep in mind that it is not going to be the same artifact 6-7 centuries down the stream. What happened in your timeline, particularly in the specific region from which your artifact originates? Did someone else come and introduce their time-keeping artifact? Did the people over there need timekeeping artifacts in their lives? For what reason? Is time commodified? Is time important on a personal level, or a communal level? Is it ephemeral, or is the time recorded in documents for posterity? Can you imagine the time not being kept in your timeline? All of these questions will lead your timeline to take shape. 

Now, you’re going to design the timekeeping artifact. You have so many options as we have in our timeline: from watches to clock towers––however, keep in mind that our timeline puts extreme importance on keeping time. You have the freedom to come up with anything, depending on the world (the timeline) you built. Contextualize the artifact, give it a story. If you have the skills and resources, draw, mold, or 3D print your design. If not, collaborate with someone within or from without the project. If you get stuck, let us help. 

What are the professors’ roles?

The professors’ main role is to get their institution’s support for the participants and to be there if the participants need them. However, if they would like to add more structure or hold lectures and seminars in addition to the group work, it is their prerogative. From previous experience, participating and listening in on the group discussions and interjecting where something seems to be overlooked is enough for this type of project. The professors also have to read, review, and grade the final submission. 

Do the fragments only gather in video calls?

No. Those of us who sense the world differently, or those who prefer to do so can create chat communities. We are already planning to roll out chat communities to enable communication between participants across time-zones, but we think such channels would help with making this project more inclusive and more diverse. Please contact us if you have suggestions to make the discussions easier and fun for all.