In this episode of High Theory, Geoffrey Sanborn tells us about Plagiarism. A concept emerged with the idea of originality, plagiarism challenges some of our most deeply held notions of individualism and status. Hatred of plagiarism is so baked into our culture that it evokes a gut response of disgust, which prevents us from actually analyzing it as a form of social behavior. 

In the episode, Geoff talks about websites that promise to “humanize” chatGPT content, like the AI Text Converter and the Plagiarism Remover. He talks about postcolonial theory, as a tool that might help us analyze plagiarism, and invokes Homi Bhabha’s idea of “colonial mimicry,” which appears in his 1984 article “Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse.” He also talks about the actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, and references David Graeber’s book Debt, which we ran an episode on way back in 2020. It was in the early days of High Theory, so apologies for the audio quality, but we think you’ll like it. 

Geoff is a Samuel Williston Professor of English and department chair at Amherst College. He has published many books about nineteenth century American literature, most recently Plagiarama! William Wells Brown and the Aesthetics of Attractions (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), which was the inspiration for this conversation. It’s a really great book!  You should read it. 

The image for this episode was made by Saronik Bosu in 2023. 

Economic Enchantments

Anat Rosenberg, Kristof Smeyers, and Astrid Van den Bossche discuss the fresh historiographies of capitalism offered by studies of enchantment and magical thinking. They talk about their research network for scholars interested in the historical role of enchantment as a tool, structure, or foundation for the organization and the development of modern markets, economic institutions, and economic relationships.

Anat Rosenberg is a senior lecturer at the Harry Radzyner Law School, Reichman University, Israel. Her work concerns the cultural legal history of capitalism, liberalism and consumption in Britain, and methodologies of law and the humanities. She is author of Liberalizing Contracts: Nineteenth Century Promises Through Literature, Law and History (Routledge, 2017), and The Rise of Mass Advertising: Law, Enchantment and the Cultural Boundaries of British Modernity (Oxford UP, 2022).

Kristof Smeyers is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ruusbroec Institute, University of Antwerp. His research interests are magic, the supernatural and the occult, and their connections to the histories of religion, science and folklore, as well as their historiography and their archive history.

Astrid Van den Bossche is Lecturer in Digital Marketing and Communications at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London. She is particularly interested in scepticism and humour as forms of engagement with promotional culture, and the application of computational methods in historical studies.

The image for this episode is a Public Domain Image of Great Market Hall, Budapest


In this episode of High Theory, Neil Safier talks with us about the Plantationocene, a geological epoch that traces the effects of climate change to the historical systems of human and nonhuman environmental exploitation known as plantation agriculture. It is another name for the world we currently inhabit. 

In the episode, Neil describes how Donna Harraway and Anna Tsing invented the term Plantationocene in response to another recent term Anthropocene. Sources to check out include Donna Haraway’s essay, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationcene, Chthulucene: Making Kin” Environmental Humanities 6 no. 1 (2015): 159-165. doi: 10.1215/22011919-3615934, and Paul Crutzen, “The ‘Anthropocene’Earth Systems Science in the Anthropocene ed. Eckhart Ehlers and Thomas Krafft (Springer, 2006) pp. 13-18. He references B.F. Skinner’s novel Walden Two (MacMillan, 1962) at the end of our conversation. 

Neil Safier is Associate Professor in the Department of History at Brown University where he currently serves as Director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies of the Watson Institute for International Affairs. He studies the history of science, agriculture, and other forms of knowledge-making in the late-eighteenth-century Atlantic world, focusing on the plantation cultures of the Caribbean and Brazil. He was recently the director of the John Carter Brown Library, at Brown University, and many years ago, when he was more optimistic about the current global epoch, he managed grants for the Sierra Club Foundation in San Francisco, California. He is the author of Measuring the New World: Enlightenment Science and South America (U Chicago, 2008) and is cooking up two new projects, on the historical connections between natural science and plantation agriculture in the Amazon River basin and the global history of collecting. 

The image for this week comes from Neil’s research on the history of plantation agriculture. This drawing of a plantation from Hispaniola (Saint-Domingue) was reproduced in José Mariano da Conceição Velozo’s Fazendeiro do Brazil Tome III Part II (Lisbon, 1799), in the volume dedicated to coffee production.

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Decolonizing Praxis

In this episode of High Theory, Erin Pineda talks about decolonizing praxis. Black American activists in the 1950s and 1960s used strategies of civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action as part of a broader anticolonial movement. Reading their story in an international context can help us rethink the narrative of the US civil rights movement enshrined in American political theory. 

In the episode Erin references Jack Halberstam’s concept of “low theory” which derives from the work of Stuart Hall, and appears in the book, The Queer Art of Failure (Duke UP 2011). She also references several mainstream liberal political philosophers who set the terms of the debate about “civil disobedience” in the US academy in the 1970s, John Rawls Theory of Justice (Harvard UP, 1971), Hugo Bedau, “On Civil Disobedience” (Journal of Philosophy 58, no. 21 (1961): 653-665) and Carl Cohen, Civil Disobedience: Conscience, Tactics, and the Law (Columbia University Press, 1971). Pineda writes against this tradition. The American activists she studies developed a different set of theoretical commitments to civil disobedience that are a bit less polite, and have a bit more potential for actual revolution. 

Erin Pineda is the Phyllis Cohen Rappaport ’68 New Century Term Professor of Government at Smith College. She teaches courses in the history of political thought, democratic theory, race and politics, social movements and American political thought. Her research interests include the politics of protest and social movements, Black political thought, race and politics, radical democracy and 20th-century American political development. If you want to learn more about the topics she discusses in this episode, read her book! It’s called Seeing Like an Activist: Civil Disobedience and the Civil Rights Movement (Oxford UP, 2021).

The image for this episode is a photograph of Black student Elizabeth Eckford being jeered by white student Hazel Bryan as she attempts to enter Little Rock Central High School, taken by Will Counts on 4 September 1957. It’s one of the more famous images of school desegregation from the US Civil Rights Movement. This digital version came from wikimedia commons.

The image for this episode is a photograph of Black student Elizabeth Eckford being jeered by white student Hazel Bryan as she attempts to enter Little Rock Central High School, taken by Will Counts on 4 September 1957. It’s one of the more famous images of school desegregation from the US Civil Rights Movement. This digital version came from wikimedia commons

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In this episode of High Theory, Matthew Kirschenbaum talks about txt, or text. Not texting, or textbooks, but text as a form of data that is feeding large language models. Will the world end in fire, flood, or text?

In the full interview, Matthew recommended Tim Maughan’s novel Infinite Detail(Macmillan, 2019) as an excellent example of writing about the end of the internet, and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven(Knopf, 2014) as a positive example of a post-internet apocalypse. In the episode he references a paper by Beder et al., “On the Dangers of Stochastic Parrots: Can Language Models Be Too Big?” FAccT ’21: Proceedings of the 2021 ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency (March 2021): 610–623. And several apocalyptic scenarios, including the dead internet theory and the gray goo hypothesis

Matthew Kirschenbaum is Distinguished University Professor of English and Digital Studies at the University of Maryland and Director of the Graduate Certificate in Digital Studies. His books include Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing (Harvard UP 2016) and Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (MIT Press, 2008). With Kari Kraus, he co-founded and co-directs BookLab, a makerspace, studio, library, and press devoted to what is surely our discipline’s most iconic artifact, the codex book. See or follow him on Twitter (or X?) as @mkirschenbaum for more.

Because we are hoping to encourage the text apocalypse, we made today’s image using generative AI. Specifically Saronik made it using the prompt “Text” in Canva’s AI interface. 

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In this episode of High Theory, Margaret Galvan talks about the queer politics of Visibility. In her work the activist practices of representation take concrete form in comic books, photographs, and even drawings on lecture slides! 

In the episode, she discusses the photography of Nan Goldin and queer comic books in the 1980s. She quotes Adrienne Rich’s 1980 essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” She also references This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color, and Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera. At the end of the episode she references the Lesbian Avengers, who have amazing images

Margaret Galvan is an assistant professor of English at the University of Florida.  Her research examines how visual culture operates within the print media of feminist and queer social movements of the 1970s-1990s. Her brand new book In Visible Archives: Queer and Feminist Visual Culture in the 1980s, is out this fall from University of Minnesota Press‘s Manifold Scholarship Series.  You should go check it out!

Because the amazing images Margaret talks about were drawn recently, they’re still in copyright. Our image this week is from Gladys Parker’s comic Mopsy which ran from 1937 to 1966. Parker was a successful female artist in a world of mainstream US comic books dominated by men.

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In this episode of High Theory, Brian Fairley tells us about Polyphony, a concept from music that describes multiple melodic lines sounding at once. The many voices of polyphony have an ancient and colonial history, which has reappeared in some key reverberations in twentieth century criticism and theory. 

In the conversation, we discuss several texts, including Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (1929); James Clifford and George Marcus, Writing Culture The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (UC Press, 1986); Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (Knopf, 1993); and one of Kim’s favorite scholarly books, Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World (Princeton, 2021). Brian also discusses Denise Ferreira da Silva’s work “On Difference Without Separability.” 

Brian Fairley received his PhD in Ethnomusicology from New York University in 2023; he is currently a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Music at Amherst College.His manuscript in progress, Dissected Listening: Race, Nation, and Polyphony in the South Caucasus, excavates a series of experimental sound recordings from 1916 to 1966 to show how the concept of musical polyphony emerged in tandem with techniques of multichannel sound and imperial discourses of racial, national, and religious difference. His work has appeared in the journal Ethnomusicology and is forthcoming in Theoria: Historical Aspects of Music Theory, as well as an edited volume titled Key Terms in Music Theory for Antiracist Scholars

The image for this episode is Paul Klee’s 1932 painting “Polyphony,” which is in the public domain in the US and Europe, but maybe not in Mexico. Digital image sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Sillies: Horses

Warning: this episode of High Theory is very silly.

In our new summer series of “Sillies,” Saronik and Kim ask each other how simple things will achieve the grandiose task of saving the world. In this episode, Kim asks Saronik about how horses will save the world. 

The texts we mention (or meant to mention) in the episode are (in some vague order):

Peter Shaffer, Equus, 1973

Girish Karnad, Hayavadana, 1971

Sharon Patricia Holland, an other: a black feminist consideration of animal life (Duke UP, 2023)

Mackenzie Cooley, The Perfection of Nature: Animals, Breeding, and Race in the Renaissance (Chicago UP, 2022)

Raymond Malewitz, “On the Origin of ‘Oops!’: The Language and Literature of Animal DiseaseCritical Inquiry 45 (Summer 2019). 

In this episode we used sound effects from  To make the episode we downloaded sounds created by the following users: BUNCHA SOUNDS BOI!; InspectorJ; felix.blume. Click the link to hear the sound.

This episode’s silly image was created by Saronik Bosu. It is a distortion of “Whistlejacket” (1762) by George Stubbs

Bombay Talkies

In this episode of High Theory, Debashree Mukherjee talks about the pioneering film studio Bombay Talkies, founded in 1934 in the city of Bombay (now Mumbai) by Himansu Rai and Devika Rani. Its cast and crew of diverse global origins and training, offer new ways of writing the history of labor in Indian Cinema. In the accompanying B-Side, she focuses on her new book Bombay Talkies: An Unseen History of Indian Cinema, which features rare behind-the-scenes photographs from the personal archive of cinematographer Josef Wirsching. Wirsching brought the influence of German Expressionism to Indian cinema, and was responsible for the cinematic stylings of groundbreaking films like Achhyut Kanya (1936), Mahal (1949), and Pakeezah (1972).

Debashree Mukherjee is Associate Professor of film and media in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS) at Columbia University. Her first book, Bombay Hustle: Making Movies in a Colonial City (2020), approaches film history as an ecology of material practices and practitioners. Her second book project, Camera Obscura: Media at the Dawn of Planetary Extraction, develops a media history of  oceanic migrations and plantation capitalism. Debashree edits the peer-reviewed journal BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies and in a previous life she worked in Mumbai’s film and TV industries as an assistant director, writer, and cameraperson.

Image: Sourced from Bombay Talkies: An Unseen History of Indian Cinema with permission.


In this episode of High Theory, Eram Alam talks with us about shortage. A political tool, rather than a natural lack, the concept of a shortage changes the flows of goods and people across borders and space. The concept of a doctor shortage was used in the US immigration reform of the 1960s to recruit discount elite labor from newly postcolonial nations, creating the downstream effect of shortages in their countries of origin. These recruiting practices remain in effect, with a US physician workforce that is approximately 25% international medical graduates, while domestic and international doctor shortages abound. 

Eram Alam is an assistant professor of the History of Science at Harvard University. Her book The Care of Foreigners studies the enduring consequences of post-colonial migration from Asia to the US.  We’re so excited to read it when it comes out! In the meantime, you can read her article “Cold War Crises: Foreign Medical Graduates Respond to US Doctor Shortages, 1965–1975Social History of Medicine 33 no. 1 (Feb 2020). 

This week’s image of a hospital corridor was uploaded to the image sharing site Pixbay by a user named Mitrey.