Course Description

We live in a world of nation-states. The world map, according to journalist Joshua Keating, is “itself as an institution, an exclusive club of countries” that rarely accepts new members. Throughout the course, we question how countries conquered the world and became the taken-for-granted political unit. We do so, paradoxically, by looking at contemporary nations that do not appear on the world map. These include nations without statehood, such as Somaliland; those that span countries, including indigenous nations across the US and Canada; and nations that have lost their countries, such as Palestine and South Vietnam. By interrogating “nowheres,” we tease out what it means to be a country, and pinpoint when and why the definitions do not apply uniformly. Students will reflect on why the world map has been so remarkably static since the end of the Cold War. We will further probe the social, political, and human costs of the exceptions to this general rule. Students will raise questions and attempt answers to what our interconnected world means for “nowheres” looming on the horizon–nation-states that, as a result of climate change, will soon vanish.

For more information, read about SOC335 in Object Lab (Fall 2022) and hear curator Liz Gallerani discuss Lordy Rodriguez’s piece, “Territory State.” See also Christine Ménard’s research guide for SOC335.

Curatorial Statement

What does it mean to be a state?

The postcards in this collection investigate nowheres, places that make us question prevailing definitions of statehood, nationhood, and citizenship.

Collectively, the postcards ask: What does it mean to be a state in all but name? To have contested borders or be between sovereigns? What is the future of statehood as climate change engulfs territory and sparks displacement?

We invite you to ponder these questions as you interrogate the world map.

Note: The original SOC335 “Postcards from Nowhere” exhibit, co-curated with Christine Ménard in Fall 2021, can be accessed in Special Collections.

Student Contributors

Lee Benzinger, Eden Bloch, Brandon Corrales, Desel Pek Dorji, Kiri Fitzpatrick, Charlie Giunta, Bainon Hart, Mia Kabillio, Cathryn Kim, Steven Lee, Lea Obermüller, Pramita Subedi, Avery Trinidad, Shoy Yacoub


This learning community was a collaboration with Sawyer Library, Special Collections, and the Williams College Museum of Art. Special thanks to Sylvia Brown, Liz Gallerani, Tamra Hjermstad, and Christine Ménard for lending their expertise to this course.