1. Memories of Conflict, Conflicts of Memory, Senate House, London, 12-13 February, 2013 (Abstracts due 1 November, 2012)

Organised by:

Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies
Faculty Institute of Graduate Studies, University College London
Centre for the Study of Cultural Memory


Jordana Blejmar (Institute of Germanic & Romace Studies) and Anindya Raychaudhuri (UCL)
contact email:  Jordana.Blejmar@sas.ac.uk and a.raychaudhuri@ucl.ac.uk

There are very few facets of public and private life that are not affected by cultural memories of war and conflict. Recent academic scholarship has also been revolutionised as experts on literature, cinema, history, area studies, sociology, anthropology and many others attempt to theorise the memory-narratives of the last century marked by unprecedented totalitarian regimes, coup d’états, military confrontations, popular movements and what Alain Badiou recently called the passion for the real.

This interdisciplinary conference will examine the various ways in which memories of wars and conflicts of the twentieth century are constructed, resisted, appropriated and debated in contemporary culture. The conference will provide a space for dialogue and interchange of ideas among scholars researching on memory issues related to different regions of the globe. In particular, we are interested in discussing the tensions between local and transnational memory-narratives, official and subversive forms of commemoration, hegemonic and alternative conceptions of remembering.

2. Local Memory, Global Ethics, Justice: The Politics of Historical Dialogue in Contemporary Society, Columbia University, NYC (Abstracts due 30 August, 2012)

The Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability (AHDA) at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights will hold its first annual conference in New York City, December 11-14, 2012. The conference will be co-hosted by the Guantanamo Public Memory Project, and will also feature the Guantanamo Public Memory Projects’ first traveling exhibit and digital media as a shared international challenge in historical dialogue.

Historical dialogue and accountability is a growing field of advocacy and scholarship that encompasses the efforts in conflict, post-conflict, and post-dictatorial societies to come to terms with their pasts. In contesting nationalist myths and identities, in examining official historical narratives, and opening them to competing narratives about past violence, historical dialogue seeks to provide analysis of past violence grounded in empirical research; acknowledge the victims of past violence and human rights abuses; challenge and deconstruct national, religious, or ethnic memories of heroism and/or victimhood; foster shared work between interlocutors of two or more sides of a conflict; identify and monitor how history is misused to divide society and perpetuate conflict; enhance public discussion about the past.

This conference seeks to consider questions relating to these topics, and the state of the relatively new field of historical dialogue and its relationship to other discourses such as transitional justice, memory studies, oral history and historical redress., and. Little consideration has been given to the intersections of these discourses, and how these can be employed as tools in understanding the root causes of conflict. The conference thus seeks to explore the possibilities and limits of these concepts and methods, searching for unexplored connections and elaborating upon how historical analysis can be employed to resolve long-standing sectarian conflicts.

We seek to explore the genealogy of the discipline of historical dialogue as well as research emanating from it: how do the memory and history of past violence evolve over time, and how do they influence a given society in the present day? What is the relationship of advocacy to knowledge production and the relationship between history, memory, and contemporary society? What is the relationship of historical truth to testimonies in truth commissions, and how do truth commissions construct historical truth? How can the tensions that exist between dialogue and accountability be understood, addressed or reconceived? In what ways can one compare historical narratives in post (identity) conflict to post authoritarian regimes? What is the role of subjects such as gender, religion, human being and citizen in understanding historical narrative, memory, dialogue and accountability? Finally, the conference seeks to be a space of interaction and the exchange of ideas between scholars and practitioners who often do not have the opportunity to collaborate, and we welcome papers that address this divide or reach across these boundaries.

Proposals for individual papers, panels, roundtable discussions and digital media presentations will be considered. The deadline for submission of proposals is August 30, 2012. All proposals and questions must be submitted electronically via email to AHDA Program Director Ariella Lang at ahda@columbia.edu. Proposals should include a 300-500 word abstract, your name and contact information, as well as a brief bio. Limited travel and lodging funds are available; applications for such funds can be made upon acceptance of your proposal.

3. Remembering, Forgetting, Imagining: The Practices of Memory 1-2 March, 2013, Fordham University, New York (Abstracts Due 15 November, 2012)

Keynote speaker: Professor Marianne Hirsch, Columbia University

“Modern memory is, above all, archival. It relies entirely on the materiality of the trace, the immediacy of the recording, the visibility of the image.”
–Pierre Nora

This interdisciplinary conference seeks to explore the crucial role of memory in formulating our individual and communal identities, and to examine the scholarly discipline of memory itself. We hope to initiate conversations about memory as an active and ongoing cognitive process rather than simply a reaction to past experiences or a set of “facts” frozen in time. While memory purports to preserve the past in the present, it is inherently protean and unstable, and prone to fictionalizing. Indeed, memory and imagination are tightly intertwined; memory and ideology are closely bound; and our memory of what has come before constantly shapes our understanding of and expectations about what is still to come.

This interdisciplinary conference, then, will explore not only this desire to make memory sacred but also our ability to forget, to forget that we’ve forgotten, and to imagine the past in a way that fits neatly into our worldviews. These questions are particularly relevant in the wake of recent revolutions and social movements in the Arab World, Europe, and even the United States; learning to reinvent the past in a certain way helps us to reimagine the future, and thus inaugurate change. Consequently, we invite proposals that explore the various and variegated practices of memory as figured through literature, culture, politics, and scholarship generally.

We welcome individual abstracts of 250 words or panel proposals of 750 words, for three participants, to practicesofmemory@gmail.com by November 15, 2012. In addition to traditional academic papers, the committee encourages creative literary work, performance art, and multi-media presentations that in some way address the topic.

Presenters might consider, but are not limited to, the following questions:
• How is memory practiced through literature, art, film, or culture?
• Who remembers? What is remembered? What is forgotten? Whose voices are heard? Whose voices are suppressed?
• What is the role of “postmemory,” with its focus on the trauma of the past?
• How is memory understood in early eras, such as medieval or early modern?
• How do texts treat or reflect the past?
• How does the past help us prepare for the future?
• What is the role of imagination in memory or nostalgia?
• How is memory mediated by “memory makers” and memorials?
• In what ways has postmodernism influenced the study of memory?
• What is the role of psychoanalysis in memory studies?
• In what ways does the state repress and/or produce memory?
• How do neoconservatist or neoliberalist movements treat the past?
• How do memorializing objects—texts, photographs, monuments—produce and /or subvert an official state narrative?
• What is the role of affect in producing collective memory?

1. Memory: Silence, Screen, Spectacle, March 24 – 26, The New School for Social Research, New York

The clamor of the past can be almost deafening: it preoccupies us through speech, texts, screens, spaces and commemorative spectacles; it makes demands on us to settle scores, uncover the “truth” and search for justice; it begs for enshrinement in museums and memorials; and it shapes our understanding of the present and future. However noisy and ceaseless the demands and memory of the past may seem, though, in every act of remembering there is something silenced, suppressed, or forgotten. Memory’s inherent selectivity means that for every narrative, representation, image, or sound evoking the past, there is another that has become silent—deliberately forgotten, carelessly omitted, or simply neglected. The conference will explore the tension between the loud and often spectacular past and those forgotten pasts we strain to hear.

[I’ll be presenting a short paper on the IRS TRC’s first national gathering in Winnipeg last year.]

2. Animating the Indigenous Humanities, March 25, 2011, Transcanada Institute, Guelph Ontario

The TransCanada Institute is hosting a one-day colloquium titled “Animating the Indigenous Humanities: Portaging Disciplines, Institutions, Ecologies” with the Indigenous Humanities Group of the University of Saskatchewan on Friday, March 25th at 11:00am.

The Indigenous Humanities Group (IGH) work in transcultural and transystematic ways to nourish a new/old learning spirit into education at all levels and into every aspect of what is recognized, funded, and published as academic research. Since establishing over a decade ago, the IHG has aligned itself with critique of Eurocentrism and promotion of indigenous voice and vision. These two activities encourage decolonization in complementary ways, challenging established academic hierarchies, assumptions, practices, and outcomes, and seeking to implement forms of inquiry, dialogue, and exchange based in the adaptive traditions developed by the First Peoples of North America. More info: http://www.transcanadas.ca/

Thanks, Sachi for sending information about the Guelph event!


I wish I could attend this event in New York:

October 18 2010, 6 – 8pm: The University Seminars on Cultural Memory and on Redress invite you to join in a discussion of the new publication, MEMORY: HISTORIES, THEORIES, DEBATES (Fordham), which explores the future of memory studies. Its editors, Susannah Radstone and Bill Schwarz, will present their project. Respondents Daniel Levy, Jenny James and Marita Sturken will join them in a discussion of the state of the field and its future.

Location: Room 1 on the 2nd Floor of Faculty House

But at least I’ll be able to attend this event in Toronto:

imagineNATIVE is a media festival in Toronto running from October 20th until October 24th. See the program here. I’m particularly interested in seeing A Windego Tale, the closing night film.

A Windego Tale:

Against an idyllic autumn backdrop, Harold (Gary Farmer) embarks on a road trip north with his troubled grandson and recounts a story of their family’s harrowing past that began a generation earlier. In a remote northern community, Lily (Andrea Menard) returns home after a 15-year absence and reunites with her estranged mother, Doris (Jani Lauzon). When she begins to uncover the terrifying legacy of the community’s residential school and its ties to her own family, the weight of the past threatens to awaken the sinister spirit of the Windigo. With an all-star cast that includes the screen debut of acclaimed writer Lee Maracle, this gripping and potent psychological drama depicts the intergenerational scars left by residential schools in this dark chapter of Canada’s history, and the power of reconciliation and hope for the future.

Armand Garnet Ruffo (Ojibway) is a poet and professor at Carleton University, specializing in Indigenous literature. He is the author of two volumes of poetry, Opening In the Sky and At Geronimo’s Grave, winner of the 2002 Archibald Lampman Award for Poetry, as well as the acclaimed creative biography, Grey Owl: The Mystery of Archie Belaney. A Windigo Tale is his directorial debut.


Check out the Politics and Poetics of Refugees, taking place from September 23-25, 2010 at NYU. For more information, click here.

On Wednesday, April 27, 2010, the Indian Residential School Truth and Reconciliation Commission (IRS TRC) spoke at the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) in New York. Justice Murray Sinclair, Chief Wilton Littlechild and Marie Wilson spoke about the work of the Commission, its progress so far, and some of the challenges that lie ahead.

I had the opportunity to ask a question regarding something I had wondered about for some time. In the first footnote of the IRS TRC mandate, there is a reference to “the Aboriginal principle of witnessing.” I wasn’t sure what this meant, and was glad to have the opportunity to ask the Commission during the Q and A after their talk. They explained that, having inherited the mandate from the previous Commission, they too had been unsure about the meaning behind this footnote. Justice Sinclair explained that although the meaning of the footnote is debatable, Aboriginal principles of witnessing often entail a component of responsibility for maintaining the integrity and longevity of an event. In traditional ceremonies, like namings for example, the witness is called upon to remember the event, maintaining its history into the future. This principle of witnessing is particularly important for cultures that use oral traditions. In the context of the IRS TRC, the Commissioners explained that the circle of awareness will grow larger through witnessing.

The Commission went on to discuss the first national gathering in Winnipeg (June 16-19, 2010) and announced that the following gathering will take place in June 2011 in Inuvik.

Above image: Justice Sinclair (in mid-speech), between Chief Wilton Littlechild (left) and Marie Wilson (right) at the International Center for Transitional Justice.

If people have thoughts on the Aboriginal principle of witnessing, I’d love to learn more about the concepts and experiences it involves.

UPDATE: This post has been re-published up on the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) website. See it here, or check out the ICTJ’s resources on processes of transitional justice around the world.

I’m excited to attend! See the program for the conference here: Visual Citizenship: Belonging Through the Lens of Human Rights and Humanitarian Action – April 23 – 24

“I believe that in the indeterminacy of drawing – the contingent way that images arrive in the work – lies some kind of model of how we live out lives. The activity of drawing is a way of trying to understand who we are and how we operate in the world.”

– William Kentridge

An exhibit of William Kentridge’s work is currently on display at MOMA in New York until May 17, 2010. I went to see it the other day with my friend Lauren and am now completely enamored with his work. Before visiting the exhibit, I knew a bit about the artist, mostly through his work on an amazing play called Ubu and the Truth Commission, but didn’t have a sense of his range and diversity. For the most part, Kentridge, a South African artist, deals with the realities of living in an apartheid and post-apartheid state. He engages issues of oppression, resistance, hatred, love and desire through several mediums including drawing, film, printmaking, collage, and theatrical performance. Go see it!

The image above: William Kentridge. Drawing from Stereoscope 1998-99. Charcoal, pastel, and colored pencil on paper. For more on Kentridge at MOMA click here or for a review, click here.

Thursday, February 4th, 2010 – 6pm – 20 Cooper Square, 5th Floor, New York, NY

Upcoming Event: Truth-Tellers

February 22, 2009


“When the smoke clears, can we handle the truth?”

Full Spectrum and New York Theatre Workshop present THE TRUTH-TELLERS, a free panel discussion with five creators who dig beneath the official story to the complex, gritty underside. On February 26th, from 6:30-9:30, panelists Milagros de la Torre [artist/photographer], Alberto Ferreras [author/filmmaker/ performance artist], David Henderson [poet/author/activist], Meg McLagan [filmmaker/cultural anthropologist] and Liza Jessie Peterson [actress/poet/playwright] will discuss the ideas and experiences behind their work, and explore the larger question to us as a society, “When the smoke clears, can we handle the truth?”. The panel will be moderated by K. Neycha Herford [musician/transformational counselor/new media journalist]. 

This free event will begin with a screening of excerpts of The Peculiar Patriot by Liza Jessie Peterson; and Lioness by Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers. 


I attended a talk tonight at the Center for Architecture in New York called Memorial and Meaning. The panelists, Michael Arad (who designed the World Trade Center Memorial), Frederic Schwartz (architect of several 9/11 memorials including the Westchester Memorial), and Louis Nelson (architect of the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C), spoke eloquently and often emotionally about their work. But the highlight of the show came in the form of a photography exhibition that lined walls of the Centre for Architecture. The the work of Julie Dermansky, a photographer who has traveled around the world capturing images of memorials built to remember genocide and massacre in many different contexts, is both fascinating and unsettling. 

The exhibit, entitled “Memorial Sites: New York to Nairobi,” contains an array of images that pointedly recount the story of atrocities committed by humankind around the world. Dermansky’s photos are often jarring: stacks of skulls in Cambodia and bloody clothes hanging on a wire in Rwanda. Others show more abstract images of human-caused tragedy: structures of steel or stone that represent loss and absence, that portray sadness and pain in conceptual form.

In her artist statement, she mentioned that there is now a term for this type of travel, for trips that take people to visit these memorial sites. “Dark tourism,” she explains, is becoming more prevalent.” A walk around the World Trade Center in New York can attest to this. 

After the talk, I stayed behind to ask Dermansky a question. I thought her photos were amazing: simple in style yet burdened by the weight of their meaning. “How do these photos speak to the atrocities occurring now?” I asked. I suppose I was afraid that her project would perhaps be primarily about the past in a way that didn’t engage with the present or the future. She smiled and said, “Oh, it’s all about now. It’s about the Sudan; it’s about China.”

She explained further that current atrocities must be brought to the public eyes in different ways. People often feel overwhelmed, guilty, or don’t know what to do when faced with the enormity of international conflict and destruction. But the images she takes are a way to reference the present without pointing a finger. They allow people to ask how this violence can be prevented or stopped. It enables them to raise these questions themselves. No preaching, no blame, and perhaps a new awareness. 

To see Julie Dermansky’s photos and read more about her work, visit: www.jsdart.com.