Faculty Research Seminar, 2013-14

The Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life launches a year-long faculty seminar on the theme Contested Memories and the Politics of Change during the academic year 2013-14. About twenty scholars will convene at the Bildner Center to present and discuss their current research projects exploring this theme from a comparative, cross-cultural perspective. This work will culminate in a conference at the end of the academic year where members of the seminar will be joined by other scholars working in this area to explore major themes and concepts in the study of memory.

The seminar, organized by Professor Yael Zerubavel, the Bildner Center’s Director, includes faculty from Rutgers and international visiting scholars affiliated with the center in 2013-14. Representing a wide range of disciplines, the seminar participants include faculty from history, sociology, political science, anthropology, geography, comparative literature, art history, and women and gender studies.

The twentieth century with its global and regional conflicts, disintegrating empires and postcolonial national movements, new states and shifting boundaries has led to an increasing interest in the study of memory. While governments establish their own version of the past through state agencies and quasi-official organizations, alternative interpretations are often created by opposition groups and political activists, intellectuals and artists, and the media. These competing versions of the past introduce a multilayered collective memory that offers a fascinating topic of study.

The experience of successive wars and multiple national, religious, and ethnic conflicts have led to a growing scholarly recognition in the long-term impact of trauma. Within this context, the Holocaust has become a key paradigm for the study of the historical roots of genocide, and the experience of trauma on survivors and its intergenerational transmission within families and larger communities. The emphasis on the importance of witnessing and the testimonies recorded by Holocaust survivors, the outpour of literature, film and art related to the Holocaust, and the increasing number of monuments, memorial sites, and museums have contributed to the increasingly global significance attributed to the Holocaust for the study of genocide and for human rights advocacy. Trauma and memory studies have become closely interwoven, and encompass such diverse fields as health, neurology, psychology, social work, sociology, literature, theater, film, and the visual arts.

Research projects pursued by seminar members include topics related to trauma and its impact, such as “Art at the Extreme: Witness and Memory” “’Our Ashes Were Mingled’: Roma and Jews during the Holocaust and Beyond,” “Silence and Revision: Collective Memory in the Aftermath of the Holocaust,” “Transitional Slippages: Power, Politics, and the Moral Economy of Justice at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal,” “The Construction of the Self: Articulating the Memory of Trauma by Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Georgia,” and “Afterimages of War: Trials, Trauma and Visual Representation,” and “Sites of Memory, Sites of Justice: Memorials and the Public Sphere in Jewish Buenos Aires.”

Other projects focus on the interface of memory and politics, including “Nationalisms in the Holy Land: Religion, Reform, and Secularization in Jewish and Arab Nationalist Memory,” “Twenty Years After: A Comparative Study of the Commemorations of the End of Communism,” and “The Inner Life of Politics: Grassroots Activists in West Germany, 1962-1983,” and “Women Breaking the Silence: Politics and Technologies of Memory in Israeli Women Soldiers Testimonies.” The reimagining the past through narrative structures and symbolic forms will be addressed in such topics as “Mental Geographies and Memory Reconstruction,” “The logic of/in Tragedy,” “The Social Marking of the Past: A Case Study of Semiotic Asymmetry”; “Historical Ruptures and Mnemonic Continuities: Performing Antiquity in Contemporary Israel,” and the study of “The figure of iconic figures such as "Jewish Bolshevik" in 20th century European politics,” and “The Israeli Transformation of The European Tradition of the Wandering Jew.”

The two and a half day conference planned for May 2014 will expand the discussion of these important topics beyond the seminar presentations. The conference will explore the impact of trauma experienced in genocide, war, and disasters on individuals and groups from a comparative and multidisciplinary perspective by drawing on additional faculty at Rutgers and inviting major scholars in the study of memory to campus.

The Bildner Center’s faculty seminar on Contested Memories and the Politics of Change furthers the Center’s mission to encourage faculty research and reinforces its broader educational mission in promoting Holocaust education as a paradigm for genocide studies and for promoting tolerance and reduction of prejudice. It builds on the vast experience the Center has acquired in its ongoing training of teachers in its Master Teacher Institute on Holocaust Education and earlier programs including symposia and conferences, on related topics. The seminar features Rutgers enormous faculty resources, focusing on scholars who engage in the study of memory and the importance of engaging humanities and social scientists in the interdisciplinary fields of trauma and memory.