Contested Memories and the Contours of the Past

An Interdisciplinary Conference
Open to faculty and graduate students
May 12-14, 2014

Conference Brochure

ghetto-poland-200pxCollective memory has historically been contested terrain where tensions and conflicts emerge in constructing and reinterpreting the past.  Contestations often emerge in the aftermath of war, violence, and genocide - resulting in conflicts between the state and various opposition groups, including survivors, artists, and intellectuals. These divergent narratives also shape the dynamics between individuals and collectives, private and public memories, and intergenerational transmission of memory. Indeed, any process of remembering produces selective commemorations, silences and gaps, where traces of memory may exist in the shadows or fall into oblivion, revealing the complexity of shaping the contours of the past.

This conference is the culmination of a year-long interdisciplinary research seminar during the 2013-2014 year, devoted to exploring "Contested Memories and the Politics of Change" from a comparative, cross-cultural perspective.  It will address central issues in memory studies including national, familial, and intergenerational memories; commemorative struggles in the wake of trauma; witnessing and silences; embodied and visual memories; contested sites and conflicting narratives; and the relationship between collective memory and transitional justice. Scholars will examine these issues from a range of disciplinary perspectives utilizing case studies from diverse geographical regions.

Support for this conference has been provided by The Henry Schwartzman Endowed Faculty Seminar Fund, and the Leon and Toby Cooperman Fund.

Cosponsored by the GAIA Centers’ 2013-2015 Biennial Theme: Global Health!

Memory and Method in Intimate Ethnography: My Father’s Wars

Alisse Waterston, Professor of Anthropology, John Jay College, City University of New York
Introduction by Fran Mascia-Lees, Dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences, SAS
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 at Noon
Bildner Center, 12 College Avenue
Lunch will be served.

Cosponsored by the Departments of Jewish Studies and Anthropology


My Father's WarsMy Father’s Wars: Migration, Memory and the Violence of a Century (Routledge Innovative Ethnographies Series) is a personal story that tells a larger, transnational, trans-ethnic, multidimensional and diasporic history. I look squarely at my father’s lived experience of displacement and dispossession, a particular life shaped by violence in its various forms—political, structural, institutional, symbolic, acute and chronic (normalized/everyday). Born in northeastern Poland on the eve of World War I, my father traveled through the multiple violences of the 20th century. In pursuing this project over many years, I have been guided by the assumption that intimate ethnography as a method and as a written document has the potential to bridge story and scholarship, bringing anthropology into the public conversation on critical social issues, past and present. Intimate ethnography has potential to illuminate in a powerful way the relationships between violence, embodied subjectivity and self-historical identity, sensate experience, social memory, power, and history. In this paper, I take stock of this fundamental assumption of my project. I will assess my version of intimate ethnography (how I am doing it; by what means), consider its potential relevance to particular audiences and for specific contemporary issues, and reflect on its value as story, and as historical and theoretical scholarship.

Alisse Waterston is Professor of Anthropology, John Jay College, City University of New York. She is the editor of Open Anthropology, the online public journal of the American Anthropological Association and a Soros International Scholar affiliated with Tbilisi State University in Gender Studies. Professor Waterston is President-elect of the American Anthropological Association.

Open to faculty and graduate students only