Memory Studies Group at The New School


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The Weaponization of Memory in Times of Political Rupture(s)

Saturday, May 13, 2023. The New School, NYC

Conference Organizers
The Memory Studies Group at the New School, Transregional Center for Democratic Studies, and the Democracy Seminar

Hybrid Conference

Recognizing the global shift to populist politics, the re-emergence of authoritarian regimes, and the ongoing war conducted by Russia against Ukraine, we are proposing a theme that spotlights the striking instrumentalization of memory and unmasks the logic of power relations. Examples of  “using and abusing the past” are visible in many cases: the unprecedented proliferation and cultivation of biopolitics during the COVID-19 pandemic; the national populist rhetoric against migrants in Trump’s USA or Orban’s Hungary; the Russian invasion of Ukraine; the full out war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus; the attack on democracy and the rise of illiberal regimes elsewhere from Bolsonaro’s Brazil to Modi’s India. All these and other profoundly unsettling political and social events illuminate “the power of memory” and “the power over memory” (Müller 2002) in our time of political and social upheavals and cataclysms. 

The conference panels will be structured according to the main theme that may contain sub-topics, including but not limited to the broad themes listed below:  

  • Populism and nationalization of the past under illiberal regimes (Russia,  Hungary, Turkey, Brasil, India, etc.); 
  • Trump,  MAGA movement and re-making America’s’ memory 
  • Attacking factual history, creating alternative past and memory in time of disinformation, fake news, and post-truth 
  • New censorship: rewriting, redefining, and changing the meaning of the past 
  • Politics of erasure of memory and social amnesia 
  • Suppressing memories and identities of vulnerable groups (LGBT community,  ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities)
  • Solidarity, resistance,  and mobilizing memory:  political movements and civil society during the crisis of democracy 
  • Memory, -transitional justice, and democratization
  • Memory and historical dialogue as a way of political reconciliation
  • Truth-seeking, truth-telling, and memorial culture in times of rupture.

2021 Conference | Online

Suspended Present: Downloading the Past and Gaming the Future in a Time of Pandemic


Suspended Present: Downloading the Past and Gaming the Future in a Time of Pandemic

April 21-23, 2021. The New School, NYC

Online Conference Organizers
The Memory Studies Group at the New School, Transregional Center for Democratic Studies, and the Democracy Seminar

Online Conference

Augustine of Hippo (353-430 AD) stated in his Confessions that “if the present were always present, and did not pass into past time, it obviously would not be time but eternity” (Book 11, section 14.17). Uncannily, this phrase echoes our suspended present enforced by COVID-19. It is as if we have lost the memory of the recent regular past when we did not wear masks and could freely gather in person. Neither are we sure about our once predictable future, nor is it clear that the way we relate to the past remains unchanged.

From our confined spaces dominated by small computer screens, we see how the pressing issues of our time begin to float in front of us in new condensed forms. The perilous biopolitics of the pandemic, combined with the politics of fear, have reinforced an upsurge of nativism, right-wing populism, xenophobia, conspiracy theories, etc. The outbreak of COVID became an opportunity for authoritarian governments to further solidify their power, which includes restricting civil rights, imposing a state of exception, and fortifying the mass surveillance infrastructure.

However, the pandemic has exposed how incredibly vulnerable we are, not just to this deadly COVID-19 but to an infection that affects the way we think about our past, present, and future. This sickness, like a computer virus, has much to do with the way we download the past and re-frame our memory. What and how we are downloading from our virtualized imaginary serves the goals of governmentality and the politics of “care”. Needless to say, we are all very interested in how to end the suspended time we now live in.

The area of our interest includes but is not limited to the broad themes listed below:

The Past: Pandemic, Power, and the Politics of Memory

  • Old and New Democracies Challenged (state of emergency, martial law, the uses of quarantines, surveillance, and lockdowns, etc.).
  • Shifting Sense of Time and Space: What happens to the public-private distinction; Migration and Memory.
  • New Actors in Memory Discourse: Gender, Race, Age

The Future: How to End a Suspended Time?

  • What’s the role of Public Memory in moving beyond the hiatus?
  • How to deal with the trauma of the suspension? How to heal the scars?

2018 Conference

Memory Rebound: A Conference Celebrating 10 Years of Scholarship


Memory Rebound: A Conference Celebrating 10 Years of Scholarship

April 14, 2018. The New School, NYC

The Memory Rebound conference took place on April 14, 2018. Together with 33 speakers from universities across North America, Europe, and Israel, we explored the future of memory. We asked, what has changed, what remains the same? What are the realities of interdisciplinary collaboration, and where is the field of memory studies headed?

Opening remarks were made by Dean William Milberg; panel presentations included New School faculty, students, alumni, and friends; a special reunion keynote, moderated by Elzbieta Matynia and Jonathan Bach, featured the Memory Group’s founding members and remarks from William Hirst, Jeffrey Goldfarb, Robin Wagner-Pacifici, Barbie Zelizer, and Jeffrey K. Olick.

The intellectual breadth of the participants was stunning. The first session – extremely well attended for the early hour – was focused on the youngest generation of memory scholars, mostly MA students, who came with their own innovative approach to the field. The second session (titled “Space Unbound”) covered a wide range of topics, from lego replication of the Berlin Wall to the imaginary construction of the atomic bomb. The third session (“Agents and Activists”) featured scholars engaged with memory as a form of activism and its weaponization by state and non-state agents alike.

The keynote was a success. We had chosen an unconventional approach and asked the memory reunion panel for their personal views on the future interdisciplinarity of memory studies, which was followed by short, insightful, and entertaining statements by professors such as Jeff Olick and Barbie Zelizer. We ended on a heated debate concerning the conceptualization of ‘aftermath’ in memory studies, where NSSR’s own Robin Wagner-Pacifici and Jeff Olick engaged in contentious but friendly dialogue.

Our conference was well attended by students from the NSSR and beyond; at any given moment, we had about 50 people present in the Wolff conference room. We have received amazing feedback from professors and students alike. Notable names in the field sent us wildly positive thank you’s afterwards, such as Bill Hirst, who thought, “it was intellectually exciting, covered a diverse range of topics, and showed how good interdisciplinary work and discussion should proceed.”

2012 Conference

The Arts of Memory: The Fifth Annual NSSR Interdisciplinary Memory Conference


The Arts of Memory: The Fifth Annual NSSR Interdisciplinary Memory Conference

April 26-27, 2012. The New School, NYC

Playing on the title of the influential text of Frances Yates, The Art of Memory, (1966), where she traces the use of mnemonic techniques from the classical age to the Enlightenment, the fifth annual NSSR Interdisciplinary Memory Conference focused on contemporary arts of memory.

Participants discussed the arts and artifices of memory practices, both as embedded in physical forms, such as museums and memorials, and in the enactment of memory reaches for new ways to conceptualize the arts of memory through the visual, tactile, textual, and synesthetic expressions of the past. Other sessions will be dedicated to a reflexive examination of the arts of memory scholarship—the scholarly investigation of the arts of memory investigated as an art in itself.

Some of the questions the conference addressed:

  • How are different memory practices oriented around different senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell?
  • How are events associated with one set of senses or practices remembered through another set of senses or practices?
  • How are spaces and material objects, such as sites, documents, photographs, and bodies, transformed through memory practices?
  • How are different methods of memory disrupted, altered, or remapped over time?
  • What is the relationship between destruction and creation in memory practices?
  • What happens when events that seem insignificant as they unfold in the present become imbued with new significance in memory form?
  • What methods do we use as scholars to conduct research on memory practice?
  • How do we study memory on an individual and a socio-historical scale?
  • What theoretical perspectives can shed light on the methodologies of memory?

Themes the conference examined:

  • Methods of social remembering
  • Memory and the body
  • Memory and the senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell
  • Memory and space/place
  • Virtual museums, digital archives, and online memory projects
  • Mapping memory
  • Evidentiary practices
  • Memory and visual culture/cultural production
  • Loss and aging of memories on a social scale
  • Memory and transformation, confusion, destruction, fragmentation
  • Synesthetic memory
  • Theoretical approaches to the analysis of methods of memory
  • Research methods in memory studies

This 2012 conference coincided with a celebration honoring the career of Professor of Sociology Vera Zolberg on Saturday, April 28, 2012. The two events, while maintaining their own agendas, complemented each other and all conference participants were encouraged to attend both.

2011 Conference

Memory: Silence, Screen, and Spectacle: The Fourth Annual NSSR Interdisciplinary Memory Conference


Sam Byron

Memory: Silence, Screen, and Spectacle: The Fourth Annual NSSR Interdisciplinary Memory Conference

March 24-26, 2011. The New School, NYC

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.

It is the tension between the loud and often spectacular past and those forgotten pasts we strain to hear that this conference seeks to address. For those in the booming field of memory studies, this tension between silence and spectacle is especially productive. As the past often serves as a screen on which we project our present ambitions and future aspirations, what is silenced and what is loudly remembered tell us much about the present and future. This tension also illuminates what has been selected for remembering and why; allows for alternative memories and understandings to emerge; reminds us that forgetting is sometimes necessary, and ultimately deepens our theoretical and empirical understanding of memory and its processes. The interplay of silence, screen, and spectacle also raise a number of pressing questions that have been neglected in the field of memory studies, but which will be increasingly important for future studies of memory, including:

  • Whose memories are silenced and suppressed (and by whom)?
  • When is forgetting beneficial and/or necessary?
  • How do forms of testimony and remembering (e.g., legal testimony vs. oral history; traditional memory spaces like museums vs. other forms of remembering like dance, art, and theater) work differently to make memory heard or silenced?
  • What is the relationship of memory to “truth” if a part of the past is always silenced?
  • What happens when memories long silenced are “heard” again?
  • Does too much remembering cause static, keeping us from truly “hearing” the past?
  • What kind of knowledge is nostalgia, silence, or forgetting?
  • What sources of “evidence” of the past are the most legitimate today, what are the most convincing in public debates, international courts, the media?
  • What power does the visual have on us and how does it compete with other sources of knowledge, such as documents, testimonies, audio-recordings, and embodied memory?
  • What can the visual hide; what is unspoken?

Panel and workshop themes include: Remembering and Forgetting 9/11; Truth Commissions: Spectacle and Silence; Memory and Truth; Silences, Memory, and U.S. Counter-Terrorism; Human Rights, Law, and Memory; Tourism and the Memory Market; New Media, Memory, and Silence; Archives, Communities, and Memory; Screening Silence: Visual Memory and Forgetting; Nostalgia: Silence, Screen and Spectacle.

2010 Conference

The Limits of Memory: The Third Annual NSSR Interdisciplinary Memory Conference


The Limits of Memory: The Third Annual NSSR Interdisciplinary Memory Conference

March 4-6, 2010. The New School, NYC

In 2010, the third conference “The Limits of Memory,” aimed to address some of the limits in theories and practices of memory, focusing on how the uses of memory are often intimately tied up with its abuses. The conference explored the ways in which the growing field of memory studies can continue to push the boundaries of inquiry and the boundaries between disciplines. Interdisciplinary panels addressed:

  • How the ways we measure, organize, and/or evaluate memory influence the ways in which it is theorized.
  • How projects of memory can escape the lens of trauma.
  • Which memories are “allowed” and what happens to those that are shut out of official narratives of the past.
  • What the boundaries are between collective and individual aims for recounting the past
  • What happens when memorial or reparation projects fail.
  • How memory is used to perpetuate violence and conflict or to relocate or transplant it
  • What are the limits of memory as a tool for reconciliation and forgiveness?
  • What the implications of a focus on the future in memory studies might be.

This conference’s call for papers received unprecedented response and there were over 80 presenters and moderators. Andreas Huyssean, professor of German & Comparative Literature at Columbia, and James Pennebaker, professor and chair of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin were the keynote speakers. In addition to over 20 interdisciplinary panels, the conference concluded with two synthesis panels: one led by the editors of the upcoming Memory Studies Reader and a second composed of leading memory scholars, who synthesized some of the themes and discussions that emerged over the course of the three days.

2009 Conference

Memory and the Future: The Second Annual NSSR Interdisciplinary Memory Conference


Memory and the Future: The Second Annual NSSR Interdisciplinary Memory Conference

In direct response to the discussions and debates of the first conference and subsequent lecture series, we organized a second conference, “Memory and the Future,” in 2009. This conference sought to address concerns that memory studies as a field is inherently backward-looking, and that memory itself—and the ways in which it is deployed, invoked, and utilized—can potentially hinder efforts to move forward by examining the ways in which the study of memory is ultimately about and for the present and future. The conference brought together an interdisciplinary group of prominent scholars to examine the relationship between the past, present, and – especially – future. Over 200 scholars and students attended the three-day event. Dori Laub, a psychoanalytic psychiatrist from Yale University, and Jerome Bruner, a cognitive psychologist currently teaching at NYU Law School, delivered the keynote remarks. The interdisciplinary panels covered a wide range of topics including:

  • The internationalization of memory: How models and meanings are transported around the world.
  • Denial, imposture, and historical events: Can a scientific method limit the dubious mobilization of memory.
  • Memory and revenge: Terrorism, political aggression, and violence before and after a transition to peace.
    Narrative, oral history, and visual memory.

The changing role, power, and meaning of testimonies and their possessors; Memory studies and the future.
This conference resulted in special journal issues, lectures, and publications including the book “Memory and the Future: Transnational Politics, Ethics and Society” (Gutman, Brown, & Sodaro, 2010).

2008 Conference

Is an Interdisciplinary Field of Memory Studies Possible?: The First Annual NSSR Interdisciplinary Memory Conference


Is an Interdisciplinary Field of Memory Studies Possible?: The First Annual NSSR Interdisciplinary Memory Conference

The three-day international conference brought together leading scholars, practitioners, and graduate students from a wide range of disciplines to explore themes, theories, and methodologies within memory studies. In total, the conference brought together 85 presenters and moderators from 29 disciplines and 34 universities. Dominick LaCapra, from Cornell University’s humanistic studies program and Richard McNally, a psychologist from Harvard delivered the keynote addresses.

Interdisciplinary panels on Silence, Truth & Power, Media/Space, Identity, Trauma, and Theory provided important opportunities for scholars to exchange ideas and approaches to memory across disciplines. The conference closed with three separate panels exploring conceptions of memory as it is manifest in the individual (traditionally the realm of psychology), the collective (sociology, political science, anthropology, etc), and “in-between” these two categories (philosophy/phenomenology, as well as other fields such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, and literature/humanities). These panels were then synthesized by leading scholars in the field who considered some of the differences, similarities, and possibilities for discussion between and about the different disciplinary approaches to memory.

The conference led to a lecture series at the New School, the publication of research articles, edited volumes, and the development of an international network of memory studies scholars.

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