I’m happy to report that an article I’ve written about reconciliation in Canada has recently been published in Culture, Theory, and Critique (Taylor and Francis/Routledge). It is entitled “Before Truth: The Labors of Testimony and the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission” and appears in a special issue focusing on the “Crossroads of Memory.

Here’s the abstract:

“Truth commissions are based on the premise that dialogue about past crimes, violence, and abuse can alleviate the suffering of victims and ease the relationship between oppressed and oppressor. They also assume a certain relationship between history and memory, presuming a duty to remember and the need for a re-articulation of history through memory. This paper examines the context and dynamics of the Indian Residential School Truth and Reconciliation Commission (IRS TRC) established in Canada in 2008. By exploring the uses of testimony at the IRS TRC’s first national gathering, the essay focuses on the interplay between constructs of nationhood and forms of public intimacy. In considering both the public testimony given at the gathering and the larger, nascent narratives formed there, the essay demonstrates how survivors participating in the IRS TRC negotiate and challenge colonial relations of power while also strengthening and repairing intimate, familial relations.”

The article is largely based on field research I conducted in Winnipeg in 2010 at the Indian Residential School Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s first national gathering. I’d be happy hear feedback on the article!

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

Contact:

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!

 

UPDATE: Some of the presentations are available online. Click here to watch.

For those people (like me) who couldn’t make it to the “Sharing Truth – Creating a National Research Centre on Residential Schools” Forum in Vancouver, you can watch the proceedings online here.

Catherine Kennedy at the Sharing Truth event in Vancouver

At the moment, Catherine Kennedy, the Executive Director of the South Africa History Archives is discussing some of the challenges regarding the compilation, interpretation and accessibility of the TRC archives in South Africa. Tom Adami, Chief of the Archives and Records Management United Nations Mission in Sudan is scheduled to speak next.

The program for the rest of Day One of the Forum is available here.

e-misférica: After Truth

February 22, 2011

A special edition of e-misférica, focusing on truth commissions, has just been published. The articles and reviews cover a diverse range of issues related to truth commissions around the world. I have two short pieces on the IRS TRC in this issue: Contexualizing Truth: Recent Contributions to Discourses of Reconciliation in Canada, and The Nation Gathers. Looking forward to reading more of this special edition.

Louder than Words

January 24, 2011

There is an article in the New York Times today about Zimbabwean artist, Owen Maseko, whose recent exhibit at the National Gallery has been censored. Maseko’s work focuses on the Gukuranhundi, a massacre of thousands of Ndebele people that occurred between 1983 – 1987 in Zimbabwe. The exhibit remains standing but access has been barred. Instead, patrons can catch glimpses of the work from a balcony above. The windows of the gallery have been covered with newspapers.

The windows of the National Gallery, covered in newspaper. Source: NY Times

The New York Times article touches on the troubled past (and present) of Zimbabwe under President Mugabe’s rule, and discusses the fear of a public who cannot criticize its rulers or play a hand in shaping their country’s future. It also highlights the complicated relationship between art, politics and reconciliation. The article notes that Owen Maseko “created the Gukurahundi exhibit to contribute to reconciliation.” I wonder what reconciliation means in this context, especially given that Mugabe is still in power.

As my research on the Indian Residential School Truth and Reconciliation Commission (IRS TRC) moves forward, the role of artwork in the negotiation of a troubled past and particularly within the context of reconciliation continues to arise as an area of interest. The IRS TRC has put out a call for artwork, recognizing that images/artwork/film etc. can play a powerful role in processes of reconciliation. It is the first TRC that has prioritized artist engagements with the past in this way.

I recently came across this image on one of my favorite blogs, No Caption Needed. The blog post is entitled “Seeing the Past in the Present,” and showcases the work of artist Sergey Larenkov. Larenkov uses archival images of Europe during World War II and current photographs to make the past legible in the present.  Because I find these images so striking, and because sometimes images do speak louder than words, I end this post with one of Larenkov’s images.

By Sergey Larenkov. Source: No Caption Needed

Reconciling Several Pasts

December 20, 2010

The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission has recently announced a conference to take place in Vancouver (March 2 – 4, 2011) to discuss the proposed National Research Centre on Residential Schools. I recently visited the Nikkei Place / Japanese Canadian National Museum (JCNM) in Burnaby whose funds partially came from the reparations awarded for the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II. I wonder if the Research Centre on Residential Schools will take their cue from the JCNM, which aims to be a site for both the sharing of information as well as the creation and fostering of a strong Japanese Canadian community.

Raymond Nakamura gave me a tour of the exhibit on the internment and we discussed some of the similarities between the Japanese Canadian experience and the Indian Residential Schools. A few months ago, I posted a short excerpt from Thomas King’s short story, “Coyote and the Enemy Aliens,which draws connections between these two histories. It seems fitting to post it again here:

“I know the story of the Japanese internment in Canada. I know it as most Canadians know it.

In pieces.

From a distance.

But whenever I hear the story, I think about Indians, for the treatment the Canadian government afforded Japanese people during the Second World War is strikingly similar to the treatment that the Canadian government has always afforded Native people, and whenever I hear either of these stories, a strange thing happens.

I think of the other.

I’m not suggesting that Native people have suffered the way the Japanese suffered or that the Japanese suffered the way Native people have. I’m simply suggesting that hatred and greed produce much the same sort of results, no matter who we practice on.”

Model of Japanese Canadian Internment Camp in Lemon Creek, BC

Image at Internment Exhibit

An image from my last trip to Berlin

An interesting article appears in the New York Times today about a contest of memory over the date, November 9 in Germany. The date carries double-meaning as the date of the “Kristallnacht,” as well as the day the Berlin wall was breached.

From the article:

Germans take the business of remembering very seriously, and so Nov. 9 has always presented a bit of a challenge — how to celebrate the joy of the wall’s coming down while at the same time commemorating the night of terror known as Kristallnacht, or the night of broken glass….

Years ago, Germany decided to sidestep the awkward historical coincidence by emphasizing Oct. 3, 1990, as the day of unification, and playing down Nov. 9, 1989. But that effort seems to have lost steam. “Memory is about self-interest,” said Maxim Biller, a prominent writer and commentator who is Jewish. “The Germans wanted to reconcile with history, to have a better corporate identity for society, in a way, yes.”

Read the full article here.

Hello, France.

November 7, 2010

An obligatory shot of the Eiffel Tower

I arrived in France at the beginning of November to begin my 5 week stay as a Memory and Memorialization Fellow at l’École normale supérieure in Cachan (a suburb of Paris). The Fellowship, organized by CNRS (France), New York University (USA), Memorial de Caen (France), and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum (USA), brings together memory scholars and experts to foster dialogue across disciplines.

During my stay, I’m interested in seeing how discourses of public memory circulate in France, particularly in relation to a history of colonialism and the second world war. I’m also interested in discourses of assimilation in France, as they reveal some of the ways in which France imagines itself as a nation and imagines its citizens. Although my main emphasis remains the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I’m curious to see if or how drawing comparisons between the two contexts can lead to some interesting conversations.

In my first week, I’ve managed to dive into my reading list, do a little writing, and  visit two museums of interest: Le musée du quai Branly and Cité Nationale de l’Histoire de l’Immigration. I’m going to post about them soon. But in the meantime, here are a few photos from my trip so far:

Me and the leaves

A quiet morning at l'École normale supérieure campus in Cachan.

NA and JB reunited.

The former Portage la Prairie Indian Residential School, renamed the Rufus Prince building.

A heart sticker near a drain at the former Indian Residential School in Portage la Prairie.

As I’ve mentioned, I spent some time traveling and researching this summer. One stop I have yet to write about is my short visit to Portage la Prairie. Located just an hour or so outside of Winnipeg, I spent a day there after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s first national event. While in Portage la Prairie, I visited a former residential school that is now being used as development and tribal offices for the Long Plain First Nation. The school itself is still in good condition, and it had been chosen to house the Indian Residential School Museum of Canada. Originally slated to open in 2008, the Museum unfortunately lost its funding and the project has been put on hold. Some of the archival documents, artwork and photographs are still housed in the school’s basement.

While visiting the school, I was fortunate to have a tour of the grounds. Barb Esau and Robert Peters walked with me through the school. As we walked, they pointed to where the students had showered, where they were sequestered when punished, and where they lined up to eat….

NOTE: I am currently working on writing a longer piece about visiting the school, so I have truncated the version that originally appeared here.

Thank you to Ruth Roulette, Barb Esau, Robert Peters and Angela Roulette for sharing your time, memories and experiences.

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