Objects and Memory : Engendering Private and Public Archives

March 23, 2007, 1-7PM, 612 Schermerhorn, Columbia University
»A Workshop with: Lila Abu-Lughod, Patricia Dailey, Marianne Hirsch, Andreas Huyssen, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Nancy K. Miller, Valerie Smith, Silvia Spitta, Leo Spitzer and Kate Stanley
»And Featuring Artist Presentations: Lorie Novak “Reverb”, Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock “Things Matter: Tracing Objects across Artistic Practice”
How do objects carry memory across space and time? How do they mediate loss and forgetting, exile and diaspora? More than props or exhibits of historical evidence, material objects are inscribed with the physical and affective traces of memorial transmission across cultures and generations. Looking at how objects mediate memory in familial and social life, and in political discourses and in public archives — at how they are used, collected, exchanged, and exhibited — this half-day workshop will explore, in particular, the gendering of familial transmission and the engendering of archives.
Brief presentations will center on a particular object or image, trace its histories across the private and public realms, and reflect on the theoretical issues it raises for the engendering of memory, genealogy and transmission.
Sponsored by the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, the Cultural Memory Colloquium, English and Comparative Literature, and Art History
No registration necessary.
For more information contact Vina Tran vtt2103@columbia.edu
Conference website:

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One Response to Objects and Memory : Engendering Private and Public Archives

  1. Haidy Geismar, NYU March 27, 2007 at 10:06 am #

    Just some feedback about the conference:
    It was interesting to see ideas about material culture and materiality refracted through an entirely different disciplinary lens – that of literature. In the first session, all of the participants took family objects as a starting point to try to recuperate lost family histories. What held the presentations together was a pre-selection of objects that were understood to be incomplete, fragmentary, with the potential for only partial reconnection. The paradigmatic object was the Jewish artifact whose story has been partially erased due to the European disruption of pogrom and holocaust. It was obvious to me, as someone who works in a very different cultural context (e.g. with Maori objects which are conceived as total social facts, totally complete, replete with genealogy and history) that this fragmentary context has very much been naturalised to the point where it is assumed that objects are not whole without narrative.
    And why not? It certainly evokes lovely poetic critical commentary, a wistful and nostalgic sense of incompleteness, which places the critic in the powerful role of making things whole, or at least containing the representational potential of the artefact. Again this idea of the fragment, which cannot be made whole is a culturally located understanding of materiality not necessarily carried through in other cultural contexts. I would have liked to see the conference participants push through their own assumptions about the object world to place their own work in some broader theoretical context. I felt very happy to have the disciplinary engagement from within anthropology which provides understandings of how objects are deeply ensconced within social relationships. It seems that in anthropology we can avoid the question that came up in the conference which was something like, ‘well if these objects dont contain fixed stories or meaning then they can’t really be vessels for much, we need to give them stories’. I think that within the literature broadly drawn upon in anthropology we have a much more nuanced understanding of the complex interrelationship between object and person, narrative, memory and materiality. And we might be able to understand how stories can be more contained in objects than they first presume ( I wonder if Julie Cruikshanks’s work on the social life of stories might be a good cross-over text in this context). It’s a shame that disciplinary boundaries stand in the way of really thinking through things.
    Of course, it was refreshing to hear Barbara Kirschenblatt Gimblett gave a most interesting presentation about the hidden archives of the Warsaw ghetto and the intentions of its creators and its subsequent curators. She teased out the tensions betewen ideas of memorialising and evidence and referred to the new museology of the holocaust which has been developing what she referred to as Chalacha, religious protocols, around the use of certain kinds of objects.
    I’d be interested to hear the thoughts of some of the other attendees or participants? Especially as I couldn’t stay to the end and missed the concluding discussion of the day.

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