Memory, Time, and the Aftermath: Visualizing Histories That Hurt in the Americas (Roundtable)

Cultural Studies and Media Studies / Interdisciplinary Humanities

Campbell Birch (Columbia University)

Daniella Wurst (Columbia University)

When we say the present contains the past, or admit that the past is not dead but bears on the present, what is that we really mean? This session will examine how public memory and its contemporary visual and architectural figurations foster the historical transmission and understanding of painful collective pasts in the Americas. Respondents might address renderings of memories related to legacies of slavery and indigenous genocide, intra- and international conflict, dictatorships and life after their fall. Or they could attend to the state and counter-state memorialization of more recent forms of political violence that have targeted particular communities. In view of ongoing popular disputes about representing the past, and scholarly debates about the proper methodologies of recovery, this roundtable seeks to understand cultural memory as a contested living phenomenon. More specifically, our goal is to examine why the register of the visual lends itself so well to capturing memory through time. We invite respondents to investigate how works of memory produce and shape the kinds of stories about the past that we do—and don’t—tell.

Beyond assessing the aesthetic frames and built forms such narratives take, the session is especially interested in exploring questions about the relationship between temporality and memory. We ask presenters to consider the philosophies of time emblematized by memoryworks which represent histories that hurt. What are the politics of time produced by such memoryworks? What do they hope to achieve in the present? How do they seek to do right by the past, and what limits does their desire to do so come up against? Can they propose or found mended futures? Furthermore, how do memoryworks reinforce status quo understandings about time—and, with what implications—and how might they disrupt them by imagining countertimes and belated forms of justice?
This session traces how difficult collective pasts have recently been managed and memorialized in the Americas. Concentrating on visual and built representations, we ask participants to pay particular consideration to the kinds of temporal politics of memory their examples and case studies conjure. Roundtable papers are sought from scholars interested in critically analyzing the intersections between memory studies and art, cinema, photography, architecture, and museum studies.