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The University Seminar on Cultural Memory began in 2005 as an interdisciplinary colloquium welcoming graduate students and faculty from Columbia and its neighbors. The Seminar, incepted in 2007, builds upon this already-established community and aims to further develop a vibrant interdisciplinary dialogue on contemporary issues of cultural and collective memory, including but not limited to traumatic memory, collective and national forgetting, memorialization and museology, historical consciousness and historiography, embodied memory and performance, archive and testimony. The Seminar meets monthly and, in addition to discussing chapters and works-in-progress, hosts a series of distinguished visiting speakers, working in close cooperation with relevant departments and institutes at Columbia.

Professor Marianne Hirsch

Professor Andreas Huyssen

Noni Carter

Meeting dates and locations are subject to change. Please confirm details with the seminar rapporteur.

Meeting Schedule

09/05/2019 The Rifkind Center (160 Convent Av NY 10031)
6:00 PM
The Implicated Subject: Beyond Victims and Perpetrators
Michael Rothberg, University of California, Los Angeles


When it comes to historical violence and contemporary inequality, none of us are completely innocent, Michael Rothberg argues in The Implicated Subject (Stanford University Press, 2019). We may not be direct agents of harm, but we still contribute to, inhabit, or benefit from regimes of domination that we neither set up nor control. Claiming that the familiar categories of victim, perpetrator, and bystander do not adequately account for our connection to injustices past and present, and analyzing examples from transitional South Africa, contemporary Israel/Palestine, post-Holocaust Europe, and a transatlantic realm marked by the afterlives of slavery, Rothberg offers a new theory of political responsibility through the figure of the implicated subject.

Respondent: Gil Hochberg, Columbia University

Notes: Co-sponsored by Centro Primo Levi
10/01/2019 Deustches Haus, Columbia University
6:00 PM
Legacies of Perpetration: Confronting my Family's Nazi Pastor
Roger Frie, Simon Fraser University (Canada)


What does it mean to discover an unspoken Nazi past in your family? In a moment defined by chance and circumstance, I learned of my German grandfather’s support for the Nazi regime, a fact that had never been openly talked about. Using my family’s struggle with memory as a site of inquiry, I examine the process of remembering, its transmission, and dissociation as it relates to perpetrator groups, and to third generation Germans in particular. What lurks in the silences that are passed down between generations? How does Germany’s collective memory of the Holocaust relate to individual and family memory? And how do we define the moral obligations of memory, or understand the continued power of dissociation? Any answer to these questions, I suggest, points to the ethical demands of history.

10/29/2019 Deutsches Haus, Columbia University
6:00 PM
Heimat (Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home)
Nora Krug, Independent Scholar


Heimat is a revelatory, visually stunning graphic memoir that tells the story of Nora Krug's attempt to confront the hidden truths of her family’s wartime past in Nazi Germany and to comprehend the forces that have shaped her life, her generation, and history. The book won the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award (Autobiography category), the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize, and it was named a Best Book of 2018 by The New York Times Critics, The Boston Globe, NPR, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Guardian, Time (Honorable Mention), and the Library Journal (Best Graphic Novels), among others.

Krug is an author and illustrator whose work has appeared in mulitple publications around the world. She was named Illustrator of the Year 2019 by the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Discussant: Andreas Huyssen, Columbia University

Notes: Co-sponsored by Deutsches Haus, Columbia University
11/08/2019 523 Butler Library, Columbia University
4:00 PM
Women Mobilizing Memory: Book launch with panel and reception


The recently published eponymous anthology Women Mobilizing Memory (CUP, 2019) is a transnational exploration of the intersection of feminism, history, and memory that shows how the recollection of violent histories can generate possibilities for progressive futures. Several of the book's contributors will share brief presentations, including: Isin Osol, independent curator based in Turkey, Austria, and the U.S.; Maria Jose Contreras Lorenzini, artist and scholar based in Chile; Alisa Solomon, author, teacher, dramaturg, and director of the Arts & Culture MA program at Columbia's J-School; Andrea Crow, Assistant Professor of English at Boston University; Deva Woodly, New School University Associate Professor of Politics; and Banu Karaca, sociocultural anthropologist at the Istanbul Policy center, Sabanci University. There will also be comments from the Columbia University Dean of Humanities Sarah Cole and Columbia University's George Delacorte Professor in the Humanities JeanHoward. This event is co-sponsored by the Cultural Memory Seminar, the Columbia University Dean of Humanities, Columbia University Press, the Department of English and Comparative Literature, and the Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities.

In tandem with the anthology's debut, participants are digitizing the Harlem Memory Walk created in 2015 by former graduate students in Women Mobilizing Memory, including R. Ertug Altinay, Andrea Crow, Nicole Gervasio, Alyssa Greene, Henry Castillo, and Leticia Robles-Moreño. The walk, which will be available to the public via PocketSights, a free mobile app, introduces participants to both well-known and forgotten sites of African Americans', women's, and LGBTQI resistance in Harlem. We invite you to take the walk yourself or in small groups. Although a direct link is forthcoming, download the app to your smartphone today.

The Women Mobilizing Memory working group will also host a follow-up panel discussion and book presentation: "Reclaiming Collective Memories in Contemporary Turkey" on Wednesday, November 20, 7:00 - 8:30 pm (location TBA, Columbia University). In the frame of the recently published volume Women Mobilizing Memory, editors and contributors will talk about their contribution to the book in an Armenian/Turkish context. Featured artists and writers for this event include Nicole Gervasio, Nancy Kricorian, Silvina Der Meguerditchian and Aylin Tekiner with moderator Jean Howard.

Notes: Co-sponsored with the Center for the Study of Social Difference
11/18/2019 Buell Hall (Maison Française), Columbia University
4:30 PM
Neuroscience and the study of intergenerational trauma: how does the remote past get under our skin?
Frances Champagne, University of Texas at Austin

Gabriele M. Schwab, University of California, Irvine

Rachel Yehuda, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Discussant: Marianne Hirsch (Columbia University), Moderator: Clare McCormak (Columbia University)
Remodal Abstract


How do we "remember" things that did not happen to us? Neuroscience has made remarkable discoveries about ways in which our brains and bodies can be affected by traumatic experiences of our parents. We know that children born to survivors of cataclysmic events are themselves more susceptible to stress, and at greater risk of mental illnesses like PTSD, despite never having experienced the trauma themselves. Epigenetics, the in-utero environment, early experiences, and the parent-child relationship all play a role. These discoveries have spurred a compelling field of research into intergenerational trauma, revealing a complexity of biological and psychological interactions determining risk or resilience - but what does this new knowledge mean for survivors and their children? Scholars in the humanities and arts have long explored the lived experiences of those who feel they have inherited trauma from past generations. What can neuroscientists learn from these explorations, and what can other disciplines take from advances in neuroscience? We hear from pioneering researchers, clinicians, and scholars as they make sense of how the remote past gets under the skin to affect the present.

11/20/2019 Room 417, Mathematics Building, Columbia University
7:00 PM
Reclaiming Collective Memories in Contemporary Turkey
Nicole Gervasio, Nancy Kricorian, Silvina Der Meguerditchian and Aylin Tekiner , with moderator Jean Howard

01/28/2020 Heyman Center, Columbia University
6:15 PM
School Photos in Liquid Time: Reframing Difference
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, New York University
Speaker Link
Gil Hochberg, Columbia University
Speaker Link
Oluremi C. Onabanjo, Columbia University
Speaker Link
Jack Halberstam, Columbia University
Speaker Link Remodal Abstract


The New Books in the Arts & Sciences will celebrate the recent work by Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer, School Photos in Liquid Time: Reframing Difference. From clandestine images of Jewish children isolated in Nazi ghettos and Japanese American children incarcerated in camps to images of Native children removed to North American boarding schools, classroom photographs of schoolchildren are pervasive even in repressive historical and political contexts. The book offers a closer look at this genre of vernacular photography, tracing how photography advances ideologies of social assimilation as well as those of hierarchy and exclusion. The work reveals connections between the histories of persecuted subjects in different national and imperial centers. Exploring what this ubiquitous and mundane but understudied genre tells us about domination as well as resistance, the authors examine school photos as documents of social life and agents of transformation. School Photos in Liquid Time presents school photography as a new access point into institutions of power, revealing the capacity of past and present actors to disrupt and reinvent them.
Speakers: Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (Professor, New York University), Gil Hochberg (Professor, Columbia), Oluremi C. Onabanjo (PhD student, Columbia), Jack Halberstam (Professor, Columbia)
Location: The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room (click the link for directions). Space is limited and offered on a first come first serve basis, so plan to arrive early.

02/24/2020 754 Schermerhorn Ext., Columbia University
6:00 PM
Transmitted Wounds: Media and the Mediation of Trauma
Amit Pinchevski, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Speaker Link Abstract


In his talk based on his book Transmitted Wounds (2019), Pinchevski, who teaches in the Department of Communication and Journalism at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, will explore trauma and media from the perspective of various transmission technologies such as radio, videotestimony, television, and the internet. He asks to what extent technological mediation of trauma is constitutive of the traumatic condition itself. What he describes as the traumatic potential of media raises a whole new set of questions to the field of memory studies as a whole.

03/10/2020 754 Schermerhorn Ext., Columbia University
6:00 PM
meeting cancelled