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The Humanities Dialogue 2019-2020

remembering • marking • in/validating • witnessing • forgetting • making legible • tearing down • dis/honoring • resisting • solemnizing • making in/visible • restoring • expunging • fabricating • monumentalizing • venerating • disputing • coming to terms • erasing/defacing/replacing



A year-long conversation about commemorating, contesting, and claiming from humanistic perspectives

In partnership with Northwestern departments and programs, the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities will hold a year-long series of conversations around the theme Memorializing:


What stories do monuments tell?
When is remembrance also a repression?
How does memorializing shape the present?
How do we negotiate collective and disputed memories?

Distinguished scholars and artists will consider struggles over memorializing from many eras and regions to create a sustained dialogue from different disciplinary perspectives.



November 18, 2019
4:30 pm, Harris Hall #108
Monuments of Omission: Erasure in the Memory Work of Indigenous Cultures and Contemporary Media
Jean M. O'Brien and Thomas Stubblefield

While absence, erasure and invisibility are often regarded as antithetical to memory, these tropes have proven integral to both theories of the monument and contemporary practices of memorialization. Stubblefield’s presentation will explore this counter-intuitive relation by considering the postwar “counter-monument” and its relation to a broader ecology of contemporary media. O'Brien’s presentation will consider the ways Indigenous public intellectuals engage with memorialization as counter-narrative, taking as a touchstone the upcoming 400th commemoration of Plymouth, Massachusetts through the Pokanoket sachem known as Massasoit.

Co-presented with the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research.

jean-obrien-168x210.jpgJean M. O’Brien (citizen, White Earth Ojibwe Nation) is Distinguished McKnight University Professor and Northrop Professor of History at the University of Minnesota. She is a co-founder and past president of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and inaugural co-editor (with Robert Warrior) of the association’s journal, Native American and Indigenous Studies. O’Brien is the author or co-editor of six books, including (with Lisa Blee) Monumental Mobility: The Memory Work of Massasoit (North Carolina, 2019), Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England (Minnesota, 2010), and Dispossession by Degrees: Indian Land and Identity in Natick, Massachusetts, 1650-1790 (Cambridge, 1997). She edits a book series, “Critical Indigeneities” (with J. Kehaulani Kauanui) with the University of North Carolina Press. She has won numerous fellowships and awards in support of her work, including the American Indian History Lifetime Achievement Award from the Western History Association in 2014. She was elected a member of the Society of American Historians in 2016.

thomas-stubblefield-168x210.pngThomas Stubblefield is Associate Professor of Art History and Media Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. His research interests include the visual culture of disaster, post-humanism, animal studies, and drones. In 2015, his book, 9/11 and The Visual Culture of Disaster (Indiana University Press), was awarded the Rollins Prize. His forthcoming book, Drone Art: The Everywhere War as Medium will be published by the University of California Press in February of 2020.




February 5, 2020
6:00 pm, The Block Museum of Art
Sonya Clark: The Flag We (Should) Know

Co-presented with The Block Museum of Art and Department of Art Theory and Practice

Sonya Clark Throughout her more than two-decade career, artist Sonya Clark has explored the meaning embedded in commonplace objects and materials such as textiles, hair, combs, and currency, to reflect on the complex issues of race, American history, and black cultural production. Her recent work presents challenging questions about nationhood and memorialization through the investigation, reconstruction, and dismantling of flags as symbols. Clark’s 2019 project, Monumental Cloth, the Flag We Should Know, explores the symbolic legacy of the Confederate Battle Flag by invoking its lesser known historical counterpart, the Confederate Flag of Truce. Clark will discuss this work in the context of her larger oeuvre, and will be joined in conversation by Janet Dees, the Block’s Steven and Lisa Tananbaum Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.

Sonya Clark is Professor of Art at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts. Previously, she was a Distinguished Research Fellow in the School of the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University where from 2006 until 2017 she served as chair for the Craft/Material Studies Department. She is the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards including a United States Artist Fellowship, a Pollock Krasner award, an 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art, an Anonymous Was a Woman Award, a Red Gate Residency in China, a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Residency in Italy, and a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, among many others. Her work has been exhibited in over 350 museum and galleries in the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia. (Photo of Sonya Clark by Diego Valdez.)


April 21, 2020
4:30 pm, Location TBA

Comparative Memorializations of Soviet Russia and the U.S. Confederacy
Christy Coleman and Maria Lipman

How do modern states commemorate past regimes differently? How do public intellectuals use different approaches to analyze practices of commemoration? This event invites audience members to contrast Russia’s modes of remembering the Soviet Union with U.S monumentalization of the confederacy and slavery. Journalist Maria Lipman will explore ways that post-Soviet Russia reflects in contradictory ways on its past, engaging in a nation-building project that remains unfinished today. American Civil War Museum CEO Christy Coleman will analyze the city of Richmond, Virginia’s involvement with spreading the Lost Cause narrative and its current examination of Confederate statuary and symbols on the landscape.

Co-presented with the Department of History; Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Communications; and the Nicholas D. Chabraja Center for Historical Studies.

christy-coleman-kim-brundage-photo-168x210.jpgChristy Coleman is CEO of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond and Appomattox, Virginia. In her role as CEO, she has been instrumental in furthering discussion around the Civil War, its legacies, and its relevance to our lives today. She began her career at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, serving as Director of Historic Programs before leaving in 1999 to become President and CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. In 2008, Ms. Coleman was named President and CEO of the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar (ACWC), where she helped orchestrate the merger of ACWC with the Museum of the Confederacy to create the American Civil War Museum. An advocate for the power of museums, narrative disruption, and inclusivity, she strives to make museum experiences meaningful to diverse communities. Christy was awarded the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Virginia Commonwealth University and the Honorary Doctor of Civil Law from the University of the South. In 2019, Time Magazine named her one of 31 People Changing the South and Worth Magazine named her one of 29 Women Changing the World.

maria-lipman-168x210.pngMaria Lipman is the Editor of Point & Counterpoint, published online by the Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES), George Washington University. During the past three years Lipman has taught courses on today’s Russia at Indiana University (Bloomington) and Grinnell College (Iowa). From 1995 until 2014, Lipman was the Editor or Deputy Editor of various Russian publications. From 2001 to 2011, she wrote an op-ed column on Russia for the Washington Post. She has contributed to a variety of Russian and US publications, including a blog for The New Yorker online. Lipman’s most recent publications include chapters:  The Media In Putin’s Russia, Past Imperfect, Future Uncertain (2019); and Media in Russia: Between Modernization and Monopoly (2018).

Conversations and programs

More events will be added throughout the year.

October 10, 2019
4:00pm, The Great Room (600 Haven Street)
Seirai Yuichi
Fake Comedy: Memory, Futurity, and Hope in Nagasaki

Co-presented with Anthropology and History.

seirai--yuichi-168x210.jpgIn novels such as Holy Water and Ground Zero, Nagasaki Seirai Yuichi, the Nagasaki-based novelist and prestigious Akutaga Prize winner, has long examined how people experience, and live with, multilayered memories associated with place. The son of atomic bomb survivors, Seirai served as the director of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum from 2010-2019. In his novels about the atomic bomb, Seirai has moved away from forms of narrativization commonly deployed in atomic bomb literature, such as self-narratives based on atomic bomb survivors’ own personal experiences. Instead, Seirai fictionalizes his own life in the contemporary vicinity of the hypocenter of the bombing, as a window onto how people experience the fear and sorrow that unexpectedly resurfaces in mundane everyday moments. In this workshop, Seirai introduces his recent novel, Fake Comedy, a comedic take on the atomic bombing inspired by the Book of Job in which President Trump visits the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

October 17, 2019
12:30 - 1:50pm, Parkes 222
Hiro Saito
Democracy and War Memory in Japan: Fukushima and Okinawa as Method

Co-presented with Sociology.

hiro-saito-168x210.jpgAlthough rarely featured in the contemporary debate on the crisis of democracy, Japanese politics illuminates two of the most arduous contradictions of democracy—between equality and expertise and between national sovereignty and international relations. Regaining independence in 1952, Japan has prioritized expertise and international relations, coterminous with the developmental state and the US-Japan security alliance, respectively. This particular institutional configuration has been supported by the ways in which the government and citizens commemorated the Asia-Pacific War: the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were remembered to legitimate the “peaceful” use of nuclear energy as a foundation of technocratic operations of the developmental state, whereas the tragedy of Okinawa was forgotten to hide the inequality of the US-Japan security alliance. This talk examines these intersections of democracy and war memory through case studies of political struggles over the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster and the US military bases in Okinawa.

October 17, 2019
6:00 pm, Harris Hall #108
dylan-miner-168x210.jpgDylan Miner
This Land is Always

Co-presented with Art History, the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research, Northwestern University Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance (NAISA), and Multicultural Student Affairs

Dylan Miner (b. 1976) is an artist, activist, and scholar. He is Director of American Indian and Indigenous Studies, as well as Associate Professor in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University. Miner sits on the board of the Michigan Indian Education Council and is a founding member of the Justseeds artists collective. He holds a PhD in Arts of the Américas from The University of New Mexico and has published extensively. In 2010, he was awarded an Artist Leadership Fellowship from the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. Miner has been featured in more than two dozen solo exhibitions. He has been artist-in-residence or visiting artist at institutions such as the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, École supérieure des beaux-arts in Nantes, Klondike Institute of Art and Culture, Rabbit Island, Santa Fe Art Institute, and numerous universities, art schools, and low-residency MFA programs. His book Creating Aztlán: Chicano Art, Indigenous Sovereignty, and Lowriding Across Turtle Island was published in 2014 by the University of Arizona Press. 

oehler-sonic-voyages-371x248.jpgOctober 23, 2019
3:30 - 5:00 pm, John J. Louis Hall, Room 105 (1877 Campus Drive)

Sound and the Monument: A Dialogue with Kara Oehler

Co-presented by the MA in Sound Arts and Industries of the Department of Radio/TV/Film and the Kaplan Humanities Institute

How are sounds monuments, how are they destinations? Our guest for this event is Kara Oehler, a sound artist who recently produced a special “Sonic Voyages” issue of the New York Times Magazine. A radical departure from print, the issue asks us instead to listen. In NYC, ultrasonic microphones placed in rat nests reveal the conversations of urban rats. In northern Italy, we hear VLF signals from space through a long 100-year old cable wire. In the Atacama desert, silence is pierced by the crust of the earth cracking. In conversation with Assistant Professor Neil Verma (Radio/TV/Film), Oehler will share how she and the team chose 11 destinations, how the sounds were captured, and the overall aesthetic potential of field recordings.  

October 31, 2019
12:30 - 2:00pm, University Hall #201
Black Poetics and Environmental Memory: A Reading and Conversation featuring Ed Roberson and Tiana Clark

Co-presented with the Poetry and Poetics Colloquium, African American Studies, American Studies, American Cultures Colloquium, Black Arts Initiative, Black Poetics Collective, Program in Critical Theory, Environmental Humanities Research Workshop, Environmental Policy and Culture, The Graduate School, Litowitz Creative Writing Program, Philosophy, and Religious Studies

Modern environmentalism has often struggled to account for histories of racialized dispossession. However, many Black poets have taken up environmental concerns, as illustrated by the landmark anthology Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry. Environmental poetics continues to be a prominent theme in much contemporary Black poetry. For example, Tiana Clark's recent collection I Can't Talk About the Trees Without the Blood draws our attention to the predicament of Black poets facing a pastoral landscape whose image has been marred by the memory of bloodshed. "Black Poetics and Environmental Memory" will feature a reading and conversation between Tiana Clark and Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize-winner Ed Roberson. These celebrated contemporary Black poets will discuss their relationship to environmental thought as inflected through and/or contesting histories and memories of racialized violence. This event asks: Is it possible to find beauty in such landscapes knowing what has occurred there, and how might memorialization itself be an environmental act?

November 7, 2019
7:00 to 9:30pm, Block Museum of Art
Still from the film The Prison in Twelve LandscapesThe Prison in Twelve Landscapes
(Brett Story, 2016, USA, DCP, 87 min)
In person: Filmmaker Brett Story

Co-presented with Block Cinema of the Block Museum of Art, Radio/TV/Film's MFA in Documentary Media, and the School of Communication.

The Block welcomes Toronto-based filmmaker Brett Story for two nights of her acclaimed documentary films. The Prison in Twelve Landscapes explores the criminal justice system and mass incarceration in the U.S. from a number of oblique vantage points, rather than focusing on prisons themselves. Story looks at female prisoners used as labor to fight California wildfires, a Bronx, New York warehouse for prisoner care packages, a rural coal town anticipating jobs at a new prison, and Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was killed. Throughout, Story connects the ways that the prison-industrial complex reverberates through communities around the country, offering micro-portraits that illuminate the reach of the prison system beyond penitentiary walls.

Facebook event:


November 15, 2019
7:00 to 10:00pm, Block Museum of Art
Still image from the film Whose Streets?Whose Streets?
(Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis, 2017, USA, DCP, 100 min)
In person: Filmmaker Sabaah Folayan

Co-presented with Block Cinema and the Black Arts Initiative.

To commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Ferguson Uprising, Block Cinema partners with Northwestern’s Black Arts Initiative and the Kaplan Institute for the Humanities to present Whose Streets?, a searing, up-close and personal document of the resistance movement that emerged in the wake of the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by Missouri police. Filmmaker and activist Sabaah Folayan will appear in person to discuss the film, which offers both a chilling record of militarized police repression, and a stirring wake-up call to a new generation of civil rights activists.

This is the Fall Film of the Memorializing Dialogue. Winter and spring quarter films to be announced.

Facebook event: 

May 12, 2020
Time and Location TBA
Eva Hoffman
Passing on the Wand

eva-hoffman-168x210.jpgEva Hoffman, a second generation writer, will talk about the responsibility of the children of Holocaust survivors, and the second generation more broadly conceived, to hold the memory of the Holocaust.

Co-presented with Holocaust Educational Foundation of Northwestern University.



Memorializing-related events

Battlefield Cinema: Intensive Collaborative Filmmaking Workshop

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