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Seminar 8: Emerging Lines of Inquiry in the New Generation of Memory Studies Scholarship

Seminar Leaders:

Bradford Vivian and Katherine Mack 

The study of public memory has emerged as a major interdisciplinary field since the late twentieth century. Research and teaching on the subject has proliferated accordingly in rhetorical studies by scholars in Communication, Rhetoric and Composition, and English alike. A number of historical and sociopolitical factors catalyzed this interest in public memory from the late twentieth century forward: the burgeoning of Holocaust remembrance (and of historical atrocities in general); an interest in the role of memory in promoting justice and reconciliation in post-conflict situations; modern democratic movements, which involved critiques of official state histories and their attendant exclusions; postcolonialism and the collapse of the Soviet Union, both of which created ruptures in western understandings of history; and the dramatically increased popularity of commemoration or memorialization in commodified and mediated forms (including “dark tourism” to sites of atrocity or tragedy). Two main factors additionally motivated expanding interest in public memory within rhetorical studies: a reinvigorated understanding of the classical canon of memory and a recognition that major works of interdisciplinary scholarship on public memory accommodated rhetorical perspectives by defining public memory as a product of narrative, persuasion, debate, communication, discourse, and the like. 

A number of topical emphases now shape the study of public memory within and without rhetorical studies: invocations of past events in public address; the rhetoric of monuments and memorials (or of place and space in general); mass media representations of past persons or events (including ample intersections with studies of visual culture); the changing nature of archives and preservationist work in the era of digital technology; and efforts to remember the past anew from the perspective of historically marginalized groups on axes of race, class, gender, sexuality, and more. Our seminar builds on these established emphases in public memory scholarship (and, with them, what has become a somewhat standard interdisciplinary bibliography) in order to identify emergent authors, texts, or areas of study. 

We assume that seminar participants may be familiar with many standard, oft-cited works from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries (from such authors as Carole Blair, John Bodnar, Marita Sturken, James Young, and Barbie Zelizer). In addition to these valuable antecedents, however, recent work establishes new lines of inquiry that pursues the relationship of memory to justice, historical regret, government and nation-building; considers how memory work occurs across genres and the ways these genres enable different kinds of participation; and highlights the influence of location and identity on such efforts. We will focus on rhetorical scholars’ contributions to contemporary memory studies in addition to recent interdisciplinary scholarship. We will also provide ample time for discussion of the way that seminar participants’ research projects can contribute to these emerging lines of inquiry both within interdisciplinary public memory studies and to rhetorical studies more broadly. Prospective authors include Thomas Dunn, Ekaterina Haskins, Alison Landsberg, Jeffrey Olick, Stewart Whittemore, and more. 

Questions should be directed to Bradford Vivian,, and Katherine Mack,

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