HISTORY 445 - Topics in History
Winter 2017, Section 001 - History, Memory, and Silence
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is (see other Sections below)
Subject: History (HISTORY)
Department: LSA History
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Waitlist Capacity:
May be elected three times for credit.
Primary Instructor:


The senior/graduate seminar provides anthropological perspectives—both in theory and ethnographic methods—on the study of the past, particularly the process and politics of history making, the role of memory, and the knowledge retained in ethnographic silences. It explores the complex relationship between ‘the past’ and culture, as well as the role the past plays in the making of the present, and the way the present continues to interpret the past.

The relationship between history and memory has occupied the attention of many fields of inquiry from history and anthropology to psychoanalysis and philosophy. While memory has been conventionally thought of as a category for understanding the role of the past in the formation of the individual subject, the implications of memory on collective social formations has been a point of more recent investigation in the humanities and social sciences. Is memory the depository of the past? What about history: is history the record of the past? Whose and which past is recorded in history and whose and which past is stored in memory? For example, Maurice Halbwachs notion of ‘collective memory’, Pierre Nora’s ‘sites of memory’, and Paul Connerton’s ‘organized forgetting’ shed the light on the ways in which societies remember, commemorate as well as forget and erase events and episodes of individual and collective pasts. Memory becomes a site on which a society/culture/community projects its anxieties about repetition, change, representation, authenticity, and identity. It is also a site where colonial relations are contested and the legacies thereof become part of an ethics of forgetting, as Nandy argues.

The relationship between power, the past and the present is at the core of historical anthropology and to a large extent history as a scholarly practice. The seminar aims to explore various ways of thinking of the relationship between history and memory, as well as problematizes the clear-cut distinction between the ‘past’, the ‘present’, and the ‘future’ as separate temporal units of analysis. It provides theoretical and methodological approaches to the fields of anthropology and memory studies, as well as the concepts emerging in recent ethnographies that use Walter Benjamin’s work to examine the remnants of the past such as ruins, rubble, and artefacts in the aftermath of wars, violent episodes and destruction.

This course is co-designed with Dr. Hanan Sabea and taught simultaneously at the American University in Cairo as ‘Anthropology 5280’. Dr. Sabea will be guest speaker in this class in April.

Intended Audience:

This seminar is tailored for senior and graduate students interested in:

  • Multidisciplinary approaches to the study of history, social memory, and museums.
  • Methodological approaches to studying violent pasts with destroyed archives and ruptured oral historical transmission.
  • Theorizing silences and absences in historical and ethnographic texts.

Class Format:

Weekly seminar discussion


HISTORY 445 - Topics in History
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
 In Person
M 4:00PM - 7:00PM

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