Organizing Fellow: Nicolas Russell (French Studies)
This Kahn short-term project will focus on the different ways we define and discuss
memory. Memory is an important subject of study in a wide range of intellectual domains;
however, different intellectual disciplines ask different questions about memory,
and at times, it is not at all clear that they are even talking about the same thing.
The goal of the project is to have an interdisciplinary discussion in which the participants
can compare the questions, concepts, and methods they use in thinking about memory
to those used by others in other disciplines. My own work has focused on the concepts
of personal and collective memory in early modern France (1500-1800) and has itself
been interdisciplinary to a certain extent: theories and research from other fields – such
as cognitive science, sociology, historiography, media studies, and philosophy – have
helped me to answer some of my own research questions. However, impromptu discussions
about memory with colleagues in various fields have given me a different interdisciplinarity
experience. On a number of occasions, such conversations have pushed me to rethink
some of my own assumptions and questions. It is this kind of interdisciplinary exchange
that I am interested in fostering, for myself and for others, through this Kahn project.
lay the ground work for this project we will ask participants to think about a set
of questions, from their own point of view. What is memory and what roles do we ascribe
to memory in the intellect and in society? How do we use memory as a metaphor and
what metaphors do we use to understand memory? To what extent and in what sense can
we say that memory extends beyond the mind – in computers, archives, social
groups, genes? The questions are very broad and are meant as a heuristic tool rather
than a task list to complete. Perhaps they will strike some participants as the “wrong
questions,” which in itself might prove very interesting.
Before meeting, the
participants will also read a series of texts on memory, divided into two groups
and collected in a course pack. The first group of texts will introduce specific
technical terms (e.g. distinctions between ROM and RAM or between procedural, semantic,
and episodic memory). The second group of texts will present a set of thought-provoking
problems or approaches to the concept of memory in different intellectual domains.
Selected Fellows will be asked to suggest readings which (1) introduce technical
terms they may want to use during group discussions, (2) present a thought-provoking
problem, or (3) give an overview or introduction to their field’s (or sub-field’s)
approach to memory. Some of these will be included in the course pack, while others
will be added to a supplemental bibliography to be distributed to the group.
will take place over two to three days in January and February 2008. The first meeting
will take place shortly before the start of the spring semester, and will consist
of a discussion among the participants which will bring together the general questions
at the origin of this project, the “course pack” readings,
and the participants’ presentations of their own work.
The second part of this
project would involve an invited speaker, who will give a public lecture to the Smith
community early in the spring semester. The Fellows will then meet with the visiting
scholar to discuss the history and evolution of the concept of memory.
from faculty across the three divisions are encouraged and would bring great value
to the project.