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Martha Ackelsberg, Government
Reyes Lazaro, Spanish & Portuguese

Collective memory (national, regional and otherwise) is extremely selective.  Different regions within the same country might memorialize—or  delete—the past in different ways and for different reasons. Sometimes the past is too painful to confront; sometimes it is too painful to forget. A sense of collective memory can be utilized as a form of self-definition and national pride or as a locus of national shame. Memories can also become wholly fictional, created as a way to justify current geopolitical policies or economic circumstances.  Complexity increases when one part of a country commemorates a past that another region attempts to erase.

One might argue that even when there is consensus about memories, commemoration always represents a truncated form of memory, one that is potentially manipulative. One example of this can be seen in the case of Medieval Spain. Córdoba, Spain was the site of the Muslim Caliphate at the same time it was known to Jews as a New Jerusalem.  In the early medieval period in Córdoba, Muslim and Jewish writers flourished, creating works in both Hebrew and Arabic, with Christians contributing to and being influenced by both other cultures.  In recent years, to promote tourism, both Córdoba and Toledo have attempted to (re)claim that banner of convivencia  ("coexistence"), with each proclaiming itself a "city of the three cultures."  Yet, there has been little attention to how the era ended, who was responsible for its ending, or what happened to the Muslims and Jews who had been so central to these once thriving communities.  The Christian 'Reconquista' and the Spanish Inquisition fell out of the picture.

Another example of the dangers of historical collective memory can be seen in the case of the moriscos, descendants of Spanish Muslims who lived in Spain from the period of forced conversions (late 15th century) until their expulsion (17th century).  El Toboso is a small village in the region of La Mancha in central Spain. Its morisco origins are well documented, yet it barely displays a monument to its morisco past. On the other hand, the touristy Andalusian town of Frigiliana, in Malaga, once the site of a famous Muslim war against the Christian king of Castile, tells its morisco history in tiles placed on a reconstructed Moorish barrio, and proudly names itself "city of the three cultures" in a monument at the entrance of town.  Are the different recollections of their morisco past of these two towns explainable in terms of the different positions each adopted in the Spanish Civil War?  Or are recent migration by North African workers or the tourism industry more decisive factors?  Finally, can we say that Frigiliana remembers its past better than El Toboso?

This short-term Kahn project will use Spain's precarious relationship with its past as a point of departure for a broader investigation of historical and collective memory. How do countries create their representations of the past, and when are those representations most likely to be constructed and deconstructed? What are the dangers of both collective remembering and collective forgetting? How do collective memories drive contemporary geopolitics around the world?

Faculty from a wide range of disciplines across all three divisions are invited to join this investigation of the questions and problems of collective memory. Fellows will be joined by Professor Luce Lopez-Baralt of the University of Puerto Rico, an expert in the intercommunal relations of medieval Spain, whose interdisciplinary work will serve as a springboard for the project’s explorations. Professor Lopez-Baralt will open the colloquium with a public lecture on Thursday, February 6, 2014. She will then join Fellows for a combination of presentations, open-ended discussion and shared readings over the next two days as the group works to see this most complex topic in a new way.

The call for faculty fellowships in this project will be sent out in December, 2013.


Thursday, February 6, 2014:

  • Public Lecture with Luce Lopez-Baralt, 7 pm, Neilson Browsing Room, Neilson Library

Friday, February 7, 2014:

  • Colloquium discussions with Luce Lopez-Baralt, time TBA

Saturday, February 8, 2014:

  • Colloquium Discussions with Luce Lopez-Baralt, time TBA

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