A Seminar Series That Isn’t A Seminar Series

The 2017-18 Mellon-Sawyer Seminar Series ‘Post-War: Commemoration, Reconstruction, Reconciliation’ begins next week, featuring an exciting line-up of speakers from the academic, political, cultural and charity sectors.

Our aim in this Series is to explore and compare commemorative practices across cultures, thinking about how commemoration both contributes to and challenges post-war reconstruction and reconciliation.

We live in a time when societies are questioning how they remember the past (think of the Rhodes Must Fall and US Confederation memorial debates that are still raging), and the significance of anniversary culture (the First World War centenary, for example). Through this Series, we want to understand what forms commemoration takes, how it differs across cultures and what might be helpful or harmful in existing commemorative practices.

Commemoration is a part of our everyday lives, be it walking past a memorial in the town square, reading a novel about conflicts past or present, or listening to a piece of music on the radio. Yet we don’t often stop to think about who commemoration is for, whose voices might be excluded or how commemoration might be done better to help reintegrate affected groups back into society.

This is why we’ve chosen to engage with the question of commemoration in its broadest sense, focusing on textual, monumental and aural forms of commemoration respectively across the three academic terms from October 2017 to June 2018.

In order to facilitate productive discussion, we’ve decided to run a seminar series that isn’t a seminar series! We have deliberately chosen to avoid the traditional seminar structure, opting instead for a range of activities that include In Conversation events and panel-led workshops, as well as a postgraduate training day, forum and conference. The Series culminates in a concert at the beautiful Sheldonian Theatre on 2 June 2018.

Our In Conversation events, which are open to the public, feature three internationally-renowned artists: novelist Aminatta Forna, architect Daniel Libeskind and composer Jonathan Dove. These conversations will delve into the complexities of cultural production and its role in commemoration, giving members of the audience a chance to ask their own questions. The round-table discussions in our panel-led workshops will allow a range of voices to be heard from different fields of expertise. And our postgraduate training and conference activities will harness the potential and energy of the next generation of researchers, bringing together students from across the disciplines to share their ideas and work with experts in the field.

The questions explored in this Series will help us to understand the importance and specific function of commemorative practices in different communities and what the future of commemoration might look like.

If any of these questions spark your curiosity, don’t miss our launch event: award-winning author Aminatta Forna in conversation with Professor Elleke Boehmer, on Friday 20th October 2017. Book your place here. Our full programme of events can be viewed here.


Catherine Gilbert

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

texture of the memorial to the murdered jews of europe