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CHCI 2019

These are my notes about the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes meeting hosted by the Long Room Hub at Trinity College, Dublin.

As with other such notes, they are written live and bubble with inaccuracies and gaps. My apologies to all the good ideas missed.

Pre-conference network meeting on Health Medical Humanities

On Wednesday, June 19th I attended a network meeting about Medical Humanities.

Rishi Goyal and Kathryn Rhine hosted a network meeting on Health and Medical Humanities. Some of the lessons I gathered included:

  • Be wary about the humanities components being eased out of a health humanities center.
  • The challenge in developing research across health and humanities is the centrality of grants/funding for health researchers. If we can't help health researchers get funding or provide funding then they are not interested.
  • The arts can be a way to connect and visualization is important to many health researchers/practicioners
  • We should be careful about letting the humanities become service research to health. For example, getting caught in studies or teaching about how the humanities makes doctors more empathetic.
  • Can we develop ways to do research that is critical of health systems.

Day 1: Thursday, June 20, 2019

Panel: CHCI International Collaborations

Angie Butler from Trinity College, Dublin talked about the Global Humanities Institute on Crises of Democracy. She talked about what made a good concept that captures the imagination of both colleagues and the general public. They keep returning to questions about what it is about these times that makes populist movements attractive?

Premesh Lalu talked about the network on the Challenges of Translation. They are trying to stretch the idea of translation and translation studies. They are engaging in speculative work around translation and poetics that has led to thinking about the humanities. It is both about challenges and promises. They convene in Santiago this July. There is a synergy with the Institute on Crises of Democracy.

Joyce Liu talked about an Institute on Migration. Liu comes from a centre in Taiwan that has been already working on decolonization in East Asia. She talked about how many migrants are fleeing conflict. They want to focus on questions of contemporary migration and conditions of precarious lives. They are interested in the logistics, geo-economics, zoning politics and local infrastructure initiations.

Kathryn Rhine talked about the Conditions of Social Suffering in Africa Institute. They are looking at elements of health for African and African-descended people. They are organizing "labs" the first of which will be a Social Biography of an Object which will look at the objects of health that represent the African body. Scans and other visual representations can carry baggage. How are these objects used? What results do they produce? This lab will let them do more than just talk.

I thought this idea of a lab that looked at physical object was a great one. Otherwise you have a two week symposium.

I also wonder about the sustainability of these physical meetings. Can we find ways to have these global institutes online so that there is more conversation with less flying? How can CHCI model sustainable research practices that don't depend on flying bodies? That is the challenge we all face and I fly as much as others. Perhaps these longer (two week) symposia are a better way to do face-to-face than conferences.

Panel on Humanities Advocacy

Rosi Braidotti of Utrecht University chaired the session and talked about how we want to avoid a culture of complaint.

James Schulman, American Council of Learned Societies, talked about the ACLS that works with societies and associations. ACLS thinks about policies issues.

Jennifer Edmond talked from two roles, one having to do with DARIAH-EU, a research infrastructure entity. They can be a policy voice at the EU level, especially around open science. So much of the understanding about open science is built on science not humanities experience. As a digital humanist at Trinity, she is looking at how she can take an arts and humanities perspective on big data.

Daniel Carey of the Irish Humanities Alliance (IHA) talked about attempts to advocate that have failed. A strategy of emphasis on social value is hard to do. One can also connect to a scientific issue like health humanities, environmental humanities, or even digital humanities. He asked what it would mean to be doing humanities? What livery would we wear? Sometimes we talk about being critically engaged - but that is a negative approach. Can we capture other ways of being human. In the European context there are difficulties around the horizon ideas about missions and grand challenges.

Andrew Thompson of the Arts and Humanities Research Council talked about advice he got to the effect that you can't blow your own trumpet, but you have to make it clear that you have a trumpet. He talked about tone and how badly a defensive or strident tone is. You need to be have self-confidence. He feels that one should talk about how fertile this time to the humanities. The quintessential can be consequential. We should give examples. We also own a big part of the economy - humanities research feeds the cultural institutions and they are important. Big exhibits, big cultural events, and so on depend humanities research. The creative and performing arts are as important as the other fields. Finally, he pointed that we have things to say. Ebola is an example - some of what is happening is the failure to understand burial practices and community engagement. He talked about the importance of ethics and policy to the digital age. We have to be careful of impact narratives that overpromise.

Schulman talked about how the NEH has been very good at showing connections to local/state politics. The humanities can connect to local history and literatures.

Thompson talked about the importance of values. Language and culture may matter more now in this time of fake news.

There were questions or comments about pure research and the intrinsic value of the humanities. Thompson argued that the instrumental vs intrinsic distinction is not useful. We don't know when the quintessential can become consequential. And, all disciplines believe they are intrinsically important so this doesn't really help us.

Keynote Prequel

The Provost of Trinity welcomed us to . He talked about how each nation is the sum of its history and culture. He talked about how it should be obvious that the humanities are valuable. Without the arts and humanities, we wouldn't know who we are or where we came from. He feels the humanities should not need advocacy. At Trinity they have identified 4 attributes that graduates should have and they include:

  • Think independently
  • Communicate effectively
  • Develop continuously
  • Act responsibly

The humanities are essential to all these. The age of silos is past. It is the arts and literatures that tell us the narrative of the environment, energy, and emerging technologies.

As Gerald Manley Hopkins put it, "Long live the weeds and the wildness yet."

Jane Ohlmeyer talked about the Long Room Hub and some of their projects. She warned us about rage and brexit. She talked about the trauma of the years of the troubles and fears that the Good Friday Agreement is endangered. She also talked about Seamus Heaney and quoted him about when hope and history rhyme. She then introduced the keynote speaker, Joep Leerssen.

Joep Leerssen: What are other countries good for? How culture makes and breaks comfort zones

Leerssen had The Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism behind him when he started. Hw showed a social network graph of stamps and who is on them. Stamps can be nationalistic or link coutries. Culture from hubs or connections.

The humanities reflect on identity politics and we need this at this moment of identity politics. He had a link to Imagologica a web site on national stereotypes. Ireland makes a good prism as it experienced both sides of colonialism and has lots of articulate people that wrote about it.

He quoted the beginning of Dickens' Great Expectations where Pip talks about his identity and how it was formed in a liminal moment/place. There is a tradition of poetry that takes place between the human and spiritual world that is connected to identity.

He shifted to where is our identity located? The stomach? The heart, brain or skin. Didier Anzieu, Le moi-peau - skin. Our interface with the world. The skin is a nice metaphor for wrapping up identity.

We now have traumatic history which is how the majority of people experience history. Many of us haven't experienced trauma. Talking through it is both the cure and the pathology.

He then shifted to how does culture articulate identities? How does it evolve through different stages? He now shifted from the individual to the national.

It begins with a zero-state of inarticulate ethnocentrism. Then countries compare themselves to others. Antagonistic self-positioning. He talked about how the propaganda of the first world war of France and Germany is still haunting us - two dominant countries. In subaltern countries like Ireland you have different sorts of stereotypes. Ireland gets taken for being irrational compared to the rational Englishman. The irrational gets internalized and becomes a rebel. We get a history of rising up.

In the 20th century we get identity as positioning self amidst others. It can be hard to be something other than other. Ireland has always been the other. How can it develop its own identity? He talked about the performance in 1907 of The Playboy of the Western World which doesn't show the peasantry the way nationalists wanted it to be shown. It was a cosmopolitan play not a nationalist one. There were riots initially against its first performance.

Finally one sees self-exoticism where countries like Ireland sell themselves a different to others. Auto-exoticism is still a bit of an affliction to Ireland. There is nothing special to thinking that you are special. Hop on and hop off cruise ships are turning the world into one big arcade or panorama.

He ended by talking about how nations are probably far more similar than different.

To be honest, these notes don't really capture the richness of this talk which wasn't like other talks. He leapt from poetry to images while making very funny asides. It was hard to tell if he was talking about ethnic stereotypes that are real or internalized (even if not real) or real because internalized.

Day 2: Friday, June 21

Peter Crooks

Crooks chaired the first keynote which was part of the "Out of the Ashes" lecture series. This is tied to a Trinity initiative to deal with the loss in 1922 of the public record office during the civil war. They are reconstructing the records office virtually and with other archives that have parallel collections. They are also connecting to other losses in a way Ireland hasn't before. He mentioned the UNESCO report Lost Memories that documents lost library collections.

Shamil Jeppie: Timbuktu and the mobility of the book

Jeppie talked first about the history of the occupation and liberation of Timbuktu in 2012-3 and the moving of manuscripts. Timbuktu is in Mali. It was occupied by a rebel movement led by a one time Tuareg nationalist and now jihadist. Timbuktu had a Sufi heritage. Many Sufi thinkers were buried in the area and left writings. The rebels found the Sufi's anathema. They started destroying the Sufi tombs. In Timbuktu they have mud brick structures that were torn down. The big fear after the attack on the tombs and mosques was that they would destroy manuscript collections in the libraries. The French were invited back to recover Timbuktu.

During this campaign to recover Timbuktu there were no fatalities. Instead the story was the destruction of the main library. The media reported that thousands of manuscripts had been destroyed, without any checking. It did not happen. Instead there were all sorts reports about the destruction of "ancient" and "priceless" manuscripts.

The manuscripts were considered as mystical, talismanic examples of a magical African history. Jeppie questioned their age and whether they are full of secrets from a mystical age. Instead many are grammar texts and commentaries on grammar texts. Many of the mystical ones may be private numerological texts.

Soon after the rebels arrived many families were motivated to shift their collections of manuscripts out of Timbuktu to the capital. Many are exquisite, but many are just grammars. How did 2000 or so crates get moved. This movement became the center of attention of the media. The media shifted from the destruction of the library to the shifting of the manuscripts to save them.

Timbuktu has long been a trading center. Manuscript books are one of the things that are moved and sold in that area. There is a history of moving books during crises and wars. In 1591 the Moroccans invaded this area and the leading scholar's collection were taken back to Morocco. The French took large numbers of books.

He then talked about three works of Ahmad Baba (1556 - 1627) whose library was taking to Morocco (as he was.) One text is titled "Attracting blessings and preventing calamities by distancing oneself from oppressive rulers." A political text. Another is about scholars versus mystics. Another is on slavery. His works are part of an older style of writing and learning that was not part of the state.

He then talked about the Western fascination with Timbuktu. Jeppie is looking at traveler's books that mention Timbuktu and how they mention books. People mention universities at Timbuktu when it may have been more of a manuscript copying industry.

He concluded by talking about how abandoned archives are. In the backwaters there are many collections that are even in worse conditions than those of the capitals.

The US looted millions of pages of documents from Iraq when they invaded that no one mentions.

He returned to Timbuktu and hopes the manuscripts will go back as it is dry there which is good for preservation. He also mentioned that in this part of Africa things move. He seemed to be suggesting that the movement of the manuscripts from Timbuktu was not really because of the rebels, but as a process of movement with possibly other reasons. This raises the question of what would have motivated the movement of these Timbuktu family libraries if the rebels were not threatening the libraries. Or, were the families just panicked by mistaken media reports.

There was an interesting discussion about Foucault and how the commentary precedes the author. The idea would be that there is no author without the archive that preserves the works of authors. Thus the archive and commentary makes possible the author function.

Panel: Cultural Interventions and Commemoration in a Postcolonial World

Zoe Norridge started the panel by talking about Kwibuka Rwanda: Remembering the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi. She gave a brief background on the genocide. She studies literary and artistic responses to the genocide. She talked about commemoration and how in Rwanda the practices arose from their traditions. She talks about interventions from outside in commemoration.

Practices for remembering the dead changed with the genocide. The government is becoming more involved. The 20th and 25th commemorations drew international attention. She talked about the performances organized by the state and attempts to open up to stories about later war crimes and the diaspora to the Congo of the Hutu.

She showed photos from an exhibit she curated at King's. She talked about how interventions from outside to shift how things are commemorated don't work, but instead alliances are needed.

Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University gave a very powerful paper where he argued that we are still in a colonial world and not on a post-colonial world. He is wary of the term "post-colonial". For Khalidi the term hides what is happening by suggesting that colonialism is over. He started with West Africa and how most of the countries there are still under the thumb of the French. The economies of these countries are still kept tied to France. This leads to corruption. What is happening is certainly not post-colonial. Likewise the Caribbean and the US. Even Mexico is expected to bend to the US. This is all about money and resources.

Then he talked about the Middle East and the petro-monarchies like Saudi. These states are not really independent. This is a new and changed form of colonialism. Then there is the trade war with China that resembles the servitude of the opium wars. Then we have the relationships with our indigenous peoples.

He concluded with Ireland and how the Tories in the UK are nostalgic for their Empire as brexit shows. Ireland doesn't matter to the Tories. His last case is Palestine. There the British killed or imprisoned 10% of the male Arab population in the revolt of the 1930s. He talked about Zionism as a settler colonial movement that became a nationalist movement. The colonial origins of Israel have been concealed. The Zionist case is unique as there was no mother country. They got a late start and allied with different countries. Today 2019 Palestine is the last place where traditional colonial forms of domination are taking place. Given Palestine it is hard to say that we are past the colonial.

If most of the world are still in a neo-colonial state what about the old great powers? We see colonial rhetoric returning. But the youth are resisting. What can we do? Support or get out of the way.

Urmimala Sarkar Munsi of Jawaharlal Nehru University talked about Draupadi's Travels: the cyclic disorder of cultural trauma. She talked about a performance about Draupadi that caused protests from the virulent masculinity of Hindu nationalism. Mahasveta Devi wrote story about Draupadi updated to current situations. Spivak translated it. A play text was created in 2000 and was performed in Manipur where the actress Sabitri used her nudity to challenge. She then connected this to the story of Manorama who was killed by the Indian Army. There was a demonstration after where a number of women demonstrated naked before the army headquarters.

She concluded by talking about how Draupadi's story keeps on returning. Only in the universities now in India is there resistance to the hyper masculinity of current India.

In questions Norridge was challenged about her call not to have cultural interventions in memorialization in Rwanda. So often the freedom fighters of yesterday are now the tyrants. Rwanda is now a benign dictatorship.

Munsi talked about how we have a new danger in India where the rejection of the borrowings of the West means rejecting human rights or women's rights. The postcolonial has been weaponized.

Panel: Cultural Trauma and Documentary Making

This panel on documentary making was opened by the Chair, Eileen Julien of Indiana University Bloomington.

Esther Hamburger of the University of São Paulo talked about Exploring the boundaries of documentary to avoid victimization. How can documentaries intervene against violence. In the digital world documentaries have become more accessible. In Brazil we have seen documentaries about the favelas. There is a debate on how to film marginalized communities without reinforcing stereotypes.

She then talked about her documentary White out, Black in. In the decades of democratization there has been a decrease in inequalities. White out, black in tries to give voice to marginalized groups in the favela that have been left out of mainstream movies about the favelas. It has a science fiction aspect. Many of the people of the favelas are those who built the modernist cities they can't live in.

Joyce C.H. Liu of the National Chiao Tung University talked about cultural trauma and the politics of silence and denial. There is a paradoxical relationship between citizenship and democracy. In South East Asia there have been a number of traumatic events since WW II. She focused on the events of 1965 in Indonesia. She wanted to focus on the double-edged functions of documentaries or docudrama movies. These

In 30 September, 1965 about a million mostly Chinese Indonesians were killed. It is claimed it was in response to a communist attempted coup. Differenciated citizenship played a role after the event. People of Chinese background are now officially discriminated against with differenciated citizenship. The state divides people according to different criteria.

Recent studies show that the 30 Sept. event may have been undertaken by the US and others. The army and villagers participated to prioritize the indigenous population over the Chinese.

She then talked about different documentaries that portray the event. One from 1984 tells the government story and is run over and over. 97% of students have seen it and often been traumatized by it. The film demonized communists and Chinese. By contrast The Act of Killing and later The Look of Silence showed a different side of the genocide. These included scenes of re-enactment of killing scenes. She talked about what it meant to have the killers recreating their murdering. It shows the present impunity of these killers. The documentaries are thus not just of the past, but of the present.

Bríona Nic Dhiarmada of the University of Notre Dame talked about The Irish Rebellion of 1916. The rebellion was doomed. 2000 poorly armed rebels were suppressed by 30,000 troops. Dhiarmada was the originator of a three part series about the 1916 rebellion. She wanted to talk about how 1916, while a local event, went around the world. It led to the civil war and the independence. It had an effect on other countries decolonizing.

Various series like Ken Burn's series have shown that there is an audience for documentaries about war. These matched the scale of events in a way books couldn't. Dhiarmada felt it was time to revisit 1916 coming up to the centenary. Burns gave history back to people.

George Morrison researched and restored all sorts of Irish film footage. He used this to create Mise Éire (I am Ireland) which was released in 1959 and was an immediate triumph. It was of its time - heroic, romantic and nationalist.

By the 1960s people began to interview on film the survivors of 1916. These were used in the 50th celebration. Decisions were decided to portray things as a nationalist and not socialist uprising. It was supposed to idealistic and emotional not interpretative. The emphasis was to be on homage. There was a series of reconstructions called "Insurrection" with pseudo news commentary as if the news were there.

But these depictions are the end of an era. With the troubles and the IRA claiming to be the inheritors of 1916 there was little appetite for showing the violence. In the 1970s with the upsurge of violent nationalism there is a lot more questioning of the heroic myth. It was a while before a dedicated work was created about the uprising.

When Dhiarmada set out to create a documentary she wanted to avoid both romanticism and revisionism. They wanted to look at aspects left out before like the role of women or the role of the Irish in WW I. They wanted to restore the complexities and restore the international dimension. What was going on in Europe or the world at that time? 1916 didn't just change Ireland, but also places like India.

Judith Buchanan: Silent Shakespeare

At the end of the day we had a performance of Silent Shakespeare by Judith Buchanan. This brilliant performance included a pianist (her son?), Buchanan lecturing, silent movies playing, and three student performers reading. They did things like "revivifying" passages of silent movies where the performers added voice to the silent performance.

Absolutely brilliant ... as they would say here.

Day 3: Saturday, June 22

Srinivas Aravamudan Memorial Lecture: The Radical Middle, convened by Homi Bhabha

I cam late to a panel with James Chandler, Debjani Ganguly, Premesh Lalu, and Wang Hui that talked about this political moment. The conversation was too rich to capture in notes, but here are some thoughts. They talked about Burke's view about political reason and computation. They talked about anger, rage and outrage.

I couldn't help thinking about the mismatch between the forms of discourse in the academy and the sites of discourse of the alt right. We talk at conferences and write books. Youth watch and make YouTube videos and play games. As others have noted, games are the high culture of young men and video site for disputation - the agora. We, the academy don't respect or reward either. Our high theory thus plays for the choir. We aren't heard by youth the way Anita Sarkeesian is through Feminist Frequency.

Hugh Lane Gallery

We then had field trips. I went to the Hugh Lane Gallery where we had a tour followed by a panel discussion that included the director of the Hugh Lane Gallery, Barbara Dawson, in conversation with Georgina Jackson, Director of the Douglas Hyde Gallery together with artists Seamus Nolan and Garett Phelan. Nolan talked about an installation(s) he organized at the Hugh Lane about travellers. Garett Phelan talked about an interesting live radio broadcast from the Hyde Gallery in Trinity College. The radio broadcast brought in the public and engaged the public. It dealt with homelessness among other things.

Dawson and Jackson talked about how galleries can bring in publics.

Civil War & Cultural Interventions: The Example of Field Day

The panel was chaired by Chris Morash who introduced the speakers.

Stephen Rea started talking about the founding of Field Day. It "began in 1980 in Derry as a cultural and intellectual response to the political crisis in Northern Ireland.]] It was founded in Derry and one of the first works produced was Translations.

Angela Bourke was very very interested in Derry for a long time. In Derry very few Catholic men had jobs and lots of women in Derry. The men gathered unemployed - an Athenian community of sorts for men. The men elaborated the discourse.

Clair Wills talked about the Arena documentary and the importance of the local. Wills came on Field Day from the outside. She travelled to Derry to hear what was happening. She was stunned by the audience and how engaged they were.

They moved from theatre to poetry to pamphlets. Rea talked about how they moved to pamphlets because theatre seemed tired in ways. Pamphlets could invoke a face to face culture. They were affordable and mobile.

Conor McCarthy talked about how Translations followed Said's Orientalism. McCarthy feels there was an affiliation between Field Day and post-colonial thought.

Wills talked about the Anthology of Irish Writing that Seamus Deane edited. The Anthology may have looked like an out dated form, but it generated controversy. Wills and Bourke worked on further (4th and 5th) volumes that introduced a lot more women's writing. An Anthology can be a site of colonization or decolonization. It is a place. It is hard to judge at the time.

Wills talked about how long it takes to create something like an anthology. Time passes you by. You realize there are things you are not grasping like the impact of inward migration and racism in the Republic. She talked about how she was blind, like including "mother Ireland" writings instead of materials about the containment of women.

Field Day in the late 1990s becomes identified with Irish cultural criticism. With the Field Day Review they develop an critical voice outside universities. They were trying to create an intelligentsia. Can we imagine contemporary writers coming together for a similar project.

Field Day was a form of national theatre. Given the troubles it was important what was happening. People in the South and in Belfast hated that there was this energy in the North West.

Bourke talked about sectarian discourse. The Field Day Review was supported by Notre Dame in the US. It still moved to move away from a sectarian orthodoxy.

The 40th anniversary is coming up. Rea would like to do something with writers trying to change things today. He talked about|Direct Provision]] and how Ireland treats immigrants like a colonial power.

Screening of Hard Border, written by Clare Dwyer Hogg and performed by Stephen Rea

The screening of Hard Border was followed by a conversation by Jim Chandler with Clare Dwyer Hogg and Stephen Rea. This was commissioned by the Financial Times. The short challenges the magical thinking of brexiters. Identity is imagination which is why all this is so hard. The short quoted stupid things British politicians have said about the border.

Someone in the audience commented on how videos like this are the pamphlet of this time. Someone else suggested they should get on Love Island to get heard.

Performance: Stephen Rea will perform Seamus Heaney’s Book VI Aeneid



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