Institute of Historical Studies
Institute of Historical Studies

IHS Launches New Commemoration Series

Thu, March 27, 2014
IHS Launches New Commemoration Series
History Professor Anne M. Martínez presents "Mexican Americans and the Kennedy Assassination." Photo by Sam Ortega, Daily Texan

In correlation with this year’s theme of Trauma and Social Transformation, the Institute for Historical Studies is hosting a series of commemorative events examining the impacts and repercussions of national traumas through a multi-disciplinary lens.

“Through the new Commemoration series, IHS seeks to promote broader reflection on the legacy of key historical events and figures for our contemporary world, and to open new avenues for interrogating the past. Free and open to the public, the series, which includes roundtables, lectures, and symposia composed of historians, social scientists, and even eyewitnesses, aims to provide diverse perspectives on transformative moments in history,” notes Seth Garfield, IHS Director and Associate Professor of History. “Although much has been said about the ‘presentist’ mindset typifying the age of information technology, the public has a very deep need and yearning to understand the past and its implications for the lives we live and the world we inhabit.”

The first event in the series, “A Nation Traumatized: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy and its Aftermath,” took place in November, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the tragedy. The IHS convened scholars from different disciplines to study the context and impact of the trauma on diverse social groups and geographic regions in  the United States.   Presentations ranged from broad historical and political context, offered by Professor Jeremi Suri; to the impact on the African-American and Latino communities, analyzed by Professors Laurie Green and Anne M. Martinez, respectively; to the effects on the city of Dallas;  to the childhood memories of Jane Louis, an Austinite who had written numerous letters as a young woman to the widowed Jacqueline Kennedy.

Attendees at the JFK event also represented a broad cross-section of both campus and community, including graduate and undergraduate students and faculty from History and the College of Liberal Arts, as well as IHS fellows and members and alumni in the Austin community.  Ronen Steinberg, Assistant Professor of History at Michigan State University and an IHS fellow, remarked:  “Who knew that for years after the Kennedy assassination, the city of Dallas experienced such a vicarious sense of shame that it did not name any street or monument after JFK, though it did have one named after Martin Luther King? And that in Memphis, after the King assassination, the situation was the other way around? This is just one of the fascinating things I learned from this excellent panel. A most rewarding experience.”  Cris Metz, a Ph.D candidate in the Department of History, added: "The event highlighted social and academic responses to sobering national traumas like President Kennedy’s assassination. Once again, the IHS has outdone itself in its ability to invite audience members, be they academics or not, to think critically about the past and its (dis)connections with the present.”

In March, the IHS will host another roundtable event entitled, “The Brazilian Coup d'état of 1964: A Roundtable Discussion to Mark its 50th Anniversary," which will bring together historians, political scientists, and specialists in international relations to analyze the origins and legacies of two decades of military rule in Brazil.  Eyal Weinberg, a Ph.D. Student at the History program, will speak on the role medical professionals played in state-sponsored repression under the Brazilian military rule, shedding light on their critical function in the systematization of torture. “In seeking to elucidate doctors' involvement in human rights abuses,” Weinberg noted, “I will examine the politicization and polarization of the Brazilian medical community prior to, and during the military rule.”

Another panelist, Wendy Hunter, Professor of Government at UT Austin, whose work has examined  the transition from military rule to democracy, noted: “Many thought the military would continue to exercise the political prerogatives that it had bargained and kept for itself in the very negotiated transition to democracy.”  Yet, as Hunter observed:  “Not only have military prerogatives eroded, but Brazil's democracy witnessed another occurrence that few thought would be possible in 1985 when the military left power: three successive PT (Workers' Party) administrations.  So, even in a Brazil that shows signs of important continuities with the past, there have been significant changes under the new democracy.”

On April 16, the centennial of World War I, a conflagration that claimed the lives of some 13 million soldiers (more than twice the number killed in all the major wars from 1790 to 1914), will be commemorated.  The historical roundtable will explore the origins, experiences, and repercussions of the war from a global perspective, drawing on the expertise of historians David Crew, Philippa Levine, Charters Wynn, Emilio Zamora, and Mary Neuburger.  "World War I was not just one war, but many,” notes Professor Neubuger. “In the Balkans, the war had its own causes and outcomes, tied to the slow retreat of the Ottoman Empire from Southeastern Europe and the battle for the spoils among the newly formed Balkans states. My presentation will look closely at the events that sparked WWI in Sarajevo, the assassination of the Hapsburg heir, the Balkan Wars of 1912-3, and the unique character of the war in the Balkans." (See coverage of this event in The Daily Texan, April 17).

Finally, the Commemoration series will conclude with a panel on Thursday, May 8, to mark the 75th anniversary of  Freud's death.  “This panel, composed of professors of history and psychology,” Garfield notes, “is a fitting finale for the series and the Institute’s theme this year, paying tribute to the legacies of  a pioneering thinker in the field of trauma.”

To learn more about IHS events visit the IHS calendar, follow IHS on Facebook, and sign up for the institute’s e-list [email].

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