Department of Middle Eastern Studies
Department of Middle Eastern Studies

Place Memory, Place Politics: Cultural Perspectives on the Local and Locality

Donald D. Harrington Workshop
Departments of Middle East Studies and Religious Studies

University of Texas at Austin
April 11-12, 2014 

Places are small, meaningful locales that are brought to existence by everyday experiences and practices of ordinary people, their long term emotional investment, attachment, and sense of belonging. Places are meaningful to local communities due to specific collective memories that are associated with them, the accumulated constellation of material traces and residues of lived experience that configured them over a long period of time, and the events that punctuate place histories. As Arturo Escobar has succinctly put it, “place continues to be an important source of culture and identity” (2008:7) despite the current and pervasive effects of globalization and neoliberal development that brings about the erasure of place. Widely used technologies of mapping in the social sciences and humanities today such as Geographical Information Systems, Remote Sensing and the use declassified military satellite imagery, network models and 3-D visual fly-through reconstructions remain focused on promoting large territories, big picture landscapes, and the visual spectacles of pictorial representation. In this world of dramatic and sweeping perspectives, small places and their cultural biographies are often rendered unmappable, therefore invisible.

Places are inherently politically contested for they are frequently prone to appropriation by political agents and colonial powers. Marko Živković in his “Serbian Landscapes of Dreamtime” spoke of places of power that “have become widely shared symbolic tokens in a particular polity because they accumulated many and varied layers of meaning” and that “the powers that be always seek to insert their ideology through these locations on which we drape our memories.” (Živković 2011: 169). Places of religious practice such as shrines and sacred spots, places of healing and therapeutic landscapes, storied locales such as caves, unusual rock formations and haunted ruins, memorialized locations of significant events, sites of heritage and ancestral memory come to the foreground when thinking about small places.

How do academics in the humanities and the social sciences approach places that are so vital for communities around the world, so widely contested and vulnerable to erasure? This workshop is intended to provide a platform of critical discussion in the humanities and social sciences to explore, map and make visible small places that are draped with particular memories, configured by cultural practices, and contested in political terms. It seeks genealogical approaches to place to unwrap layers of accumulated meaning in the social sphere. Cultural biographies of place, historical and archaeological case studies of socially significant places, studies of politically contested sites of memory, case studies in political ecologies and place-based resistance will form the core of the discussions at the workshop, which will bring together scholars working on contemporary, early modern, medieval and ancient worlds.

Workshop Format

The workshop will start with a keynote address by a prominent thinker on place, politics and memory. Following this, there will be 7-8 formal papers during the workshop divided into three sessions composed of two papers each. Papers will be pre-circulated 2 weeks ahead of time to discussants. Each session will be composed of 30-35 minute presentations of the two formal papers, followed by a 20-25 minute response from the session discussant (preferably to be elected from local UT Austin faculty). Following the response, there will be a 40-45 minute open forum discussion, moderated by the session chair/discussant.


Swarm. Or the problem of proximity in Alén Diviš’ prison paintings
Jani Scandura, University of Minnesota

The Political Ecology of Places: An Archaeological Perspective
Ömür Harmanşah, The University of Texas at Austin

Heterotopology for the Anthropocene
Tracey Heatherington, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Braiding Knowledge from Teachers of Earth and Stone
Sonya Atalay, University of Massachusetts Amherst

The Historical Production of Place Identities in Istanbul
Amy Mills, University of South Carolina

Dark Jerusalem: the Gothic Cityscape in Hebrew Literature
Karen Grumberg, The University of Texas at Austin

The Memory of Violence against Shrines and Temples in Sixteenth-Century Iran and India
A. Azfar Moin, The University of Texas at Austin

‘Beseech God Almighty on this land, and I will bear witness for you’
Christians, Muslims, and the Generation of Sacred Topography in Medieval Syria
Stephennie Mulder, The University of Texas at Austin

(Re)Placing the Medieval Anatolian City of Ani
Rachel Goshgarian, Lafayette College

Place Memory, Place Politics

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