Cultural Memory and Material Artifacts

October 2014

This one-day workshop brings together a diverse array of specialists for an interdisciplinary exploration of cultural memory. Although this subject has been studied extensively within certain specific parameters (the rise of the nation-state, the history of the museum), the recent intensification of large-scale urbanistic reformulations of the cultural past, as well as the breathless expansion of the concept of world heritage, necessitate a reconsideration of the institutional or ideological framing of cultural memory across the globe. Accordingly, the Radcliffe workshop pursues themes and case studies in regions such as China, Japan, Russia, and Turkey that have the potential to generate new insights and pose new questions concerning collective acts of cultural remembering.

Each of the case regions in question offers alternative and highly compelling instances of cultural memory—including remarkable periods of cultural forgetting—rooted in unique sequences of historical unfolding that are neither Euro-American nor postcolonial. Japan’s rapid and compressed transition to modernity included the first comprehensive system of designating “cultural property” that extended to practitioners of traditional crafts, so-called “living national treasures.” Turkey’s transformation from the seat of empire to nation-state congealed contradictory claims to cultural identity that continue to condition every large-scale project of urban renewal. China’s dizzying trajectory from empire to republic to communist regime, cultural revolution, and market socialism have generated unusually complex sites marked by cycles of destruction and renewal. Russia’s similarly disruptive stratigraphy of regime change has resulted in architectural formulations of the Russian past that are semantically layered and ideologically ambiguous, and post-Soviet heritage politics have been extremely fraught. Each of these contexts calls for both robust analysis of local historical contingencies and new ways of articulating constructionist acts of remembering.