Cities of Contested Memory

Limited to 25

This seminar explores relationships between built environments and memory. Memory is both a faculty for dealing with previous experiences and a social, economic, and political force that shapes the legacy of the past. Within the vast field of memory studies, this course will highlight the study of spaces and spatial practices in which the future of the past is imagined, negotiated, and contested. In particular, it will emphasize three areas of critical importance to understanding the nature of memory in cities today: 1) the threats that rapid urban development pose to the remembrance of urban pasts; 2) the politics of representation evident in debates over authorized and marginalized historical narratives; and 3) the art and ethics of sensitively addressing the afterlives of violence and tragedy. 

Classes will draw intensively from readings in theory and about places and people. Theoretical texts will include those by Michel Foucault, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Maurice Halbwachs, Alison Landsberg, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Pierre Nora, among others. We will consider these authors’ conceptual frameworks in relation to contexts close to home, including the contestation of Confederate monuments in places like Richmond; the commemoration of 9/11 at the World Trade Center site in New York City; and the production of Holocaust memorials in cities at a distance from sites of violence (e.g. Boston). Our concerns will also take us to Latin America, where we will learn about the relationships between erasure, materiality, and justice evident in “truth museums”; to Rwanda to explore the emotional and physical work of memorializing the genocide; and to Chernobyl, where we will consider the afterlives (and half-lives) of catastrophic accidents that have produced long-term bodily and environmental effects that challenge us to reconsider the nature of memory. 

This is a course that will require the active participation of every individual—in completing all readings, preparing questions and comments for each class, and debating issues with respect and openness. In addition, each participant will be required to develop a final project—using primary sources—that will take the form of either a research essay or design proposal. Through our group discussions and individual projects, it will be our collective task to critically probe the ways that communities choose to remember (and spatialize) the past.