Conference on "History and Memory: Global and Local Dimensions"

Propelled by the need to develop new and more productive avenues of communication among scholars and policy-makers based in Europe, North America, and the Middle East, in 2010 the Europe Center at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute agreed to launch the multi-year collaborative project titled "Debating History, Democracy, Development, and Education in Conflicted Societies." Our joint initiative aims to promote research and policy projects with partners in Europe, the U.S., and the Middle East.

Viewed in an international context, with a focus on Europe and the Middle East, this collaborative project investigates how societies debate internally and attempt to reconcile differences of historical interpretation and political positions.  The first conference took place at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, and was dedicated to “Democracy in Adversity and Diversity” (May 18-19, 2011). Topics for the conference included democracy in comparative perspective, political reform, the notion and strategies of democracy promotion, regime transition, negotiating religion and democracy, immigration challenges, minorities and East-West relations, emergence or recovery of civil society, the role of non-governmental organizations in democratic societies, and human rights. 

The next conference, at Stanford University May 17-18, 2012 aims to deepen our understanding of the interplay between history and memory. Given the extensive discussion of memory and history across a variety of disciplines in recent decades, we would like to take stock of our current understanding of the concepts of memory and history as they affect society, politics and culture.  At the same time we wish to examine in what ways insights gained in the course of this cross-disciplinary and global discussion may be effective when considering the circumstances of the Middle East, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We are inviting new, innovative approaches to the study of memory and history as they affect different societies. We especially welcome contributions that engage the concepts of memory and history comparatively. Our goal is to advance beyond restating examples of conflicts between versions of history, and to seek new paths of research that may further the work in various cases, and also potentially offer guidance for engaging particular international and civil conflicts.

The questions that we seek to address at the conference include, among others:

  • How do we understand the historians’ role and engagement in political and cultural conflicts about the past and present?
  • What are the historians’ responsibilities in developing shared narratives about war, civil conflict, occupation, and genocide?
  • How do we understand the relation between the work of professional historians and that of civic society organizations?
  • How do we understand the roles and interplay of history and memory in efforts towards reconciliation?
  • How should one think about the relative importance of historical commissions and truth commissions in “coming to terms with the past.”
  • What is the relationship between the historian’s work on international and domestic conflict and that of judicial institutions?
  • How do efforts in post-conflict situations to reach accurate assessments (“truth”) of the events meet the needs of healing social, ethnic, and/or religious wounds (“reconciliation”)?
  • How do we understand the effectiveness, necessity, and/or legitimacy of remembering and forgetting in models of reconciliation?
  • What are the consequences and meaning of actions of forgiveness, including the formal granting of amnesty? Do these actions conflict with the writing of history?

The conference committee consists of Norman Naimark (Core faculty member of The Europe Center at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Robert and Florence McDonnell Professor in East European Studies at Stanford), Yfaat Weiss (Director, The Franz Rosenzweig Minerva Research Center for German-Jewish Literature and Cultural History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Gabriel Motzkin (Director, The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute), and Amir Eshel (Director, The Europe Center and Edward Clark Crossett Professor of Humanistic Studies at Stanford).