New Forum on Contemporary Europe research project on History, Memory and Reconciliation

In spring 2009, the Forum on Contemporary Europe (FCE) and the Division on Languages, Civilizations and Literatures (DLCL) delivered the first part of its multi-year research and public policy program on Contemporary History and the Future of Memory.  The program explored how communities that have undergone deep and violent political transformations try to confront their past.

Despite vast geographical, cultural and situational differences, the search for post-conflict justice and reconciliation has become a global phenomenon, resulting in many institutional and expressive responses. Some of these are literary and aesthetic explorations about guilt, commemoration and memorialization deployed for reconciliation and reinvention.  Others, especially in communities where victims and perpetrators live in close proximity, have led to trials, truth commissions, lustration, and institutional reform. This series illuminates these various approaches, seeking to foster new thinking and new strategies for communities seeking to move beyond atrocity.

Part 1: Contemporary History and the Future of Memory

In 2008-2009, this multi-year project on “History and Memory” at FCE and DLCL was launched with two high profile conference and speaker series: “Contemporary History and the Future of Memory” and “Austria and Central Europe Since 1989.”  For the first series on Contemporary History, the Forum, along with four co-sponsors (the Division of Literatures, Civilizations, and Languages, principal co-sponsor; the department of English; The Center for African Studies; Modern Thought and Literature; the Stanford Humanities Center), hosted internationally distinguished senior scholars to deliver lectures, student workshops, and the final symposium with Stanford faculty respondents.

Part 2: History, Memory and Reconciliation

In 2009-2010, we launch part 2 of this project by adding “Reconciliation” to our mission.  We are pleased to welcome the Human Rights Program at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law as co-sponsor of this series.  This series will examine scholarly and institutional efforts to create new national narratives that walk the fine line between before and after, memory and truth, compensation and reconciliation, justice and peace. Some work examines communities ravaged by colonialism and the great harm that colonial and post-colonial economic and social disparities cause.   The extent of external intervention creates discontinuities and dislocation, making it harder for people to claim an historical narrative that feels fully authentic.  Another response is to set up truth-seeking institutions such as truth commissions. Historical examples of truth commissions in South Africa, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Morocco inform more current initiatives in Canada, Cambodia, Colombia, Kenya, and the United States.  While this range of economic, social, political and legal modalities all seek to explain difficult pasts to present communities, it is not yet clear which approach yields greater truth, friendship, reconciliation and community healing.  The FCE series “History, Memory, and Reconciliation” will explore these issues.

The series will have its first event in February 2010. Multiple international scholars are invited.  Publications, speaker details, and pod and video casts will be accessible via the new FSI/FCE, DLCL, and Human Rights Program websites.

Series coordinators: