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Memorializing-related Courses

To expand connections with our year-long MEMORIALIZING Dialogue, the Kaplan Institute is helping to promote these 2019-2020 Northwestern courses that include content related to themes of memorializing. Some of these have been awarded course enhancement grants to cover undergraduate student trips to monuments or burial mounds, or for performances, special lectures, or field studies. 

Winter 2020

Tales of Oil and Water
(English 368 / Comparative Literary Studies 302)
Taught by Tristram Wolff (Assistant Professor, English and Comparative Literary Studies)

How do imaginary prophecies of near-future worlds "memorialize" the present? What does a dystopian film like 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road tell us about how to get along today? How can we recognize urgent questions from our own world in such a surreal cinematic assault on the senses? As interlocking narratives of globalization, resource competition, and ecological crisis collide in the news, the natural resources on which human lives and social relationships depend have increasingly preoccupied recent fiction, film, and criticism. Whether it’s a question of “too much” or “not enough” — of deluge or scarcity — the tales we will read and watch together in this course depict resource wars and dystopian imaginaries through everyday, intimate events and encounters. They zoom in, in other words, from geopolitical power struggles caused by oil and water, to their effects on a human scale — helping us see how our actions count in both distantly mediated and effectively immediate ways. Featuring modern myths composed of fast-paced action, futuristic sci-fi, film noir mystery, biting satire, and the surreal beauty of slow motion, these works cannot be captured by a single mood. Instead, they intensify our awareness of the ecological path we are on, as if to say: remember this tomorrow. Our discussions of essays, novels, stories, and films will be guided by how each represents pressing problems of compromise and control, competition and coexistence, in a "now" viewed as the future's past.


Rhetoric and Public Commemoration
(Communication Studies 314)
Taught by Angela Ray (Associate Professor, Communication Studies)

This course focuses on public commemoration as a rhetorical phenomenon. We will consider questions like these: How do societies remember the past? What do the strategies for remembering the past teach us about the present? How are “collective memories” produced and challenged? Course participants will read and discuss contemporary scholarly literature on commemoration and will practice skills in critical reading and analysis.

Performing Memorial Mania
(Theatre 140-2)
Taught by Rebekah Bryer (Doctoral Student, Interdisciplinary PhD in Theatre and Drama)

This course will examine the connections between theatre, performance, and commemoration in the history of Western theatre through the idea of "memorial mania," a term coined by memory scholar Erika Doss as “an obsession with issues of memory and history and an urgent desire to express and claim those issues in visibly public contexts.” How does memorial mania manifest in the theatre? How do playwrights use historical settings to comment on their contemporary moment? How does performance act as commemorative practice? Are memorials theatrical? To explore these questions, we will examine plays that have dealt with commemoration, history, or memory in some way, read excerpts from Doss’ Memorial Mania and from other scholars who examine theatre and memory, and consider why history has been used for centuries in drama.

Shakespeare: Global, Local, Digital
(Humanities 325-6-22 / English 339-0-20)

Taught by Susie Phillips (Associate Professor, English) and Wendy Wall (Professor, English and Humanities, and Director of the Kaplan Humanities Institute)

Performance, Imitation, Interpretation, Adaptation. What happens when Shakespeare’s plays time travel, migrate across the globe, mutate into new forms, and reach audiences through new media? From Renaissance London to 21st century India, from apartheid South Africa to modern China, readers have remade Shakespeare’s plays to address their own local issues. In this class we will reflect on the adaptation and appropriation of Shakespeare in cultures of the world across various scales, from the local to the global, and through a range of media—from the latest digital platforms to traditional forms like print, theater, and film. Like Shakespeare’s plays, our conversations will take place in multiple venues and from multiple perspectives, from the traditional classroom to the digital media lab, from the rare books room of the Newberry Library to the stages of Chicago’s theaters. We will consider how Othello, Macbeth, and The Merchant of Venice have been continually reinvented across the globe in many media, exploring texts like Shishir Kurup’s Merchant on Venice, Toni Morrison’s Desdemona, Msomi’s uMabatha, Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North, the teen film O, and scenes from films including Throne of Blood and Tangata Whai Rawa o Weniti, Te (the Maori Merchant of Venice). Our exploration will culminate with students collaborating to build a digital curation of Shakespeare's works.

Memory and the Monument
(Art Theory and Practice 390-0-22)

Taught by Michael Rakowitz (Professor, Art Theory and Practice)

The remarkable thing about monuments is that one does not notice them. There is nothing in this world as invisible as a monument.

-Robert Musil, 1927

This studio and discussion-based class will focus on the history of public memorials and monuments, their appearance and disappearance. Working from our own context in the midst of public debate on what/who gets remembered or forgotten, and what/who gets honored or admonished, we will focus together on producing projects that grapple and struggle with this very tension. In this course, students are asked to make or unmake projects or proposals from a number of possible directions, including counter-monuments, anti-monuments, undesired memorials, and inconvenient reminders.

Prerequisites are courage and complexity. This is a dark ride.

Not to speak through city monuments is to abandon them and to abandon ourselves, losing both a sense of history and the present. Today, more than ever before, the meaning of our monuments depends on our active role in turning them into sites of memory and critical evaluation of history as well as places of public discourse and action. This agenda is not only social or political or activist, it is also an aesthetic mission.
-Krzysztof Wodiczko, 1988

As part of this class, Michael Rakowitz and Artist in Residence M. Carmen Lane will present a talk on February 18, 2020: Open the Door: Memory, Mourning, and the Ancestor as Foundation. Details here:

Spring 2020

Archeology and Nationalism
Humanities 397 / Anthropology 390)

Taught by Ann Gunter (Professor, Classics, Art History, and Humanities)

What is the role of archaeology in the creation and elaboration of national identities? Drawing from a wide geographic range, we'll explore the development of museums and practices of display; the creation of archaeological sites as national monuments and tourist destinations; cultural property legislation and repatriation of artifacts; and archaeology and monuments under totalitarian regimes.

Abolition and Equality: 19th Century Black Activism in the Midwest
(Humanities 325-4 / History 395)

Taught by Kate Masur (Associate Professor, History)

This course has two areas of focus: 1) Learning about the history of African American activism in the Midwest, particularly how black people lived in this region and how they mobilized for freedom and equality in the years before the Civil War. 2) Understanding and contributing to a major collaborative digital humanities enterprise, the Colored Conventions Project, which preserves and contextualizes the history of nineteenth-century black activism. Many of the historical themes we’ll explore—including the nature of racial inequality in a post-slavery society, African Americans’ strategies for social and political mobilization, and black activists’ relationships with white allies—are enduring topics in U.S. history and resonate strongly with present-day questions and challenges.


Fall 2019

Native Chicago
(English 374)

Taught by Kelly Wisecup (Associate Professor, English, and Co-Director, Center for Native American and Indigenous Research)

The 2018 publication of Tommy Orange’s award-winning novel There There led some commentators to remark that the novel opened a new chapter in Native American literary history by taking as its setting a city rather than a reservation. The novel shows that cities are Native homelands that carry and contain kinship relations and histories. But literatures by Native people in cities are hardly a new phenomenon, as Native people have been engaging with and creating urbanity at least since the metropolises Cahokia (near St. Louis), Etowah (in Georgia), Etzanoa (near Wichita, KS), and Tenochtitlan (Mexico City).

This course focuses on Native American literatures from and about Chicago in order to examine how Native literature and art create, influence, and engage cities as Indigenous homelands.  We’ll examine how Native writers used autobiographies, short stories, plays, poems, pamphlets, and scrapbooks to make relations and to grapple with the questions raised by colonization. We’ll read these texts alongside Native American and Indigenous Studies scholarship that will help us to examine how Native writers “remap” Chicago within Indigenous literary and artistic histories.

We will consider these questions:

Exhibiting Antiquity: The Culture and Politics of Display
(Humanities 397 / Art History 318 / Classics 397)

Taught by Ann Gunter (Professor, Classics, Art History, and Humanities)
How do institutions such as museums—and websites and archaeological sites developed as tourist destinations—shape and construct our notions of the past? How are these institutions enmeshed with broader cultural and political agendas regarding cultural identity and otherness, the formation of artistic canons, and even the concept of ancient art? This course explores modern strategies of collecting, classification, and display of material culture from ancient Egypt, the Middle East, Greece, and Rome, both in Europe and the U.S. and in their present-day homelands. By analyzing programs of collecting and display, it seeks to understand both the development of modern scholarship in ancient art and the intersection of institutional and scholarly programs. Topics will include the historical development of modern displays devoted to ancient civilizations in museums, notions of authenticity and identity, issues of cultural heritage and patrimony, temporary and “blockbuster” shows, virtual exhibitions and museums, and the archaeological site as a locus of display.

Seeing, Saying, Witnessing: Testimonial Figures from Latin America
(Spanish and Portuguese 480) (Graduate course)

Taught by Lucille Kerr (Professor of Latin American Literature; Affiliated Faculty - Latin American & Caribbean Studies, Jewish Studies, and Comparative Literary Studies)
The course will focus on how Latin American testimonial narratives theorize as well as dramatize witness figures and scenes of witnessing that exceed the critical concepts and proposals brought to bear on such works; how specific testimonial texts not only construct but also interrogate their own witnesses. Reading and discussion will be anchored in close reading.

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