Humanities Institute conference focuses on geography, identity

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services

The interplay of geography and identity will be examined at the winter conference of the Institute for the Humanities Friday and Saturday (Feb. 4–5) at the Rackham Building.

The free, public conference, “Culture, Time, Place,” will feature architects, artists, poets, historians and geographers addressing “the intense drive among nations and people to project a distinct national or ethnic identity in the face of a shrinking world that often encourages sameness.”

Institute Director James A. Winn notes that “on one hand, rapid travel and communication are blurring national boundaries; on the other hand, we see a resurgence of ethnic or national pride around the world. When you add the forces of history to those of culture and identity, you get a sense of the terribly complex world in which we live.”

The following topics and speakers will be featured at the conference:

Feb. 4, 9:30–11:45 a.m., Amphitheater

n “How to Preserve a National Cultural Heritage and Kill Off Cultural Creativity: Andre Malraux at the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, 1959–69.” Herman Lebovics, professor of history at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, will assess Malraux’s role as France’s first minister of cultural affairs under President Charles DeGaulle.

n “Culture, Experience and Memory: Global Odyssey of a Caribbean Manchild.” Painter Keith Morrison, dean of academic affairs at the San Francisco Art Institute, will discuss ideas of art based upon memory of the past and contemporary experience, taking note of his own identity as a “Caribbean manchild.”

Feb. 4, 1:30–3:30 p.m., Assembly Hall

n “Mapping Identities: Globalization, Territoriality and the Politics of Place.” Michael Watts, professor of geography at the University of California, Berkeley, will speak about the growing globalization of late 20th-century capitalism and its ability to create, as well as destroy, local communities.

n “Frontiers, Islands, Forests, Stones: Mapping a German Identity in the Habs-burg Monarchy, 1848–1900.” Pieter Judson, assistant professor of history at Swarthmore College, examines how German nationalists under the Habsburg monarchy abandoned a liberal definition of identity for one that insisted on national authenticity and cultural purity as prerequisites for membership in the German community.

Feb. 4, 8 p.m., Amphitheater

n “Dinnsheanchas: The Naming of High or Holy Places.” Delivering the Jill Harris Memorial Lecture, Irish poet Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill will explain the connection to place as an important theme in Irish culture and modern Irish poetry.

Feb. 5, 9:30 a.m.–noon, Assembly Hall

n “Identity in the Global City: Economic and Cultural Encasements.” Saskia Sassen, professor of urban planning at Columbia University, will talk about identity of the global city, with a focus on economic and cultural issues.

n “Pragmatic Modernism: American Visions of the City Between the Wars.” Gwendolyn Wright, professor of architecture, planning and preservation at Columbia University, will contend that American architecture during the two World Wars reflected pragmatic concerns, drawing on themes of community, local history and ordinary life, and should not be compared with the European view of modernism and its search for pure form.

n Concluding panel discussion with all seven speakers.

The conference is co-sponsored by the Jill Harris Memorial Fund of the Institute for the Humanities and the International Institute. For more information, call 936-3518.


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