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James O. Freedman Presidential Professor of Government Ned Lebow recently organized a conference in honor of Freedman, 15th president of Dartmouth, on the politics of memory. The event featured experts from the Dartmouth community as well as scholars from across the nation. Lebow, in a description of the conference, wrote, "The politics of memory deeply interested Jim Freedman because he knew that constructions of the past enable institutions and states to sustain or challenge dominant discourses. Confronting Dartmouth's past injustices to Native Americans, Jews and Blacks, and its total exclusion of women until late in the twentieth century was an important means of building support for positive change. The same is true for countries, where democratization and reconciliation with neighbors can also depend on owning up to past injustices. Our conference addresses this question in the institutional context of Dartmouth College and the national context of postwar Europe. We are interested in the similarities and differences between these situations and their continuing lessons for Dartmouth and the United States."
Drawing from his 2006 book, The Politics of Memory in Postwar Europe, Lebow's remarks opened the conference.
"...Historians, political scientists, psychologists and psychiatrists have come to recognize that collective and individual memories are social constructions...Historians of collective memory have sought to map such systems in individual countries with regard to specific events (e.g., World Wars I and II and the Holocaust). Political scientists have analyzed the construction of national memory, and psychologists have studied some of the processes that mediate between it and individual memory. One of the most striking findings of this research is the extent to which individual memories are shaped through interactions with other people and reflect and often reinforce, dominant discourses of society. Those discourses and their contents in turn, are generally the creation of elites and counter-elites, who use them to justify themselves and to advance their political, economic and social goals. It is a top down and a bottom up process. Both ways, and at every level, the construction of memory is infused by politics..." (download chapter one, 532kb PDF)
President James Wright also spoke at the conference, introducing Provost Barry Scherr, who addressed anti-semitism at Dartmouth and elsewhere in higher education in the early years of the 20th century.
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