"Languages and Cultures of Conflicts and Atrocities"

Report on the “Languages and Cultures of Conflicts and Atrocities” in Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada), October 11-13, 2012

From October 11 to 13, more than fifty presenters and ninety participants from across the Humanities and Social Sciences in North America and Europe gathered at the University of Manitoba and the hotel Inn at the Forks to discuss questions of “Languages and Cultures of Conflicts and Atrocities.” The interdisciplinary and international conference was co-organized by the Languages and Cultures Circle of Manitoba and North Dakota (LCMND), the University of Manitoba, and the Department of German and Slavic Studies.

After greetings by Dr. Gary Glavin, Associate Vice President (Research), University of Manitoba, Dr. Jeffery Taylor, Dean of Arts, University of Manitoba, and Conference Chair and LCMND President Dr. Stephan Jaeger (German and Slavic Studies, University of Manitoba), the conference was openened by Dr. Alison Landsberg (George Mason University) with a talk entitled: “Translating Atrocity: The Materiality of Virtual Sites of Experience” at the Fort Garry Campus in the evening of October 11.  Dr. Landsberg, who coined the term of ‘prosthetic memory’ for the scholarly world, demonstrated to the audience by example of the The Secret Annex Online (on the Anne Frank House website) how virtual museums can act as mediators of historical experience and atrocities to twenty-first century audiences. It followed an animated discussion with the audience about the opportunities and deficiencies of translating the historical world into a virtual one. On Friday, Oct. 12, Dr. James Dawes (Macalester College) showed in “Confessions of a War Criminal” the intricacies of interviewing war crime perpetrators, by example of Japanese perpetrators from the Second Sino-Japanese War, as well as the challenges of narrating their stories, reflecting that the perpetrators themselves experienced their own crimes as a kind of trauma. The audience debated with Dr. Dawes about the ethical challenges to give war perpetrators a public voice while such work contributes to understanding evil and atrocities. The final keynote presentation was given by Dr. Jill Scott (Queen’s University), entitled “The Quasi-Judicial Imagination: Restoring and Generating Justice in Post-Unification German Literature” (Oct. 13). She showed how restorative measures were and are still necessary in a unified Germany, analyzing literary representation on the Stasi (the East German secret police), and how literary and cultural texts invent new forms of narrative justice and indeed constitute a form of generative justice. All three keynote addresses were well attended by conference participants and other members from the Winnipeg community.

The conference created a high-quality interdisciplinary dialogue across the Humanities and Social Sciences. Topics ranged from the Holocaust, Aboriginal issues, the Genocide in Rwanda to World War II, the Balkan Wars, the Kieft’s War in New Netherland, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and the conflict in the Middle East (For further information, see the full program as pdf file, the abstracts of the conference presentations, and  the conference webpage. Presenters came from across a wide range of Comparative Literature, Cultural Studies, Classics, History, Fine and Digital Arts, Museology, English, Film, German, French, and Slavic Studies, Gender Studies, Anthropology, Sociology, Political Studies, Philosophy, Peace and Conflict Studies, Education, and Law. The final program featured – besides the three keynote addresses – 46 papers in 18 sessions, including 49 presenters and one group from five different countries across North America and Europe (as far as Finland). 18 graduate students (12 doctoral students, 6 Masters students) gave papers. 15 different Canadian Universities and 15 international universities were represented in the program.

As a pre-conference event, the three keynote speakers and a number of members from the organizing committee received a site tour of Canadian Museum for Human Rights with Communications & Public Engagement Advisor Ms. Lindsay Weedon, and met with Dr. Clint Curle and Dr. Jeremy Maron, two curators at the CMHR to discuss the possibilities and challenges of representing Human Rights and Human Rights violations in the museum. At the conference banquet Dr. Rory Egan from the Classics Department at the University of Manitoba and Mr. Chandice Johnson emeritus member from the Department of English at North Dakota State University gave two speeches providing insight into the 53 years of history of the LCMND.

Overall, 90 people registered for the conference, which included, besides the presenters, members from the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg, as well as representatives from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Manitoba Museum, and members from different ethnic community groups across Manitoba.

The conference committee consisted of Dr. Stephan Jaeger (German Studies, University of Manitoba) as Conference Chair, the University of Manitoba professors Elena Baraban (Slavic Studies), Catherine Chatterley (History), Adam Muller (English), and Andrew Woolford (Sociology), as well as University of Winnipeg professor Adina Balint-Babos (French).

The conference was sponsored by the Languages and Cultures Circle of Manitoba and North Dakota (LCMND) and the University of Manitoba’s Vice President’s Office for Research, Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Graduate Studies, Department of German and Slavic Studies; Department of English, Film and Theatre, Department of History, Department of Native Studies, Department of Sociology, Department of Classics, Department of French, Spanish and Italian, Program for Judaic Studies, Program for Central and East European Studies, Arthur V. Mauro Centre for Peace and Justice, the Centre for Human Rights Research, the Institute for the Humanities, as well as by the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism.