Call for Papers: Representing Jewish History in European and American Popular Culture, Museums and Public Spaces (16.-18.05.2016, Warsaw)

Deadline: February 28, 2016

Holocaust Memorial at California Palace of the Legion of Honor | White painted bronze by artist George Segal |Public Domain

Holocaust Memorial at California Palace of the Legion of Honor | White painted bronze by artist George Segal |Public Domain

Venues: Day 1: SWPS/University of Social Sciences and Humanities, ul. Chodakowska 39, Warszawa (Praga);  Day 2: Niemiecki Instytut Historyczny w Warszawie, Pałac Karnickich, Aleje Ujazdowskie 39, 00-540 Warszawa

The framework of the conference is the role of history in the public space and in popular culture, with emphasis on the use of recent Jewish history in a broad context. In this era of technological innovations that bring an abundance of new information to a wide audience, historical knowledge has not become obsolete. It may have changed its functions, but it has claimed a role in public attention. Historical novels have achieved bestseller status, such as Olga Tokarczuk’s 900 page historical novel Jacob’s Books. TV and cinema are flooded with historical productions that are often box-office hits and artistic successes, such as the NBC miniseries Holocaust, Lanzmann’s Shoah, Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards or Pawlikowski’s Ida. Each of these productions drew large audiences as well as extensive critical commentary. There has been a proliferation of websites devoted to Jewish family genealogy, demonstrating the importance of historical roots for constructing personal identity. There are ample opportunities for tourists to design an itinerary through the sites of their family and community’s past. Personal memoirs that include the sagas of previous generations within pre-Holocaust Europe, such as Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes, are part of the phenomenon. Museums offering an attractive package of historical content enjoy school visits as well as numerous individual visitors. At the same time university lecturers discover that their students confuse World War Two with World War One or assume that an event of 1863 took place in the 18th century, demonstrating total ineffectiveness of school learning. Is the incorporation of history into popular culture a remedy against historical illiteracy, or does it increase the confusion of who, when and why?

De Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes, Tokarczuk’s Jacob’s Books or the newly opened Warsaw Museum of the History of Polish Jews POLIN all illustrate interest in the history of European Jews going generations or centuries into the past. Yet at the same time it is the Holocaust that continues to be the key historical event drawing attention of scholars, artists and politicians. It seems necessary to clearly distinguish between a critical-analytical Holocaust research which is still trying to tackle the why-question, and the problem of how to adequately represent the events as well as the use of the Holocaust commemoration for identity politics in the public sphere, which often hijacks the obligation of remembrance. Phenomena such as trivialization, mythologization, reconciliation kitsch obfuscate the fact that the mental structures which made the Holocaust possible have not disappeared. It seems that some initiatives and actions use Holocaust commemoration for identity politics, thereby avoiding a conscious engagement with the reality of the events and their legacy. In relation to the Holocaust history enters the present in the ways that call for particularly sensitive critical reflection.

In the context of the above framework we are looking for papers addressing the following issues:

  • popular culture as a space for visions and revisions of history, the Holocaust in particular, but other aspects of Jewish history and traditions as well;
  • infiltration of history into cinema and TV productions;
  • popular culture vis-à-vis traditional narratives;
  • functionality of history;
  • museology: presenting and representing Jewish history and traditions in non-Jewish environments and in Israel;
  • uses of history in various spheres of public life and culture;
  • de-professionalization/de-academization of historical knowledge;
  • Jews and popular culture: Jews as artists/creators as well as representations of Jewishness in popular culture.

The conference programme will begin with a visit to the POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews in Warsaw.

Conference Organizer: Prof. Lucyna Aleksandrowicz-Pędich, Institute of English, SWPS

Scientific Committee: Prof. Jody Myers, California State University Northridge, USA; Prof. Na’ama Sheffi, Sapir College, Israel; Prof. Piotr Skurowski, SWPS, Warsaw, Poland; Dr Katrin Stoll, German Historical Institute, Warsaw, Poland

The cost of the conference will be 450 PLN (US $ 150, Euro 130) The fee will cover conference materials, coffee breaks, two lunches, dinner on the first day and tickets to the POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews.

Paper proposals should include a summary of up to 500 words and should be sent by February 28, 2016 to the address conferencemay2016@swps.edu.pl. All other queries should be sent to the same address.


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