Thursday, 18 September 2014

Memory: Forgetting and Creating, Conference at the University of Gdańsk, Poland, 11-12 September 2014

On Thursday 11th September, I spoke at the interdisciplinary conference Memory: Forgetting and Creating, at the University of Gdańsk. This is how the organisers described the topic of the conference, in their call for papers:

“In our increasingly fast-paced societies, where information is abundant and its reception is superficial, human memory appears to be an endangered phenomenon. This is why we would like to take a closer look at the complex processes of memory. These include forgetting, neglecting, negation, and detachment, along with creating, recollecting, remembering, regaining memories, and reconstructing one’s relationship with the past. We are deeply interested in examples and consequences of altered memories: invention, fabrication, deception, indoctrination or propaganda. We invite reflection on mutual relations between memory and imagination, fantasising and manipulating, forgetting and creating.”

The conference was organised by the Research Unit for Dream, Memory and Imagination Studies at the University of Gdańsk, together with the Jagiellonian University (Poland), the Federal University of Paraná (Brazil), the University of São Paulo (Brazil), and the McGill University (Canada).

It was a large conference, with more than 100 papers presented on five parallel sessions: Section A on The Arts, Section B: on Culture, History, and Society; Section C on Testimony, Fiction, and Storytelling; Section D on Psychology, Philosophy, and Education; and Section E on Memory and Literature. These parallel sessions took place on morning, afternoon, and early evening slots over the two days, creating an atmosphere of immersion in which the lunch and coffee breaks were welcome not only as opportunities to explore ideas in a more informal setting, but also as much needed moments to stretch, socialise, and refuel.

My paper, Competing Narratives of Memory in the Regeneration of Greenwich Peninsula, was presented in the Culture, History, and Society session, chaired by Cayo Gamber, from the George Washington University (US). The paper looked at shifts in political and business discourse about the regeneration of Greenwich Peninsula in London, in the years preceding the Millennium Celebrations, as the UK moved from a Conservative to a Labour Government.

The other speakers in the session were: Dorota Ściślewska (University of Łódź, PL), with the paper On the Trail of Lost Memories: Muslim Feminists in Search of Female Dignity in the Doctrine and History of Islams; Anna Miller (University of Gdańsk), with Forgetting the Gdańsk Shipyard; and Andrzej Śledź (Jagiellonian University), speaking on The Strategies of Dealing With the Post-Transition Culture Trauma: The Case of Cracow’s Club of Gazeta Polska. The session generated a lively discussion of recent Polish and British political history, trade unionism, and Muslim feminism, a discussion that continued during the very convivial dinner that closed the day.

Of the events opening the Friday proceedings, I was impressed especially by Jugów: Memory and Oblivion. Stories of Resettled Women, a documentary film presented by Sławomira Walczewska (Women's Foundation eFKa, PL). The documentary presented first-person accounts of migrations from and to Jugów during, and in the aftermath, of WW2.

The conference offered a very rich programme, which regrettably I could not sample more widely because so many events ran parallel to one another. It was a positive experience, enabling me to reflect on various possibilities for my own research, and for the project Texts+Cities, on which I have been working with Michael Heilgemeir. The focus of the strand of my research of which the paper for this conference is an example has been on tracing the import of political and economic ideologies for the definition and uses of urban spaces. A consideration of the narratives of memory that emerge in such processes had been present, but never quite on the foreground of the research.

Finally, I should mention the conference organisers, Prof. Wojciech Owczarski (University of Gdańsk), and Zofia Ziemann (Jagiellonian University). They not only put together a well-organised and enjoyable event, but also hosted it with warmth and charm, speaking to all present, and making the participants feel welcome and relaxed.

Daniel Marques Sampaio.