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Fall 2008 Seminar

Community and Memory: Texts, Images and Monuments

September 2 - December 12, 2008


The 2008 Newberry Seminar in the Humanities will investigate the intersection of community and memory in Western culture, from the Middle Ages to the present.

How do communities remember their past and how do those narratives of memory influence the present? How do such narratives form the identity of a community, whether social, political or religious in nature? How does literature reflect or reshape memory? How do communities remember their dead? Seminar participants may look at a variety of communities, from medieval monks and nuns to Mormons on the American frontier, from planned communities such as the Pullman company in South Chicago to more abstract notions such as “textual communities.” 
Following the usual practice of the Newberry Seminar, the class will meet regularly over the first weeks of the semester to discuss common readings that will provide a shared context and language for the seminar’s work. The seminar will be structured thematically, focusing on the relationship between reading, writing and memory; theories about “community” and “memory”; and explorations of various types of community (intellectual, religious, national, ethnic and political). The seminar will also take advantage of the Library’s setting, using the city of Chicago as a “text” to be explored through social activities and field trips.

The heart of the seminar will be students’ individual research, supported by the seminar faculty and the Library staff. In the early weeks of the term, Library staff will visit the class to introduce the Newberry’s eclectic and fascinating collections, including novels, histories, philosophical treatises, plays, and maps. During this time, students will meet one-on-one with the seminar faculty to develop their independent research topics. As they begin their own explorations of the Library’s collections, students will present their discoveries in class.
Throughout the second half of the term, students typically spend most of their time working independently, allowing them to dig deeply into their own interests and the Library’s wealth of materials to produce a substantial research paper, usually in the range of 60 pages. Students continue to meet with the seminar faculty and Library staff throughout the term, receiving guidance as their research projects develop. Each student also connects with a mentor from among the Newberry’s resident scholars who can offer advice on research, writing or careers. At various points during the term, students will present their works-in-progress to their colleagues and critique each other’s work. During the last week they will make formal presentations of their research to the Newberry community.

This seminar’s broad topic lends itself to research in a variety of disciplines. Students with literary interests might look at how a novelist’s community shapes storytelling or how literature can serve to preserve certain aspects of a community’s experience while silencing other voices. History majors could research how a particular document does or does not reflect historical memories or could explore the tensions between various ways of constituting and defining identity. Religion majors could investigate memorials as ritual sites. Students of sociology or anthropology might focus on a particular community within Chicago and explore how it has historically constructed its identity.

While students are encouraged to write on topics connected to the theme of the seminar, any topic appropriate to the Newberry collection, and identified early in the semester, may be chosen by a student with a particular research interest.  


Ellen Joyce, History, Beloit College (Ph.D., University of Toronto)

Ellen Joyce studies the history of Medieval Europe and is especially engaged with questions about the role that the medieval church played in shaping Western European culture between the eighth and twelfth centuries...

For more, go to Ellen Joyce's faculty web page.

Hannah Schell, Religious Studies, Monmouth College (Ph.D., Princeton University).

Go to Hannah Schell's homepage on the Monmouth College website.