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Experiencing the Past: Nation, History, and Memory

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Organizer: José Luis Venegas

Co-Organizer: Tania Gentic

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Ernest Renan wrote in 1882: “A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Only two things constitute this soul. One is the past, the other is the present.” This romantic perception has long been challenged, particularly by the debate sparked by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger’s The Invention of Tradition (1983), as well as Homi Bhabha’s subsequent work on nation and narration. The concept of “invented tradition” exposes the artificiality of Renan’s national “soul” and its past but it does not account for the emotions and feelings that the past might elicit. While a nation’s past may be made, not found, it is always experienced. Experience is here different from knowledge and is caught between history and memory. Whether lived or not, the past is an object of fascination preceding historiographical notions of truth and falsity, causation and representation. This panel approaches the past, not as a sequence of events recorded in archival documentation and represented by historiography, but as an “experience . . . underlying the language used by the historian,” to use Frank R. Ankersmit’s words in Sublime Historical Experience (2005). We seek papers that explore the role of emotions, feelings, biases, and prejudices in the configuration of the national past. How do they define and/or blur the limits between history and memory? What is their impact on the configuration of historical memory, whether from a local or a transnational, comparative perspective? How much of the present and its anxieties does the past contain? In what ways does the experience of the past unsettle or reconfigure regional, national, and globalized imaginaries and their invented traditions? How does it affect, restrict, or condition political change, particularly in contexts where immigration and other transnational flows challenge the singularity of the national imaginary? How does experience challenge dominant historiography and its colonialist/imperialistic underpinnings? We welcome interdisciplinary approaches that engage with a variety of media (literature, film, music, social media, television, visual art, historiography).

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