Re-Membering the Past: “Prosthetic Memories” and Westerns – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Re-Membering the Past: “Prosthetic Memories” and Westerns

Landsberg lecture kicks off 2007 Fisher Center Series

On Wednesday evening, before a standing-room-only crowd, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies Betty Bayer introduced George Mason University’s Associate Professor of Literature and Film Alison Landsberg as the first speaker of the 2007 Fisher Center lecture series dedicated to “Gender and Memory.

“Between 1900 and World War I, there was a series of subversive silent Westerns that portrayed unconventional gender roles and interracial relationships for the period, Landsberg told the crowd of professors, students and staff filling the Geneva Room. Showing clips from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1914 “The Squaw Man and several other atypical Westerns, Landsberg introduced her concept of “prosthetic memories.

Her idea is that through media, like Western films and cinema in general, it becomes possible to “take on memories from lives that we never lived. “When we have these experiences, we suture ourselves into a larger historical narrative, Landsberg explained. “One important aspect of these ‘prosthetic memories’ is that they are often personal and deeply felt memories that shape our subjectivity, political views, ethical assessments and much more. In the case of “The Squaw Man, Landsberg said that in the imaginary space of the West, the viewers of the 1910s found an expression of their longing for different social rules.

By the end of her lecture, Landsberg explained that an understanding of how and why “prosthetic memories work can promote important social change. “Especially in such a technological time [as ours,] with venues like You Tube, there’s a lot of potential for constellations of texts to challenge the status quo and social harmful beliefs, she said.

During the period for questions, and inspired by Congressman John Lewis’ recent Convocation address, Neil Wakeman ’08 asked, “Instead of creating alternatives to harmful media, shouldn’t we follow Congressman Lewis’s charge and ‘find a way to get in the way’ by facing the problem head on? Landsberg encouraged the audience to do so and proposed new ideas about gender and memory for all to consider.

The engaging Fisher Center events will continue with social history expert Jackie Orr on Oct. 3, the Turtle Gals Theatre Troupe on Oct. 24 and writer and critic Wayne Koestenbaum on Nov. 14.

For more information on the Fisher Center, visit here.