A symposium at HWS this spring, sponsored by the German Area Studies Program, was held to discuss issues of cultural topography. Titled Spaces Re-Membered, Cultures Re-Written, the event featured a keynote presentation by Hinrich C. Seeba of the University of California at Berkeley and the film In der Kurve (In the Curve), directed by Gabriele Hochleitner. The director answered questions via Skype after the film.
According to Visiting Assistant Professor of German Area Studies Ashwin Manthripragada, who co-organized the symposium with Associate Professor of German Area Studies Eric Klaus, this symposium on cultural topography pursues questions of identity and culture in times of migration. “In other words,” he says, “what layers of history, human and non-human alike, exist beneath any given location on this earth? We anchor our conversation to European spaces whose national languages are German. We investigate how monuments (like gravestones), addresses (homes) and cities have hidden histories and unknown futures. The major global migration shifts affect these monuments, addresses and cities in challenging ways.”
Seeba, who served as the keynote speaker, is a professor emeritus in the Department of German at UC Berkeley. Born and raised in Hannover, Germany, he taught at Berkeley from 1967 to 2005. He was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 1970, and has published extensively on topics ranging from the Napoleonic era to contemporary trends in German literature. His speech at the symposium was titled “The Streets Where You Live: On the Significance of Addresses in Social Topography.”
Hochleitner’s film is a documentary about the process of re-writing a family history through the re-inscription of a gravestone that was falsely marked. “The gravestone at the beginning of the film reads, ‘died in war,’ and the film is about changing that epitaph to “murdered by Hitler,” says Manthripragada. “The film, that reengages victim theory, is set against the backdrop of a small village in the Austrian Alps, which lends an overwhelming geological perspective to human concerns.”
The symposium also featured a presentation by Lauren Carr ’17, a biochemistry and German Area Studies major, who presented a poster based on her Honors project. “I investigated the ways in which Germans explain the refugee crisis to children,” she says. “Syrian and Afghani refugees are common in Germany, and I looked at the kind of language found in children’s books, websites and other outlets.”
The symposium was presented through the generous support of the Julius G. Blocker ’53 Endowed Fund, the NY6 Consortium, and the Human Rights and Genocide Symposium.