Lamps“Memory Economies” is a two-day public symposium to be held on May 25–26, 2016 at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. The symposium is organized by Professors Terri Tomsky (English & Film Studies) and Susanne Luhmann (Women’s & Gender Studies). It brings together scholars from across the humanities and social sciences to examine the complex, and so far rarely examined, relationship between memory and economy.
Memory, and more precisely cultural memory, refers to representations and discourses that reconfigure the past, and mostly, those pasts that are contested or traumatic. Cultural memory scholars turn to objects, images, and representations as “technologies of memory” through which “memories are shared, produced, and given meaning” (Sturken 1997) to understand how memory communities exist in relation to hegemonic cultures of forgetting (Assmann and Conrad 2010; LaCapra 2001; Levy and Sznaider 2005; Rothberg 2009). For scholars in the field, cultural memory is a valuable resource: it not only provides the basis for both collective and individual identity, but it also holds significant ramifications for societies, providing “the content and impetus of political and moral claims” (Ball 2000). In turn, the notion of economy relates to the management of resources: the organization and administration of perceived assets, including their distribution, trade, and consumption – significant aspects that have not yet been sufficiently theorized within cultural memory studies.

This symposium sets out to explore the economies of memory: the way institutions, communities, agents, and special interest groups manage, mediate, and re-value memory.

The proposed project is designed to examine memory economies in an age of global capitalism, where the value of cultural memory is often conceived in non-monetary terms, but where cultural memory frequently exists in commodity form (Lehrer 2013; Prior 2011), is intertwined with capital funding (Novick 1999), or is sometimes even correlated with compensation and financial gain (Finkelstein 2000).
Our investigation is driven by these contradictions as well as by our desire to expand the notion of economy, beyond its dominant market-based interpretation, beyond a single methodology or framework; that is to say, beyond a political economy to recognize the mutual imbrication of economic and affective life. To understand and to chart the terrain of memory economies we are motivated by a series of questions:
  • How do economies shape and transform memory and identity across time and space?
  • What is the effect of different memory economies on society and its institutions, as well as its subjects and their futures?
  • What are the limits and possibilities of understanding the production of memory through a capitalist framework?
  • What are the implications of rethinking economy—in terms of environmental, affective, or other social systems of significance—on the mediation and distribution of memory?
  • How might we delineate the complex roles, motivations, and interests of ‘consumers,’ ‘producers,’ and alternative agents, who stage or enunciate (others’) memories?
  • What kinds of social relations are enabled or disabled by the digital storage of, and the digital value placed upon memory?
This symposium will take up such questions by investigating the principal actors, institutions, rhetoric, medium, technologies, and materialities in memory cultures today. Proposed papers cover a range of topics critical to the intersection of memory and economy, including fluctuating systems of value, ethical and political concerns, pedagogy and curatorial practices, public engagement, the role of history in heritage and tourism, dynamics and uneven development in memory cultures, the future of communities, and the significance of the environment.


Assmann, Aleida and Sebastian Conrad, eds. Memory in a Global Age: Discourses, Practices and Trajectories. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Print.
Ball, Karyn. “Introduction: Trauma and Its Institutional Destinies.” Cultural Critique 46 (2000): 1- 44. Print.
Finkelstein, Norman G. The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. London: Verso, 2000. Print.
LaCapra, Dominick. Writing History, Writing Trauma. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2001. Print.
Lehrer, Erica T. Jewish Poland Revisited: Heritage Tourism in Unquiet Places. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2013. Print.
Levy, Daniel, and Natan Sznaider. Human Rights and Memory. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State UP, 2010. Print.
Prior, Nick. “Postmodern Restructurings.” A Companion To Museum Studies. Ed. Sharon Macdonald. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 509-524. Print.
Rothberg, Michael. Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization. Redwood City: Stanford UP, 2009. Print.
Sturken, Marita. Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Print.

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