» Memory and Conscience

Memory and Conscience

This research group studies the ways in which different kinds of memory can, by virtue of their cultural meanings, exist as a kind of societal conscience, and act as a spur to ethical behavior. The definition of “memory” is taken in the broadest possible terms to mean not only the internal collection of experiences maintained by every individual, but also inanimate or shared kinds of memory such as monuments and memorials, archives and collections of objects, literature, artworks, historical records, oral traditions, and remnants of artifacts and ecofacts. Possible research topics might include biological ethics relating to the transmission of genetic material over time, or study of digital initiatives that seek to create accountability, such as WikiLeaks. Memory and Conscience seeks to be as fully inclusive of different approaches to the theme as possible. We welcome collaboration with colleagues from any discipline who are conducting relevant research.

  • Members
  • Research projects
  • Grants/funding
  • Student research
  • Marilyn Harran (History and Religious Studies)

    Susan Paterno (English)

    Pilar Valenzuela (Languages)

    Justin Walsh (Art)

    Michael Bazyler (Law)

    Lynda Hall (English)


  • Literature and TerrorLiterature and Terror – Lynda Hall (English)
    My work looks at traumatic memory from a literary perspective.  My research and teaching lately has been exploring the ways that traumatic memory, especially that memory that comes from terror, is reflected and filtered through literature, particularly fiction.  I have focused on American slavery, the French Revolution, the Holocaust, the Argentinian Dirty War, and the recent fiction that has been “inspired” by the events of 9/11/01. Some of this work includes the writings of Slavoj Žižek, Jacques Derrida, Cathy Caruth, and Shoshana Felman.  My interest in this comes from an overlap in my research on the rise of the English Gothic novel of the 1790s as a response to the English unease with the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.  Because of the overwhelming use of the word “terrorism” in the past decade, some of the recent fiction inspired by 9/11 is also fascinating. I am currently planning a small international symposium for April 4 commemorating the creative works of Alicia Kozameh, a former political prisoner in the 1970s and 1980s “Dirty War” in Argentina.



    Intergenerational Transmission of Genocide HistoriesIntergenerational transmission of genocide histories – Angeliki Kanavou (Political Science) and Shari Kuchenbecker (Psychology)
    This project compares adult children of survivors and Khmer Rouge (KR) cadres who were involved directly or indirectly in the genocide by the KR in Cambodia (1975-79). The main objective is to examine to what extent there are differences in the way willing and unwilling KR agents and survivor children have constructed their memories about the traumatic past and relate to others in society and in their communities in order to release socio-political obstacles created by the genocide to build a more stable and productive country in the future. The project survey helps address the following issues: a) How does former type of parent identity (KR cadre; survivor; obedient observer) affect transmission and reconstruction of memory of the child and in turn impact the type of integration of the child today especially with regard to community building and empathizing with others? And, how do different types of parent traumas then manifest in how different groups’ children relate to society today and are capable of empathy? Specifically, we are interested to see which groups’ young adult children identify the strongest with community, how they think about past events and ongoing efforts at justice, manifest trust and empathy.


    Kawapanan LanguagesLinguistic Resistance, Identity and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights – Pilar Valenzuela (Languages)
    Kawapanan is an Amazonian linguistic family composed of only two languages, Shiwilu and Shawi. Since 2007 my research has focused on the description and documentation of these languages, especially Shiwilu, which currently has only some 30 fluent speakers. In addition to publishing a book and a few articles in professional venues, I have developed resources to aid in language revitalization and preservation efforts, such as a practical orthography accompanied by a guide for local teachers and language activists, a trilingual Shiwilu-English-Spanish dictionary with over 6,000 entries, and a collection of stories in Shiwilu and Spanish.

    To a significant degree, Amazonian peoples define their identity in terms of an indigenous language. It is expected that ethno-linguistic documentation will help them strengthen their ethnic identity and pride, which may in turn have an impact on their status and rights as indigenous peoples (e.g. the use of their ethnic language in the school). Materials produced by the project have been deposited at the Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA), hosted by the University of Texas at Austin.


    WikiLootWikiLoot - Justin St. P. Walsh (Art) and Michael Bazyler (Law), in collaboration with Jason Felch (Los Angeles Times) and scholars at other universities
    For decades, archaeological sites around the world have been ravaged by looters searching for artifacts that can be sold to museums and collectors. These looters are encouraged by the high prices their finds will generate – sometimes into the millions of dollars. Governments in source countries have fought for some time to try to stem this trade in cultural heritage. Italy, for example, has indicted two art dealers for smuggling, and confiscated their archives. The WikiLoot project seeks to create an online database of information about looted art, including entries on specific pieces and on people and institutions involved in the trade of illicit heritage. It will include a crowdsourcing component that will allow the general public to assist with the identification of artworks in the smugglers’ archives and the transcription/translation of documents. The data generated in this way will be made available to scholars to aid in plotting networks of trade and discovering patterns of illegal behavior.


      • NEA/NEH (Division of Preservation and Access, Office of Digital Humanities, Collaborative Research Grants)
      • Rita Allen Foundation (Community Building)
      • Mellon Foundation (Scholarly Communications and Information Technology Program)
      • United States Institute of Peace e. National Science Foundation
      • National Historical Publications and Records Commission/National Archives and Records
      • Administration
      • Sloan Foundation, Alfred P. (Digital Information Technology)
      • Council on Library and Information Resources (Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives)
      • Joint Information Systems Committee (Digging into Data Challenge)
      • WikiLoot will – especially in its initial stages – give history, art history, graphic design, law, and computer science students a chance to participate in the design and realization of a beta-version database. As time goes on, students may be given responsibility for expanding the project in certain areas and/or tweaking the user-interface design.
      • Students will have the chance to help with data coding of surveys and interviews of participants.
      • The students could also help with translation and adaptation of the research to other parts of the world that have experienced genocides and massive violence.