(Still) Making a Magazine in a Pandemic

Cailin Potami, Research Matters writer and Back Matter editor, reflects on the process of creating a magazine remotely with the Spring 2021 cohort of GPUB 6002:Multimedia Publishing Lab.

The Multimedia Publishing Lab course in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism (CPCJ) MA program at The New School for Social Research came highly recommended from fellow CPCJ MA student and former Research Matters writer Alexa Mauzy-Lewis, who wrote about the course last spring. But I had no intention of taking the course; it seemed like too much work during the last semester of graduate school.

But during the fall, it clicked for me. I couldn’t think of a more gratifying way to sew up my strange, Zoom-mediated graduate school experience than by building something new with a group of people equally hungry to create.

Each spring, Multimedia Publishing Lab students produce an issue of Back Matter magazine under the supervision and guidance of Jon Baskin, instructor and Associate Director of CPCJ, and founding editor of The Point, and Jesse Seegers, CPCJ and Parsons instructor, and overall design expert. Each issue of Back Matter looks at the worlds of journalism and publishing through a different lens. With the exception of that loose guideline, each class has complete creative freedom over the magazine’s vision.

Under typical circumstances, producing Back Matter is an intimidating endeavor. We had no idea how making a magazine from start to finish would go from our apartments, scattered across the country, as a pandemic raged around us.

The Multimedia Publishing Lab met over Zoom each week to create the third issue of Back Matter.

Yet from the beginning, the process went surprisingly smoothly. We built out our editorial, digital, and design teams, as well as a wonderful one-person marketing and communications department, Hannah Hightman, Bachelor’s-Master’s (BA/MA) student in the BPATS self-designed liberal arts program. I became co-editor-in-chief along with CPCJ MA student Miko Yoshida, and we worked to facilitate a vision of a magazine without rigid hierarchy or perfectionism, where we would strive to create something original and representative of each person’s interests.

“The Back Matter media lab was a great learning experience for a number of reasons. It introduced me to the world of publishing and gave me an inside look at the process. It also gave me exposure to students with a wide range of skill sets,” says Yoshida. “I enjoyed the collaborative aspect the most, which hinged on mutual trust and a common objective — to create something meaningful.”

Traditionally, Back Matter prints articles that CPCJ students draft during the fall semester and workshop during the spring. While articles cover a wide range of topics, clear themes emerged, such as identity and community. A year into the pandemic, we’ve all been asking: What does it mean to be who I am? Who am I in relation to my communities — online and offline?

“The element of virtual collaboration and community in the time of COVID became a pinnacle of the theme of this issue, so it’s only fitting that our collaborative efforts existed on platforms like Zoom, Slack, Miro, and Gmail,” says Maya Bouvier-Lyons, CPCJ MA student and Back Matter art director. “I think our thoughts on the identity of the magazine were inevitably formed by those venues and avenues for communication.”

The editorial team worked with writers to help them grapple with these questions and highlight the themes already underlying their work. Jessie Mohkami, CPCJ MA student and executive editor alongside Nicole Collazo Santana, Eugene Lang Journalism + Design and CPCJ BA/MA student, reveled in this aspect of the work. “One of the best parts of being on Back Matter’s editorial team was getting to collaborate with writers on their pieces from the beginning until the end,” she says. “They brought their already strong pieces from last semester and we got to work together on how to cut down and shape the pieces. I’ve often been in classes where I’ve suggested edits or additions to a piece and I never get to find out what happens, but seeing the process through with the writers was so rewarding.”

The design team, led by Bouvier-Lyons and Olivia Heller, CPCJ MA student, represented questions of identity and community by incorporating collage as well as digital design cues into the print magazine, which Dalia Amellal, Back Matter print designer and Parsons Theories of Urban Design MA student, masterfully pieced together.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity this class granted me to be on the design side of things for a change,” says Bouvier-Lyons. “I was able to use an entirely different skill set from what I’m used to—thinking more visually about the big picture of the publication, and the smaller details that make up that whole.”

Likewise, the digital team — digital editor Sophie Lee, Journalism + Design BA student, and web designers Greg Coleman, CPCJ MA student, and Kevin Martinez, Journalism + Design BA student — brought collage to life online, thoughtfully adding analog and print notes. Together, we created something thoughtful, cohesive, and daring.

The Back Matter digital design team incorporated elements of collage and print, like in the website header (above).

It sounds cliché, but communication, compassion, and trust really made the magazine’s production possible across Zoom, Slack, and Miro. As managing editor, Christina Santi, CPCJ MA student, did the impossible — she kept everyone on task and on schedule across various time zones, on top of communicating with the printer, managing the budget, and working on her own piece for the magazine, “Can Fashion Sew Up Its Racism Problem?”. At the same time, Santi and the whole team made space for each other, listening intently to ideas and challenges, and always acknowledging the tremendous difficulty of navigating school, life, a magazine, and a pandemic. Each week in class, Yoshida took care to remind us that the magazine is a great learning experience, an opportunity to take on ambitious ideas without fear of failure, but ultimately, everyone’s wellbeing must come first.

“It takes a lot of trust and collaboration to create a magazine, and though that can be difficult to build virtually, I think the whole class was invested in making that a reality,” says Mohkami. “While there were some challenges presented by the virtual nature of the class, I think the entire team rose to the occasion and put in the time, effort, and communication to compensate for that factor,” agrees Bouvier-Lyons. “In a lot of ways, I think this would be a very different issue had we all been working on it together in a classroom.”

The print magazine — complete with thoughtful articles, an interactive online-in-print adventure, fun games, striking photos, and more — is hot off the presses, and its digital counterpart is now live. It has been an extraordinary gift to work on this magazine, and an experience I’ll carry with me forever.

Please join us at the Back Matter launch party, which will take place over Zoom on Wednesday, May 5th, at 7:00PM.


Cailin Potami is a writer, an editor, and a student in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA program. They live in Queens with their cats, Linguine and Tortellini.  

Meet Our Postdocs: Niina Vuolajarvi Brings Activism-Informed Research to the Zolberg Institute

Niina Vuolajarvi began her postdoctoral fellowship at NSSR in January 2021, bringing her long background of activism and academic research “at the intersection of sex work studies and migration studies” to the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility.

Before starting her PhD in Sociology at Rutgers University, Vuolajarvi organized around migrant rights, anti-racism, feminist movements and sexual rights in Nordic countries. Later, as a doctoral student in Finland, she became aware of the debate surrounding sex work, especially one curious characteristic of the discourse: “The way feminists have been one of the main groups promoting oppression of sex workers rights and sex workers’ self-expression,” she says.

Vuolajarvi began her doctoral field work among migrant sex workers in 2013, when discussions of the “Nordic model” of legislation—which criminalizes the purchasing of sex, but not the selling of it—were increasing in Finland. As part of her organizing work with feminist networks trying to halt the promotion of these laws, Vuolajarvi compiled a research report on the effect of client criminalization on sex workers for the Finnish National Gender Studies Association. 

“I noticed there actually wasn’t much empirical research done involving sex workers themselves, interviewing them to see how [they] themselves experienced this law,” Vuolajarvi says. “There was especially no research that would have included migrant sex workers.” 

Eager to address this disparity for organizing work and for her dissertation, Vuolajarvi interviewed over 200 people, most of whom were sex workers, in Finland, Sweden, and Norway. “I tried to talk with people from different residence permit categories, from different ethnic groups, and also different working locations to really make an intervention in the debate,” she explains. She published her results in her dissertation, Governing in the Name of Caring: Migration, Sex Work and the ‘Nordic Model’. 

Her commitment to centering the voices of directly impacted individuals in academic debates is one way that Vuolajarvi’s background in activism informs her approach as a scholar. She has thoughtfully moved between those spheres, always considering the impact her research could have on the communities it focuses on.

From 2015 to 2017, Vuolajarvi worked as the main researcher on an interdisciplinary project called Deported, which raised public awareness of the criminalization of migration’s impact on communities. The project won the 2017 Visual Journalism of the Year Award.

“You have to make sure your research doesn’t just serve you and your academic career, but that it’s really available to communities to advocate for their rights.”

-Niina Vuolajarvi

“Especially doing research with populations that have been historically mistreated by researchers, where the research has often been mobilized to initiatives that work against these communities, I think it’s very important to think about the politics of your research and what your research does,” she cautions. “You have to make sure your research doesn’t just serve you and your academic career, but that it’s really available to communities to advocate for their rights.”

“I don’t want to speak for sex workers. I think they are very capable of speaking for themselves and can voice their concerns much better than I do,” she explains. “But I also think that producing knowledge and providing tools for the movements in this ‘expert’ role can have a different impact in the debates.”

Since January, Vuolajarvi has met weekly with the Zolberg Institute, where she is developing her dissertation research into a book. “I’m really happy to be at the Zolberg Institute. I took courses there as a graduate student at Rutgers,” she says. “They nurture a very open and warm environment, so it was really easy to land even in the time of Zoom.” Vuolajarvi also hopes to collaborate with The New School’s Gender and Sexualities Studies Institute.  

“Niina will expand the focus of the Institute, through her important scholarship and new courses she will add to our curriculum,” says Alex Aleinikoff, University Professor and Director of the Zolberg Institute. “We are thrilled to have her join us.”

Vuolajarvi also hopes to begin research on “the technologies of governance and policing of sex work,” analyzing the ways that technologies like social media and money transfer companies use algorithms to police sex work. “I would like to look more into these new forms of governance, how they function and how they affect the way sex workers organize their everyday working lives,” she explains. “Also, I want to research how the communities organize to resist these new forms of control.” Vuolajarvi has already published more than 20 articles, book chapters, book reviews and research reports on the policies and politics of immigration, commercial sex, and healthcare.

 Vuolajarvi hopes to move to in-person work at The New School in Fall 2021. “It’s been a very positive experience so far,” she says. “I’m looking forward to getting into the everyday life of the New School.” 


Cailin Potami is a writer, an editor, and a student in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA program. They live in Queens with their cats, Linguine and Tortellini.  

Meet Our Postdocs: Romy Opperman Brings Black Feminist Ecologies to the Philosophy Department

Romy Opperman began her postdoctoral fellowship with NSSR’s Philosophy department in Fall 2020. Opperman’s work focuses on issues of environmental justice through the lenses of Black feminist and decolonial philosophy. 

As a student of continental philosophy, Opperman has always been interested in “questions of control and management of life.” Opperman began looking at the ways Africana philosophy engages with the continental tradition and, at times, repurposes it, posing questions about “humanism, its limits and its links to violence; animality and how it’s bound up in race; and hegemonic conceptions of nature,” and pointing to aspects that thinkers like Foucault had missed in his analysis of racism and biopower. 

That interest took a new form when Opperman was in graduate school at Pennsylvania State University and considering her dissertation. “I was increasingly engaged in Africana philosophy and decolonial philosophy at the same time that a new public consciousness arose around environmental justice issues,” she explains. Opperman saw those philosophical questions come to life through mass political and social movements, from the organized opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through Standing Rock Reservation to increased public pressure to provide residents of Flint, Michigan with clean water. “I began thinking about what tools I found within continental philosophy and Africana philosophy for trying to understand these events in ways that I thought were useful and different from how one might typically approach them,” she says.

Opperman’s work challenges mainstream conceptions of racism and environmental issues as distinct, with only occasional overlap. “My use of the term racist environments aims to show how racism and the environment are in fact co-constitutive,” she explains. “This is different from the way that environmental racism is commonly understood, that is, where racism and the environment are only sometimes linked in exceptional circumstances.” She proposes a turn to radical Black ecology, which emphasizes the possibility and necessity of imagining a radically different way of being.

Opperman speaks on a panel on Climate Ethics and Environmental Justice at Princeton University, October 2, 2020.

Through her dissertation, “Race, Ecology, Freedom: Climate Justice and Environmental Racism,” Opperman “brought to the fore issues of power, domination, and normativity” by turning her philosophical attention to something discourses in philosophy often overlook: the communities that have already felt the impact of climate change and developed expertise to survive.

“I argued that the radical critique of liberal humanism common to the work of Sylvia Wynter, Frantz Fanon, and Saidiya Hartman shows us why it is necessary to break with liberal frames of environmental injustice and offers grounds for an alternative approach to understand the nature of the harm of environmental racism, the stakes of struggles against it, and to imagine its redress, which I term ecological freedom,” Opperman recalls.

Connecting at NSSR

At NSSR, Opperman raises many of the same questions in “Black Feminist Thought: Labor, Genealogy, Memory” a graduate philosophy course she’s taught during the spring 2021 semester. While it’s not explicitly about climate change, the course includes readings from Christina Sharpe and Sylvia Wynter on Black feminist ecologies, and, as Opperman explained, race and the environment are inextricable. “It’s been really important and special for me to be able to go into my first job in a philosophy department and teach a graduate course on Black feminist thought,” Opperman says. “It’s a dream situation!” 

Opperman speaks on a panel on Black Feminist Ecologies at Wesleyan University, February 24, 2021

As she continues working within NSSR’s Philosophy department, Opperman hopes to recruit more women to the graduate program and to expand its curriculum. “Putting feminist philosophy — particularly, but not only, Black and decolonial [feminist] philosophy — as part of our core agenda is really important to me,” she says.

Opperman’s presence has already had a major impact. “We are tremendously happy to have Romy joining the department. Her graduate seminar is making a crucial contribution to our curriculum, as is her writing seminar, which she developed to provide graduate students with much-needed feedback on writing with an eye towards publication,” Zed Adams, Associate Professor and Chair of Philosophy says. “It is quickly becoming hard to remember what our department was like without her.”

At its heart, Opperman’s work is deeply interdisciplinary; it incorporates critical theory, film criticism, and gender and sexualities studies. In that spirit, she’s also involved with The New School’s cross-divisional Collaborative on Climate Futures, led by faculty from NSSR and Parsons. Opperman is excited to collaborate with academics from a wide range of backgrounds working on the same questions of race, environment, and power.

Opperman has also worked in collaboration with the Gender and Sexualities Studies Institute (GSSI). She organized and presented at the March 22 GSSI event “Finding Ceremony: Honoring Black Feminist Elders,” which focused on the legacy of Black feminists like Sylvia Wynter and Alexis Pauline Gumbs and former New School professor M. Jacqui Alexander, who Opperman describes as “an amazing queer trans-national Black feminist thinker and spiritual practitioner.”

For the GSSI blog, she wrote “Haunting and Hosting,” which analyses the films Ghost and Twilight City, as well as Alexander’s account of her experience at NSSR, through the lens of Alexander’s Pedagogies of Crossing. Opperman hopes to continue collaborating with the GSSI, and to uplift the status of Gender and Sexualities Studies within NSSR. 

In addition to working on articles that ask how established topics within climate justice  such as debt, intergenerational ethics, and migration are transformed when approached from Black and decolonial feminist grounds, Opperman is working to turn her dissertation into a book, tentatively titled Africana Ecopolitics: Radical Philosophies of Ecological Freedom. The book will incorporate the perspectives of a wider range of Africana thinkers, and further develop its explanation of “ecological freedom” in relation to decolonization and abolition. “It’s been a really exciting time in terms of a kind of explosion of interdisciplinary work around race and ecology… I think philosophy does have some important tools to offer and ways of thinking that could be a really useful part of that,” she says. “I’m figuring out the best ways [philosophy] can complement people doing all kinds of this work.” 


Cailin Potami is a writer, an editor, and a student in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA program. They live in Queens with their cats, Linguine and Tortellini.  

The New School for Social Research Launches Three New Graduate Minors

 This piece originally appeared in the New School News

 

Graduate students at The New School have a unique opportunity to enrich their academic experience through cross-disciplinary study in graduate minors. These programs give students an opportunity to immerse themselves in disciplines outside of their primary field of study, gain exposure to new ideas and research methods and practices, and develop new ways to think about the world. Recently The New School for Social Research (NSSR) announced three new minor programs launching in the fall 2021 semester: Global Mental Health, Anthropology and Design, and Critical Perspectives on Democratic Anti-Colonialism.

These new minors build on NSSR’s innovative academic approach, combining social theory, policy, and design. “These new graduate minors will enhance the experience of graduate students at The New School by giving them access to focused knowledge outside the boundaries of the standard learning pathways,” says Will Milberg, dean of The New School for Social Research. 

Today mental health problems are among the leading causes of mortality and disability around the world. The Global Mental Health graduate minor explores some of the most pressing issues contributing to the ever-increasing number of people living with mental health disorders worldwide. Organized by Adam Brown, associate professor of psychology and vice provost for Research, the program is open to graduate students across the university and draws on a variety of disciplines and methodologies to give students a foundation from which to critically examine mental health treatment gaps and disparities in care. Brown was interested in creating a program that would address the many intersections that factor into this problem.

“There continue to be major gaps in access to care and stigmas that make it hard for people to gain access to mental health care throughout the world,” says Brown. “Some of the current challenges require the development of new mental health interventions. However, many of the challenges are related to policies, inequities, and other aspects of basic human rights. We need not only psychology graduates, but also students from across the university to think carefully and ethically about ways to work across sectors and contexts to re-imagine mental health delivery and care.”

The field is expected to experience tremendous growth in the next few years, as concern about mental health and well-being expands to new environments . “We are already seeing companies, schools, and governmental agencies investing more in mental health strategies to support their staff. I am hopeful that this minor can prepare our graduates to take on leadership and transformational roles in this space, whether they are coming from the perspective of psychology, strategic design, political science, economics, and so on.” 

Blending social science with design, the Anthropology and Design minor prepares students to think more critically and creatively about anthropology and ethnography, the designed world, and their own research. Students have the opportunity to study design and technology through an established discipline that emphasizes reflective methodology, ethical frameworks of analysis, and awareness of the political stakes of both research and creative practice. It builds on the Anthropology + Design area of study, which was created two years ago and attracted students from various programs in NSSR, Parsons School of Design, the Schools of Public Engagement, and Eugene Lang College.  

In organizing this program, Shannon Mattern, professor of anthropology, drew on the relationships she’s built from her numerous collaborations with faculty and students — everything from organizing events to curating exhibitions to serving as a guest critic in Parsons studios — in her 17 years at the university. “Every semester, I reach out to select faculty to make sure Anthropology students would be both welcome in and prepared for their classes. Students in those other programs — Data Visualization, Design and Technology, Design and Urban Ecologies, Environmental Policy, History of Design and Curatorial Studies, Media Studies, Public and Urban Policy, Theories of Urban Practice — also join us in NSSR. This intermixing makes for a dynamic, constructive space of collaboration and knowledge sharing,” says Mattern.

Also launching this fall is Critical Perspectives on Democratic Anti-Colonialism, which explores the theoretical foundations and political manifestations of radical democratic and anticolonial traditions. Organized by Carlos Forment, associate professor of sociology, and Andreas Kalyvas, associate professor of politics, the minor examines the changing meanings and practices of dissent, resistance, and self-rule that have emerged in the modern world. Currently available only to NSSR students, the minor will provide participants with a sophisticated understanding of alternative approaches for the study of power relations, regimes of knowledge, and the social movements that develop in response to them.

“The minors allow participants to engage more deeply with faculty and students from different disciplines who share their intellectual interests,” adds Milberg. “This represents an important innovation in our graduate curriculum, and I look forward to seeing how students take advantage of this opportunity.”

Memory Studies Group Looks to the Past to Build the Future

After a three year hiatus, the Memory Studies Group at The New School for Social Research regrouped and reemerged in March 2020. Less than a week after their first event, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world — and halted many of their plans.

Now, just over a year later, the revived group will hold their first conference this April: “Suspended Present: Downloading the Past and Gaming the Future in a Time of Pandemic.” Research Matters spoke about with group members and leaders about the group’s history, its current projects, and its future.  

The History of the Memory Studies Group

“The idea for the Memory Studies Group came up…in Krakow, Poland, during  the Democracy & Diversity Summer Institute in 2007,” recounts faculty advisor Elzbieta Matynia, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies (TCDS), which conducts the annual summer study intensive. She had just taught her first class in collective memory. As her students walked through Kazimierz, Krakow’s historic Jewish quarter, they noticed a pattern: “…beautifully renovated buildings, various institutions, cafes, restaurants, and the streets were all named for its Jewish past. The only thing missing was the Jewish people, who had been taken to the Nazi concentration camps, and murdered there. It became visible to us then, this uncanny presence of absence.”

This experience sparked an interest in memory among Institute students, who became the founding cohort of an independent Memory Studies Group: Amy Sodaro, Sociology PhD 2011; Lindsey Freeman, Sociology & Historical Studies PhD 2013; Yifat Gutman, Sociology PhD 2012; Alin Coman, Psychology PhD 2010, and Adam Brown, Psychology PhD 2008 and now Associate Professor of Psychology at NSSR. They organized a conference in the group’s first year, where scholars discussed questions like “Which past is official? What is it that we remember? How do we forget when we are not allowed to remember? How do groups remember their history when their memory is being repressed, and what is happening to people whose very existence is repressed from memory?” 

When Malkhaz Toria, group coordinator and a Sociology MA student, came to NSSR as a Fulbright scholar in 2011, the Memory Studies Group became an intellectual home for him. “That inspired me to establish a similar sort of group at my home university, Ilia State University in Tbilisi, Georgia,” he says; he also heads that university’s Memory Center.

Upon his return to NSSR in 2019, Toria was instrumental in reviving the group, which had gone on a brief hiatus. Now part of TCDS, the group has new core members of Franzi König-Paratore, Sociology PhD student; Elisabeta “Lala” Pop, Politics PhD student; Malgorzata Bakalarz Duverger, sociologist, art historian, and Sociology PhD 2017; Chang Liu, Sociology MA student; and Karolina Koziura, Sociology and Historical studies PhD student.

“Our goal is also to have some continuity of the transnational and transdisciplinary projects and exchange that Sodaro and Freeman envisioned and implemented when they were steering the group,” König-Paratore says. “My hope is that the group continues to connect past and present members. I personally hope that we open up the group more for professionals or cultural workers outside of academia.”

The revived group’s first and only in-person event was a March 2020 book launch for Museums and Sites of Persuasion, which was edited Sodaro and Joyce Apsel, and includes work by Alexandra Délano Alonso, Associate Professor and Chair of Global Studies at the School of Public Engagement, Toria, and many others. Since then, the group has held several online lectures and webinars and on discourses within the field, from a look at revisionist narratives in Russia to an examination of how Frida Wunderlich — the first female economist at NSSR and a founding member of the University in Exile — is remembered.

Memory Studies: A Transdisciplinary Field

Memory Studies spans disciplines in the social sciences and the humanities to explore the ways collective memory is constructed, experienced, repressed, and rebuilt. “The complex field of memory studies employs whole repertoire of approaches from different disciplines including  comparative literature, history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and politics, among other areas, to address the multifaceted phenomena of both individual and collective memories ,” Toria says. Matynia describes the field as “transdisciplinary.”

For example, Silvana Alvarez Basto, Liberal Studies MA student, looks at the intersections between politicization of art, history, and visual representations of memory in her home country of Colombia. “The topic of memory is very popular right now, since in 2016 the government ended an armed conflict with the FARC,” she says. Her research focuses on the construction of Simón Bolívar’s image as a national symbol across Latin America, in groups like the FARC and beyond. “I’m interested in how his face has become a guiding locus or a symbol for these movements,” Alvarez Basto explains. While her work has primarily dealt with 19th century portraits of  Bolívar, she has recently begun looking at the ways “new technologies modify our relationship with canonical images and with the Western tradition of painted portraits.”

Toria works on the role of memory construction in authoritarian regimes and their aftermaths. Collective memory, he explains, does not come into existence organically. “It’s controlled and dependent on political conjunctures…Across the globe, if you have a totalitarian government, they are more keen to control how you remember.” His research looks at citizens in countries that were part of the Soviet Union. “Ukrainians, Georgians, and Estonians have different pictures of the past and past relationships with Russia. That’s why these clashes in questions of the past happen; it is quite a universal mechanism.”

“My first encounter with the Memory Studies Group at the New School was in 2009 when I was pursuing an MA degree. Through the [group] and TCDS I became connected with the interdisciplinary research and networks of the field and it greatly influenced my own MA thesis work,” Pop explains. “Now [that] I’m back at NSSR, I’m excited to be part of the team of graduate students continuing the group’s work and re-launching its activities.”

Memory Studies Today

Memory Studies takes on particular relevance in periods of upheaval, when democracies come into existence or are threatened, when social movements gain power, or when societies experience unprecedented change — periods like today.

Matynia points to several factors that make the current moment crucial for the field. Many countries have experienced what Matynia calls “de-democratization,” under the influence of dictators and “would-be dictators” who weaponize collective memory. “Politics of history and politics of memory became a part of the playbook of many dictators and aspiring dictators,” she explains.

Additionally, social movements have begun exposing and dismantling parts of the past that had been manipulated or repressed out of collective memory. Think of activists taking down statues of Confederate leaders in the U.S, slaveholders in the U.K., and a conquistador in Colombia. “There’s this rippling where people want to ask, ‘what does it mean to memorialize these figures?’” Alvarez Basto says.

Memory Studies doesn’t just look at the past; the field is equally interested in the ways that people form collective memory now in preparation for the future. The massive shift in March 2020 into lockdown and onto Zoom inspired the group’s April 21 conference, “Suspended Present: Downloading the Past and Gaming the Future in a Time of Pandemic.” Speakers will include Marci Shore, Associate Professor of History at Yale University; Hana Cervinkova, Professor of Anthropology at Maynooth University; and Juliet Golden, Director of the Central Europe Center at Syracuse University.

Toria explains, “There’s a kind of eternal presence that feels never-ending. Our world is reduced to these small screens, where our lives are… We’ll cover multifaceted aspects of Memory Studies in this new light, the context of the pandemic, like problems of democracy, remembrance, the problem of forgetting, shifting senses of time and space, and new issues in memory discourse surrounding gender and race.”

“We call it memory studies, but so much of what we think we are rooted in and call our past actually projects into the future,” Matynia adds. “So which past will we download as we moveout of today’s situation, and draw upon as a springboard for reinventing our intellectual lives, spiritual lives, and social lives?”


Cailin Potami is a writer, an editor, and a student in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism MA program. They live in Queens with their cats, Linguine and Tortellini.