“Communities and Change” – welcoming the 2023 Memory Studies Association to Newcastle

The international Memory Studies Association recently released the call for papers for its 2023 conference, to be held in Newcastle. Oral History Collective member Dr Alison Atkinson-Phillips is part of the organising committee. Here she explains why she’s so excited to see this particular conference held here in the North East.

The theme for the 2023 Memory Studies Association conference, “communities and change”, is one that has a strong resonance with the work of the Newcastle Oral History Unit & Collective (NOHUC). Indeed, you could say it’s at the heart of many of the projects we’ve undertaken since we launched in 2017.

Under the ‘Work & After’ theme, my own NOHUC work has explored the impacts of deindustrialisation on shipbuilding communities, and with Silvie Fisch our Foodbank Histories project looked at the impacts of ‘austerity’ policies on people experiencing food poverty. More recently, we’ve been exploring how communities responded to the drastic changes that the Covid-19 pandemic brought, through mutual aid organising. Other work by NOHUC takes this theme international by looking at the impacts of climate change on communities living in delta regions in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

More broadly, the North East, like the rest of the UK, is grappling with a time of change. Not only are we living through the ongoing impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit, but as a society, we are grappling with the legacies of the British Empire, and wrestling with what ‘decolonisation’ really means. Inviting scholars from around the world to explore ideas of ‘communities and change’ from their own diverse contexts can only enrich our perspectives.

Oral history is an ideal method for exploring how ordinary people have experienced, remembered and responded to changes, and how they make sense of them in the present. Although of course we would say that! The thing is, even though oral historians spend a lot of time thinking about memory, our relationship with the field of Cultural Memory Studies has been often an uneasy one. This is partly because oral historians deal with the specificity of individual memories, whereas cultural memory scholars are often interested in the practices through which memory travels within groups. However, that division doesn’t always hold true. Writing for a special edition of the Memory Studies journal which focussed on Australia, Paula Hamilton and Kate Darian-Smith argue that, “Once assumed to be oppositional, memory and history have now come to be understood as inextricably entangled in terms of scholarly definitions and in the circulation of historical knowledge.”

As someone whose work tends to move between the fields of memory, oral history and public history, it’s this circulation that interests me. What are the ways that the past comes back around? How do individual memories inter-connect with shared memories? And how can we address past injustices in ways that help us move forward into the present? I’m excited that the first time this big international conference will be held in the UK is here in Newcastle, at the home of NOHUC, because I know that oral historians have a lot of contribute to these conversations.

The conference is structured around 10 interconnected sub-themes, intended to encompass as diverse an historical, geographical, social and cultural range as possible:

  • Memory, Activism and Social Justice
  • The Coloniality and Decolonising of Memory
  • Creative Approaches to Memory
  • Deindustrialisation and Reinventions
  • Conflict, Violence and Memory
  • Memory and Diverse Belongings
  • Memoryscapes (digital, locational, imagined)
  • Beyond Disciplinary Communities
  • Movement, Migration and Refugees
  • Embodiment

The full call for papers can be found here. We are also hoping that local artists and cultural organisations will respond to the conference theme in their own ways through film screenings, performances or exhibitions that can be part of a Cultural Programme.

The deadline is 3 October, and presenters will be notified by the end of the year to allow for people to make travel plans well in advance.

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