First-Year Studies: The Anthropology of Time and Memory

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The way we perceive, reckon, and experience both time and memory is far from universal or static. Drawing on historical and philosophical texts, critical social theory, and literature, as well as on anthropology and cultural studies, we will begin this first-year studies seminar by exploring diverse time systems in pre-industrial Europe and non-Western societies. We will look at calendars—Mayan, Dogon, Gregorian, French and Soviet revolutionary, Hindu, and many others—as sociopolitical institutions, and we will consider the gradual regularization and standardization of time that took place during the Industrial Revolution and up to the establishment of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). We will explore the contradictions that arise between linear progressive time and cyclical or ritual time, think about representations of time in narrative and rhetoric, and ask questions about the relative experience of time. Finally, we will consider the importance of time concepts in modernity and postmodernity, as we engage with such topics as repetition, durée, Nietzsche’s eternal return, and Mbembe’s “time of entanglement.” Turning to the question of memory, during the spring semester, we will consider individual, collective, and national remembering and forgetting and explore such themes as trauma, nostalgia, memorialization, false-memory syndrome, ghosts and haunting, and the relationship between memory and history. By way of our ongoing engagement with cultural analysis and reflection, students will become fluent in the discipline of anthropology, as they improve their ability to read closely, write effectively, and think critically.