How we understand and engage with the past is the result of constant negotiation with the present. Questions about identity, both personal and communitarian, are rooted in both shared and contested memories of, and narratives about, the past. Questions about reconciliation hinge on understanding and acknowledging historical wrongs, their nature and their scope, and their implications in the present. Questions about rights and redistribution relate to past entitlements—or their denial. And the past itself— that "foreign country," in the words of David Lowenthal—lies both beyond and within the questions of the present.

This Research Cluster was founded to pursue work in multiple disciplines and institutional settings that proceeds from an understanding that the questions we ask about our time must engage full and evidence-based understandings of the past, and, at the same time, that present-day concerns continually shape and inform our engagement with that past. We also recognized, simultaneously, alternative claims upon the past that do not operate under the call of "history."

We thus sought to explore both the forms of representation of the past, and their uses: how the past is excavated (literally and metaphorically) and expressed in relation to contemporary practices and concerns with social, political, and economic valences. In this mode, we embraced political, creative, and social justice engagements with the legacy of the past, to ask questions such as: “how do we address the rights, and wrongs, of the past in the present?” and "what does knowledge of the past both allow and deny in the present."

The past is not gone, and the present is undergirded in complex and sometime indirect ways by what has been. This research cluster entailed ethical engagement with the multiple temporalities and modalities of historical research, seeking to resist the simple merging of the historical into the needs of the present, while at the same time acknowledging the urgency of the past’s relationship to now. Our goal was to build capabilities and connections that bring together multiple stakeholders--researchers, artists, activists, and government representatives--to consider the past and its representation, and how we can work together to ensure its integrity and relevance. We are grateful for the support of the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation, which enabled the Cluster to work from 2019 to 2022.


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