A course as ambitious as its name: Preserving and Interpreting Knowledges of the Past and Promoting Social Justice

February 21, 2017

“Preserving and Interpreting Knowledges of the Past and Promoting Social Justice” taught by Andrea Pető from the Gender Studies Department is a course as ambitious as its name. Cross-listed with Legal Studies and Medieval Studies and in partnership with Labrisz Lesbian Association and the Hungarian National Archives, it is a course worth noting for its collaborating teaching structure and social engagement components. 

The course grew out of the friendship and inventiveness of two female scholars, Andrea Pető from CEU and Robin Kirk from Duke University. As Pető put it herself when discussing the origins of the course, “we developed a friendship based on our joint interest in combining academia with activism. After numerous Skype meetings we developed a joint-syllabus and also Duke University sponsored [Kirk’s] visit to CEU giving a talk at BOSA on using archives in teaching social justice.”

The course equipped students with different approaches to thinking about ‘the archive’ through critical reflection on issues of archives, memory, and human rights. Through the class’ weekly meetings and the development of the projects, the students and instructor questioned how knowledges about the past get preserved, or repressed. This all happened in dialogue with a parallel class covering similar topics at Duke University, where students were documenting the Black Lives Matter movement and creating counter-memory projects for the Duke University campus. In this time of always connected individuals, Andrea Pető and Robin Kirk maneuvered the difficulties of technology and time-differences to connect their students across the Atlantic.
Here in Budapest, student projects ranged from the collection and presentation of ‘lost’ and ignored newspaper articles and documents related to Adolf Hitler’s birth house to a Facebook forum meant to “memorialize the 1982 and 1985 events of the Maseru Massacre” in Lesotho. On February 7, five students presented their projects for the larger CEU community. Each project questioned the role of the archive and was developed with a civic engagement partner, pushing students to consider the social impacts of their research. What’s more, each project had a media component, maximizing their potential for civic engagement and dialogue with unlikely audiences. A total of ten projects emerged from the course that engaged with subjects and people in a wide geographical context. Many of the projects continue to develop, even though the course is officially over.

As Andrea Pető reflected the “[t]he issues we are facing in teaching, activism and research are very similar independently of our national contexts, so this collaboration is a good example of feminist transnational activism.” It proved to be an opportunity for a diverse group of students from different cultural backgrounds and academic institutions to engage each other and a wider audience in dialogue about the politics of memory and their use in social justice. 
Camilo Montoya-Guevara
Colombia and Canada; 
Cultural Heritage Studies