Keynotes and Plenaries

Keynote speakers

Lisa Parks
Professor of Comparative Media Studies and Director of the Global Technologies and Cultures Lab, MIT and recipient of the 2018 MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship



Tactical Drone Use and Vertical Mediation at Standing Rock

From April 2016 to February 2017 protestors gathered at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota — and beyond — to protest the construction of a 1,172-mile-long Dakota Access oil pipeline (DAPL) by Energy Transfer Partners. As the protests went on for months they attracted thousands of Native Americans and non-Native allies and made global news headlines as the activists, who called themselves “water protectors,” engaged in a series of standoffs with federal and local law enforcers and private security teams. A distinguishing aspect of the protests was the creation of a tactical model of civilian drone use by Native American activists, Dean Dedman Jr. (Sioux) and Myron Dewey (Newe-Numah/Paiute-Shoshone). Drawing upon discussions with Dewey and Dedman, anti-DAPL drone media, state documents released in FOIA requests and leaks, Parks conceptualizes and analyzes vertical mediation at Standing Rock, focusing on the drone media aesthetics and tactical positionalities of Dedman and Dewey as well as the surveillance practices of law enforcers. The aim of the analysis is to draw further critical awareness to the relations between vertical power, drone technologies and publics, and to highlight the surveillance strategies and discourses of U.S. state and federal officers in their efforts to criminalize civilian drone use by activists. The paper suggests that the anti-DAPL protests expose state forms of vertical power that are immanent with the globalization of the civilian drone economy, and concludes with a brief discussion of the importance of tribal sovereignty claims over the air space above their lands.


Richard Rodriguez
Award-winning journalist and essayist, San Francisco, CA





Stone Ghosts:  Deconstructing and Reconstructing American Memory

The rate of cremation has soared in the United States, so Americans have less need of cemeteries and tombstones.  At the same time crowds tear down Civil War monuments that others fight to protect.  Descendants of European civilization rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day, and statues of the Spanish Franciscan priests who colonized California are beheaded or smeared with red paint.   Americans avoid a sense of the tragic by refusing irony.  Along the Hollywood “Walk of Fame,” new stars to the show business dead are implanted on the sidewalk for tourists to step on.


Benjamin Filene, Professor of History and Chief Curator of the North Carolina Museum of History, Fulbright Mid-Career Professional Development Grant





Etched in Stone vs. a Fluid Past: Monuments, Museums, and History-Making in Public

In addition to surfacing raw racism, the inflamed debates about Confederate monuments have shown that Americans have flawed understandings of how history works.  Are historians themselves partly to blame?  Public historian Benjamin Filene, Chief Curator at the North Carolina Museum of History, explores how today’s monument controversies reveal a need and opportunity to reimagine the roles that citizens, professional historians, and public institutions such as museums play in pursuing a public past.


Plenary speakers

Jørn Brøndal (Denmark)
Professor of American Studies, Center for American Studies, University of Southern Denmark

Donald Trump’s Wall and the Trajectory of US Migration Policy

In his controversial presidential announcement speech on June 16, 2015, Donald Trump portrayed Mexican migrants as criminals, drug smugglers, and rapists and made demands for a wall along the US-Mexican border that Mexico notably was to be forced to pay for. Since being sworn in as president, Trump not only has kept up his harsh rhetoric but attempted to apply extreme pressure on US political institutions with a view to ultimately securing funding for his wall. This presentation analyzes Trump’s rhetoric and migration initiatives in an attempt to identify breaks and continuities between his policies and those of his predecessors in the White House. A picture emerges of a president who has broken decisively with other recent chief executives—Democrats as well as Republicans—but who still represents a number of disturbing continuities in US history, most of them dating back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Henrik Gustafsson (Norway)
Professor of Media and Documentation Science, University of Tromsø

The Sedimented Screen

The notion of a “sedimented screen” is deliberately contradictory, since it implies that a surface for projection may be turned into a site of excavation. This idea will be developed with recourse to a crucial passage from the introduction to The Archaeology of Knowledge where Michel Foucault outlines the basis for a new form of historical research by distinguishing between two methods for engaging with traces of the past: either as documents or as monuments. To approach historical artifacts as monuments, Foucault proposes, is to retain their muteness and strangeness, and to resist their integration into a linear, causality-driven narrative trajectory. Here we may be reminded of the etymological derivation of the word “screen,” which originally referred to an obstacle or shield used for protection or concealment long before it acquired the additional meaning of a surface onto which plastic elements are projected. In other words, the screen was a wall before it became a window. Maybe, then, to reverse this etymological shift and turn the virtual window back into an opaque wall, can help us to prevent the screen from disappearing into its act of mediation? The sedimented screen will be explored through a miscellany of remeditaions of Monument Valley, the spectacularly sedimented desert plateau on the Utah-Arizona border where John Ford shot a series of canonical Westerns between 1939 and 1964, conducted over the course of half a century by artists including Cindy Bernard, James Benning, Kidlat Tahimik, Spencer Finch, and Trevor Paglen.


Benita Heiskanen (Finland)
Professor of North American Studies, John Morton Center for North American Studies, University of Turku, Finland.

Monumental Memories: From the Texas Tower Shootings to ‘Campus Carry’”

On August 1, 1966, The University of Texas at Austin became a site for the first college shooting in U.S. history leaving 17 people dead and 31 injured. The Tower, which houses the University Main Building, stood as a haunting and omnipresent reminder of the tragedy to contemporaries of the shootings. For decades, The University of Texas’s official policy, save for a nine-by-14-inch plaque, was not to commemorate the tragedy in conspicuous ways. On August 1, 2016—on the fiftieth anniversary of the Tower shootings—a memorial was erected in honor of the victims. The unveiling of the memorial coincided with the implementation of SB 11, the Texas state “Campus Carry” gun legislation that allowed concealed handguns on public university campuses. This presentation establishes a bridge between the fifty years of memory-making and active forgetting from the Tower shootings to the Campus Carry legislation. Drawing on Jacques Rancière’s work on the political dimension of aesthetics, the paper presents Campus Carry as an example of a particular aesthetic-political regime created by the state legislators and negotiated by the university community, exposing multiple linkages between memory-making and forgetting, policy-making, spatial maneuvering, and visual interventions.


Adam Hjorthén (Sweden)
Postdoctoral fellow, John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies at the Free University of Berlin, and the Department of Culture and Aesthetics at Stockholm University

Transatlantic Monuments: On Memories and Ethics of Settler Histories

When is it acceptable, perhaps even encouraged, to celebrate difficult histories such as colonialism? There is a simple answer to this complex question: whenever everyone agrees that it is a good idea. The commemoration of the short-lived New Sweden Colony (1638–1655), once located on the banks of the Delaware River, is a case in point. In memory, the colony was and is generally considered to be unproblematic. It is so benevolently regarded that in recent years it has been jointly celebrated by representatives of the colonizers—Swedes, Finns, and Americans—as well as by representatives of Indigenous groups. This paper situates the case of the New Sweden colony in a larger memorial landscape, that includes the Plymouth Colony and Christopher Columbus, and it discusses the analytical consequences and contemporary ramifications of applying a transatlantic perspective on monuments and settler histories. Framing memories of European settlement in America as transatlantic encourage us to rethink its meanings and functions, but also to reappraise questions of responsibility. If monuments of settlement have played, and continue to play, a significant role in relations between the United States and Europe, this raises new questions about the ethics of memory in transnational settings.