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The Contemporary

The Contemporary

Our colloquium brings Stanford scholars and invited scholars together to examine the  “contemporary” with a focus on three defining moments: 1945, 1989, and 2001. In recent years the concept of the contemporary has been taken up within limited disciplinary discourses and in the context of distinct geographical settings, such as the Yale-based Post•45 group, which categorizes exclusively North American writing since 1945. The horizon of this colloquium, however, is North America, Europe, and the global arena. We employ a comparative and interdisciplinary approach to the hybrid term “contemporary” as it intersects various fields and serves as a heuristic device to understand phenomena in politics, culture, and the arts. By bringing together Stanford faculty, graduate students and visitors from different departments and methodological backgrounds, we want to foster innovative approaches to examine the contemporary. In order to share ideas and debates generated in the colloquium, and to encourage broad participation within and beyond the Stanford community, we will pre-circulate papers and create an open-access online platform for ongoing discussion. 
Recent scholars dealing with post-1945 society and culture (Giorgio Agamben, Paul Rabinow, Timothy Snyder, Tony Judt, Marci Shore, Amy Hungerford and Amy Elias) have pioneered various disciplinary discussions of the present. Drawing on these existing discourses in philosophy, literature, history, law, anthropology, political science and cultural studies, our work stretches beyond these disciplinary boundaries by encouraging scholars from these fields to write short papers for an interdisciplinary audience and to present, discuss, and collaborate on this fundamentally interdisciplinary topic.
Pivotal questions related to the contemporary such as the political and cultural foundations of the post-war era remain to be discussed in a comparative context and on a global scale. These dates are “key” for different countries in various ways, and their uniqueness is tied to various economic, political, social, cultural, or technological realms. For example, 1989 brought about the fall of the Berlin wall and German unification. However, this event had far reaching implications beyond the national and even the continental with significant ramifications for the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. Beyond regional concerns, what does the fall of the Berlin wall mean in the context of current debates in political science, literary studies, or anthropology? Moreover, what cultural objects (such as literature, film, journalism, or art) or phenomena (such as legal action, social interactions, or policy-making) do various disciplines value as evidence of these events’ significance?
We anticipate that launching this project in 2013 with the format of pre-circulated scholarship and a focused colloquium will help carry this project forward in concrete ways, such as an digital platform for ongoing debate, co-taught and cross-listed course syllabi, and future conferences or colloquiums hosted at Stanford or elsewhere.


Graduate Coordinators: