Graduate Colloquium: "Pieces of History: American Berlin Walls and the Monumental Urban Ruins of the Cold War"

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 9:30am
Meyerson Hall G-12

Please join us for coffee, croissants and conversation during the Urban Studies Graduate Student Colloquium Series! The series provides a way for graduate students who are or have been a part of the Urban Studies Certificate program to come together to share their work. Most colloquia run from 9:30-11:00am unless otherwise noted.        

Author: Paul Farber (URBS '05), University of Michigan PhD candidate in American Culture, Lecturer: URBS 414, The Culture of Cities

Discussant: Liliane Weissberg, Professor of German and Comparative Literature, and Graduate Chair of the Penn Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures

Abstract: In his research, Farber explores the Berlin Wall as a significant site and symbol of American culture. This has been the case from the first days of the Wall's construction in 1961 through its dismantling in 1989, and continues through its current afterlife as a dispersed monumental ruin through which to tell stories and critically engage notions of American identity, freedom, and history. In "Pieces of History,Farber ponders the Wall as a historical artifact displayed in many American cities and a matter of ongoing reflection in American culture. For example, segments of the former border structure are now displayed across dozens of U.S. public “sites of memory,” including the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. The Wall as a metaphor is still regularly evoked in our contemporary moment, most recently in reference to the U.S.-Mexico border wall and in the Occupy Wall Street protests. Farber suggests that now, over twenty years after the Wall was first dismantled, the desire to be present with the Wall, to encounter its physicality, has not subsisted. Such a longing reminds us that the story of the Wall and public space in both countries is far from conclusive, coherent, or transparent, and attests to the complicated entanglements of the Cold War rather than commemorating simple narratives of resolution, triumph, or progress. 

Photo: "American Soldier stands guard as the Berlin Wall is put up," Leonard Freed/Magnum Photos (1961).