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2003 Tenenbaum Lecture

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
"Kodak Moments, Flashbulb Memories:
Jewish Responses to September 11"

February 11, 2003, 8:00 PM
in the Winship Ballroom

** Free and open to the public **

The events of September 11 involved the collapse of a building and, reminiscent of the ancient art of memory, mourners pinned notices about their loved ones on the buildings in the city, making the city itself a memory palace. So central to this contemporary art of memory is photography that we come to understand our experiences in terms of Kodak moments and flashbulb memories. The events of 9/11 produced not only photographs but also a wide variety of other artifacts- material and digital, enormous and minute, durable and ephemeral, unique and multiple-and an overwhelming impulse on the part of ordinary people and professionals alike to document what happened and what followed.

But documentation, whether through photographs or some other medium, also raises difficult questions.

  • Where is the line between the moral ambiguity of watching and the obligation to witness?
  • As the rush to history overtakes the present moment, when does the present end and history begin?
  • Documents are being exhibited almost as quickly as they are being created, but, in the institutional context of the museum or gallery, will documents exceed their evidentiary status to become living memorials in their own right?
  • Can these settings accommodate the spontaneous memorial practices of visitors?
  • Will the memory palace of the museum ever approximate the memory palace, the musee imaginaire, that the city itself has become?

This lecture explores how Jews and Jewish museums have responded to these events and issues.


Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is University Professor and Professor of Performance Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, where she chaired the Department of Performance Studies for more than a decade. She teaches courses on the aesthetics of everyday life, world's fairs, museum theatre, tourist productions, food and performance, and on Jewish performance, folklore, and ethnography. She is affiliated with the Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies and serves on advisory committees for six interdepartmental programs--American Studies, Liberal Studies, Metropolitan Studies, Religious Studies, Museum Studies, and Asian/Pacific/American Studies-as well as for the Department of Food Studies and Nutrition at New York University, where she is a co-convener of the faculty seminar Feast and Famine. She also co-convened, with anthropologist Fred Myers, the faculty seminar People and Things (1998-2000).

Dr. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is the recipient of many awards, including the Guggenheim Fellowship and grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. She was in residence at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Conference and Study Center in 1991, a Getty Scholar at the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in 1991-1992, a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar in 1995, a Winston Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1996, a University of Auckland Foundation Visitor in 1998, a fellow at SCASSS (Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences) in Uppsala in 1998, and a resident research fellow at the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania in 2001.

She served as President of the American Folklore Society from 1988 to 1992 and is a Folklore Fellow of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. She serves (or recently served) on the following boards and advisory committees: Center for Folklife Programs and Cultural Studies, Smithsonian Institution; Getty Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities; Stanford Humanities Center; Museum of Jurassic Technology; the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe College; the American Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts; and International Center for Advanced Studies, New York University, among others. She also serves on the editorial boards of Journal of the History of Collections, American Ethnologist, Journal of Folklore Research, Tourist Studies, TDR The Drama Review, Postmodern Culture, Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Review, Jewish Folklore and Ethnography (Wayne State University Press book series), Journal of Yiddish Research (Israel), Encyclopedia of Jewish Folklore, Jews in Eastern Europe: The YIVO Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia of Food and Culture (Scribners), Gastronomica, and California Studies in Food and Culture (University of California Press), among others. She recently served on the editorial boards of Museum Anthropology and Cultural Anthropology.

Her most recent book, Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage (University of California Press, 1998) engages lively debates about the production of heritage, limits of multiculturalism, social efficacy of the arts, and circulation of value in the life world. Her most recent work takes up such topics as world heritage and cultural economics, new national museums, museums and embodied knowledge, performing museologies, trauma and documentation in light of 9/11, and controversies provoked by such exhibitions as Mirroring Evil: Nazi Images, Recent Art at The Jewish Museum (New York).

Her earlier books include Image Before My Eyes: A Photographic History of Jewish Life in Poland, 1864-1939, with Lucjan Dobroszycki (Schocken, reissued 1995). Image Before My Eyes was accompanied by an exhibition at The Jewish Museum and feature documentary film. Both the book and the film are based on the landmark exhibition that she co-curated with Dobroszycki for the YIVO Institute of Jewish Research at The Jewish Museum (1976). Her other publications include Speech Play: Research and Resources for Linguistic Creativity (editor and contributor); Fabric of Jewish Life: Textiles from the Jewish Museum Collection; Authoring Lives; and numerous articles. Current projects include Investigating Jews, an intellectual history of anthropological interest in Jews, to be published by Indiana University Press; and Exhibiting Jews, a study of Jewish participation in world's fairs from 1851 to 1940. She recently completed Painted Memories: A Jewish Childhood in Polandbefore the Holocaust with her father, Mayer Kirshenblatt.


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