Directors of humanities centers and research institutes are often charged to explore the past in order to address the present and the imagined future. But the past is often easier to hypothesize as a series of pasts than it is to analyze and assess, much less to recapture. The past is too easily imagined in rigid or formulaic terms. Many of the disciplines in which humanistic scholars are trained, and within which they teach and write, have "history" in their titles, whether it is the history of art or literature, or the history of science, or American history, or the history of consciousness. What is the role of history as a sign, signifier, record or fantasy? In the intellectual assessment of human culture, what comes after the past?

This conference suspends the specializations of discipline, region, and era through which scholars in the humanities conventionally frame inquiries. We focus instead on the questions that animate and trouble much of our work: Is there a past? Who needs it? Is it salvageable? To what contemporary ends? Where, how, and why do struggles over the past continue to animate the present? How does the narrative of progress continue to haunt our work, and what comes after progress? Four panels focus ways of knowing and deploying the past, in scholarly practice and beyond it: visualizing, archiving, looting, and repossessing.