Global Humanities Institute 2019: Crises of Democracy through the Prism of Cultural Trauma

July 15-24, 2019
Dubrovnik, Croatia

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What is it in today’s world that is making populist and authoritarian approaches to government more attractive than democratic ones?

Crises of democracy do not arise out of nowhere. Countries that presently find their political systems in crisis can in most cases find causes by looking back to specific times, events and experiences in the collective lives of the culture. By turning to the past, they can determine conditions and patterns of responses and influences that have contributed to current crises.

One construct that has proven particularly useful in tracing these crises to their roots has been that of cultural trauma. Developed as a concept by the Yale University Centre for Cultural Sociology, the theory of cultural trauma is related to, but also differs from, the study of individual trauma, in that it focuses on shocks to the collective tissue of a society. Examples of events that both induce and respond to cultural trauma, and that thereby produce crises in democracy, include: racialized persecution, violence and forced displacement; war and genocide; colonialism and decolonization; nationalism, ethnocentrism and revisionist interpretations of national heroic traditions; terrorism, fundamentalism and distorted nationalism; revolution; radical economic change, and market collapse; climate disaster, demographic shifts and more.

Inter-University Centre overlooking Dubrovnik West Harbour
This CHCI-Mellon Global Humanities Institute (GHI) examined the crises of democracy through the prism of cultural trauma in a comparative global perspective. It took place from 15 - 24th July 2019, at the Inter-University Centre in Dubrovnik, Croatia and was opened to graduate students and emerging scholars. A distinctive feature of the summer institute was the inclusion and active participation of those early career scholars in the workshops. The curriculum also builds in concrete channels to ensure the engagement of actors from academic and non-academic sectors. It developed a contemporary frame of reference, incorporating relevant site visits into the Global Humanities Institute program, for example to Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Mostar, and Belfast. Following the summer institute, there was a meeting in Brazil of the GHI partner institutions to reflect on the key learnings of the GHI and to follow up on publication plans, further funding applications, and how the learnings can be embedded in each institution.


View of the Stari Most (Old Bridge) of the city of Mostar
The outcomes of the CHCI-Mellon Crises of Democracy Global Humanities Institute are manifold. The readings, research, and findings will be made available to the public online as a free resource accessible long after the Institute. In parallel with the objectives listed above, the outcomes of the GHI are as follows:

  1. Creation of an online open syllabus.
  2. The publication of a book or special journal edition.
  3. A documentary on the research group and process, sharing the experience, through the filming and creation of a documentary and an online blog.
  4. Knowledge and skills transfer in an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary environment.

Post-institute, organizers worked to expand the scope of the project and the research networks. This includes a 'Rethinking Democracy in an Age of Pandemic' webinar series (April-May 2020) and three 'Rethinking Democracy' episodes (December 2020) organized by the Trinity Long Room Hub and the SOF/Heyman in response to Covid-19. Building on the success of the GHI, a 'Rethinking Democracy' curriculum was launched in December 2020. Although the consortium's application to the European Union's Research and Innovation program Horizon 2020 was unsuccessful, there are now plans for an application under the Horizon Europe scheme. Led by the University of São Paulo, an essay collection compiling the wide range of discussions mobilized during the GHI is forthcoming.
The Trinity Long Room Hub is now embarking on a new initiative, the Schuler Forum for Democracy. This three-year programme will embed an Arts and Humanities approach to the crisis of democracy at its core. It draws upon the institute's ongoing commitment to improving collaboration between the Arts and Humanities and civil society organizations on democracy initiatives, most recently through the Irish Research Council-funded project 'CEPRAH'. The Hub will continue to collaborate with its GHI partners on the Forum.

Convening centers and organizers

GHI conveners at the Trinity Long Room Hub in May 2018
The CHCI-Mellon Crises of Democracy Global Humanities Institute was delivered by a seasoned collaborative consortium of humanities scholars affiliated with centers, institutes, and universities spanning four continents (North and South America, Europe and Asia):

This group of scholars represents a range of disciplines, including but not limited to: anthropology, cultural studies, film and audio-visual arts, gender studies, history, journalism, law, languages, literatures, psychology, political science, peace studies, theatre studies, and the creative and performing arts.

Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, Trinity College Dublin

Professor Balázs Apor, Trinity College Dublin

Professor Rosemary Byrne, NYU Abu Dhabi

Professor Mary Cosgrove, Trinity College Dublin

Professor Jennifer Edmond, Trinity College Dublin

Professor Esther Hamburger, University of São Paulo

Professor Laura Izarra, University of São Paulo

Professor Arlene Clemesha, University of São Paulo

Professor Sucheta Mahajan, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Professor Aditya Mukherjee, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Professor Mridula Mukherjee, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Professor Bodh Prakash, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Professor Urmimala Sarkar, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Professor Nebojša Blanuša, University of Zagreb

Professor Tomislav Pletenac, University of Zagreb

Professor Eileen Gillooly, Columbia University

Professor Stephanie McCurry, Columbia University

Professor Bruce Shapiro, Columbia University

Professor Marianne Hirsch, Columbia University