Conference- Reimagining American History in Film and Media

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Department of English and American Studies Tel Aviv University

Reimagining American History in Film and Media

A Two Day International Conference at Tel Aviv University, The English and American Studies Department.

June 14-15, 2015.

Keynote speaker - Professor Elisabeth Bronfen, University of Zurich.

The fascination with American history in popular culture is not a new phenomenon. However, in recent years, we have witnessed an ever growing interest in American nation formation. Thus recent films increasingly focus on the Civil War, for one, and on revisiting slave narratives as significant tales for contemporary viewers. Recent examples include such films as Tarantino's Django Unchained (2012), Spielberg's Lincoln (2012), Timur Bekmambetov's Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter (2012), Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013), Gore Verbinski's The Lone Ranger (2013), Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave (2013), and Shawn McNamara's Field of Lost Shoes (2014). Television series, like Sleepy Hollow and American Horror Story also point to the increasingly Gothicized return to an (imagined) past, which is also present in more "realistic" shows like the highly successful House of Cards, which returns to the Civil War as a point of significance for the protagonist's current political aspirations. An episode of Da Ali G Show returns to the South where "Borat" attempts to buy a (white) slave. As these examples suggest, the resurgence of interest in certain historical events is closely related to the present political moment.

This obsession with seminal historical events in the nation's past is expressed in manifold ways in film and media. In History on Film/Film on History, Robert Rosenstone sees "the history film as part of a separate realm of representation and discourse, one not meant to provide literal truths about our past, but metaphoric truths." These "metaphoric truths" take many forms, from the romanticized and sentimentalized accounts of a glorified past, to works attempting a greater degree of verisimilitude, to the more overtly gothic and science-fictional portrayals. As Robert Burgoyne notes in Film and Nation, these films explore the "reshaping of our collective imaginary in relation to history and to nation." Elisabeth Bronfen's reading of Django Unchained as a film where a "new myth" is created, but one that has "history" in it, is relevant to the ways in which other films address the historical as mythical and vice versa. It is this intersection of history and myth which we aim to explore.

We seek papers on these various returns of the historical to the contemporary scene. Possible topics include but are by no means limited to:

"New" Renditions of the past

The present concern with the historical as opposed to past representations

The use and abuse of history

The role of nostalgia and emotion in the retelling of past events in film and media

The current political climate and its role in reshaping the past in film and media

The role of historical trauma in retelling the past in film and media

Changing aesthetic practices and their role in the perception and representation of the past

Historical ghosts and revenant figures

Reimagining American wars

Memory and trauma; images of crisis

The representations of gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, and class and economics

Theoretical and critical approaches to historical representations

Please send abstracts of 200-300 words to by 31.12.2014 to the conference organizers, Dr. Yael Maurer and Dr. Sonia Weiner.