Things are happening in the field of historiography that may have interesting consequences for the way we conceptualise the “representation” of recent biomedicine in a museum context, e.g., this conference:

Presence: A viable alternative to representation?
An international conference at Groningen University, The Netherlands Center for Metahistory Groningen (CMG), December 1 & 2, 2005

For more than thirty years now, thinking about the way we, humans, account for our past, has stood under the aegis of representationalism. In its first two decades, representationalism, inaugurated by Hayden White’s Metahistory of 1973, has been remarkably successful in questioning the realist assumptions in historiography. By now, however, it has lost much of its vigour and productivity, especially when faced with some of the more significant phenomena of the last decades’ dealings with the past (memory, lieux de mémoire, remembrance, trauma).

There are signs, however, that a new paradigm is emerging. We have boldly given a name to this emerging paradigm, we call it ‘presence’.

In the December conference we would like to explore the productivity of looking at historiography from the angle of a ‘positive’ epistemology: the wonder of historical texts is not – as representationalism implies – that they fail to bring us into contact with historical reality, but that they, despite their textuality, do bring us into contact with historical reality. What is responsible for this effect? And how can it be envisioned?

The conference also wants to strengthen the contact between literary theory /semiotics and historiography

Representationalism in historiography has established firm contacts between literary/semiotic studies and historiography. Historiographers have borrowed widely from formal literary theory, particularly from narratology. Strikingly however the shifts in narrative structure that occur in literary fiction and their effects for establishing a reality effect have not received much attention from historiographers. Historiography remains firmly in the grip of realism and the critique of realism.

Goal of the Groningen conference will be
*to explore the notion of ‘presence’,
*to ascertain the tensions between ‘presence’ and ‘meaning,’
*and to discuss to what extent ‘presence’ might point to a way out of the entanglement of representationalism and realism which has held historiography in its grip for so long. Can ‘presence’ incite styles of presenting time, chance and experience that elude that deadlock? In the conference ‘presence’ will also be brought to bear on the alleged illness of our time, diagnosed as a ‘yearning for reality.’ Is the need for presence its symptom or is ‘presence’ a viable alternative to representation/hermeneutics/postmodernism?

We, the organizers of the conference, feel that, in spite of its tentativeness, ‘presence’ deserves the attention of inquisitive, sensitive and inspiring historians, literary scholars and philosophers. We would like to bring them together and talk it over!


The conference is organized on behalf of the Center for Metahistory Groningen (CMG) by:
Hein Braaksma
Liesbeth Brouwer
Hermien Lankhorst
Eelco Runia
Leon ter Schure

Conference program
Thursday December 1, 2005
Chair: Frank Ankersmit

09:30-10:00 welcome in the H.D. Bruinszaal
10:00-10:15 welcome address by
10:15-11:00 lecture by Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht (Stanford)
11:00-11:15 coffee break
11:15-12:00 lecture by Eelco Runia (Groningen)
12:00-12:15 questions
12:15-13:30 lunch in the H.D. Bruinszaal
13:30-14:15 lecture by Rik Peters (Groningen)
14:15-14:30 tea break
14:30-15:15 lecture by Liesbeth Brouwer (Groningen)
15:15-15:30 questions
15:30-15:45 break
15:45-17:00 discussion
17:00-18:00 drinks in the Spiegelzaal

Friday December 2, 2005

09:30-10:00 welcome in the H.D.Bruinszaal
10:00-10:15 resume of day 1 by
10:15-11:00 lecture by Michael Bentley (St. Andrews)
11:00-11:15 coffee break
11:15-12:00 lecture by Ewa Domanska (Poznan)
12:15-13:30 lunch in the H.D. Bruinszaal
13:30-14:15 Lecture by Hans Belting (Vienna)
14:15-14:30 tea break
14:30-15:15 lecture by Ruth Ronen (Tel Aviv)
15:15-15:30 questions
15:30-15:45 break
15:45-17:00 discussion
17:00-18:00 drinks in the Spiegelzaal

The conference will be held in the Senaatszaal, Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5. Attendance to the conference costs 50 euro (25 euro for students and PhD-students). The price includes lunch and program notes, which will be available at the start of the conference at Thursday December 1. Due to the size of the conference room, the number of participants is limited to hundred. Reservation is therefore necessary. Reservations can be made by sending an email to Marijke Wubbolts: . After confirmation the participants will receive further information by email. Please note: it is not possible to make a reservation only for one-day attendance.

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