Past Recipients of the Williams Fellowship and Their Proposals


Enclosed Visions: The Architectural Context of Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love

Eremitic monasticism originated in the deserts of Syria and Egypt where, inspired by Jesus’s forty days wandering in the wilderness, Christians sought a contemplative lifestyle based on social isolation and poverty. Eremites led simple lives of religious devotion, reflected and inspired by the barrenness of the Saharan landscape. The monastic lifestyle eventually became institutionalized, guided by written Rules such as the Regula Benedicti and John Cassian’s De Institutis Coenobiorum. Monastic precepts also relied strongly on the physical space. For example, the Benedictine monasteries of Cluny were self-contained structures that allowed monks to pray, work, and live in the same space, promoting Benedict’s maxims of community and secluded contemplation.

The eremitic lifestyle, however, was deemed dangerous for women, giving rise to anchoritism during the early and high Middle Ages: “a woman or a man, but more often a woman, who had opted for permanent solitary enclosure, usually in a small, purpose-built cell attached to a monastic institution or, more likely, a local parish church.”[1] Due to the cell’s adjacency to a parish church, the anchorite simultaneously experienced eremitic seclusion and communal devotion.

In this liminal space of seclusion, Late Medieval mystic Julian of Norwich wrote the Long Text of the Revelations of Divine Love, an explication of sixteen religious visions that had come to her in her deathbed. In these shewings, Julian transcends the boundaries of the anchorhold and enters “a vast landscape of sacred space that is enclosed within the fastened boundaries of the female body and the anchoritic cell.”[2] Throughout the text, the endless contemplative space and her enclosure intertwine, suggesting a relationship between her architectural isolation and the performative exteriority of her religious visions. For example, Julian compares all of creation to the “littleness” of a hazelnut, contrasting the limited physical world and the limitlessness of the divine.

Most of the literature that examines space in the Revelations focuses on the abstract idea of “enclosure” or on the anchorhold as a womb, with limited discussion of its liminality and specific architectural characteristics. In this project, I seek to explore how Julian’s anchorhold could have influenced or reflects her use of poetic devices, focusing on images that contrast the interior space—whether the cell or the body—and the external world. An understanding of religious images and culture in proximal churches may also shed light on the liturgical, architectural, and artistic context of Julian’s visions and metaphors, as well as how experiences before her seclusion shaped her work. I will also explore how space shaped the anchoritic tradition, such as in the relationship between architecture and certain maxims of the Ancrene Wisse (the Rule for anchorites).

Aided by the Williams Traveling Fellowship, I would travel to St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, England, where Julian resided during her seclusion. Using techniques I learned in Stephen Murray’s Medieval Architecture class, I would analyze the church’s architecture and immerse myself in the anchoritic space in order to find possible links between the building and Julian’s descriptions of the contemplative space. Though heavily damaged during World War II, the church and cell have been reconstructed to look [almost] like they did in the fourteenth century. The Julian Centre—attached to the shrine—is open to the public and contains a specialist library collection, which aims to hold all publications on Julian, including PhD dissertations. Norwich also houses myriad structures from the period, such as the Norwich Cathedral and thirty-two parish churches, whose atmosphere and layout may further shed light on the Revelations. I would also like to travel to other places in the region, as Norwich was the center of a larger diocese. I am particularly interested in Norfolk, which houses the Walsingham Pilgrimage Shire and the Norfolk Heritage Collection. The latter grants the public access to facsimiles of Julian’s manuscripts and related literature.

I have focused my undergraduate career on medieval literature, and I am particularly interested in vernacular theology and its cultural context. As a Medieval Studies concentrator, I have taken courses such as Medieval Architecture and Christianity, which have given me tools to undertake this project, such as an understanding of devotional architecture, medieval liturgy, and ecclesiology. I have been in contact with Dr. Karen Smyth who teaches medieval mysticism at the University of East Anglia, and has provided me with logistical support regarding sites of interest in the region. In terms of the architectural aspects of the project, I have received support from Professor Stephen Murray in the Art History department, as well as Zachary Stewart, who is a doctoral candidate focusing on the architecture of Medieval Norwich.

I would like to thank the committee and the Department of English and Comparative Literature for their time and consideration. Very little is known about Julian of Norwich, and this project—which compiles a great number of my academic interests—may shed new light on one of the most enigmatic visionaries of the Late Middle Ages.


[1] McAvoy, Liz. Medieval anchoritisms: gender, space and the solitary life. Woodbridge, Suffolk, U.K.: D.S. Brewer, 2011. p.1

[2] Semmens, Justine. "Infinite Becloseness in Julian of Norwich's A Revelation of Love." Medieval Feminist Forum. Vol. 43. No. 2. 2007. Web. p. 11



Ostalgie in Contemporary German Literature and Cinema

Ostalgie is probably the most important cultural trend in Germany today. Derived from the German words for East ("Ost") and Nostalgia ("Nostalgie"), the term refers to a bittersweet nostalgia for life under the GDR. In the former East, this phenomenon has taken many forms: Retro movie houses screen GDR classics like "The Legend of Paul and Paula;" products manufactured by the GDR are available at specialty stores in Prenzlauer Berg; there was a campaign in the mid-90's to save the Ampelmannchen, the distinctive men who adorn East Berlin's traffic lights; and there's even an Ostalgie museum in Eissenhuttenstadt, that displays products manufactured by the GDR. But Ostalgie has left its mark most forcefully on the popular literature and cinema of contemporary Germany. Authors like Jana Hensel (Zonenkinder) and Claudia Rusch (Meine Freie Deutsche Jugend) and Thomas Brussig (Am Kurzen Ende der Sonnenallee) have written best sellers that portray daily life in the GDR with wistful sentimentality. Films like Wolfgang Becker's Goodbye Lenin and Dany Levi's Go For Zucker - which offer similarly rosy takes on life in the former East - have been among the highest grossing films in recent years.

There are many sides to a phenomenon that at first glance strikes one as peculiar. Certainly there is a temptation to view the phenomenon as just a bit of East German kitsch. Dr. Peter Niedermueller, a professor of European Ethnology at Berlin's Humboldt University explained "Socialism is somehow a system that one can present today very ironically . . . It was naturally a political dictatorship. (But) it was also a very dumb dictatorship." But the causes of Ostalgie seem to run deeper than just a desire to ridicule a 40-year-long repressive socialist regime. Much of the current sentiment is a byproduct of resentment for the overcapitalized and greedy west. Barbara Thalheim, a singer in East Berlin, offers clarification: ""It's not the GDR that we defend. It's our life in the GDR. More than anything, though, Ostalgie is a symptom of the persistent differences between East and West Germans and of their growing resentment of one another"

Having studied authors like Hensel, Brussig and Rausch in a Post-War German literature course taught by Professor Michael Eskin, and through a summer spent in Berlin after my freshman year, I have become fascinated with Ostalgie. This phenomenon has wide-reaching effects in contemporary East German society and permeates many of the fabrics of everyday life including consumerism, fashion, architecture and art. With a Williams Traveling Fellowship, I propose to study the ways in which Ostalgie has informed much of the contemporary literature and cinema of East Germany.

The works of the aforementioned authors and filmmakers connect to the long discussion on the uses and abuses of history. Some feel that by painting a rosy picture of life under the socialist regime, these artists are trying to downplay if not deny the repression entailed by the communist regime, the state censorship, the lack of freedom


1. "East German souvenir crockery has Berliners simmering," Deutsche Presse-Agentur Feb. 27, 2004
2. "The 'Ostalgie' Wave" - The Ottawa Citizen, August 27, 1994


"African women filmmakers are warriors. They face a lot of obstacles. There's this picture of a Kenyan filmmaker. She was behind the camera, she had her baby tied behind her back, and she was directing. That was the most powerful image. It stayed with me. And to me, that is African women filmmakers."

—  Lucy Gebre-Egziabher, Ethiopia

West African cinema has been enormously powerful in building post-colonial African identities, through images and representations, creative expression and voice. Ousmane Sembène, deemed the "Father of African cinema," exemplifies the strong Senegalese tradition of politically engaged activists and writers who have turned their novels into films. This history of engagé or politically engaged filmmaking carries strong ties to traditional oral modes of storytelling, which predate and inform both the written literature and film of the region. Senegalese filmmakers, in fact, are perceived as contemporary griots, the keepers of the West African oral storytelling tradition, and much has been written about the influence of traditional narrative structures on narrative forms in African films.

Yet both the oral tradition and the neo-colonial order in West Africa have silenced and excluded women from speaking and representing themselves, especially in cinematic mediums. Many of Sembène's films address these issues explicitly-those of gender and power, Islam's effects on those dynamics, and the necessity of an equal female presence in the forging of postcolonial identities. Sembène's work demands that women have a voice in the creation of these identities and notions of self and nation; however, economic and cultural constraints continue to foreclose them from cinematic self-expression.

I will focus my study in Dakar, Senegal this summer on contemporary female filmmakers in Senegal who struggle to craft a politically engaged filmic language which represents female subjectivities. What practical constraints of access and distribution must these women overcome, and how does it inform their creative work? How are these women able to represent themselves and the lives of Senegalese women through a medium dominated and encrypted by patriarchy, colonial and imperial residues, and the economic constraints of Western capitalism and globalization? How do these women negotiate the filmic medium to create a subversive language of their own? And in particular, how do these female filmmakers address the social and religious values of Islam, the dominant religion in Senegal, and its impact on women, especially around issues of polygamy and marriage?

With Sembène's work as a convention-setting and historical jumping off point, I will comparatively examine the body of work of three Senegalese filmmakers: Safi Faye, the first black African filmmaker to direct a feature-film, and two contemporary females. Khady Sylla continues the tradition of Sembène and others as a novelist and filmmaker, further exploring the close relationship between literature and cinema, while Fatou Kandé-Senghor brings a visual arts and multimedia angle to her work. How does the work of these three women both draw from and transform the methods and techniques of male Senegalese filmmakers to discuss issues of gender, feminism, and Islam? In exemplifying female production and creative female voice, how do they craft a uniquely female voice of a 'griette' in contemporary, post-colonial Senegalese society?

Because many of these films have had very limited distribution internationally, and even in West Africa, they can only be found in film and video archives. I have located archives of rare and other such films unavailable in the U.S., at the West African Research Center, the film library of the Association of Senegalese Filmmakers, and other Senegalese university libraries. I will also visit Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, the site of Africa's largest film festival (FESPACO), and its extensive film archives.

To further integrate myself into the vibrant cinematic scene in Dakar, I have communicated with filmmakers associations and registered for Dakar's annual summer film festival, Festival Image et Vie. I am reaching out to the female filmmakers whose work I would like to study in hopes of interviewing or working with them in some capacity. I have also been permitted to attend some of the events held by Howard University's NEH African Studies Summer Institute on African Cinema, which will be held in Dakar during my stay there. By securing a home-stay with a family in Dakar through a friend currently studying there and the guidance of Penda Mbow, a professor at Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar and a prominent member of the women's movement there, I will be able to more fully and responsibly integrate myself into the social and academic culture of Senegal.


Embarrassment in French Realist Fiction

Having traced fictional representations of embarrassment in the works of Laclos, Prévost, Rousseau, Balzac, Flaubert, and Stendhal, I have become interested in studying the historical underpinnings of this psychological affect. There is an obvious difference between the causes of embarrassment in literature written before and after the French Revolution, and I expect that the change was a result of rapidly developing codes of manners. How did individuals learn new standards of behavior in an increasingly post-aristocratic society? Furthermore, how did embarrassment, as a socialized affect, enforce shifting class boundaries in post-Napoleonic France? By examining the 19th-century advice and conduct manuals available in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (1), I would be able to get a sense of how detailed codes of manners actually were, and to what extent manners simply had to be learned in practice.

Although embarrassment is a highly personal reaction, the public shaming prevalent in aristocratic circles seems to have traveled downward to the post-Revolutionary world of the bourgeoisie, manifesting itself in the feuilletons and gossip columns of petits journaux. These low-quality newspapers, which flourished in post-Napoleonic France, indulged in satires, scandals, and personal attacks. My intention is to study representative petits journaux such as Drapeau Blanc, Le Réveil, Le Nain Jaune, Le Diable Boiteux, Le Corsaire, Le Voleur, La Mode, La Silhouette, La Caricature, and Le Charivari, particularly for the years 1815-1835, which can be found only in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Archives Nationales Françaises. Documents of this sort, which form part of the thematic material of the French realist novel, are essential to my task of historicizing a broadly theoretical topic.

The frame for my project starts with a sense that prior to the French Revolution, references to embarrassment, particularly in fiction, had strong sexual connotations. Appearing embarrassed, at least for a woman, was, at times, desirable, as it implied innocence and purity. A socially experienced female could feign embarrassment at will, transforming the emotion into a social tool, and a skillful male could exploit genuine female embarrassment with little more than a glance. Due to the anxiety about social status caused by the dissolution of the ancien regime, however, the embarrassment depicted in post-Revolutionary literature is more often the result of social faux pas than of sexual feelings. Neither the bourgeoisie nor the aristocracy seems to have known the appropriate modes of interaction, and this uncertainty resulted in awkward social situations. Although the shame resulting from small-scale interactions is often referred to as embarrassment, both affects ultimately arise from the same source: a sudden realization of identity.

According to psychologist Silvan Tomkins, "shame is an experience of the self by the self" (2). In her analysis of Tomkins's work, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick argues that "shame attaches to and sharpens the sense of what one is." (3) If shame is so rooted in self-identity, and can occur in such small-scale situations as dinner parties or lovers' rendezvous, it would be interesting to study the extent to which it also operated on a large-scale, and how it intersected with a newly vibrant, and newly pe rsonalized, print culture. How common was public shaming after the French Revolution (as evidenced by articles in petits journaux)? What types of behavior or personal characteristics were thought to be embarrassing (as illustrated in conduct manuals)? Although I understand how embarrassment operates on a psychological level, studying primary source documents in France would allow me to pinpoint the forces that shaped its changing representations in the novel, and to construct a more historically precise genealogy for embarrassment in French realist fiction.


1. Antoine Sabbagh, Professor at Paris III and "responsable pedagogique aux Archives Nationales," has assured me of the availability of these documents.
2. Tomkins, Silvan. Shame and Its Sisters: A Silvan Tomkins Reader. Ed. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank. Durham: Duke UP, 1995. 136
3. Sedgewick, Eve. Touching Feeling. Durham: Duke UP, 2003. 37


The Geography of Nowhere:
Venice and The History of Modernity

In the current thinking about modernity, most of our attention is directed towards the great urban centers at the fin-de-siècle: Paris, Vienna, London, and New York. In our critical vocabulary, we tend to follow and examine Charles Baudelaire, who saw "modernity" as meaning "the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent," exemplified in the character of the flaneur who adores the great "crowds" of urban life. Yet this aesthetic history of modernity suffers from a glaring omission. What are we to say about that that other half of modernity which is the "eternal and the immutable"? What of the other city of modern life? In short-what about Venice?

The turn-of-the-century witnessed a great effusion of proto-modernist and modernist art dealing with Venice. Henry James came there to write The Portrait of a Lady and The Aspern Papers; the city also formed an important setting for his novel of young mortality and betrayal, The Wings of the Dove. Meanwhile, the translation of John Ruskin's Venetian writings into French exerted a strong influence on the young Marcel Proust and spurred the aged Claude Monet to produce a series of 32 gorgeous but spectacularly depopulated paintings of the city, exhibited shortly before his death. During the same summer that Monet exhibited his paintings, Thomas Mann published his novella Death in Venice, where the Venetian geography drew upon a dark distillation of Friedrich Nietzsche and Gustav Mahler, the Dionysian and the Apollinian.

These artists found in Venice an aesthetic almost completely opposed to that of modernity; yet through this opposition, the city seemed to produce modernity by its very absence. The work surrounding Venice is thus pervaded with an aesthetic of decay and death, while still haunted by the sense of the city's once overwhelming vibrancy in its days of empire and cosmopolitanism, those topics that were so important to the modernists in the "living" cities of Europe at the same time. My summer work in Venice will involve (after Franco Moretti) creating a geography of the works in question. Certain areas in the city-and the geography of the city as a whole-are indelibly connected with a literary past (for example, the Palazzo Barbaro and Henry James), and their actual survival owes more to a literary heritage than to any intrinsic interest in the buildings themselves. This "fieldwork" will help me to draw out the connections between Venice's literary, modernist past and its actual, modern present in order to produce an alternate aesthetic history of modernity, inclusive of Venice as a modern city.

In addition to this type of work, the improvement of my Italian while staying in the city will allow me to examine another suppressed history-that is, writing in Italian about Venice. Writers as diverse as Gabriele D'Annunzio, F. T. Marinetti, and Italo Calvino have chosen Venice as a topic of importance to modernity and post-modernity, though their work has never been analyzed in that context. This very fact leads to a larger, more difficult problem regarding the teaching of modern Italian literature in English and Comparative Literature programs. This fetishization of Venice as an artistic commodity takes place around the time that English as a discipline comes into being; yet, for all this lavishing of desire towards Venice-and, by synecdoche, towards Italy-there has been a concomitant absence of desire to teach modern Italian literature. During the summer, resources such as the Universita di Venezia Ca'Foscari will be enormously helpful. And in the fall, Professor Andrea Malaguti of the Italian Department has agreed to help me with the study of Italian literature related to Venice. He has also put me in touch with Professor Franco Fido of the Italian Department at Harvard.

In addition to the authors I have mentioned above, there are many other writers for whom Venice was important who could easily fit into the temporary frame I have articulated here, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Georg Simmel, Ezra Pound, Lord Byron, Ian McEwan, and Hugo von Hoffmansthal, not to mention other Italian writers on Venice, about whom I am just beginning to learn. I mention these authors here both to emphasize the time range (from Romanticism to Post-Modernism) that this project could encompass, and the scope that it could achieve, far beyond the level of an independent study and senior thesis.


In the Celtic ballad tradition, the worlds of oral and literary culture are intertwined in a complex and fascinating relationship. Early twentieth century scholars debated the true origins of popular ballads, over whether they began as individual compositions or as musical stories that emerged from a collective folk culture. Although we will probably never be able to prove a definitive answer to this question, popular ballads seem to be oral in their origins while influenced by a symbiotic relationship to literary culture. We can trace the origins of ballads back several centuries, due primarily to the work of Francis Child, who recorded hundreds of popular ballads from folk at the end of the nineteenth century. His collection of written music became known as the “Child ballads.” In the 1950’s, ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax made seminal sound field-recordings of these ballads that had survived generations of oral transmission, providing a recorded archive for the Child ballads as a living tradition. Over time, the influences that oral culture and literary culture have had in the preservation of the ballad tradition have changed. While farmers, tinkers, and working people often learned ballads through a rite of storytelling, many scholars knew of the ballads only as a form of written poetry towards the end of the nineteenth century.

In many of the Child ballads such as “The Unquiet Grave”, elements of the supernatural pervade throughout the story. Frequent references to ghosts and magicians occur. Child Ballads that abound with the supernatural have a common origin in the eighteenth century, whereas earlier balladic references to the supernatural were limited to Satan or to elves. My project seeks to illuminate what elements of literary and oral culture influenced the fascination with the supernatural that appears in the eighteenth century Child ballads. In turn, I hope to shed light on the general origins of the Child ballads, as well. Perhaps I will find that the nature of oral storytelling lends itself more to fantastical references than literature does at the time. I might find that literature of the eighteenth century is actually a greater source of supernatural motifs influencing the Child ballads. As a folk tradition, a point of interest might be whether or not the oral keepers of the tradition believed in the supernatural motifs of their stories, and whether present participants of the folk tradition accept the same motifs as truth.

I plan to research issues of folklore surrounding this question with the abundant resources of the Folklore Society Library of the Warburg Institute, London. The Folklore Institute also maintains a rich archival collection at University College, London. I also plan to take advantage of the large collection of ballads, criticism, and ballad literature at the School of Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh. Aside from literary research, the oral nature of the ballad tradition calls for a look at how the performance of singing ballads continues as a living tradition today. Many families, especially in rural areas, continue to pass down the ballad tradition through each generation. As a result of the folk revival of the 1960’s, others have pursued the singing of ballads out of interest or cultural pride. Thus, we see a time at hand when it becomes difficult to distinguish the impact of oral culture from that of literary culture in the preservation of this tradition. By observing how the performance of ballads continues in taverns, in homes, in festivals, and perhaps on tinker campgrounds, I hope to gain insight into the current roles that oral and literary culture play in preserving the tradition. Aside from recording these performances with a high-quality, portable mini-disc recorder, I hope to interview performers on their personal experiences as participants in the ballad tradition. By focusing on the performance of ballads that reference the supernatural, I hope to gain insight into the oral and literary elements that influenced this fascination of the eighteenth century. Moreover, I hope to compare any variants of ballads in my recordings to those made by Alan Lomax.

I have been in contact with the Folklore Society and the University of Edinburgh, institutions that have been helpful in directing me to specific taverns, rural areas, and families that would be willing to share their traditions. One such area of focus is Aberdeen, home to many such as the Ritchies and Robertsons, families that continue the ballad tradition with new generations of performers. I also plan to attend the Festival of Traditional Singing held at the University of Aberdeen from July 25 to 27. In addition, I will observe Saturday night “ceilidhs” hosted by the University of Aberdeen, parties where locals perform ballads and other folk traditions.

While this aspect of my research is ethnographic, I feel that the observation and analysis of ballads as they are performed now is essential to understanding ballads as both a living and literary tradition. By observing and interviewing present-day performers, I hope to shed light on the relationship between oral and literary influences of the past. Specifically, I hope to gain a better understanding of these influences as they pertain to the eighteenth century balladic fascination with the supernatural.

As a double major in English and music, I feel that I have a sufficient background to pursue such a topic of interdisciplinary nature. Professor Timothy Taylor, the Celtic expert of the music department, has assisted me in part in understanding the musical aspects of my project. Having taken a course in ethnomusicology, I feel prepared for the ethnographic aspects of my research.



James Joyce's complex relationship with his native Ireland remains a crucial subject of study for scholars of literature and nation. Joyce's often contradictory responses to Ireland and Irish culture range from "affectionate tolerance to impassioned repudiation," (1) from sarcastic critique to sincere appreciation. Writing much of his work in exile, Joyce maintained a careful distance from Ireland - and from the politics of separatist Irish nationalism, which he disdained - for much of his life. Despite this geographical separation, however, his personal preoccupation with Irish culture could hardly be more apparent, and Joyce himself, once dismissed in Ireland as an obscene, obscure exile, has become an iconic figure of Irish literature and culture throughout the world.

My project will examine historical reactions to the celebration of Bloomsday in order to trace the connection between Joyce's growing literary celebrity and Irish national culture. (2) Bloomsday explodes in Dublin on June 16th of each year (3), but the meaning of the celebration varies, depending on whom you consult. The literary faithful gather for readings, conferences, tours of the Dublin depicted in Ulysses, and enthusiastic pub conversations. Yet even as the Joyce industry booms, Bloomsday increasingly appears to celebrate and commodify Irishness in general, as much of the population celebrates a national ideal of "James Joyce" detached from his writing. Richard Ellman writes, in his biography of Joyce, that "the demands of his country for national feeling he was prepared to meet, but in his own way. . . . For the moment, his most basic decision was in favor of art's precedence over every other human activity. The nation might profit or not from his experiment, as it chose." (4) I think it's safe to say that the nation does profit, every year, in the revenue and publicity produced by Joyce's holiday, which satisfies the demands for "national feeling" that Ulysses, on its own, could not.

How did Ireland, the last nation to lift the ban on Ulysses, come to appreciate its most celebrated exile, and to promote his virtual Dublin as a tourist attraction? How has Bloomsday, a celebration inspired by a highly critical and difficult modernist text, developed into what is largely a celebration of Irish culture? How, in turn, is contemporary Irish culture informed by the legacy of Ulysses? During the course of this summer's research on Bloomsday, I hope to illuminate the connection between James Joyce's literary celebrity and the development of Irish national identity.

1. Emer Nolan, James Joyce and Nationalism (London: Routledge, 1995), xi.
2. In my research, I will use newspaper, magazine, and journal articles (from both academic and popular perspectives), anecdotal support from the scholars, publishers, and politicians who witnessed the gradual reversal of Joyce's status within Ireland, Joyce and Bloomsday memorabilia, and Dublin city records to trace the evolution of Bloomsday.
3. Ulysses takes place on June 16, 1904. Although I am concerned solely with the Dublin celebration, Joyceans celebrate Bloomsday around the world.
4. Richard Ellman, James Joyce (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), 68.



Words such as truth, reconciliation, and memory dominate the study of Human Rights. The language of rights helps give history a voice, and no city in the 20th century spoke with as many different voices as Berlin. It spoke to the future as a city of empire, a city of atrocity, a city of reconciliation, a city of guilt, a city of fracture, and finally as a city seeking to define itself as a dynamic capital for the new unified Europe. As Berlin grows, it remains stunted by its past. World War I, World War II, and the Cold War occupy the center of Western experience during the last hundred years, providing Berlin with a powerful position as one of history’s foremost language givers. The city’s monuments, erected to memorialize the past, provide traces of the specific language that Berlin sought to leave for the world’s future.

My project will examine and draw conclusions from inscriptions on the monuments and memorials of Berlin. I will not read the text on these memorials and monuments solely within an historical or political frame, but rather as texts that provide insight into the evolving vocabulary of human rights. My thesis endeavors to illuminate the shifts that a vocabulary undergoes when concerned specifically with memorialized retribution and forgiveness. The paper will trace the course of Berlin’s self-referential dialogue as it underwent several important changes in voice and identity in an attempt to conform with and define the ‘universal’ vocabulary of human rights. Through an exploration of these shifts, the paper may show that reforming violators are among the first to adopt the ‘universal’ rhetoric of human rights and thereby claim increased authority over the dialogue’s vocabulary and future usage. The project seeks to identify the moments where textual innovations occur, and how these are vital to understanding the trajectory and influence of post-World War II human rights language. The repetitive pattern of adoption and adaptation by violators may show human rights rhetoric as simultaneously vulnerable to subversion yet effective in proliferation. Finally, the project will relate this dualism of the ‘universal’ vocabulary as integral in the formation of future human rights discourses.

Memorials and monuments are often the purview of historians or sociologists. However, these academic disciplines frequently neglect to analyze the texts of memorials. As we move with greater speed toward a global ethos that holds human rights as a worthy pursuit with practical utility, Berlin, so vocal in the rights dialogue of the last century, continues to speak at the forefront of global discussion. Berlin self-conceptualizes the past through its memorials and monuments. I hypothesize that the texts of these structures, erected for public memory, function as a historical lexicon for human rights vocabulary, and that they may serve as a platform for the language’s future. Berlin, guilty of past atrocities, struggles to accept the language of modern rights rhetoric and thereby establish its usage as worthy to the dialogue of its memory. In the human rights dialogue of the post-World War II period, Berlin sits as both the accused and the adjudicator.

Studying in Berlin will give me the necessary access to the fundamental sources of rights language. By performing close textual analysis of Berlin’s memorials as they progress from 1918-1945 and then from the aftermath of World War II to the start of the 21st century, I hope to find evidence to support a claim that the vocabulary of human rights indeed requires a grounding in ‘universal’ principles, yet often manifests rhetoric with tremendous mobility. The expression of these principles in a standardized vocabulary must leave room for further evolution if the language of human rights is to exert the same profound force over the next fifty years that it had over the last half century.