A Guantánamo Site of Conscience? Remembering “Gitmo” long before—and long after—9-11: Presentation by Liz Ševčenko, Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Liz Ševčenko is Director of the Guantánamo Public Memory Project at Columbia University. She launched the Project from the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, a network of historic sites that foster public dialogue on pressing contemporary issues, which she founded in 1999 and directed until 2010. She worked with initiatives in more than 60 countries to design programs and practices that reflect on past struggles and inspire citizens to become involved in addressing their contemporary legacies. Before launching the Coalition, Ms. Ševčenko had over ten years of experience developing public history projects designed to catalyze civic dialogue in New York and around the country. As Vice President for Programs at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, she developed exhibits and educational activities that connect the dramatic stories of the neighborhood’s immigrants past and present. She also developed national and community initiatives to inspire civic dialogue on cultural identity, labor relations, housing, welfare, immigration, and other issues raised by these stories. Ševčenko has degrees in history from Yale University and New York University.
“Guantánamo” has become an international symbol of torture, detention, national security, and conflict over America’s “War on Terror.” It has divided US society, the US and Cuba, and the US and its international allies. After more than a decade of bitter struggle over whether and how to “close Guantánamo,” in 2011, nearly 200 prisoners remain at the US naval station, or “Gitmo”. This should come as no surprise: for over a century, the base has been used and reused for a wide range of people and purposes. These include Cuban workers in exile after the Revolution; Haitian refugees with HIV, first welcomed as asylum seekers but then confined in tent cities as threats to public health; and the War on Terror’s “enemy combatants.” In fact, many parts of the base have been “closed” before in the wake of major public controversies – then put to new use. GTMO and its residents have been inextricable, if often invisible, parts of America’s deepest policy conflicts: over immigration, public health, human and civil rights, and national security. How could exploring Guantanamo’s past help us better imagine what could happen there next?
The Guantánamo Public Memory Project seeks to build public awareness of the century-long history of the US naval station at Guantánamo, Bay, Cuba, and foster dialogue on the future of this place and the policies it shapes. The Project was launched by the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, a network of places of memory committed to opening dialogue on contemporary issues. Drawing on examples from sites with very different histories — such as the Gulag Museum in Russia, Memoria Abierta in Argentina, and the Maze/Long Kesh prison in Northern Ireland, Ševčenko will explore the challenges and possibilities for building a public memory of Guantanamo’s complex past.
Organized by the Teaching Heritage collaborative and the Guantanamo Public Memory project.
Sponsored by: Institute for Advanced Study, History, American Studies