Heritage and Presence

February 24, 2023 (Friday) / 9:30 am6:30 pm

Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion, 6th floor
Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Van Pelt Library, 3420 Walnut Street
+ Livestream

Heritage and Presence

Humanities Symposium

What is the relationship between heritage—a set of shared articulations and sensations of the past—and our lived realities? How do efforts to construct and erase these shared understandings impact the possibilities of a shared and shareable present? These questions have acquired new urgency over the past several years as historical formations of plantation slavery, settler-colonialism, and extractive capitalism become increasingly recognizable in the mundane operations of the university and the state; heritage claims fuel political violence and mass social movements; and supposedly unifying nationalisms deteriorate into entrenched positions around ownership of the past. Of course, for those most harmed by the projects of white supremacist heteropatriarchy these questions have always been urgent—matters of presence in the face of ongoing erasure—complicating easy distinctions between past, present, and future. In this multidisciplinary symposium, scholars, community organizers, and artists come together to unsettle the demarcations between heritage as an object of study and heritage as a site of ongoing practice and contestation.


9:30–10:00 am
Welcome Remarks

  • Jamal J. Elias, Director, Wolf Humanities Center; Walter H. Annenberg Professor of the Humanities; Professor of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania
  • Emily Wilson, Topic Director, Wolf Humanities Center; College for Women Class of 1963 Term Professor in the Humanities; Professor of Classical Studies

10:15 am–12:00 pm
Beyond the Institution: Perspectives from West Philadelphia and the Problems with Talking About Heritage at Penn

Recent activism at Penn has joined and amplified a long and expansive history of Black-led community organizing in West Philadelphia that has been critical of the university and its role in inflicting harm on their neighborhood, including the forced displacement of the Black Bottom, the gentrification of so-called “University City,” the possession of the remains of Black Philadelphians at the Penn Museum, and the abuse of Black prisoners for research by Penn scientists. In this roundtable, activists, organizers, scholars, and media-makers discuss these ongoing issues and elaborate on community-driven practices of heritage-making that are grounded in ethics of care, refusal, and self-determination.

  • Wanda Goss, University City Townhomes Resident
  • Maria Lyles, University City Townhomes Resident
  • NaOmi Richardson, Precious Places Community History Project
  • Christopher Rogers, Public Programs Director, The Paul Robeson House; Ph.D Candidate, Literacy, Culture, and International Education, University of Pennsylvania
  • Krystal Strong, Assistant Professor of Black Studies in Education, Rutgers University

1:30 pm–3:00 pm
Contesting Heritage: Counternarratives in the Material Record and the Built Environment

Moderator: Rebecca Haboucha, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Wolf Humanities Center

Institutions, from the state to the university, often set the precedent for the management and preservation of historical knowledge, while academic disciplines such as archaeology, history, and anthropology have historically served to legitimize the erasure and removal of material histories of the marginalized. These authorized narratives of history have been challenged from both the grassroots and, to varying degrees of success, from the top down, suggesting the constructed and contested notion of the very term “heritage.” The speakers in this session explore how the material record and built environment can be a productive resource for contesting dominant understandings of the past and rethinking disciplinary and institutional trajectories.

  • Francesca Ammon, Associate Professor, City and Regional Planning and Historic Preservation, University of Pennsylvania
  • Richard Leventhal, Executive Director, Penn Cultural Heritage Center; Curator, Penn Museum; Professor, Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania
  • Felipe Rojas Silva, Associate Professor, Archaeology and the Ancient World and Egyptology and Assyriology, Brown University

3:15–4:45 pm
Heritage Beyond the Record: Embodiment, Memory, Performance

Moderator: Ioanida Costache, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Wolf Humanities Center

Heritage is something that we do. As Laurajane Smith posits it is “the multiple processes of meaning making” through acts of remembrance, communication, intergenerational transfer of knowledge, identity, and “social and cultural values and meanings” (2012). This panel interrogates multifarious ways of doing heritage. How can doing heritage articulate histories of colonial distortions and their patterns of continuity in the present? How are alternative epistemologies and ontologies embedded in the praxis of heritage? What tactics have been used historically and today to destroy, silence, ignore, disrupt, and distort heritage for the purpose of dehumanizing or delegitimizing marginalized communities' claims to selfhood, subjectivity, history, rights, and land? This panel critically examines how heritage is made in the body, in performance, and discursively and how these processes inform what each of us carries forward in the world.

  • Alex E. Chávez, Nancy O'Neill Associate Professor, Anthropology, University of Notre Dame
  • Kim TallBear, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience, and Society; Professor, Native Studies, University of Alberta
  • Barbie Zelizer, Director, Center for Media at Risk; Raymond Williams Professor of Communication, University of Pennsylvania

4:50–5:00 pm
Closing Remarks

  • Jake Nussbaum, Research Associate, Wolf Humanities Center; Ph.D. Candidate, Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania

5:306:30 pm
Percussion Workshop

Master percussionist Hafez Kotain leads participants through a workshop in Arabic percussion.