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Sites of memory symposium

Friday, 28 August 2009

How is memory expressed and represented in the landscape? This one-day symposium investigates cross-disciplinary studies of memory and cultural landscapes.


A father, grief-stricken by his son's death on the battleground in France during the First World War, wants to know the 'exact spot' where his son was killed.

Why is this information so important to him, and what evidence is more crucial — written documents or the ground itself?

Memory studies, as an emerging cross-disciplinary field, sheds new light on how we interpret, manage and understand sites of significance.

How are our memories expressed and represented in our surroundings? This topic will be explored in a one-day Sites of Memory symposium at the National Museum of Australia.

Presenters from the arts, sciences and humanities will examine the nature of human memory and how it affects our relationship with the landscape in Australia and overseas.


The symposium will feature three sessions about different aspects of memory and significant sites, ranging from local to international perspectives, and culminating in an examination of the significance of the National Museum of Australia's own site.

Session one: What is a memory?

How is memory defined, measured and understood, and why is it sometimes contested?

Session two: Memorials and sacred sites.

How are certain places invested with spiritual significance, or defined as places of memorialisation? This session features a public discussion about the creation of Reconciliation Place in Canberra.

Session three: Layers of significance: the Acton Peninsula.

This session examines the Acton Peninsula site which has a long Indigenous history, and has also seen European settlement, the creation of the city of Canberra, Lake Burley Griffin, the Royal Canberra Hospital, the Australian National University and the National Museum of Australia.


Keynote speaker

The keynote speaker is Professor Amareswar Galla, University of Queensland — a leading expert in museums, sustainable development and poverty alleviation through culture.

Other speakers include:

Dr Claire Smith, President of the World Archaeological Congress

Professor Paul Pickering, Senior Fellow and Convener of Graduate Studies, Humanities Research Centre, Australian National University, and author of Contested Sites: Commemoration, Memorial and Popular Politics in Nineteenth Century Britain (1999)

Dr Judith Slee, Visiting Fellow, Department of Psychology, Australian National University

Dr Peter Stanley, military social historian and Head of the Centre for Historical Research at the National Museum of Australia

Dr Mike Pickering, Head of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Program and the Repatriation Program at the National Museum of Australia

Mr Paul House, Ngambri traditional owner.