Call for Papers: Witnessing the Now: Challenges of Emergency Documenting and Archiving in a Comparative Perspective.

International workshop

Warsaw, 23-25 February, 2023

The escalation of Russian aggression against Ukraine – an attack launched almost all over its territory in February 2022 – has triggered numerous initiatives documenting the atrocities of the Russian aggressors and the experiences of refugees in and out of that country. The project “24.02.2022, 5 am: Testimonies from the War” was initiated by the Center for Urban History in Lviv and, apart from Ukraine, is now being implemented in Poland, Luxembourg and Scotland. Reaching the mid-term point in the process of testimony gathering, we would like to share our experience with colleagues carrying out similar projects, encourage the exchange of knowledge and know-how and initiate discussion about methodological and ethical problems of emergency documenting and archiving.

The war and refugee crisis in Central and Eastern Europe brings us closer to similar situations in different regions of the world, which are also being (or have been) documented and researched. Therefore, while the Russian invasion of Ukraine will be our primary focus, we want to approach the topic from a comparative perspective. This might include (but is not limited to) protests in Belarus in 2020, the Russo-Georgian war of 2008, wars and humanitarian crises in the Middle East and North Africa, or doing research in temporary accommodation for refugees.

Participants are encouraged to address one or more of the following topics in their proposals:

  • When is the right time to start documentation? Who should decide on the project timing?
  • Which methodology is best for emergency documenting and archiving? What are the consequences of choosing particular methods?
  • What should the ethical standards of interviewing and archiving look like? Where to look for inspiration? Who can and should control the standards?
  • What are the limits of the researcher’s position? Can a researcher or documentalist be also a community activist or person involved in humanitarian aid?
  • What is the role of the interviewee/witness in the process of documenting? How should the relation between the researcher and the witness look like? What are the possible problems?
  • What is the agency of local initiatives and the role of international actors? How do the need for fundraising and the current political context influence the project’s timing and dynamics?
  • How and when (or whether at all) to make the archived material open to the wider public? What is the researchers’ responsibility towards collected data?
  • What are the possibilities of analytical work with collected material? How to conceptualize the interviewees’ experiences (“trauma” and beyond)? What are the necessities and constraints of using the concept of trauma in emergency research?

The workshop will be held in English. We invite both academic researchers and non-academic professionals involved in documentation initiatives to submit their applications. A paper abstract (up to 300 words) and a short bio should be sent by 13 November, 2022 to:

Successful applicants will be notified by the end of November 2022. There is no conference fee. We will also offer travel grants to participants from Ukraine and Belarus. Accommodation for other participants might be offered depending on the funding obtained.

We are pleased to announce that the confirmed keynote speaker at the workshop will be Elisabeth Dunn, a distinguished scholar from Indiana University and anthropologist working on post-socialist Eastern Europe (author of the books “Privatising Poland” and “No Path Home”).

Workshop’s organisers:

  • Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences
  • Mieroszewski Centre
  • Polish Oral History Association

Organising committee:

  • Anna Wylegała, Institute of the Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences
  • Marcin Jarząbek, Jagiellonian University, Polish Oral History Association
  • Róża Kochanowska, Institute of the Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences
  • Wiktoria Kudela-Świątek, Pedagogical University in Cracow
  • Małgorzata Łukianow, Center for Research on Social Memory, University of Warsaw
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