Conference "Epigenetics: Innovation of Memory?"

Poster Conference Epigenetics

"Epigenetics: Innovation of Memory? Life Science Paradigms as Challenge and Opportunity for Historians"

13–15 June 2018 at the
Max Planck Institute for Human Development

We cordially invite all interested to attend the public keynotes:

13 June 2018 6 pm
Jay Winter (Yale University):
In Place of Healing: The Dangers of Therapeutic Models of Remembrance
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15 June 2018 9:30 am
Dorothee Wierling (Forschungsstelle für Zeitgeschichte, Hamburg):
Do Epigenetics Matter? A Historian's Issues with Memories, Narratives and Intergenerational Transfer
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History examines change and questions how experiences and memories influence con­temporary societies. Epigenetics researches how environmental influences are reflect­ed in gene functions. The field thus offers an interesting opportunity for research­ers working in the humanities and natural sciences to combine their scientific queries and for broadening the scope of historical research through models borrowed from the life sciences.

Popular history books have begun using epigenetic arguments to make the claim that experiences of war and expulsion have wide-reaching, transgenerational conse­quences. At the same time, researchers have until now failed to undertake a systematic conceptual analysis as to whether, and if so how, epigenetic research can be connected to historical research. Today, popular science approaches have swapped out appeals to psychoanalytic concepts like trauma with appeals to epigenetics to discuss things like low birth rates, “German angst” and expe­riences of war. The conference will examine these arguments using scientific historiog­raphy.

The central focus lies in gauging how epi­genetic perspectives and methods could provide new areas of insight and chances for the further development of historical research. Might “epigenetic history” per­haps offer an approach that – in contrast to “genetic history” – would examine histori­cally more recent and considerably shorter periods? What would scientific historiogra­phy stand to gain from insights provided by such a shift in perspective? Can the para­digm of epigenetics change historiography’s fundamental theoretical assumptions? Must experience and memory as basic categories of historical research be reconceptualised in the light of the claims of epigenetics?

Further information

The conference is open to all interested researchers so long as there are sufficient places. Please register by sending an e-mail to rockmann [at] mpib-berlin [dot] mpg [dot] de by 11 June 2018.

No registration required if you only wish to attend one or both public keynotes.