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Pandemic times, apocalyptic temporalities and re-setting the future: using public pedagogy to explore historical and anticipatory grief Seminar

16:00 - 17:30
27 October 2021

Event details

Southampton Centre for Medical and Health Humanities first online Seminar.

Covid-19 has exposed long-term inequalities and vulnerabilities, drawing attention to deeper ontological questions of ‘where we are now’, temporally in relation to the historical past, but also where we might be in the future. Exactly how people will remember this pandemic, or ‘apocalyptic’ historical conjuncture, points to our own historicity and restive ‘grief’ to shape an uncertain future. Public expressions of grief have been as much metaphorical as literal, mourning past lives, grieving lost futures. Yet simultaneously, such temporal shifts have created possibilities to envisage the pandemic as a ‘portal’ to a radically different future: here, public spaces have seen the ‘fierce rush’ of futurity as imperial monuments of the past became contested sites of struggle focused on transnational racial injustice, police brutality, the inequalities of social reproduction and irreversible environmental damage.

This paper uses the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 as a heuristic device to critically explore, via contemporary oral histories with healthcare workers and palliative care clinicians, ‘everyday’ subjective experiences and emotional responses to Covid-19, evaluating its unequal impacts, as well as its differing affective scales related to illness, dying, anticipatory grief and mourning. The paper reflects on its distinctive method of dissemination and public pedagogical purpose, expressed in a range of affective articulations, such as creative writing and theatre performance, which were required to migrate online during the UK’s lockdown. It raises key questions about uses of the historical past in the context of Brexit and pandemic populism, as well as the hermeneutics of historical inquiry when investigating the emotional registers of past and present pandemics. The paper offers a perspective on the constructivist principles of collaboration, which it sees as key to the development of a critical methodological and pedagogical tool for an activist and politically engaged history of the present.

Speaker information

Dr Deborah Madden, University of Brighton . Dr Deborah Madden is a cultural historian and Deputy Director for the Centre for Memory, Narrative and Histories at the University of Brighton, where she leads on the area of medical histories and the collaborative ‘Exploring Everyday Cultures of Anticipatory Grief’ project. Her forthcoming book, Victorian lives between Empires: Perspectives on Colonial Knowledge, Imperialism and British Cultural Memory, is due to be published in the Palgrave Studies in Life Writing series. She has forthcoming articles and an edited collection based on work generated by the ‘Everyday Cultures of Anticipatory Grief’ project.

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