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Titelbild TransHumanities 2020

Did we push the boundaries after all?

Reflections on the TransHumanities 2019 Summer School

By Efthymis Kokordelis (Université de Lausanne)

Some six months ago the TransHumanities 2019 Summer School in Murten was announced by the University of Bern and quite a few ‘children’ of various humanities fields were inspired to participate, detecting connecting lines between their own research and the Summer School’s topic Challenging the Sites of Knowledge: Medial and pluri-medial configurations and transformations. A week after its realisation, then, and having processed and digested what was discussed, it is an appropriate time to take a moment and reflect on the Summer School as a whole.

The short answer to the titular question is “Yes, we did!” However, I guess a bit more is expected for everyone to see why and how did we push them, so here it is:

The Summer School was attended by approximately thirty scholars: three guest lecturers, the Bernese team, and twenty-three PhD and PostDocs. Coming from different backgrounds and diverse disciplines, the primary signs were very optimistic since Day 1 (03/09). Prof. Dr. Urte Krass offered an introduction in Bern University and the Graduate School of the Humanities, while later people and their projects were introduced in an evening introductory session followed by dinner and some first discussions in various groups.

The official first day of the Summer School (04/09) coincided with Dr. Doris Bachmann-Medick’s lecture titled Trading Zone or Translation? Knowledge Formation through Displacement and Prof. Dr. Monika Salzbrunn’s response. The lecture centred in theoretical and methodological approaches in the translation process as a form of cultural transcendence between different contexts and started a fruitful discussion mostly around cultural and cognitive transitions. After lunch, the participants were divided in topic-categorised groups and presented their projects, highlighted difficult and complex aspects, and received feedback from their co-participants and moderators.

The second day (05/09) started with Prof. Dr. Jens Schröter’s lecture on Official and Popular Media Analysis and Dr. Doris Bachmann-Medick’s response. The lecture was developed around different forms of knowledge (official and popular) and rendered conspiracy theories in the late 20th and early 21st century as a case study to approach the topic. The lecture was followed by a discussion on media and knowledge in different temporal and spatial contexts. The afternoon parallel sessions, again topic-categorised, included discussions on knowledge transmission, epistemology, art in its social context, and the boundaries of knowledge, among others. After the sessions, and before dinner, Dr. Anne von Petersdorff held an input lecture examining hybrid PhD dissertations and the participants had a chance to elaborate on topics of creativity and innovation in a PhD. The day ended with a movie in the evening.

The third day (06/09) started with Dr. Michael Toggweiler’s presentation of THoR, a platform of selfreflexive sharing in the humanities. Later, the participants attended idea-and-action-based group discussions, where they had the chance to discuss ideas and possible implementations of science communication, participation etc. In addition, they cooperated in forming group ideas, which were later discussed with the whole team. The afternoon was reserved for an excursion to the Cailler Chocolate Factory and the “Gruyère” Castle at Fribourg, while the evening included a fondue dinner and drinks in Murten.

The fourth, and final, day (07/09) started with Prof. Dr. Monika Salzbrunn’s lecture on ARTIVISM in post-migration settings: (Co-)production of representations through audio-visual counter-narratives and Prof. Dr. Jens Schröter’s response. The lectured inspired discussions on theoretical and epistemological questions in anthropology and the humanities, field work research, and migration issues. The afternoon activity included a discussion of the previous day’s ideas and actions of the different groups, while it offered the chance for some ‘final’ discussions on topics related to the Summer School. The session was followed by a small farewell reception and the gradual departure of participants.

From a critical perspective, the Summer School’s greatest success was the fact that the participants, although coming from very different contexts and fields, managed to relate both with each other and the general questions, which is always a risk in diverse and versatile environments. This was the Summer School’s objective, after all, understanding the humanities in their current phase, which has already shown that knowledge and our ways to get to it are more than what our predecessors thought. In this environment, then, humanities scholars are called to open up about their work, substantially collaborate, and integrate current technological and ideological research practices. This was achieved both in the materials each participant brought with them and in the way they expressed their questions and inputs during the Summer School.

Last but not least, the event was greatly organised by the Bernese team, while Vera Jordi managed the administrational aspects of it. At the same time, the Hotel Bad Muntelier made sure that everything would go as planned on their side, as well, providing us with a pleasant and appropriate environment for the event to take place not only during the sessions, but also in breaks, meals, and other socialising activities.

Great job everyone, it was a productive and fruitful week we had!


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