About the conference – University of Copenhagen

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About the conference

In recent decades, the concept of ‘cultural heritage’ as process has largely replaced notions of ‘static’ relics and monuments, signifying a turn towards a view on artefacts as traces that enable engagement with and negotiation of ‘gone’ pasts. How people live with objects of bygone times has been brought into focus and attention has been drawn to notions of the past as incomplete and open-ended, and as paradoxical due to its concrete presence in form of material traces or their negative manifestation.

On the Trace is concerned with this temporality of traces, and with exploring how scholars from a variety of disciplines deal with fragments and clues from the past as present-day artefacts, as objects that somehow persevere. Exploring notions of the ‘trace’ (whether a colloquial term, as ruins, as an archaeological or forensic concept, or as theorised through e.g. Walter Benjamin, Jacques Derrida or Paul Riceour), the conference addresses the dialectics – or paradox – of the present trace and the withdrawn past, and how these emerge and coalesce through non-linear processes of metamorphosis and transience.

This two-day conference is open to scholars and students from all disciplines, exploring the methodological and analytical dimensions of the ‘trace’ for example in philosophical work, in ethnographic or geographical fieldwork, in forensic analysis, in museological practice, in digital technology, in studying historical documents and archives or in the study of archaeological remains. Contributors address from a variety of disciplinary perspectives the ‘trace’, directly or indirectly, considering how the past concurrently passes and endures, and how a critical engagement with ‘traces’ can challenge the chronological distinction of things as either vestiges of the past or objects in the present.

Important questions and areas of exploration involve, for example; what kind of concept is the ‘trace’, and what does it help us understand? How does the obstinacy of the trace affect notions of the past as open-ended and negotiable in passing? How do people encounter, identify and relate to present traces of pasts with which they are unfamiliar? How are abruptly emerging traces located in the chronological schemes of history and heritage? And where are objects characterized by ephemerality and transience positioned in disciplines and discourses that are carried by notions of conservation and preservation? Is it, within such discourses, possible to contain modernity’s notion of artworks as mobile objects and characterized by impermanence? Can ‘heritage’ encompass the temporality and persistent metamorphosis of the ‘trace’? And what is the future of ‘404 Not Found’ and other seemingly traceless dead ends?