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Creating History: Can We Tell the Past?
October 30, 2014


Stills from a home movie taken in Sokolow, Poland, c. 1930s. YIVO Archives.
Click here to watch the video in our Program Archive.

Location: YIVO Institute, 15 West 16th Street
Admission: General $12 | YIVO and MCNY Members $8
Box Office: | (212) 868-4444

In Letters to Afar, a new installation at the Museum of the City of New York, personal home videos once taken for family and friends are re-presented to us as windows to the past. What can art reveal about history? How does Letters, or any artistic work, mediate the past? How does scholarship? Artist Péter Forgács (filmmaker, Letters to Afar), author Boris Fishman, and scholars Marci Shore (Yale), Steven Zipperstein (Stanford), and Amelia Glaser, moderator (UC San Diego) present their work and discuss how art and scholarship shape our understanding of the past. How do artists’ and scholars’ views differ from our understanding of our own histories? How do we engage with what is no longer here? For those interested, there will be a discussion following this program in the Great Hall.

Presented by YIVO and the Museum of the City of New York and supported by a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This event is presented in connection with Letters to Afar, an immersive video art installation co-presented by YIVO and the Museum of the City of New York (October 22, 2014-March 22, 2015). To learn more visit here. This program is also part of the YIVO Artists and Scholars Series Fall 2014, which brings together some of the most innovative thinkers and artists working on East European Jewish life today for conversation and collaboration. Other Artists and Scholars programs take place on November 20 and December 11.


Péter Forgács is an internationally award-winning media artist and filmmaker, with works in several museums and public collections around the world. Having created more than forty films and media installations, Forgács is best known for his "Private Hungary" series, a series of award-winning films based on European home movies from the 1920s and 80s, which document ordinary lives ruptured by historical trauma. As a filmmaker, Forgács has received numerous international awards, including the Tribeca Film Festival Docu Award in 2005; the SIFF Golden Gate Award in 1999; and the Prix Europa, Berlin in 1997. In 2000-2001, Forgács was awarded the artist-in-residence at The Getty Museum/Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, where he created The Danube Exodus installation in collaboration with The Labyrinth Project (USC). In 2007, he was awarded the prestigious Dutch Erasmus Prize for his notable contributions to European culture, and in 2009, represented Hungary at the Venice Biennale, exhibiting the Col Tempo-The W. Project installation. In 2013, Forgács created Looming Fire—Stories from the Dutch East Indies installation, about Dutch colonial quotidian life for EYE, the Dutch Film Museum. Letters to Afar is his most recent project, and was commissioned by the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw and the YIVO Institute in New York.

Boris Fishman was born in Minsk, in the former Soviet Union, in 1979, and emigrated to the United States in 1988. His journalism, essays, and criticism have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine and Book Review, The New Republic, The Nation, Harper’s, Vogue, The London Review of Books, The Wall Street Journal and other publications. His first novel, A Replacement Life (HarperCollins, 2014) was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick and received a rave on the cover of The New York Times Book Review. His next, Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo, about a New Jersey couple that adopts a boy from Montana who turns out to be wild, will be out from HarperCollins in early 2016.

Amelia Glaser (moderator) is Associate Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature at the University of California, San Diego. Her research centers on the intersections between Russian, Ukrainian, and Jewish literatures in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She is the author of Jews and Ukrainians in Russia's Literary Borderlands: From the Shtetl Fair to the Petersburg Bookshop (Northwestern University Press) and the editor of a forthcoming scholarly volume on Ukrainian, Jewish, Russian, and Polish literary representations of the seventeenth-century Cossack Hetman, Bohdan Khmelnytsky titled Stories of Khmelnytsky: Competing Literary Legacies of the 1648 Ukrainian Cossack Uprising (Stanford University Press, forthcoming). Glaser's translations from poetry and prose include a collection of American Yiddish poetry, Proletpen: America's Rebel Yiddish Poets (University of Wisconsin Press).

Marci Shore is associate professor of history at Yale University. She is the translator of Michał Głowiński's The Black Seasons and the author of Caviar and Ashes: A Warsaw Generation's Life and Death in Marxism, 1918-1968 and The Taste of Ashes: The Afterlife of Totalitarianism in Eastern Europe. Currently she is at work on a book project titled Phenomenological Encounters: Scenes from Central Europe. Her recent essays include “Surreal Love in Prague” (TLS); “Out of the Desert: A Heidegger for Poland” (TLS); “The Jewish Hero History Forgot” (New York Times); “Rachelka’s Tablecloth: Poles and Jews, Intimacy and Fragility ‘on the Periphery of the Holocaust,’” (Tr@nsit Online); “Can We See Ideas? On Evocation, Experience, and Empathy” (Modern European Intellectual History); and “‘It was my choice’: A Phenomenology of the Ukrainian Revolution” (forthcoming).

Steven Zipperstein is the Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History at Stanford University, and the author of several acclaimed books, including The Jews of Odessa: A Cultural History, 1794-1881 (Stanford University Press), Imagining Russian Jewry: Memory, History, Identity (University of Washington Press) and Elusive Prophet: Ahad Ha'am and the Origins of Zionism (University of California). From 1991-2007, Zipperstein served as the Director of the Taube Center for Jewish Studies at Stanford, which emerged as one of the leading academic programs under his leadership, and the inaugural Jacob Kronhill Visiting Scholar in History at the YIVO Institute in spring 2014. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Koret Award for contributions to American Jewish life.
Venue: YIVO Institute at the Center for Jewish History  |  15 West 16th Street - NYC   view map

For directions and parking information, click here.

All public programs are wheelchair accessible. A limited number of assistive listening devices are available for deaf and hard of hearing individuals upon request.