Annoucing the Fall 2019 Mellon Forum on the Urban Environment

The Princeton Mellon Initiative is pleased to announce the Fall 2019 Mellon Forum on the Urban Environment.


Stories of innovative and interdisciplinary methods to address the crises that change the way we envision cities and architecture.

The Fall 2019 Mellon Forum  is organized by Anne Cheng, Professor of English and Director of American Studies, and Basile Baudez, Assistant Professor of Art & Archaeology. The Forum is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with additional support from the Humanities Council, Center for Collaborative History, Program in American Studies, and Department of Art & Archaeology. Events are free and open to the public.

MAPPING with Laura Kurgan (Columbia) and Matteo Pericoli (Laboratory of Literary Architecture)

September 24 / 12pm / SoA South Gallery 

Innovations in Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping technologies have recently been adopted as a daily tool in the humanities. Interdisciplinary by definition, digital humanities create opportunities to open new fields combining visual images, graphics, figure data, and texts. Innovative responses include projects at the intersection of literature and the built environment. Graphic visualization of territories allows us to recollect stories and locate them in the built context, but what kind of narratives are born of this technology? How do we keep this open space of potential innovation and not flatten the story into conventional modes of mapping and literal map-making? This session will focus on the challenges and opportunities introduced by mapping technologies in shaping narratives.

TRAUMA with Esra Akcan (Cornell) and Valentina Rozas-Krause (Berkeley)

October 8 / 12pm / SoA South Gallery        

The history of trauma resides in each of us---as citizens, we are marked by the history of our countries at (perpetual) war, both present and past. Cities, like individuals, bear witness to the psychological, physical, and affective consequences of individual and collective trauma. This session explores the attempts to remember, forget, or mark the landscape with our histories of trauma, moral injury, and losses. What is public versus private space/grieving? What is the ethics of memory and forgetting, the tension between memorialization and progress? How do we think about the ethics of monumentality in an increasing global practice of memorialization, even as atrocity continues to haunt our everyday?                                          

UNREAL CITIES with Dominic Pettman (New School) and Gyan Prakash (Princeton)

November 5 / 12pm / SoA South Gallery

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.”— Italo Calvino 

This session unearths the layered metafictions of the city: how the stories we tell about our cities restructure the cities themselves and how the city alters how we tell stories about ourselves. What is the science and the imagination of a city? What maps and narratives lie hidden but also animate the familiar atlas of everyday space? Through notions of the “unreal city,” we explore the visions, apocalyptic or aspirational, that imagine a city into being.

DIVIDED CITIES with V. Mitch McEwen (Princeton) and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (Princeton)

November 19 / 12pm / SoA South Gallery                                          

Cites are amorphous, at times unwieldy, entities unified by shared narratives by inhabitants and visitors about their history, landmarks, culinary traditions or sports teams. But communities and narratives are multiple and, at times, outright conflicting. Division can literally derive from physical barriers, from natural (rivers or hills) to manmade (walls or fences). Most barriers however are not physical, and are born from politics, race, religion, and economics. How narratives reveal or conceal these urban divisions will be at the core of this session.

BUFFER ZONES with Keller Easterling (Yale) and Tali Hatuka (Tel Aviv) 

December 3 / 12pm / SoA South Gallery

A recent headline reads: “In Korean DMZ, Wildlife Thrive!” Apparently, the forces that lock humans out of the demilitarized zone has allowed wildlife and species to thrive. Thus the ongoing remnant of violent conflict is also a symbol of a greener, inhuman future. This session invites conversations about various buffer zones across the global landscape as uncanny agential spaces: those interim and in-between spaces that may have been designed to segregate conflict and dissent yet also often enable unexpected productivity and alternative modes of animacy.