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Past Themes 2008-09


Submitted by Assistant Professor of Biology Alissa Packer and Assistant Professor of Philosophy Coleen Zoller, the 2008-09 University Theme was "Memory."

During the 2008-09 academic year, Susquehanna University celebrated its Sesquicentennial. This occasion will afford us the opportunity to tell the story of Susquehanna University—a story 150 years in the making. We are only able to tell this particular story because various people have preserved their memories of this institution's past.

Individuals are able to preserve these stories because of the brain’s ability to process and store memories. Our capacity to remember is useful to us in an astounding variety of ways. Yet, this capacity is something we tend to take for granted. In fact, there are limits to what even experts in the field understand about the way memory works.

Fortunately, scholars from a wide variety of fields have focused their interdisciplinary attention on the study of memory. This work varies from the scientific study of the brain by neuroscientists to the literary study of the role of narrative in keeping memory alive and sharing memories. It includes cognitive science questions about the similarities between the memory of computers and human minds, as well as questions about the role recovered memories play in the fields of psychology and law. An understanding of how memory works is also required in order to examine corporate messages in marketing and advertising.

Students use memory a lot, whether it's to remember information for tests or to assemble their photo albums, capturing the memories they have made in their four years at Susquehanna. This theme gives students, and every member of the Susquehanna community, an opportunity to think more deeply about what memory is, what its limitations are, the mysteries surrounding our understanding of memory, and both the gifts and the burdens it places on those species able to recall the past.
Related to this theme is a long list of events across the different disciplines at Susquehanna. Those events, notably, included:

Susquehanna University: A 150-Year Perspective
Aug. 28–Oct. 4
Opening lecture Aug. 28, 7 p.m., Lore Degenstein Gallery

As part of a year-long celebration of Susquehanna University's 150th anniversary, the Lore Degenstein Gallery will present an exhibition showcasing the history of the institution. Featuring photographs and memorabilia selected from the university library archives and friends of Susquehanna, the exhibition will provide an informative and entertaining look back at people, events and artifacts from the university's past. Donald D. Housley, professor emeritus of history, will discuss Images and Artifacts of the College Culture at 7 p.m. on Aug. 28 in the Degenstein Center Theater. A reception will follow in the gallery.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
Ishmael Beah, Sept. 9, 8 p.m., Weber Chapel Auditorium

Ishmael Beah, human rights activist and author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, will share a riveting story of his life experiences as part of Susquehanna University's 2008–09 focus on the theme of Memory.

When Beah was 11 years old, he and millions of other Sierra Leoneans were subjected to a brutal civil war. After his parents and two brothers were killed, Ishmael was recruited to fight as a child soldier. He fought for more than two years before he was removed from the army by UNICEF and placed in a rehabilitation home in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. After rehabilitation, Beah won a competition to attend a conference at the United Nations to talk about the devastating effects of war on children in his country. It was there that he met his new mother, Laura Simms, a professional storyteller who lives in New York. Beah returned to Sierra Leone and continued speaking about his experiences to help bring international attention to the issue of child soldiering and war-affected children.

In 1998, Beah came to live with his American family in New York City.

He completed high school at the United Nations International School and attended Oberlin College. Throughout his high school and undergraduate education, Beah continued his advocacy to bring attention to the plight of child soldiers and children affected by war around the world, speaking on numerous occasions on behalf of UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations Secretary General's Office for Children and Armed Conflict at the United Nations General Assembly; serving on a U.N. panel with former Secretary General Kofi Annan; and discussing the issue with dignitaries such as Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton.

In addition, several lectures, concerts and recitals throughout the year featured topics related to memory, including:

  • The Alice Pope Shade Lecture
  • Department of History Lecture Series
  • Claritas Distinguished Speaker in the Sciences Series
  • 32nd Annual Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow Lecture

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