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Spectral Cities - Western Humanities Alliance Conference

Date & Time:
November 2, 2018 - November 3, 2018
Calgary Central Library and Studio Bell

The CIH will host the annual meeting and conference of the Western Humanities Alliance, a consortium of humanities institutes in the Western U.S. and Canada. 

Freud compared the unconscious to the city of Rome, a place haunted by older versions of itself. What are the cities that haunt our cities and our imaginations: lost cities, forgotten cities, ideal cities, imaginary cities? How have fictional or filmic versions of the cities shaped the perception of real ones? How do these spectral cities interact with the everyday ones? What different versions of the city appear when we look at the everyday one from a different angle or in a different light: cities of animals, cities of transience, cities of opposition?

These spectral cities can include utopian urban programs, forgotten city planning exercises, past versions of the city captured in media, film, or literature, as well as other kinds of city ghosts and ghost towns. Proposals are invited on the representation of cities in art and literature, the role of ideal and imaginary cities, utopias and dystopias, alternative histories, alternative atlases and psychogeographies; undergrounds and underground cities; the city as assemblage, the city as system, the city as biosphere.

The conference will draw together a variety of scholars and artists to explore how the experience of the city is shaped or directed by more than just its physical make-up. The proceedings of the conference will be published in a special issue of the peer-reviewed journal, Western Humanities Review. Further, the conference will offer the opportunity to bring to the University of Calgary key voices in humanities’ approaches to cities and to facilitate the formation of larger research networks.

Featured Guests

Alberto Manguel

Internationally acclaimed as an anthologist, translator, essayist, novelist, and editor, Alberto Manguel is currently the director of the National Library in Argentina. He is the author of numerous non-fiction books, including A History of Reading, an international bestseller chosen as Best Book of the Year by The Times Literary Supplement, and winner of France’s Prix Medici. His book Reading Pictures was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction. He is also co-author of The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, a comprehensive and celebratory catalogue of fantasy settings from world literature.

Ato Quayson

Ato Quayson is Professor of English and inaugural Director of the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto, In his recent book, Oxford Street, Accra, he analyzes the dynamics of Ghana’s capital city through a focus on the city’s most vibrant and globalized commercial district. With an intense commercialism overlying, or coexisting with, stark economic inequalities, Oxford Street is a microcosm of historical and urban processes that have made Accra the variegated and contradictory metropolis that it is today.

Larissa Fassler

Larissa Fassler’s artistic practice reflects her interest in the architecture of cities and the way in which places affect people, psychologically and physically. She has recently focused on historically complex and politically contested areas, paying particular attention to the chasms between the idealized expectations for a space and the reality of the experiences that it creates. Her work has been exhibited in solo exhibitions at the Esker Foundation, Calgary; The Hessen State Museum Darmstadt, Germany, Galerie Jérôme Poggi, Paris and at SEPTEMBER, Berlin.

Abraham Akkerman

Formerly a Principal Planner at the City of Edmonton, Abraham Akkerman is Professor of Geography and Planning at the University of Saskatchewan and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. His work brings together the fields of philosophy, urbanism, geography, history, and architecture. He studies the psychological impacts of urban spaces and challenges the myth of the Rational City, arguing that the urban void—the unplanned space—is often the authentic space that provides relief for the individual. Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, and Kafka, to name a few, found walking through the streets, squares and other urban voids an informal remedy to mood disorder.

Venues and Hotel

We will be holding our lectures and panels in Calgary’s newest architectural landmarks, the National Music Centre, and the new Calgary Central Library. The Hilton Garden Inn Calgary Downtown, located a block away from the venues, is providing an exceptional conference rate for our guests. Please use this link to book your hotel room:

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