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CHCI-Mellon Crises of Democracy Global Humanities Institute

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What is it in the world today that is making populist and authoritarian approaches to government more attractive than democracy?

This is one of the core questions at the heart of an 18-month global humanities institute (GHI) project funded by the Consortium of Humanities and Centers and Institutes and the A.W. Mellon Foundation. The GHI brings together early career researchers and a consortium of humanities scholars spanning four continents to explore crises of democracy through the lens of cultural trauma. It is led by the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute in partnership with the University of São Paulo, Jawaharlal Nehru University, University of Zagreb, and the Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University. The GHI has three phases: a Dublin planning meeting, a nine-day summer school in Dubrovnik, and a workshop at the Columbia Global Center in Rio de Janeiro.

Read about the summer school here - International Scholars Ask if Democracy is at Risk

Watch highlights from the Summer School below



Day One

The first day of the Crises of Democracy Global Humanities Institute in Dubrovnik began with a fantastic introductory lecture delivered by Professor Mridula Mukherjee. Professor Mukherjee employed a long-term historical frame to understand the evolution of democracy in the modern world. About GHI 2019 The CHCI-Mellon Crises of Democracy Global Humanities Institute (GHI) is a partnership between 5 universities—Trinity College Dublin, University of São Paulo, Jawaharlal Nehru University, University of Zagreb, and the Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University. The GHI brings together early career researchers and a consortium of humanities scholars to explore crises of democracy through the lens of cultural trauma. The second and most significant phase of the GHI, a 9-day summer institute in Dubrovnik wherein faculty and early career researchers from around the world came together to examine crises of democracy through the prism of cultural trauma from a comparative global perspective, has just concluded. The GHI in Dubrovnik comprised of 40 researchers travelling from 10 countries, 5 continents, and representing over 30 disciplines in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. The programme consisted of lectures, panels, practical skills workshops, film screenings, and early career researcher presentations.

See images from the day here


Day Two

On the second day of the Crises of Democracy Global Humanities Institute, a panel comprising of Professor Rosemary Byrne (NYU Abu Dhabi), Professor Mary Cosgrove (Trinity College Dublin), and Professor Aditya Mukherjee (Jawaharlal Nehru University) sought to examine the key terms relating to crises of democracy and cultural trauma. During the course of this discussion, important questions raised included: What does it mean to speak of “democracy in crisis”? Is there a difference between electoral outcomes that upset and those that subvert democratic life? What is the tipping point into “crisis” and what are the different approaches we take when thinking about the health of democracy?

The Global Humanities Institute also offered a workshop led by Professor Bruce Shapiro, Executive Director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University, on practical ways to incorporate self-care and ethical practice for trauma-facing researchers, establishing a basic framework for understanding how direct and vicarious trauma exposure affect both the subjects of research and researchers. This workshop considered basic self-care and peer support strategies..

See images from the day here


Day Three

On the third day of the Crises of Democracy Global Humanities Institute, Professor Nebojša Blanuša (University of Zagreb) and Professor Balázs Apor (Trinity College Dublin) examined the role of various carriers of influence—political, military and religious leaders—as potential sources of cultural trauma. Can the creation of an illusion of crisis and repeated references to the collective trauma of a society help to build a cult following? Professor Urmimala Sarkar Munsi (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and Professor Esther Hamburger (University of São Paulo) explored how memories can be materialised in creative forms such as film and dance taking a devised performance, WALK by Maya Krishna Rao, and an 8” short poetic experimental film, Rough Stone (2009) by Julia Zakia, as their case studies..

See images from the day here


Day Four

On the fourth day of the CHCI-Mellon Crises of Democracy Global Humanities Institute, Professor Urmimala Sarkar Munsi (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and Professor Arlene Clemesha (University of São Paulo) focused on the key challenges to democracy today through an analysis of religious polarisation, terrorism, and xenophobia. Professor Sucheta Mahajan (Jawaharlal Nehru University) held a practical workshop for the GHI group which introduced methods of oral history practice with an emphasis on recovery of subaltern and marginalized voices. In this workshop, Professor Mahajan addressed issues such as remembering and forgetting, bearing witness, silence as sanctuary, transformation, and empowerment.

See images from the day here


Day Five

On the fifth day of the Crises of Democracy Global Humanities Institute, a panel featuring Professor Stephanie McCurry (Columbia University), Professor Mary Cosgrove (Trinity College Dublin), and Professor Sucheta Mahajan (Jawaharlal Nehru University) addressed the use of violence to oppress the exercise of democratic rights and explored positive strategies of resistance.

The GHI participants also attended a practical workshop led by Professor Marianne Hirsch (Columbia University) on the subject of refugees and statelessness, posing the question “what can art do?”. Looking in depth at several diasporic art projects that respond specifically to statelessness as a condition, Professor Hirsch discussed what participatory art projects can do in the face of the traumatic effects of nationalism and ethnocentrism, negation and dispossession. A central question of this workshop was: Can aesthetic encounters provide a new space for the creation of political community?

See images from the day here


Day Six and Seven

Since the beginning of the Crises of Democracy Global Humanities Institute project, site visits relating to the research theme have formed an important part of the programme. On the sixth and seventh day of the GHI, the researchers travelled to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Beginning in the multicultural town of Mostar, the group visited the Partisan Memorial Cemetery and the iconic Old Bridge, Stari Most, which was rebuilt in 2004 following its destruction in 1993 during the war. From Mostar, the group travelled to Sarajevo, taking a tour of the city and learning about the history and culture of the old and new town. The next day, the GHI group visited the Srebrenica–Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the victims of the 1995 genocide. The visit to the Memorial Centre and Cemetery, and the experiences from the previous day, immersed the researchers in an area recovering from deep division and trauma.

The field trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina acted as a common case study for the international group of researchers. While it was one of the most challenging parts of the GHI, it was also one of the most rewarding. The trip generated multiple discussions and inspired a number of future projects among the research group.

See images from the day here


Day Eight

On the eighth day of the Global Humanities Institute, the group discussed their responses to the field trip in a session convened by Professor Tomislav Pletenac (University of Zagreb) and Professor Marianne Hirsch (University of Columbia). This was an opportunity to reflect, compare, and record the academic and personal insights garnered from the two days in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Amongst the many points of discussion during this morning session, the group spoke about the function and purpose of monuments and the ways in which monuments transmit history.

Following this, there was a panel comprised of Professor Aditya Mukherjee (Jawaharlal Nehru University), Professor Esther Hamburger (University of São Paulo), and Professor Bodh Prakash (Ambedkar University) which addressed identity, cultural expression, and strategies of resistance. The panel covered cinema, inclusive democratic processes, and the ways that cultural expression has been used to undermine the democratic process.

In the afternoon, Professor Jennifer Edmond (Trinity College Dublin) examined the relationship between technology, globalisation, and democracy. Professor Edmond considered the underlying nature of some of the technologies driving social change today, such as AI, big data and social media platforms.

See images from the day here


Day Nine

The last day of the Crises of Democracy Global Humanities Institute began with a panel on strategies of positive resistance against inequality and undemocratic regimes featuring Borut Šeparović (author, theatre-maker and choreographer), Professor Eileen Gillooly (Columbia University), and Professor Mridula Mukherjee (Jawaharlal Nehru University).

The afternoon was dedicated to a screening of artistic responses to the field trip created by the early career researcher participants. These responses, which originated from the Materialising Memory workshop on the third day, truly captured the spirit of the Institute and resonated strongly with one of the central tenets of the lectures and workshops, namely, the transformative potential of art.

See images from the day here


GHI ECRs

The early career researcher participants were integral to all aspects of the Global Humanities Institute programme. Over the course of the nine days, each participant presented on their research in the field of crises of democracy and cultural trauma. They were matched with a senior researcher from the GHI who read their work closely and acted as the primary respondent for the presentation. The presentations covered a diverse range of locations, approaches, and disciplines contributing to the global perspective of the GHI project.

See images of the ECRS


For project details please visit this link: https://chcinetwork.org/programs/ghi-2019-democracy

Project team

Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, Principal Investigator

Dr Angela Butler, CHCI Mellon GHI Project Officer

Dr Elspeth Payne, Beate Schuler Fellow (Crises of Democracy)

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