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UMD’s Program of Comparative Literature and School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures jointly create “Imagined Ethnographies,” a day-long workshop of film screenings, discussions, and roundtable presentations.
Faculty and students gathered in Tawes Hall on Friday, February 17 to experience the world through the eyes of ethnographers dedicated to preserving culture through various media. After a discussion and film screening of “Through Other Eyes: From Salvage Anthropology to Indigenous Aesthetics,” attendees were treated to five speeches on different ethnographic topics, each presented in a different form.
Rachel Jablon, one of the ethnographers, discussed her research on Jewish cyber genealogies, also known as cyber shtetls, as a part of ethnographical studies called virtual ethnographies.
“These virtual sites function as windows into cultures that no longer exist,” explains Jablon. “Users can rediscover their roots and get a sense of what life was like generations before. Ethnographers of these virtual communities face the challenge of preserving the memory of these cultures, while lacking something physical.”
All of the roundtable presentations addressed important aspects of imagined ethnographies, from literature to historical figures. Valérie Orlando, UMD professor of French and Francophone Literatures, discussed Negritude Intellectualism, while Noah Fabricant, a rabbi from the Washington Hebrew Congregation, took the audience back to the 12th century with a traveler named Benjamin of Tudela. Jeremy Metz, a UMD graduate student in Comparative Literature, introduced the view through literature of white ethnographers in relation to black women from the Caribbean, and Sheila Jelen, UMD assistant professor of Hebrew Literature, attributed salvage ethnography to 19th century Jewish writers post World War II.
Panelists entertained questions from each other as well as the audience after finishing their presentations. The debate became quickly engrossed in the foundations of ethnography as a science and of what it consists.
“Ethnography,” argues Jelen, “is a gaze on something exotic and the desire to capture it through writing and media.”
The panelists have conducted extensive research to mold and cement their views as ethnographers and aim to capture the history of the world in as many means and media as possible so that modern and future generations can reap the benefits of a culturally diverse world.


Date of Publication: 
Tuesday, September 25, 2012