SPRINGFIELD, Ohio - In this climate of questionable peace and freedoms, the trials and imprisonment of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French Army in the late 19th century, will be the focus at an international conference titled "The Dreyfus Affair: Race, Religion, and the Molding of National Identity." Wittenberg University will host the conference Wednesday, March 26, through Saturday, March 29, during which this historic "Affair" will be used to create a larger dialogue about our understandings of race, religion and national identity. All sessions are open to the public.
The conference is sponsored by the Ohio Humanities Council, the Columbus Jewish Foundation, the Jewish Arts Endowment of the Columbus Jewish Foundation, the Ryterband Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton, Mr. Henry Saeman, a 1951 graduate of Wittenberg, the departments of history, languages, philosophy, religion, art, sociology and political science, and Weaver Chapel at Wittenberg.
"Despite notable efforts to put it forever behind us, anti-semitism seems ready to break into the open in 'Christian' culture whenever circumstances arise to encourage it," said Wittenberg President Baird Tipson. "I commend all who have been involved in putting together a conference that will engage and enlighten us, and I welcome our guests to Wittenberg."
This interdisciplinary conference will bring together internationally known scholars of the Dreyfus Affair with younger academics at the beginning of their careers to address the central theme of how to understand race and religion in the modern world. Notable speakers of the plenary sessions include Michael Burns, Dreyfus expert and historian at Mount Holyoke College, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 26,in Ness Auditorium in Hollenbeck Hall, and Paula E. Hyman, author of "From Dreyfus to Vichy," and the Lucy Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History at Yale, scheduled from 1:15 to 2:15 p.m., Friday, March 28, in room 105 Shouvlin.
In addition, Wittenberg will sponsor a screening of the 1937 Oscar-winning film, "The Life of Emile Zola" at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, March 27 in Ness Auditorium inside Hollenbeck Hall. The film, which was banned in France until the 1950s, aims to appeal to people who have an interest in the history of film and how filmmaking affects politics. Following the film, another plenary session will feature David Brenner, chair of Jewish studies and ethnic heritage programs at Kent State University and head of the Ohio Council on Holocaust Education.
An interfaith peace service will be held at 4:15 p.m., Friday, March 28, in Weaver Chapel in the heart of Wittenberg's campus.
"As a liberal arts institution, it is important for us to explore events that reflect the complexities of history, and to share these explorations with the wider community," said Rochelle Millen, Wittenberg professor of religion and conference co-organizer. "Greater understanding can be an impetus for greater social justice."
The conference expects to draw 600-1,000 participants, including students, staff, faculty and the central Ohio community. A workshop for teachers and high school students is also planned. Because of the subject matter of the conference, a large community turnout is expected to discuss the Dreyfus Affair and its ramifications. The Affair is based on a case surrounding Alfred Dreyfus, who was arrested and falsely accused of espionage and treason in 1894. After a media circus and political pressure from other world leaders, the French government eventually pardoned Dreyfus for the crime he never committed.
Also featured will be a book display and sale of Dreyfus-related materials at the Wittenberg University bookstore, located inside the Benham-Pence Student Center on the corner of Ward Street and Woodlawn Avenue. The books should be available about 10 days prior to the conference so that those with little knowledge of the Dreyfus trial can learn more before attending the conference. Tammy Proctor, Wittenberg associate professor of history and conference co-organizer said, "We would like people to stop and reflect on the responsibility of the media as well as ordinary people to speak out in the face of injustice and intolerance."
The three-and-a-half day conference will also showcase a 16-panel poster exhibition currently on display in the Ness Auditorium balcony of Hollenbeck. The poster display will remain at Wittenberg until late spring and then will travel to the Clark County Public Library and Columbus in the late spring and summer.
For more information, contact conference co-organizers Millen at (937) 327-7404 or Proctor at (937) 327-7841. To view the full conference schedule and to register click here.
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