Publication Date

November 14, 2023

Perspectives Section

From the President


  • Europe

The address explores the potential of using the metaphor of “conversations with the dead” as a historical method. Controlled by the documents, imagined conversations between the historian and the dead can capture those few moments of understanding among people, those moments when we appreciate what and who the other was. The method of conversations with the dead is not a form of proof or a demonstration of why one interpretation might be better than another. The dead do not have agency in these conversations. Only the historian does. What the dead represent is not so much their place in some historical schema as their individuality. The conceit of a conversation helps keep everyone in their proper place—the dead are dead, but the living historian has the voice, the agency, and the opportunity to reanimate the dead as an object of empathy, to give them back their humanity.

Illustration depicting purgatory

Dante speaks with his childhood friend Forese Donati in Gustave Doré’s illustrations of The Divine Comedy.Wikimedia Commons/public domain. Image cropped.

The presidential address will take place on Friday, January 5, 2024, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in Hilton Union Square, Continental Ballroom 5.

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Edward Muir
Edward Muir

Northwestern University