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UMBC Humanities Forum Discussion Panel: Approaching Authenticity

APRIL 3RD, 2012 - 4 p.m. - Library Gallery

Approaching Authenticity: locating living cultural memories, identities, and traditions in the 21st century

Approaching Authenticity brings together scholars from the fields of American Studies, Archaeology, Ethnomusicology, Folklore, Museum and Heritage Studies to discuss what ‘authenticity’ means – and how it can be defined – with respect to our living cultural memories, identities and traditions of today. Although scholars have long considered the notion of ‘authenticity’, or ‘the authentic’, as a highly arbitrary – as well as elitist – tool for cultural valorization, it is still being used by governmental agencies, preservationists and other cultural organizations working in the broader heritage sector through a whole host of related terms. Whether a cultural expression is recognized as a ‘masterpiece’, ‘treasure’ and/or ‘representative’ of others, authenticity is being assessed. Significantly, it can also be argued that it is a concept that knows no socio-economic boundaries: it holds great currency within communities for a whole variety of cultural expressions – from music to food.

Key considerations that will guide this discussion are as follows:

•What makes one cultural expression, memory or tradition – or versions thereof – more authentic than another?
•Who decides what is authentic and what is not?
•What is authentic from the perspectives of community members who hold the memories and embody the cultural expressions in question?
•Why is authenticity sought after?
•In this increasingly globalized world, where ideas are shared, taken and/or sold instantaneously and where the boundaries between communities, groups and individuals are more fluid than ever before, does the ‘authentic’ matter? Similarly, does the ‘authentic’ matter even more now?
•Is the authentic even possible in this global age?


Neil Silberman, Center for Heritage and Society, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Theodore Gonzalves, American Studies, UMBC
Clifford Murphy, Maryland Traditions, Maryland State Arts Council
James Counts Early, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Heritage

Moderator: Michelle Stefano, Maryland Traditions and UMBC

Co-sponsored by the Dresher Center for the Humanities, American Studies Department and Modern Languages, Linguistics & Intercultural Communication (MLLI)


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