Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Naef Scholars Last Lecture Draws on ‘Historical Haunting’

If you could impart one last piece of wisdom to your peers, had one last chance to speak out on a topic you’re passionate about, what would you talk about? The Last Lecture, presented by the Seattle University Naef Scholars, follows that sentiment. The Last Lecture is an annual event for influential faculty and experts to speak on research and course subjects that inform their thinking.

This year, the Seattle U Naef Scholars nominated Professor Jerome Veith of Seattle U’s Philosophy Department to be the speaker. Veith himself was a Naef Scholar at Seattle U, where he completed his undergraduate degree and also returned to complete a Masters in Psychology. He joked that his talk, entitled “Historical Haunting and the Task of Hermeneutics” could alternatively be titled “Reporting back after 13 years.”

Junior Naef Scholar Cole Dedmon attended the Last Lecture for his first time. He was in Veith’s Memory and Violence course, a core class that encompassed the topics discussed in the talk.

“At our retreat [in the fall] when we were asked to make nominations, I made two nominations, and Dr. Veith was one of them. When I gave my reasons, like why I think he should be the person to do it, I talked about the course Memory and Violence and how I saw those topics applied to everything in society today that we see as an issue,” Dedmon said. “I was excited to nominate a speaker that would talk about a narrow topic that could still apply to the interest of every person in the room.”

The course Memory and Violence is part of the third module of core, a recent addition allowed in part by the more flexible structure for the core curriculum. Veith can then approach a class interdisciplinary, drawing on the wide range of histories a time periods that break away from the traditional core set-ups.

“The course is about this concept of memory, and how it intertwines with our political discourse. So I intended the class to be about contemporary issues, that also looks back and reads literature, investigates the psychological and philosophical,” Veith said.

From his work in his doctorate at Boston College, Veith blended influences from his personal life with his scholarly endeavors. He explained that when he started applying topics researched in his masters and doctorate thesis to his personal experiences, the work resonated more deeply and became a more fruitful understanding. In realizing the contemporary and personal resonance of the past, Vieth named the constant process of redefining the present and moving forward after such a discovery as a “haunting.”

“Haunting is the jarring insight of realizing something has gone unspoken, and maybe it will never be spoken. But then there is the additional realization that something has been excluded, just the sheer fact of realizing that possibility, that this is within the scope of our structure as human beings that such a thing can happen,” Vieth said. “The very things we study and objectively know the facts of still remain so distant from us, and we haven’t begun to actually inherit the human content of that.”

While growing up in Germany, Veith learned about the Holocaust very early on in his education, but looking back on his experience, he realized the disconnect between Germany’s memory of the Holocaust and educating the public as opposed to inheriting the responsibility.

Philosophers and writers like Sebald and Godamer were extremely influential for Veith their work giving a name to the struggle and gaps experienced in his educational upbringing in Southwest Germany and his studies in America as an undergrad.

“[Godamer] is an intellectual figure that has informed my scholarly work and he has become this inspirational exemplar to me in what it means to do intellectual work. He shamelessly asks questions and shamelessly leans into uncertain aspects of human life,” Veith said.

Garth Ball, a senior Naef Scholar, took to the points of haunting and the disengagement that arises from a forced, academic look at the past. Wanting to pursue a career in teaching history in high school, Ball has seen how students become disengaged when they feel disconnected from the historical events and subject they are learning, feeling like they are “nothing but a puzzle to solve.”

“I really enjoyed how the speaker modeled the processes he was describing himself when thinking about haunting and reckoning with traumatic history, and not just thinking about it intellectually… When you pursue what you cannot name, and can’t quite speak on, it effects you in more than just an intellectual way,” Ball said.

In transcending more than the rigid structures of academia, the past becomes personal, informing our present in the same way our current worldview affects how we look at the past.

“I thought is was very interesting how [Veith] framed how that intellectual engagement becomes personal and really meaningful for you, and how those experience relate back to his practice as a therapist,” Ball said.

For a multidisciplinary instructor like Dr. Veith, incorporating his personal experience and research to his own growth as a person brings a dynamic approach to academia, rooted in history, but still fresh, current and optimistic.

Jacqueline may be reached at
[email protected]

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Jacqueline Lewis, Arts and Entertainment Editor

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