Current Events

November Recollections

November is the month of memory. Beginning in the wake of All Soul’s Day when families remember the dearly departed, by month’s end Americans will have made the traditional gesture of giving thanks to those, both past and present, worthy of memory. Near the middle of the month lies Remembrance Day, or as the French directly call it, “l’onze novembre”.  This year marks the 100th anniversary of the peace treaty, but who could doubt by now that a century is not nearly enough to process all that took place between 1914 and 1918? Thus the need we have of memory for the further the events fade into the past, the more we are left to wonder what it is we are trying to recollect in the first place.

(This article is part of our Current Events series)

Picking up the pieces

This takes us to the very heart of what it is to recollect, or literally to “re-collect” the pieces of a fragmented landscape both in the literal, physical, sense and in a metaphorical, or spiritual, way. Tragic events destruct. The very opposite of “construct”, such events disassemble the unity of everyday life in the blink of an instant. Making sense of what transpired involves picking of the pieces, or re-collecting, the remains of what was destroyed. Memory is the store-house of re-assembled fragments to help us re-enact the presence of something, or somebody lost.

In Greek mythology, memory was the preserve of the goddess Mnemosyne who inspired mnemonic techniques of rote memory crucial for oral cultures. Recollection is derived from logos; ultimately, it can be defined simply if not redundantly, as “to gather together”.  Whereas memorization implies repetition, more or less easily attainable, recollection is a thought process and requires an education into the exercise of reason and judgment.

The question thus arises as to how can we have reasonable judgments if the very context is bereft of reason? Friedrich Schiller set for himself the task to answer that problem – he was ever after picking up the pieces, patching up what has been broken.  For him, his times were those of ongoing crises contemporary to the French Revolution and its fallout. Deploring a prevalence of brutality on the one hand, he was also critical of a rigorous rationalism largely ignorant of the sentiments of everyday life, on the other hand. According to Schiller, culture’s goals are infinitely superior to the goals attained through nature, or instinctive appetite and emotion. He believed we must rediscover a lost equilibrium by creating the conditions for play (Spieltrieb), which is the state wherein we discover our true nature and freedom. 

By acknowledging the variety of human action, Schiller’s model of aesthetic education presents a useful template to study politics and commerce. According to his principles, human endeavour could only truly be realized at play, meaning to unite the dispositions from reason and sentiment. Commerce and diplomacy require persons who can strike that balance and act as autonomous, and not fragmented, individuals. This state of affairs poses a particular challenge to students because, prior to their entry to their courses of study, they have to navigate a fragmented world both of greater autonomy and of greater division. That is the context giving rise to Schiller’s writings and that is the setting of November’s memorials inciting us to recollect and pick up the pieces.

Our programs of study are in fields which are, at base, rooted in human interaction – commerce and diplomacy – each one existing in different tracks of knowledge and practical experience. Let us thus look back on what our students were offered to study this month of November. In our graduate business programs, MBA students were offered International Marketing (BA 522). Markets being global, marketing entails communicating beyond the boundaries of the familiar and translating to foreign situations the universal factors of product, price, placement, and promotion.  The Comprehensive Business Management Seminar (BA 542), also offered to MBA cohorts, brings it all together with a special focus on case studies which integrates the different strains of management into a comprehensive approach.

Masters students in International Relations and Diplomacy had the opportunity to develop even further the practical aspects of diplomacy under the care of an experienced diplomat in IR 501 Diplomacy Workshop: Practical and Historical. The theoretical content provided throughout the academic year is complimented by this workshop setting a framework to understand how diplomatic relations operate in the modern interstate system.  Upper-level undergraduate students studied Selected Topics in International Relations (IR 481) focusing on specific institutions of the international system. As stepping stones to further study, they evaluated and analysed key issues such as global terrorism, inequality, disease and weapons proliferation. To close out the description of the November courses, special note can be made of the Capstone course (CA497). This course helps students develop their dissertations by joining together theoretical and practical aspects of the dissertation proposal. Students have the opportunity to think through the dissertation process, a key component for those who wish to acquire the dual degree with the University of Roehampton.

The November courses contributed to the goal of assembling the pieces key to the stock-house of knowledge, or memory, for operating in their respective fields. Prior to their course studies, students are untrained and exposed to a fragmented landscape of notions. This state of flux, ever evolving both for better and worse, makes it difficult for students to find the right markers with which they can construe a way forward to their future careers. Hopefully the nods to the past that mark November will help remind them, and us, to pick up the pieces wherever they lie.