Where Is Space? is a conversation between Professor Vincent Brown (Harvard) and Professor Lanfranco Aceti (MIT and BU) on issues of space and its relationship to the construction of contemporary visual, literary, and historical contexts and narratives. Professor Brown will talk about space, time, and slavery in the context of contemporary digital media and discuss these topics with professor Aceti. The lecture will take place in the Plimpton Room, Barker Center, Room 133, Harvard University on Thursday, March 22, 2018, from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm.

Inspired by Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium and Umberto Eco’s Six Walks in the Fictional Woods, part of the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at the Mahindra Humanities Center, the conversation will be published by LEA for MIT Press as part of larger project that analyzes issues of time, space, movement, matter, light, and the unknown. The corresponding volume will be using a new publication platform, Contemporary Arts and Cultures (CAC), realized at the MediaLab that Aceti, as editor in chief of LEA, has been testing as part of its experimental endeavors for LEA/MIT Press.

“‘So that the rough sand should not harm the snake-haired head (anquiferumque caput dura ne laedat harena), he makes the ground soft with a bed of leaves, and on top of that he strews little branches of plants born under water, and on this he places Medusa’s head, face down.’  [….] But the most unexpected thing is the miracle that follows: when they touch Medusa, the little marine plants turn into coral and the nymphs, in order to have coral for adornments, rush to bring sprigs and seaweeds to the terrible head.” [1]

from, what can historically be understood as, sites of trauma and the complexity of visualizing, narrating, and historicizing concurrent events and timelines which coexist, intertwine, and spur global and local interactions. It is the locus—with its multi-layered and sedimented texture, the inevitable result of embracing and connecting with multiple visions, narratives, and histories—that offers us the possibility of retracing, analyzing, and understanding the space we occupy, as well as, ourselves as repositories of compounded histories.

What are, then, the metaphors and allegories that we can use in order to understand space? What is the space that we occupy today—is it in fact one that is drenched in trauma, social and political upheaval, and systemic pauperization of entire communities? Is there an inclusive space of utopia capable of realization beyond the capitalistic / nationalistic dystopia of a return to a golden age, forever dreamed about but never capable of existence? More importantly, how do we travel to such a space and will we recognize it if we see it?

[1] Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium, trans. Patrick Creagh (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), 6.

This event is graciously supported by the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University, Contemporary Arts and Cultures, Operational and Curatorial Research, Leonardo Electronic Almanac, and MIT Press.

With thanks to the Mahindra Humanities Center.


Vincent Brown, Charles Warren Professor of History and Professor of African and African American Studies, is a multi-media historian with a keen interest in the political implications of cultural practice.  He directs the History Design Studio and teaches courses in Atlantic history, African diaspora studies, and the history of slavery. Brown is the author of The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery (Harvard University Press, 2008) and producer of an audiovisual documentary about the anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits broadcast on the PBS series Independent Lens. He is currently writing a book about African diasporic warfare in the Americas.