Institute on Memory and Human Rights

The Institute on Memory and Human Rights explores the role of memorials in reckoning with racial inequality and state violence, and how individual and collective memory shapes public narratives of past and present injustices.

The work of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM) in speculative memorial making, the enactment of living memorials, and the development of a permanent public memorial to survivors of Chicago police torture as part of the historic reparations legislation passed by the City Council in May 2015 serve as a local case study. CTJM initiated the campaign for reparations for survivors of Jon Burge police torture, and is dedicated to documenting this history through the arts. Local civic leaders, some of whom are torture survivors, are ongoing participants in the Institute and serve as community resources as we explore the relationship between memory, erasure, imagination, state power, and social movements.


In September 2019, the Human Rights Lab kicked off the Institute on Memory with a two-day on-campus workshop followed by a travel seminar to The National Memorial to Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, and other sites in neighboring Birmingham and Selma. On campus, students and community members immersed themselves in workshops on the praxis of liberatory memory work, art making and storytelling, memorials as a form of redress and reparations, and field trips to local sites of cultural and political memory. 

The cohort then traveled together to Montgomery, Alabama for a four-day travel seminar to visit The National Memorial to Peace and Justice, the nation’s first national memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people and people terrorized by lynching and The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, which explores history of racial inequality in America. Other highlights included the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, the site of Bloody Sunday in 1965 when armed police attacked peaceful civil rights demonstrators, and the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, the target of a racially motivated bombing that killed four young girls in 1963, now designated as a national historic landmark. The Human Rights Lab partnered with Freedom Lifted to organize the travel seminar. 

The travel seminar was designed to foster a collaborative learning space that gives rise to relationships of reciprocity, new knowledge and more expansive understandings of memory and human rights. The experience was not for credit, but offered an expanded educational opportunity.