Founder of Humanities Action Lab
While completing her Master’s in History at NYU, Liz Ševčenko founded the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, an organization that seeks to ensure that atrocities and human rights violations are recorded as history and recalled and discussed in the present as a way of guaranteeing that the ongoing struggle for social justice is not without an historical footing. The Coalition has connected various places from around the globe that memorialize the past to promote discussions of relevant historical events in order to aid the continuing fight for global human rights. When the program began there were just nine of these sites, but in just a short time, that number has since grown to nearly 200 spaces spread across 41 countries.
In 2011, Ševčenko left the organization to work at Columbia University’s human rights center, where she founded another project based on historical trauma and its relation to the present struggle for social justice, the Guantanamo Public Memory Project. With this project, Ševčenko hopes to promote public awareness about the relationship between the United States and Cuba and the history of GTMO. The project captures, collects, and disseminates accounts from individuals who either lived on the naval base as military personnel or as prisoners at the detention center. In order to create and coordinate such a massive project, Ševčenko forged a national coalition of academics, institutions, students, teachers, and others who are dedicated to remembering GTMO as a place of countless human rights violations, and she recruited a diverse array of people, organizations, and universities to help collect and disseminate histories via a web platform and archives. The Memory Project has had several incarnations as a traveling public exhibition.
And now Ševčenko has continued her work on the subject of detention with a Global Dialogues program at the New School’s brand new Humanities Action Lab, the first project of which is dedicated to capturing individual accounts of mass incarceration. Like the Guantanamo Public Memory Project, this new effort will have a web platform and a traveling exhibition. Lest we forget, over 2 million people currently reside in the United States prison system, and countless more have spent time behind bars. Ševčenko’s project seeks to overcome barriers to hearing these individual accounts of incarceration in the interest of spreading awareness about what many understand to be systemic human rights violations. These are the stories we need to hear.