Yugoslavian Oral History Project Removed from Science Center

Rebecca J. Margolies

While the death of Osama Bin Laden earlier this month prompted an outpouring of enthusiasm from students in the Yard, it had unexpected ramifications elsewhere at Harvard. The day after the celebration, a Yugoslavian oral history project titled "Transition: Transposition" that was located in a Science Center elevator was confused for a radical and dangerous response to the terrorist leader's death.

The project, which played audio recordings of Yugoslavian oral histories on a loop, was part of a class taught by University Professor Peter Galison and Romance Language and Literature Professor Jeffery Schnapp. The class challenged students to use new experimental approaches to exhibit objects, media, and sounds, according to Sebastian Schmidt a Massachusetts Institute of Technology student in the class.

Schmidt said that an uniformed man heard the langauge and was concerned when he mistakenly took it for Arabic.

"It was installed it on Monday and on Monday night we had the first email that said somebody had wondered whether the language in the elevators was Arabic and whether it was safe to use them," Schmidt said of the week it was installed.

While acknowledging the humorous aspect of the situation, Schmidt said that the complaint raises larger questions.

"Even if it is Arabic, what is the connection between the Arabic and safety?" he asked.

The recording was eventually removed amidst a number of complaints including that of a senior faculty member in the math department who was bothered by it. It is now located in the a freight elevator in the Graduate School of Design, where it will remain at least through the end of the month.

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