After Kellyanne Conway brought the idea of alternative facts into mainstream consciousness during an interview with “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd in January, the concept became one of the most talked about in the country.
Highlighting this, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences held the first of its annual lecture series “Interdisciplinary Conversations on Alternate Facts: Evidence, Interpretation and Reality” Monday afternoon in the Pollak Library.
The event featured two speakers: associate professor of African-American studies Tyler D. Parry and department of American studies lecturer Arlene Ring.
Parry’s presentation, “Slavery, Memory and the Persistence of Alternative Facts,” focused on slaveholders promoting narratives before and after the Civil War that painted slavery in a positive light.
Parry argued that alternative facts are nothing new to history and although they have always existed, they now have a common name.
“(In my thesis), we look at the myths promoted by former slaveholders who would construct this idea of benevolent paternalism, particularly in the form of slaveholding,” Parry said. “They were able to suggest to a population that was not as familiar with the institution that perhaps former slaveholders deserved some sympathy in American history.”
Perry’s presentation was followed up by Ring’s talk “When Fake Becomes Real: Why We Changed Our Minds About Animal Stories.” Ring focused on debates in the 20th century regarding stories involving animals like “Lassie” in literature and cinema, deliberating whether or not these stories too heavily ascribed human emotions and thoughts to other animals.
Though many of these stories were considered to be fake or untrue at the time, Ring argued that 21st century research into animal cognition makes the ideas more plausible.
“Alternative facts can be found anywhere, and the way we interpret them historically over time can change,” Ring said. “Truth can change. There really isn’t truth. That’s why we always need to read and study widely and deeply to get all points of view.”
Parry and Ring also examined the persistence of alternative facts from the past and how they affect modern day events.
“There are communities that would complain about (confederate statues) but they weren’t really listened to until Charlottesville bubbled up,” Parry said.
Senior liberal studies major Nicole Quiroz said she attended the event for a class but found both presentations informative and interesting.
“I think this is a very good thing for students to come and experience, and I think I’m definitely going to be back,” Quiroz said.
The lecture series will continue throughout the academic year. The next set of presentations will take place on Oct. 17 at 11:30 a.m. in PLS 360.