A new virtual symposium on "Gestures, Rituals and Memory" will be inaugurated by a live symposium to be held at the University of Toronto (Victoria College), May 6-8, 2004. The position papers listed in the program below will be put online at a later date and will serve as starting points for comments and discussions. Further submissions by interested scholars are welcome. Please send your position papers to


Announcing a new virtual symposium





Sponsored by the Emilio Goggio Chair of Italian Studies with the cooperation of
Victoria University, the Centre for Computing in the Humanities and Social
Sciences (CHASS) of the University of Toronto and

Toronto, May 6-8, 2004
Victoria College, Northrop Frye Hall, Room 205 May 6-8, 2004
(Preliminary program)


Thursday, May 6
Morning session: 9:00-12:00

Marcel Kinsbourne (New School University, New York)
"How brain organization supports and constrains memory for gestures and rituals across generations and across cultures."

Paul Bouissac (University of Toronto,Victoria College)
"Gestures in evolutionary perspective"

Marion Blute (University of Toronto)
"The evolutionary socio-ecology of communication"

Lunch: 12:30-1:30
On-site lunch, courtesy of Professor Alexandra Johnston, Acting Principal of Victoria College

Afternoon session: 2:00-5:00

Michael Chazan (University of Toronto)
"Locating Gesture: Leroi-Gourhan among the Cyborgs"

Alexandra Sumner (University of Toronto)
"Style, symmetry and gesture in the study of cognitive archaeology: an examination of lithic material from the palaeolithic site of Ibrim, Egypt"


Dinner: 6:00

Dinner hosted by Professor Paul Gooch, President of Victoria University
Burwash Hall, upper dining room


Friday, May 7

Morning session: 9:00-12:00
Peter Jackson (University of Chicago and Tromso University)
"Gesture and memory in the exegesis of cultural inheritance"
"Handing down by means of speech : Gesture and Memory in the exegesis of Religion"

Robert Yelle (University of Toronto)
"Gesturing at nature: the rhetoric of gestures, ritual and memory in cross-cultural perspective"

Andrea Vianello (Sheffield University)
"Rituals as language: the archaeological evidence"

On-site lunch: 12:00-1:30

Afternoon session: 2:00-6:00

Domenico Pietropaolo (University of Toronto)
"The language of gestures in Vico's theory of culture"

John H. Astington (University of Toronto)
"'Language in their very gesture': Shakespeare actors and the body"

Damjana Bratuz (University of Western Ontario)
"Symbolic gestures in the performance of Clementi's Didone abbandonata"

Drid Williams (University of Illinois)
"Modes of continuity and change in action sign systems"

Dinner: 7:00
Dinner hosted by Professor Pietropaolo, Chair of the Department of Italian Studies


Saturday May 8
Morning session: 10:00-12:00

"Gestures and cultures: theorizing continuity and change in patterned human movement"
Summary and general discussion of the symposium papers.



Gestures, Rituals and Memory: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Patterned Human Movement across Time.


            The ways humans express themselves and interact with each other and with their environment through gestures have been extensively studied from a synchronic perspective. The description of patterned human movement  in skills, rituals and every day life transactions has been an important part of ethnography  since its inception. Various recording methods have been created to meet the challenge of translating these flowing patterns into repertories of body postures, hand and head motions, and modes of perambulation, often in relation to verbal utterances. Attempts have been made to construe such dynamics as systems expressing the technological level and cultural ethos of social groups. However, little is known about how these neuromuscular processes and their meanings have evolved, how they have been preserved or transformed over time, and how they relate to changing cultural norms.

            The purpose of this symposium is to explore the possibility of studying gestures and rituals across time, and to probe the memory resources of the human brain which can account for their continuity and change. The symposium will address the issue of how technical skills and communicative gestures, rituals and magic, theatrical acting and dances, for instance, are transmitted vertically from  generation to generation  and often spread horizontally from population to population. Particular attention will be paid to the transformations which occur during this process not only in the forms of the movement but also in their symbolic meanings. A full understanding of these processes, which are at the core of the  cultural specificity of humans, requires the inputs of a wide array of disciplines, from the cognitive neurosciences to cultural anthropology, and including the history of religions, the study of manual techniques and social gestures, the ethnography and history of rituals and dramatic performances, the psychology of face-to-face interactions, and the representation of such behavior in literature and the visual arts.     This symposium will endeavor to explore some of the directions mentioned above and to lay the basis for a large-scale conference on this topic to be organized in 2005.


            Anybody interested in contributing a position paper relevant to the issues addressed by this symposium should contact Professor Paul Bouissac at: